The last time I was in England, it was April of 2013. Al Haymon existed as a shadowy figure, immensely powerful in the industry, but his PBC plan was yet to be hatched.
We had a President in the White House who hadn’t been elected after being caught on tape that he liked to go up to women he really didn’t know and “grab ‘em by the pussy.”
The world was then less complicated; today, more so. So that impacted my trek to the UK to see Anthony Joshua versus Alexander Povetkin in Wembley Stadium, on Saturday evening. My flight from NYC’s JFK to London’s Heathrow was booked for a quote manageable 7:30 PM ET. As I took my taxi ride to the airport, I ran through in my head the time difference. They are five hours ahead of us, five hours ahead of us. I did the math in my brain, taxing the gray matter. Words I like, figures are more foreign to me-
So, I would be due to get into Heathrow at what time now?
Riiiiight…OK, got it.
I’ve been booked on Delta, because I was furnished promotional consideration for my Everlast TALKBOX podcast and NYFights.com from the people at DAZN, who I think know that I’ve been in this game awhile, know basically what I’m talking about, and would be a decent addition to the coverage mix. Being that the NYF budget more so covers trips to Barclays, a 20 minute walk for me, from Park Slope, I’m appreciative of the opportunity. That said, those guys know I’m not inclined to be Shilly Shillinger. I don’t present Povetkin as an ultra serious threat to knock off AJ, though that’s more so because I think AJ is a solid B-plus boxer, and Povetkin is now more a straight B guy, at age 39.
The trip took a turn when I touched down in London, grabbed my bags — I don’t check ‘em, because they lose ‘em — and went to deal with customs. I filled out my card which informed them who I was, why I was there. And then I stood, and waited, and silently grumbled. Because it took two hours from exiting the plane to filing out of Heathrow. A row of hundreds of travelers stood like me, waiting to tell the customs guy — there were not enough of them to process all these people — their reason for being.
Now, let me say I don’t agree with people like me, traveling for a job that many people would like to do, grumbling about travel. This isn’t a poor poor pitiful me tale, this is more the system is broke and needs fixing story. A Facebook friend tells me he thinks the Brits make us wait because the Trump team has put in place onerous restrictions on foreigners coming to America. As I got processed at Heathrow, I asked the processor about that. “No, it isn’t about Trump,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how many flights got in. It’s not always like this.”
My cabbie, Trevor, tells me that it sorta is, that the powers that be simply don’t hire enough people to do the processing. It is what is, then.
It wasn’t this way when I traveled here for EPIX to call the Nathan Cleverly fight, with Bruce Beck and Jameel McCline. Oh, remember how EPIX shut down their boxing department a couple weeks after that, because of rumored improprieties from persons never publicly named?
Anyway, the hotel is solid, clean, no smoke smell, I don’t check the bed for bedbugs but assume I’m good. What time is it in my head, again? I do the math again. Oh, right. I didn’t sleep at all on the almost six-hour flight, and very much enjoyed a movie, a, which tells the tale of three men who’d been separated at birth, at an orphange. They were given to three separate sets of parents, because they were part of a scientific study, looking at “nature vs nurture” dynamic. I recommend it; it is moving and will propel you to ruminate.
I just get the lay of the land, try not to sleep because I want to be on the UK time zone but grog out for a few hours. Room service is ordered because I want to work, and the Queen told me she regretted it mightily, but would have to meet with NYFights on my next visit.
The worst Buffalo wings in the world were ordered, and eaten. Foolishly, I asked the room service gal if she thought the cheese plate or the wings were the better call. Wings, she said. Liar! Do they boil them? Egregious, and unforgivable. I still tipped the server a few quid. Oh, and the chopped salad came undressed. You have to ask for dressing, I guess. Live, learn, stop whining, Woods.
The next day is the weigh-in. I hitch a ride with the affable Chris Legentil, an ex-Showtime guy who heads up the media relations at DAZN. Solid dude, he is good because he’s not always trying to spin or sway you. He takes this seriously, but understands the bigger picture in the world. I learn on the ride over that he has a toddler, and yep, that makes sense. When you change diapers, you know your place in the world, and it can be very humbling, in a good way.
