2017 Wishlist
  
As boxing fans we innately live in a utopian world.  For those who want to see the biggest fights happen, our consideration is not over the finances and profit but the pure sporting achievements of seeing the best fight the best.  Then there is the immergence of the ‘Fanager’ (a fan who puts the fighters income above their sporting integrity) - a new breed, happy to justify the perceived ‘swerving’ of bigger fights to ensure the risk/reward balance is in their man’s favour.  Being realistic then, what are the things that as boxing fans, we can hope to see occur through 2017 that would put 2016 in the shade?

Emergence of BT Sports as a force

For so long it has seemed that Sky Sports has the monopoly upon big time boxing, while BoxNation play second fiddle and then the other broadcasters dip in and out of the sport (Channel 5, ITV, Dave, Spike etc).  Then seemingly out of the blue, BT Sports announce their link up with BoxNation to broadcast a large number of shows per annum to add to their impressive sporting menu. 

The increased potential reach of BT Sports over BoxNation is presumably aligned to an increased budget to create both the stable and the fights.  Already we have seen the signing of Tyrone Nurse and Josh Warrington to the Promotional stable and we are anticipating the announcement of the Quarter one schedule of bouts.  This could be a make or break press conference; the eyes of boxing fans will be keenly anticipating the news of which fights have been made. 

If the fights utilise the big names available (Warrington, Saunders, Flanagan, Liam Smith) in top title bouts then fans no doubt rejoice.  If the second tier are involved (Skeete, Mitchell Smith, Tyrone Nurse etc) then as long as the bouts are good and competitive then the fans will be satisfied. 
If, however, we don’t hear what the fights will be OR they don’t offer us anything improved from the BoxNation platform, then expect the distress flares of fans to be fired in the air and the general ire to be strong.  The platform and partnership promises so much, we can hope with expectation that it delivers.

Stubhub Solution

Each and every time a large-scale event is announced (any Joshua fight, Bellew Haye, Brook GGG) two things can be guararanteed.  1)  An immediate sell out.  2)  Those same tickets landing on Stubhub at multiple times face value within minutes.  Of course touting has always been a thing for high demand events, but the law has clamped down on it from when people stood in shady coats outside the venue.  A smarter, technology focussed version of the tout has emerged and frankly, it is disgusting.

What possibly irritates more is the comfy relationship between MatchRoom and Stubhub.  ‘Official ticket partners’ and the justification that Matchroom supply face value tickets that are sold at face value doesn’t sit well with the average fan.  Why lay in bed with an organisation that cause anger and headaches for your customer base? 

The answer, of course, is commercial.  The events still sell out for Matchroom and ultimately, their money is made.  However you still have people foolishly parting with money to be part of the Fightpass club, exclusive membership and access to pre-order tickets.  Not a guarantee to get them, but the possibility.  Revenue, Revenue, Revenue.  Matchroom do not lose, despite the anger of its customers. 

What can we hope for?  The best answer is legislation, a full on crackdown at Governmental level to stop the secondary market places.  This may be hopeful in 12 months.  Some music acts have started printing names on tickets, so only the purchaser can enter.  Yes, it hinders them if they are unable to legitimately make it, but it’s a possibility to enforce.  Glastonbury for instance sells out with hundreds of thousands of tickets, each used by the purchaser.  No touting permitted.  Adele has utilised a re-sale site for her tour, only allowing sale at face value. 

However, none of the above favour Stubhub, and Stubhub spend money with Matchroom.  It is unlikely we will see those at Matchroom strangle the business model of their sponsors.  For that reason and that reason alone, do not expect a change to come along in 2017.  Instead, expect more empathetic rhetoric from Eddie Hearn

Cold War Thaw

The signs have been promising in 2016; Derry Matthews, Bradley Skeete and Ryan Farrage all appeared on the Sky Sports platform, despite having a home on BoxNation.  With the rising prominence of BT Sport, it may be that the budget is big enough to have Matchroom fighters going the other way.  There are domestic showdowns aplenty to be made if the Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn can make the deals for their fighters.  Crolla vs Flanagan, Liam Smith vs Kell Brook, Hughie Fury vs Anthony Joshua, Anthony Yarde vs Jake Ball, Jamie Cox vs Callum Smith, Jack Catterall vs Ohara Davies.  

