Dereck Chisora and David Haye met up at yesterday's press conference for their July 14th fight at Upton Park, and so far, the marketing strategy has hit all the right notes. It's being treated differently than any recent big fight I can recall, and promoters Frank Warren and Sauerland Event have really set this thing up to grab the interest of the public and make for a big fight atmosphere when the time comes around.
Separated by a fence so that the two couldn't truly go nose-to-nose, they're selling this as a fight where they can't even let the combatants be near one another, or the entire promotion could come crumbling down. Bad blood. Hatred. Danger.
It's the right move. The fight, cutely titled "Licensed to Thrill," now needs to live up to promises of action in the ring. The future of the BoxNation network may be riding on it.
Since its debut late last year, Warren's BoxNation has reportedly struggled to attract a large enough customer base to its subscription platform to sustain the network for the long haul.
Starting with Warren-promoted fights and Sauerland Event cards, the station has grown with a recent exclusive deal with Golden Boy Promotions (sans Amir Khan, who has a contract with Sky Sports) to air their fight cards from the States. But given that a fight like Mayweather vs Cotto goes live at about 5 a.m. local time in the United Kingdom, there is a serious need for domestic fights, in prime time, that can both bring in and retain a loyal audience.
Thus far, Warren's product has suffered on the domestic level in the UK, or at least that is what I have heard as a prevailing opinion among many British fans via Twitter and other outlets. It's also worth noting that, unlike we in the States, our British fight fan brothers and sisters are not used to being gouged for pay-per-view money. That's why a travesty such as Haye vs Harrison in November 2010 forced Sky Sports to no longer offer pay-per-view boxing. For those of us who watch boxing all the time, we knew Haye vs Harrison was a con, but just your typical boxing con, no worse than Wladimir Klitschko vs Jean-Marc Mormeck.
But for those who bought the con, well, they felt conned. While it's easy from the seat of a dedicated boxing fan to dismiss their anger as that of an ignorant, ill-informed fool, it doesn't make it any better. It's like saying you don't feel bad for little old ladies who are conned out of their money in internet or phone scams.
Sky's decision to give PPV boxing the boot led Warren to cut ties with the network and take the risk with BoxNation, and make no mistake, it was a risk. There was always a strong chance that it would fail. And while the product has in my opinion been strong overall, it's not hard to figure out why people who already spend too much for television in the first place need something truly great to keep justifying another £10 per month on their bill.
Haye (25-2, 23 KO) was the main factor in one of boxing's biggest duds in years in his last fight, as he finally stepped into the ring against world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in July and went down without much of a fight, clutching and flopping his way to a wide 12-round decision loss. Afterward, he made it even worse by hopping on the press conference table and displaying his injured toe, an act you would have thought was equivalent to wearing polka-dotted panties to a mani-pedi appointment in terms of manliness, given the reaction of boxing fans worldwide.
Boxing is a stereotypically "manly" world to a sometimes appallingly caveman-like degree, but even for those who don't buy into all that machismo bullshit, like myself, the toe excuse was a bit much. Not because it wasn't injured, but because, well...it was his toe. A million terrible media jokes about it aside, it was still a toe he was shoving in everyone's face. "Look! It's injured! I get a pass!"
That David Haye can't show up for this fight. Not the in-ring version nor the post-fight version. This has to be the David Haye we've been sold for years, the one with the explosive power and blinding heavyweight hand speed, the athletic specimen who could change the heavyweight landscape.
Luckily, Chisora (15-3, 9 KO) isn't likely to simply allow this fight to be dull, and it's Chisora who has the hopes of the network's owner on his back. After all, Chisora is promoted by Warren, while Haye is not. A win for Chisora means Frank Warren has a money fighter on his roster.
They've got it down as far as the presentation leading up to the fight, but a lot of fights have been presented well and turned into dismal failures that left boxing fans feeling cheated. Haye has been part of at least two of them in the last two years alone. Warren is continuing to gamble with this fight. This time, he might be all-in. If the fight flops, BoxNation's battleship could be sunk.