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Boxing’s slow restart sparks fears for its future

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Ratings are down, the action is sparse, and other sports are dominating the headlines.

Queensberry Promotions

Scott’s recent appraisal of boxing’s current situation was on the money. The sport currently finds itself in between a rock and a hard place, trying to exist in a world where priorities and attention have shifted.

As Bad Left Hook’s capitán put it: “boxing simply being ‘back’ is not going to be good enough for too much longer.”

With in-ring action sparse and relatively underwhelming, stories on the periphery become more critical to keep the sport afloat. Once considered tedious distractions, narrative outside the ring becomes a necessity as boxing jostles for position with every other sport’s “Project Restart.”

“At the moment, we are being swamped by football,” Queensberry promotor Frank Warren told Jake Wood and Spencer Oliver on the Pound For Pound podcast. “Boxing has got to keep relevant.

“It’s hard when fighters don’t have dates or anything to aim towards. These guys have got to make a living, so there’s a chance they start looking for employment elsewhere. Once you move away from the sport, it’s very difficult to come back.”

Brad Foster and James Beech Jr headlined Warren’s first attempt at a show post-COVID-19 last weekend, and with disappointing viewing figures, it’s hard to envisage this stripped back form of boxing making anything close to a profit. Mike Coppinger reported that BT Sport generated an average of 7,300 viewers on Friday evening, with a peak viewership at 22,800.

Boxing is a sport that relies heavily on momentum and – especially in the United Kingdom – that “big event” feel. Casual fans of the sport are often derided; still, their willingness to spend money and attend the biggest events at the O2 Arena and Wembley Stadium without really knowing what’s going on has allowed boxing’s heart to beat stronger and stronger year on year.

There are no promises in boxing. No fixed schedule to derive comfort from. Where the Premier League, NBA, MLB – you name it – have a list of fixtures to work through, to plan for, boxing is back with a clean slate having to climb cautiously from the bottom of the mountain without a clear, safe route.

The stars at the top of the sport – your Canelos, Joshuas, Furys – haven’t got that pressure to jump back into the ring while the sport is still taking baby steps. The heavy lifting will be left to fighters at the bottom of the pyramid, but without regular shows, their futures remain under a cloud.

In a piece I wrote for Boxing News last month, British journeyman Jamie Quinn (7-102-2) confessed how hard this period has proved for fighters like him.

“I’m worried that this break is going to make journeymen obsolete in the future. There are a lot of rumours flying about at the moment,” he said. “There seems to talk about cutting our wages which is entirely unfair. But if they can’t fill buildings up, then they can’t get the money from the tickets that we rely on to get paid. It’s going to have a huge impact on the journeyman.”

“Everyone is going to want to see the stars – they can charge more for pay-per-view to recoup the losses,” he added. “This won’t affect the fighters at the top; it’ll be the guys at the bottom that will suffer the most. These prospects will have to take risks earlier in their careers, which is a good thing for them, as it will get them noticed quicker and they’ll be able to make money quicker. But who’s going to want to fight a guy like me? A journeyman like me where they can’t prove themselves and aren’t getting paid much money?”

“I’m ready to fight again,” he insisted. “I’m ready for the phone call now, but I don’t know when it’s going to come. It might not ring again.”

Boxing may well be “back,” but until we see an increased regularity of cards, and the ability to invite crowds, money will continue to pour out of the sport as promoters and fighters swim against the tide.

Follow Lewis Watson @lewroyscribbles