By George Gigney
THERE’S really only one place to start, isn’t there? Seeing Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren sitting at the same top table of a press conference, then standing next to one another for pictures, was mad. You almost had to rub your eyes and check you were seeing things right when each person was introduced to the table once the press conference got underway. Of course, they were there to announce the December 23 card in Saudi Arabia that will see Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder box in separate fights.
The show is stacked with prominent names. Joshua, Wilder, Dmitry Bivol, Jai Opetaia, Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic and, of course, Mark de Mori. The problem is none of the fights jump out at you as being particularly great. The two headliners are interesting for a variety of reasons. But this is being touted – not only by the promoters and broadcasters involved but also media outlets like ESPN – as one of if not the best boxing card in recent history. And that might actually be true.
If you were to ask even the most loyal of boxing fans for an example over the past, say, 15 years of a better card on paper they would probably struggle to think of an answer. Now, that isn’t to speak of the quality of this particular show, but rather the fact that big stars and elite fighters boxing on the same bill is a very rare thing. So we can’t scoff too much when the likes of Warren and Hearn talk about how “special” this show is.
And it is an extremely significant moment to have these two rivals directly working together. Matchroom and Queensbury have done business together, but the two bosses have largely been kept apart.
For the most part the press conference was very cordial. There was an awkward moment when Joshua pretty much demanded that he be asked questions by Hearn rather than Queensbury’s Dev Sahni, who was hosting the press conference. And Jarrell Miller – who shouldn’t be allowed near a boxing ring let alone a major event like this – got a rise out of Joshua after spouting some nonsense about how he would beat him. Wilder, rather surprisingly given what he has said about ‘AJ’ in the past, was very respectful toward his rival. Perhaps he is waiting for he and Joshua to be officially booked to fight each other before he unleashes his ‘Bronze Bomber’ persona.
What we didn’t get was an explanation as to why Joshua and Wilder are on the same bill but not against each other. Or why Miller is on the show despite being found in the past, on more than one occasion, to have enough prohibited substances in his system to open up his own pharmacy. Or how much the Saudis are shelling out to have Warren and Hearn suddenly collaborating so easily.
The following day there was a press conference to officially announce Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk, which will take place in February of next year. Weirdly, this lacked the charged novelty of seeing the likes of Joshua, Wilder, Warren and Hearn together on the same table. It might be because we’ve seen Fury and Usyk face off in public numerous times in public by this point, but it’s probably more to do with the fact proposed dates for the fight keep getting pushed back. It’s exciting to have the fight officially announced but fans have been burned too many times before; most don’t seem to be getting ahead of themselves with excitement just yet.
Fury was high-energy throughout the presser, riling himself up into something of a furore but it seemed a bit forced. There’s not much to read into at this stage, though this is a tactic he’s used on opponents he’s known would be a significant challenge in the past (Wilder and Wladimir Klitschko mostly). He tries to belittle them while also coming across as unhinged – it’s worked before, but Usyk seems utterly unfazed by it.
There were two columns published by BBC Sport over the past week that are well worth a read. Hearn had one, which went into a bit of detail about his meeting with Warren and how things came about. It’s nothing earth-shattering but it does address Joshua-Wilder – Hearn suggested there could even be news on this front prior to the December 23 card. That would undoubtedly be exciting but could also be tempting fate a bit too much – Joshua and Wilder both need to win on December 23 if a fight between them is to happen.
The other column was published under Connor Coghill’s name. Coghill, 28, was recently forced to retire from boxing after suffering a bleed on the brain as a result of his stoppage loss to Hopey Price in October. In his column, Coghill outlined just how out of the blue brain injuries in boxing can be. He had his board-mandated brain scan just eight weeks before his fight with Price, and everything was fine. Even after the loss he says he felt fine for a few days, until he wisely took himself to hospital after suffering some severe headaches.
Thankfully Coghill’s injury wasn’t so severe that it required surgery and he has recovered, but it does mean he’s no longer able to box.
A quick note to end on: the TNT Sports show in Liverpool topped by Nick Ball was excellent. There were upsets, standout performances and some great action. And it was broadcast brilliantly by TNT. It’s always worth shouting out stacked cards like this one that deliver on the night.
Boxing on the Box
Mark Chamberlain-Artjoms Ramlavs
TNT Sports 2
Coverage begins at 7pm
Chantelle Cameron-Katie Taylor
Coverage begins at 7pm