What can Aussie Boxing learn from the UK?
By TOM WATT on March 12 2015
Growing up in the UK, boxing was, as it is here in Australia, never the leading sport of the nation with Football (soccer), Rugby, Cricket a even darts taking a larger chunk of TV schedules, budgets and conversations. However, there was always time for the sweet science and especially when fighters like Nigel Benn, Lennox Lewis and later, Ricky Hatton would take to the ring, fighters that caught the imagination of the public and fought valiantly for their legions of fans. Fast forward to now and the British Boxing scene is flourishing, World Title contenders and holders at multiple weights, fighters known the World-over and headlining Main Events across the World. So how did Boxing go from being a perennial sport, followed by few to one of the country’s leading attractions?
There are obviously many contributing factors to this rise in prominence, the Olympic success of Amir Khan was a big step in the right direction and the success of Team GB at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 brought a lot of pride back to the sport. Also, the sheer amount of talent coming out of the UK at present is staggering and impossible to ignore – no longer is the nation grasping at one or two elite stars such as Prince Naseem Ricky Hatton to carry their hopes & dreams, now we have World Champions like Scott Quigg, Kell Brook, Andy Lee and Carl Froch to carry the torch whilst contenders of the calibre of James DeGale, George Groves, Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders are on the cusp of their respective World Title shots.
For me though, the biggest change in the sport, the catalyst for the resurgence of Boxing as a leading sport, has been the change in attitude to promoting shows and the sport as a whole. Since Eddie Hearn took the reins at Matchroom Sport and set about collecting the best and most exciting fighters in the UK, everyone else had to sit up and take note or risk being left behind – the most obvious of these being Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions/BoxNation who, until the arrival of Hearn, had been putting on some questionable shows to say the least.
This increased competition has been the main driving factor in pushing Boxing back into the mainstream – a mainstream which saw Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing promote the biggest Boxing crowd in the post-war era at Wembley Stadium for Froch Groves II. Now both Hearn and Warren have each other to look at and each other to beat – this has led to the fighters being treated better, the best fights being made and, the levels of professionalism increased and the accessibility to the sport become much easier.
Both Matchroom and BoxNation now offer so much value to fans in an attempt to keep them engaged. BoxNation have their own devoted TV Channel on Sky (Foxtel) which includes archive footage, new live events from around the World and the highly rated Cassius and Helder show (all also available online). Matchroom for their part offer an online channel, ‘FightPass’ which features live events from other promoters in the UK, smaller shows that don’t make it onto the live TV broadcasts and the option of buying tickets before their public release. Both these offerings have been hugely successful in their own right and have helped increase the interest and engagement of the fans, and more importantly those ‘casual fans’ that wouldn’t go out of their way to find these services.
So what has this all meant? The obvious change is the money now coming into the Sport, through PPV shows, Sky TV rights and the like, money in British boxing is at all-time high – meaning that great shows can be put on and that fighters are now recognised outside of the UK as having commercial appeal. UK fighters are renowned for their loyal travelling crowds (think Hatton Vs Mayweather in Vegas) and now with the increased level of competition at home and the added commercial appeal abroad, more British fighters are ebing given their chance on the World stage. James DeGale is the latest of Mathcroom’s fighters to be given his chance at a World Title and will face former Olympian, Andre Dirrelll for the IBF World Title, aiming to be the first British Gold Medallist to become World Champion (Amir Khan took home silver in 2004).
So how does that all compare to Australia? The most glaring issue in Australian boxing is the credibility of the sport. I know - having spent time with some of Australia’s top boxers including WBA Heavyweight challenger Lucas Browne, former World Champions Daniel Geale, Anthony Mundine, Sakio Bika & Billy Dib and heavily respected, 6 time World Champion trainer, Johnny Lewis – that the biggest issue here is that the public find it hard to engage with the sport. This is due to a few key reasons: A lack of accessibility, a lack of credibility and a lack of investment.
Accessibility is the easiest of the 3 to change, T2TBoxing’s YouTube channel and other avenues give fans the chance to see more of the fighters than a 2 minute press conference and ring walk that they would usually see and that not only helps engage the public but also to raise the profile of the fighters. As we continue to grow, we will try to bring you more and more content from training camps, interviews and press conferences as we can. Other media outlets such as Aus-Boxing also help to raise the profile of the sport and it’s fighters but there is always room for more as the sport grows.
Investment comes hand in hand with accessibility - in the UK, Eddie Hearn controls the Boxing outputs on Sky Sports (Fox Sports) and Frank Warren has his own dedicated Boxing Channel, as well as these well-funded studios there are a number of recognised media outlets such as our affiliates, IFL TV that continue to bring constant coverage of the Boxing landscape. With these dedicated channels the sport and it’s fighters have been able to increase their fan-base and appeal which is something very hard for Australian fighters to gain.
Finally there is the issue of credibility, an issue that has plagued our sport since before I can remember – ‘fixed’ matches, illegal gambling, dodgy decisions and dodgier people have always been a part of the Boxing landscape and whilst it is getting better around the World, many of these issues remain in Australia. Whilst those linked with organised crime are prevalent in the sport then it will always push more legitimate companies from wanting to get involved and invest in the Sport. Credibility comes in many forms though and probably my biggest complaint around the state of Aussie Boxing is the lack of professionalism in the shows being produced. Go to a Matchroom show in the UK or a GoldenBoy show in the US and you will see a slick, well-oiled machine at work, a fight in Australia on the other hand is often a hap-hazardly put together affair that reeks of unprofessionalism and cost-cutting. A prime example of this is the Mundine Vs Mosley fight, a night that should have been the jewel in the crown for Aussie Boxing and the show itself was shambles - from the date being pushed back to the tickets not being sold, the entire show was a real indication of how far we have to come to bring Boxing to the point it should be.
If credibility is and investment are issues then one thing that should be addressed is where the small amount if investment coming into the sport goes. The only terrestrial TV broadcast this year has been the ‘NRL Fight Night’ which consisted of a night of hugely mismatched bouts in which former and current Rugby League players topped up their salaries. Sonny Bill Williams was the nights star attraction and took a points victory over Chauncy Welliver in the Main Event – a fight between a rugby player and an overweight punching bag is not the advert this sport needs. Get some of the great Aussie Title fights on terrestrial and watch the fans flock to the screens.
As far as talent goes, there is no lack of talent in this country. Australia has produced plenty of talented fighters and plenty of World Champions – in 2015 we already have Billy Dib and Lucas Browne on track for World Titles in their respective classes and announcements from Mundine and Geale are expected imminently. Scratch below the surface and you have the likes of Luke Jackson, Trent Broadhurst, Jake Carr and Mark Flanagan who are all desperate to parade their talent on the World stage. It would be great for them to be able to bring fights here but the fact is that as it stands there is not the infrastructure or support in place to win those purse bids or to lure a big name into travelling down under.
If we are able to address the issues I have outlined above then Australian Boxing has a chance a a real renaissance period given the support and talent here in Australia. If someone doesn’t step up to the mark soon then one would have to think that Australia would be a great expansion market for both American and British promoters. Should the likes of Matchroom, Top Rank or Golden Boy decide to expand out here then you would have to think it wouldn’t take much for them to dominate the landscape and pick up a raft of hugely talented and well-followed stars. If promoters here up their game as Warren and Hearn did in the UK then this may not happen, if not then it is only a matter of time before the vultures begin to pick at the carcass of Australian Boxing.
1. FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR.
See Full List