Following up their recent culling of long-time darling of British fight fans, turned promoter, Ricky Hatton, Sky have also now shown the door to another household name on the British fight scene, promoter Frank Maloney, leaving fans wondering what the future holds for the sport in terms of regular televised coverage.
The forums have been alive with speculation for some time about the state of play both with Sky and with their prime rival Boxnation, owned (to some extent) by Frank Warren.
Here’s a quick recap of what’s been occurring lately.
Boxnation launched in September 2011 and promised a regular diet of live championship matches from the UK and abroad alongside magazine shows and archive footage of classic fights. It got off to a flyer with a an absolute cracker of a fight between young guns Liam Walsh and Paul Appleby who left everything in the ring before Walsh came out on top and collected the Commonwealth super featherweight strap.
After an initially ‘free to air’ spell, the channel moved to a monthly subscription fee of £10 per month and rolled out beyond its original Sky home to become available via the Virgin media platform.
It’s been a bit stop-start since those early days with shows being cancelled and talk of lower than anticipated subscriptions despite on-going support from the Sun newspaper and a few well known pundits such as ‘Big Daddy’ Steve Bunce appearing regularly. Bunce’s presence was nigh on demanded by UK fight fans after the collapse of the ill-fated Setanta operation where Bunce presented his ‘Boxing Hour’. Boxnation responded to fans calls and reprised the slot where it continues to enjoy immense popularity in many corners.
Warren had a strong hand with the likes of Nathan Cleverly, Ricky Burns, James Deale, George Groves, Dereck Chisora , Kevin Mitchell, Gavin, Saunders and the Liverpudlian ‘Smiths’ to name just a few but ‘world’ defences have been soft and prospects have been inactive and under matched and fans have questioned the legitimacy of Boxnation’s claim to be the ‘future’ of the sport in the UK
Sky on the other hand have long dominated sports coverage in the UK and served up a stable diet of regular weekly action alongside marquee pay per view events but the tide seemed to turn after they had their fingers burnt with Amir Khan, who had not long been on a Sky contract when he decided to play ‘lie down quick’ with Breidis Prescott and David Haye who single handedly sold the stinker that was Haye v Harrison and followed it up with a hype job of the highest order in his predicted blitzing of Wladimir Klitshcko only to find himself toetally out-worked, out-classed and out of excuses.
Since then Sky have appeared reluctant to risk their customers anger any further with so called big name pay per views but have been steadily building an alliance with Matchroom Boxing (headed up by Eddie Hearn, son of the ‘high emporer’ of snooker and former boxing promoter Barry).
Stars like Carl Froch, Kell Brook, Carl Frampton and Darren Barker along with supporting acts provided by the likes of Maloney promoted heavyweight prospect David Price and Hatton promoted Scott Quigg and Martin Murray are leading names on the Sky roster and with no additional fees beyond the standard Sky Sports package it was easy to see why many boxing fans were reluctant to hand over another ‘tenner’ a month for the fledging Warren enterprise.
But it appears as though Sky isn’t willing to invest in this risky business and help the smaller promoters get regular shows into the homes of the ‘average’ punter. It’s easy to understand why when the sport fails to sort out its own internal politics and present itself with transparency and robustness over issues such as drug testing, judging, matchmaking and the onus is now firmly on Matchroom Boxing as Sky’s only main promotional partner to deliver credible fights and big shows to regain viewer interest and more importantly trust.
It’s a sad fact that outside this small community of passionate boxing followers which we live in, the wider sports fan community sees boxing as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and one that should only be indulged infrequently when the appetite for bloodlust becomes suitably aroused by the prospect of seeing two snarling individuals with genuine hatred for each other don gloves and batter each other senseless.
In a way it’s a sad fact that Boxnation doesn’t garner broader appeal so that we can enjoy that regular serving of good wholesome ‘everyday’ boxing where sometimes the best fights exist (Walsh v Appleby) but it’s a victim of its own affiliate promoters refusal to take risks with its fighters and also to cut its cloth appropriately.
Sky don’t appear to have the appetite right now to do more to promote the sport but their priorities are so much bigger and they only exist to serve up the guilty pleasure in small doses.
Maloney has already announced his intention to retire so his young charge David Price may move to Matchroom. The Hearn stable has been picking up defections from the Warren stable lately also and it remains to be seen whether Ricky Hatton will be comfortable hoping into bed with his old ‘arch enemy’. There is a real polarisation on the promotional landscape happening and questions remain over Boxnation’s viability especially if the ‘Luxembourg Fight’ doesn’t do as well as expected.
One thing’s for sure….true British fight fans deserve a steady stream of quality fights from a deep pool of domestic talent to repay them for their knowledge of the sport and their willingness to turn out for local and national heroes.
I just hope the TV networks and promoters can deliver and stop looking at boxing as the ‘problem child’ of the family and start giving the baying masses a reason to tune in for more than just an occasional dose of guilty pleasure.