Some of those permutations may make career and commercial sense, some may not.  Either way, a more productive relationship would only be a good thing for British boxing.

More of Chris Eubank Sr

His recent IFL interview lasted 55 minutes and was packed with gems.  Of course there is the overriding issue that he comes across as an eccentric madman, but dig beneath the surface and he speaks total sense.  This, of course, doesn’t necessarily transfer itself to acting sense (he himself believes the Eubank Jr PPV should cost £20) but his views are refreshing to hear.  So long the Promoters have been money men, but here we have a great fighter and warrior, discussing how to guide the career of a loved one. 

The man is undoubtedly pure Marmite.  Some will remember the marauding middleweight, some will see him as pantomime villain in jodhpurs.  Either way, the sport is a poorer spectacle (monocle?) without him involved and stirring trouble.

ITV make a full-time return to boxing

It seems to be hand-in-hand with the Eubank team now, but ITV are making a return to boxing in the UK.  Their strategy may seem confusing (announcing that Eubank Jr is fighting a man 95% of fans will have had to check on Boxrec) with an unedifying PPV being the first move, but there is an exciting undertone to this.  Also announced (to less headlines) is that a show from Preston on 21st January, headlined by Robbie Davies Jnr vs Willie Limond, will be on domestic ITV. 

If that is a forerunner to seeing more shows from around the country being broadcast on one of the many ITV channels, it cannot be a bad thing.  It can’t.  Free-to-air domestic boxing at any level should be embraced.  Make what you want of the PPV on ITV, but if they can also provide a domestic & terrestrial showcase for fighters then we should, as fans, embrace it.

Clarity in the Heavyweights
When Tyson Fury dethroned Klitschko in November 2015 there was a new dawn for heavyweight boxing.  Gone was the old champion, but he promised one last hurrah and an attempt to reclaim his titles.  What happened next is well documented, but the result is that the belts have spread far (as far as New Zealand) and wide.  

With Wilder still on the shelf, Parker and Joshua in place with the WBO and IBF respectively and a WBA title on the line when Joshua and Klitschko meet at Wembley, the scene is now disparate.  Fury has promised to right his wrongs in 2017, but it is going to take a long time to see clarity in the division.  Parker looks the most succeptible of all the champions, 2017 may be the year that the belts start joining back together.

Small hall shows getting airtime

With the ever growing list of world champions (cheers WBA!) and Eddie Hearn making the bold prediction that nearly all Saturday Fight Nights will be headlined by world title bouts, it seems that knock on effect could see the domestic titles taking a back seat somewhat.  British, English and Area level belts may see less and less air time as the world titles take up the big time budgets.  So would it not be good to see these belts fought for on TV still, promoted by the so called ‘small hall’ guys?  Of course, the millions won’t turn up or tune in for an area level fight, but there are still plenty that do want to see these.  The domestic titles still carry prestige to a boxing fan and invariably turn up some hugely entertaining fights that don’t get found by a bigger audience.

Hopefully the ITV deal mentioned above opens a gateway to allow more Promoters around the country to showcase their talents, not just the Hearn’s and Warren’s of this world.  The boxing fans watching TV may just discover the bubbling underworld that exists beyond the Sky cameras.

Strong start by PBC continues

It’s had flaws, nobody can doubt that.  But the Al Haymon fronted Premier Boxing Champions looks like it is start to reap from the seeds sewn in 2016 with a phenomenal start to 2017.  Having allegedly spent a very large portion of a $500 million war chest, the fighters are now starting to earn their keep.  Already announced we have DeGale vs Jack (January 14th), Frampton vs Santa Cruz (January 28th) and Thurman vs Garcia (March 4th).  Three examples of the best fighting the best within their divisions and all happening under the PBC banner.  If PBC continue to deliver at that rate through 2017 then Haymon may start to see the financial returns the investors had no doubt been hoping for.