The weigh-in is well attended, I think there are 1,500 people there to watch the proceedings. I say high to Ak and Barak, Brooklyn-based talents who do work at Sirius and for 50 Cent, and also now do promo work for DAZN. Good hire, I think; they are fairly youthful, not so polished as to be unctuous, sharp dressers, have a good camera look, and really know their boxing.
Who else is here? Hey, hello there promoter Dmitriy Salita! His Jarrell “Big Baby” Miler has been fighting for Eddie Hearn, who promotes AJ. Why you here, D? Trying to get Miller to be the sub for Manuel Charr, who was to fight Fres Oquendo for the WBA lesser heavyweight belt, but was pulled because of a PED positive. Salita is confident his guy can slide in, and will talk to the WBA about that. The hardcore mock the WBA, rightly, for having so many titles, but I’m not a maniac about that. Fighters like belts, and this is sort of the way of the world. But the WBA goes overboard, and their rep suffers for it, to be honest.
Povetkin’s body language at the weigh in — he looks down, almost like he’s genuflecting, when he meets AJ. Hmmm. Does he really think he can win? Time will tell. It’s Thursday, and I want to save $40 so I ask Legentil if I can hitch back with him. He tells me that I maybe could with Amanda Wetscott, the photog, and Liza, who works for DAZN. I see them in a pub, they are working, and eating, and both are cool and chill. We chat about cultural differences and such. I get some fish & chips, as one is supposed to in England. The lunch special was 6.99P, not a bad deal. Mike Coppinger comes in, and asks to borrow a charger, he’s left his at the hotel. Sorry bro, I don’t have one on me. I’d collected some decent material, including video hits with Hearn, who says he is confident that Deontay Wilder will be across the ring from AJ April 13 in Wembley. Also, I talk to Dillian Whyte, who is entertaining, and Salita, and also smooth emcee Michael Buffer, who is low ego and self effacing.
A few people are interested in whether or not HBO will be in the boxing business next year. I don’t know, I say. People seem dubious, and I can’t say I don’t agree. Fewer shows, budget cut hard, radio silence from their people. If that happens, I will be sad. That is a proud franchise and I have to say, it is disturbing to see the uncertainty of their role. On social media, Max Kellerman and to a degree Jim Lampley get savaged by too many persons, and I wish we could rewind back a few years, when the ship was running smoothly. Is Peter Nelson captaining a slowly sinking ship? I hope the ship don’t sink!
Another topic that pops up is, will DAZN succeed? Vested interests often are saying no; I tell people I take the same stance as I did with PBC. Properly skeptical, but not to the point of cynicism. One thing that I think most all pundits are missing is this: they have a boatload of money, have a track record of succeeding, and understand this isn’t a one- or two-year pathway to success. Access Industries aka Len Blavatnick, holds a majority intrest in Perform, which has DAZN. Blavatnick is the richest man in the UK, and top 50 in the world. So, factor that in when you say you don’t get their business model. I know my lane and try to stay in it; my gut tells me the Access/Perform/DAZN crew pulls this off. Think long game, not impressiveness or lack thereof of moves made in the last six months, regarding the talent roster. Pacman is a free agent, Canelo is too. Long game, people.
It’s back to the hotel, to write stories, listen to the videos, see what is news-y in there, post stuff to NYFights, SB Nation, and the Everlast blog. Ring seems situated OK, with Coppinger being there, as long as he finds a charger. (He did.) A video I took of Shannon Briggs showing up at the weigh in and jokingly harassing Eddie Hearn draws a bit of traction on YouTube. Bless Briggs, he’s in his mid-40s, and still looking to make a score.
I’m not a pub/party guy, so I’m not wanting to go and down pints. I tour Kensington and then Hammersmith on a walkabout tour, just soaking in the mood and sights and sounds and such. Hey, what does a McDonald’s menu look like here? Look at all these betting stores. That quickie takeaway sushi joint would probably work in America. Why isn’t there any dog poop on the sidewalks? Are dogs allowed here?? Woods, don’t forget to pick up souvenirs for the fam! I should hop on the subway, or naw? Wait, where do I buy an Oyster card?
