The Beltline: The things that go through a promoter’s mind when standing between two boxers in anticipation of their closeup

WHENEVER I see a promoter force himself between two boxers about to face off, I can’t help but hear Norma Desmond descend the stairs and say, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup,” in what was an iconic scene from the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.

As well as this, I wonder two things. One, I wonder what it is that drives a promoter to stand between two boxers facing off at the conclusion of a press conference ahead of a fight. And two, I wonder what goes through their mind when awkwardly standing there like an uninvited guest at their ex-wife’s wedding.

I suspect, given the nature of the profession, self-consciousness does not come into it, at least not after the execution of that first oh-go-on-then move to the front. By then, it becomes more about the image, I suppose, both in the literal sense and the figurative one. The images being taken by photographers, yes, but more important than that, the image of the promoter standing on equal footing with the two boxers he is tasked with promoting. This image, too powerful to simply be captured and contained in a photograph, says to the watching world, “Yes, look at me. I am the man. I am the one who put this together. I am boxing.”

Whether they would admit that or not, these suited men between fighters, is neither here nor there. It is true. There would, after all, be no other reason for them to intervene at that moment in time. Certainly, there is no recorded evidence of a fighter ever posing with an opponent and stopping to call for the event’s promoter to join them on stage before the clicking of cameras can commence. Were that to ever happen, we could at least then tell ourselves this bizarre ménage à trois occurs at the behest of the boxers involved. But because it never has, we can only assume that to this party the promoter invited himself. He did so for reasons entirely ego-driven. He did so because, as far as he is concerned, there can be no party without him.

That’s perfectly fine, too. They are, typically, the ones putting up the money, sorting the venue, and taking the sizeable financial risk. Yet it is curious all the same to uncover in that moment the promoter’s true motive, rumbled as always by their unrelenting need to be seen as both relevant and significant. Without that, a gift they receive in boxing, you question what the incentive would be for them to continue. You question, also, whether in the end the boxers they promote are merely campaigners for their own image, ego, and brand.

Who knows? Ultimately, the sight of a promoter jostling for position between two testosterone-fuelled fighters is utterly harmless. Amusing, if anything. In fact, I found it extremely amusing to see not one but two promoters battling for prominence when Liam Smith and Chris Eubank Jnr faced off following their announcement press conference for their June rematch a couple of weeks ago. That arrangement was particularly funny because it pitched not only Smith and Eubank Jnr against one another in the foreground but did the same with their promoters, Ben Shalom and Kalle Sauerland, in the background. Together, as one, these four men all jostled for space using their shoulders and elbows, each wanting more of their body in shot than that of their counterpart.

Why, though, was there any need for so many men to be involved in such a routine photo opportunity in the first place? Moreover, given the ever-present threat of two boxers coming to blows ahead of time, surely the best thing in that scenario is for them to be given space and presented with as little fuss on stage as possible. Or maybe, conversely, to create chaos and confusion, or at least tease the threat of it, is the whole point of a pre-fight press conference and always has been.

Chris Eubank Jnr, Conor Benn, and Eddie Hearn

I don’t know. Some will say it’s tradition for a promoter or promoters to interrupt a face-off photograph and satisfy their god complex this way. They will point to famous photos featuring the likes of Don King and Bob Arum and say, “There, do you not see? They all did it, too.” Yet for the likes of King and Arum, these men without the questionable luxury of a smartphone and social media account, photo opportunities for them at work were few and far between; initiated only if arranged ahead of time.

By contrast, we have seen far too much of today’s promoters, each of whom claim they are all about the boxers and that they would be nothing without them. We have seen too much of their faces at press conferences and we have heard too many of their opinions, valid or otherwise, delivered to cameras and smartphones or written, sometimes poorly, on social media. They are, in 2023, therefore hardly desperate to be seen, these men.

Indeed, for some promoters, being seen is their idea of hell. Years ago, in fact, I did some work for one such promoter and experienced this unicorn first-hand. Looking back, his attitude and approach, which at the time took me by surprise, could either be viewed as a refreshing change and an indication of humility or, on the other hand, a sign that they were perhaps in the wrong profession. Because, whether you like it or not, the job of a promoter clearly requires a unique set of skills, with humility and self-awareness a long way down that particular list. In place of those traits a promoter must possess an ability to peacock and to confidently take centre stage, as well as an ability to sit at a press conference and flog a fight or event they know, deep down, is not everything they say it is. They must also lie with a straight face and repeat the same words over and over again, never once expressing to anyone how bored they feel. They must then treat fans pointing phones and cameras towards them as they would a respected journalist who can see through each of the white lies they have told.

Which is perhaps why, when eventually they stand between fighters and pout for their close-up, they rarely look their best and they rarely produce for the snappers a picture of contentment. Instead, consider that must-have shot their reward; their reward for making it all happen and their reward for being so shameless; their reward, in other words, for doing their job.

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