Great Britain’s Olympians

2016 saw an exciting crop of Olympians on display; Joe Joyce, Joshua Buatsi and of course Nicola Adams were some of the stand out names.  It took Anthony Joshua nearly a full 12 months to make his professional debut after London 2012, Luke Campbell over 12 months.  It must be in the thought process of all of those who medalled or otherwise to turn professional (although for the younger ones another Olympic cycle may be in the offing). 

For Joyce it would appear like a now or never scenario.  31 years of age, he could feasibly see another Olympics, but he must be tempted to bring his high workrate to the professional sport.  A silver medal will be hard to top in four years time and a heavyweight prospect will always draw attention in the paid ranks.    For 23 year old Buatsi, time is more favourable.  Currently finishing a university degree, his is a decision that can be left a little longer while he keep his place on the GB podium squad.  However with such an exciting style you know that the big Promoters would be fighting over his signature the day he does decide to make a professional career out of boxing.

For Nicola Adams, she may feel like there is nothing left to achieve in the amateurs.  Two Olympic golds, a World Championship gold and three silvers, the darling of the British public could be tempted to join the hype that has surrounded Katie Taylor as she signed with Matchroom and debuted in London.  At 34 years old the wait for another Olympics may be too much, especially given that her prime years will be past when they come around. 
Growth of women’s boxing

It was with great gusto that Katie Taylor blew away her first two professional opponents.  No doubt they were hand-picked, Taylor looked to be the match of her male counterparts as she showcased herself in London and Manchester under the Matchroom banner.  Eddie Hearn no doubt has a conundrum; slow build her around the country (ala Anthony Joshua) or fast track her and make the culmination in her home country of Ireland where she already has hero status. 

The boxing public at large lack the knowledge of women’s boxing that they hold of men’s; this could be both a blessing and a curse.  Put her in with opponents holding overly padded records and she looks great, but carry it on too long and the public will wisen up.  Put her in with the champions and if she loses, the public interest risks taking a dip.  The balance will be fine.

Of course the public love a domestic dust up, but with the professional ranks being relatively devoid of names it will be difficult to build the interest.  What we may require are for Taylor’s amateur rivals to also turn professional and for Promoters to play off of historical legacy. 

If Nicola Adams decides to turn professional too then that will provide a huge boost to the women’s scene in the UK that currently has the likes of Kelly Morgan, who would love the exposure of the TV cameras.  The problem for both will be that they don’t sit at the same weight as Taylor; even if all three were active in the UK, not having each other could be the biggest hindrance of all.

Crackdown on drugs

2016 saw both progress and retraction in the same 12 months.  The WBC introduced the Clean Boxing Program, joining forces with VADA to make sure that the top boxers who wanted to be ranked enlisted on the program or else they wouldn’t feature within their rankings or fight for their belts.  Out of competition random testing, voluntary enrolment, raising awareness.  They are all good principles to take into boxing.

In October a number of names were removed from the WBC rankings, including David Haye, Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson.  Khan later was reinstated after signing up.  The question marks remain over this; as a free to use system, why are all fighters not taking up the opportunity to fight clean?  Bermaine Stiverne and Alexander Povetkin were two men who did sign up and were due to fight in a WBC interim title fight, however Stiverne firstly failed a test in November (he was fined for this) and Povetkin himself then failed when it was announced on the day of the fight.  Stiverne turned his back on the opportunity and in stepped Johann Duhaupus to fight Povetkin.  The fight went ahead, despite the Russian testing positive.  As a sport, this is a terrible look.  The WBC never sanctioned the fight, but it went ahead.  How this is allowed to happen and risk people’s health is a shocking situation. 

With not one single overarching body to run the sport, this situation could well continue.  The fights can be sanctioned under a number of different national Boards/Bodies irrespective of the dangers that are inherent.

There is no clear solution other than to ban the individuals from taking part in any form of the sport when they are caught with banned substances.  However it seems that as long as there is enough money involved, the morals of the situation are always likely to take a back seat while the fighter’s go about earning their money through whichever means necessary.