Right, at a station. Friday nights are a weird night for me, emotionally. I tap into existential distress vibing off Eleanor Rigby types, as they march from work to a boring night at their flat. Some people are living it up, grooving on life, and others are muddling through. All the lonely people, where do they all belong? Yes, the weather is affecting my affect. I grab a cheap-o snack from the sushi hot spot, and then stroll back to the Hilton, in Kensington. It’s a mile walk, I’ve been strolling for two hours, got my steps in. I message Westcott, who had encouraged me to get out and stroll, and I send her a pic as proof. Good man, she replies. (Very nice lady, by the way, I was glad to get to know her a bit, chat about living.)
It’s back to the Hilton, fire off some Tweets, steer clear of slamming Brett Kavanaugh fairly successfully, take a melatonin, grog out. Maybe I will wake up and get the free breakfast downstairs. I wouldn’t bet on it.
Good thing I didn’t bet on it. In the AM, I sleep in, make coffee, little Nescafe packet, and eat some lightly salted almonds for breakfast. I will wash one of my shirts in the sink and let it dry and wear it again, because I packed light, so the airline woudn’t have my bag and lose it. I’m only half as dumb as I look. OK, maybe three-quarters.
What time are people going to Wembley? It’s maybe a 35-minute cab ride, depending on traffic. Right, big town, I forget that happens and that everything isn’t next to everything else. Legentil kindly hooks me up with Westcott and Co., and Amanda cheerily responds that she’d be happy to have me joing their caravan. I watch a little TV in the room, TV isn’t as big there as in US. Reda from DAZN tells me that the Brits aren’t as much into consuming video for as many hours as us. He also notes that the people here aren’t as large as in the US. Could there be a correlation?
Off to the arena. The Uber holds me, Chris, Steve, Liza and Amanda. To Wembley, and it’s rainy. Uh oh. The roof there doesn’t cover the whole construct. To save money or whatever, they have the roof open over the pitch. So, the ring would get rained on. Pray for a stoppage of rain! (After his win, AJ says that he did indeed pray for the rain to stop, and voila, it did in the co-feature!)
Security is tight, being that England has been targeted more with terrorist attacks. But it’s not overboard. I head to the media room and I’m thinking I will do work there, where it is dry. The fights are starting soon, and so I plunk down at a station, in the arena, high, high up, which features a monitor and seating for two media. Coverage begins. I am still situating myself as the first bout unfolds, but get serious for the cruiserweight tango between Lawrence Okolie and Matty Askin. And oh mercy, what a dreadful fight that is. A fan somehow sidles up next to me, and we chat. Wayne tells me he’s been boxing for three years, and we discuss what Okolie needs to work on. He needs to work on a lot! This is a heralded prospect? I will take their word for it.
Down on the pitch, it’s misting. People are wearing their William Hill ponchos, so watching off monitor will do for me now. Skip ahead to the Luke Campbell scrap against Yvan Mendy. It’s stopped misting, so I head down to ringside. My seat is solid, I have been given Alex Woods’ ticket, and wasn’t at a station with a table, but that is rectified — thanks Anthony Leaver — and I bring my computer down and tap. But oh no — with 82,000 packed in there, all taking selfies, the wifi is overwhelmed. That affects me as I write on my phone, which retains service better than the computer. Therefore, my AJ v Povetkin fight report isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like. It is what it is.
“Sweet Caroline” plays to announce AJ is coming and I soak that brilliance in. Everyone takes a cell phone video of it — so do I — why did I waste the 5% of my charge? What-ev.
The fight starts and oh shit, AJ gets buzzed. But he recovers. That’s the key, you can be buzzed, but do you recover? He does, and then he gets into a mode, a comfort zone. I asked him after what adaptations he made, asked for technical asessemnt, but he was vague. Maybe he simply clicked into gear and got to doing what would work against the aggressive Russian, without over-thinking it. I will better understand how he shifted the momentum to his side better when I watch the replay on DAZN. But his power shots, oooh la la, he can crack. The left hooks are filthy, and props to Povetkin for standing tall and soldiering on after the first knockdown. But not for along, AJ is a shark, he has you in trouble and he’s gonna get a full meal out of you. Stoppage win for AJ and 81,900 fans in the joint are pleased.
I am, too, as the rain ceased and my story went through. I’m hungry. The promoter doesn’t feed the press in the UK, as they do in America. Curious, as I know Hearn can afford it, and it’s wise investment, you are inviting people to your place and it is smart to make them comfortable. Cultural difference. I think media is respected a bit more in America, “Fake News” slams from moron propagandists notwithstanding.
