By Matt Christie
MOMENTS after the British Boxing Board of Control’s Robert Smith declared they would not be sanctioning the proposed February 3 bout between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn – because they’re yet to be satisfied as to why the latter failed two VADA tests last year – Benn posted a gif on his social media channels depicting Hulk Hogan shrugging his shoulders. The inference in that doesn’t need spelling out.
But with Matchroom and Wasserman still attempting to move ahead with the fight, without the Board’s blessing and with another governing body in place, a concerning precedent could be upon us. This is the scenario we predicted several months ago; when the shift in power becomes apparent.
All of boxing’s problems stem from, I believe, the lack of a worldwide overruling body. Look at America, for example. An athletic commission can turn down a boxer’s application for a license, perhaps because they failed a test, perhaps because they’re deemed too damaged, but always for good reason, and that same boxer can pass the state line and get approved by another commission. Though it’s hyperbolic to forecast the same lawlessness in Britain, British boxing simply doesn’t need another governing body, irrespective of personal opinions on the existing one. What it does need, however, is uniformity. This whole mess can be traced back to both VADA and UKAD carrying out tests on Benn when only one of those agencies, it turns out, was legislated to do so.
The Professional Boxing Association (PBA) is the likeliest organization to fill the Board’s shoes should Matchroom, Wasserman, and, specifically, Eubank Jnr, agree to go ahead with the promotion. The PBA, best known for sanctioning those Misfits cards, is not run by a load of hoodlums, let’s make that clear. They all know the sport and there are numerous experienced figures within their ranks.
Even so, BN understands that any current Board license-holder involved, whether boxer, second or official, will need to apply to the Board for permission to work under a different jurisdiction if they want to retain their Board license. Not insurmountable by any means, particularly when one considers that this is standard procedure; every British license-holder who appears on a show abroad must do the same.
Yet it should be a concern, again for reasons that shouldn’t need outlining, when a promoter or boxer takes umbrage at being told by authority they can’t do something so they seek out an alternative authority instead.
Again, that’s not to suggest the PBA is incapable but the message the sport sends out to the world – to serious news agencies and therefore to the wider public – is one of chaos. We have long stated that boxing’s biggest obstacle when it comes to becoming widely accepted is its public image.
Benn’s promoter Eddie Hearn, while saying that Eubank-Benn was ‘a fight that British boxing needs’, reiterated to Boxing News last week that Robert Smith’s point of view was unfair while revoicing his opinion that Benn has followed all correct procedures. This is true so far. His frustration is understood.
Yet there remains unfinished business. The Board is still waiting for the date of their appeal to the National Anti-Doping Panel, tentatively scheduled for January, to be agreed by all parties. In July, the NADP ruled that Benn’s suspension from UKAD should be lifted because the tests he failed were carried out by VADA. The Board and UKAD appealed that decision. Furthermore, Benn is yet to be given the opportunity to explain to them the reasons why those tests were failed in the first place.
There is every chance that the original ruling will be upheld at the appeal. It was not a decision taken lightly and, if that happens, everyone in the sport then draws a line under it and learns from it. Yet there is also a possibility that he is returned to a state of suspension. What then of the impending fight on British soil? The promoters, who by then will have spent a fortune on promoting it, might wish they’d waited a little longer.
Benn, more than anyone, needs this saga to end. It has tarnished his reputation, the sport’s reputation, and has dragged on for 14 long months. Whatever the reasons for the delays and the confusion, it would be a woeful look for the sport if it was all punctuated by a contest under alien control.
A Benn-Eubank showdown will nonetheless be a big event. It would be even bigger in the summer, without the rain clouds hanging over it.