A press conference kicks off, after a lengthy wait. Apparently AJ wants to be all showered and stuff for the session. Me and Legentil talk about the merits of having pizzas for press and support staff for times like this. Next time maybe? Finally AJ come out. Hearn is there, of course, as is trainer Robert McCracken. Robert is a man of few words. I seek to draw him out, ask him to detail adaptations made, after AJ, but another questioner pipes up before McCracken can weigh in. Much time is spent on what’s next, rather than what transpired. Hearn and AJ are asked if they want Wilder next. AJ is cagey, not over committing to that, but seeming to want the Alabaman next. Hearn says if not Wilder, then AJ vs Dillian Whyte would occur. I’d put my money on that being the next for AJ.
Presser done, I pile into an Uber with the crew and inform them I saw a Persian joint open ‘til 4 am near my hotel. Let’s do it, we decide. Hookahs are in evidence and people puff and eat. We get a table and chat about the goings on. The DAZN crew is happy with how things went on their end. The platform didn’t crash, everyone got online, the reviews were good, some of the A-list media Tweeted out praise of the execution of the event. They are tired, but happy. Kebabs are ordered and consumed. One by one, tired folks peel off. What time is your flight, will you sleep, are common questions. I will grab a couple hours; by the time I get to the hotel, it’s nearing 4 am. I fall asleep by 5 am, maybe, and set the alarm for 7:15 am, to make sure I get to my 10:30 am flight to JFK. Can’t miss it, we have a block party on 12th St. Sunday.
It’s now raining, at 7:35 AM, but my cabbie is a vet, knows not to dawdle. He steps on it, and I make it to Heathrow with plenty of time remaining to pick up souvenirs for the girls. T-shirts for one and all, I decide. Jules gets a London Rubiks cube and Bella get UK colored pencils, in addition. I do the mental check, making sure I have my passport, boarding pass and my marbles, about five times. I splurge on some low end noise reduction head phones, which came in handy as I watched Lady Bird on the flight home, which totaled 7 hours 51 minutes. I feel asleep for a long spell, two hours, awoke, watched the flick, felt restless in my too small seat, and told myself to relax and shut the eff up. Slept again for 20 minutes, missed the dinner service but enjoyed a chicken tikka wrap and ice cream bar with two hours left in the air. Flight attendants work hard, travelers seem to expect to be given something every 20 minutes. I do not pony up for the wifi, at $8.95 for an hour, or $28 for the flight. I spend too much time on social as it is.
We touch down, and I send word to my crew I’m alive. They are relieved. How long will it take to get through customs? Only 20 minutes, it turns out, because I’m a citizen. Non citizens get a lengthier process to hurdle. A lady in front of me, here from Chile to take English, is whisked away by two customs guys. My customs guy, a fight fan, says she maybe should have learned a bit more English before she traveled, so she could better communicate her plans in the US. I told the customs guy to listen to TALKBOX, and wrote down “DAZN” on a slip pf paper, to help him find this AJ fights.
Almost home. I get in a taxi line and fear the charge. $50 maybe, to get a cab from JFK to Park Slope. Whatcha gonna do, life in the big city. My wife tells me that checks from two people who said they’d send money hadn’t arrived, life in the big city, part two. Just send PayPal, why checks, people? Arghhh. In the cab line is a familar face. Who is that actress? I know her, but from what? She has a dog with her, the dog was on the plane. Good dog, I told her, as I studied her face and pretended not to know I knew her face. She was pleasant — who IS she? I put it to Facebook. Looks like Glenne Headley but Headley is deceased. I ponder, don’t know. After an hour, on the ride home, it comes to me. “Master of Sex,” Libby. Wiki tells me I saw Caitlin Fitzgerald. Mystery solved! Almost home for the block party!
No rain here, good news for the party crew. The cab ride is $55, with tip. I gather my bags, making sure I have the passport, the wallet, the laptop. Check, check, check. The block party is happenin’! Annabelle sees me, runs to me, hugs me, tells me she missed me mightily. How was London, many ask? I tell them snippets. The wife is happy to see me, Juliette sees me, drops her bike, runs to me, hugs me hard.
Ahh. It is what it is.