Robert Smith - British Boxing Board of Control
Martin Theobald

The British Boxing Board of Control are a busy organisation.  Their role as the governing body of professional boxing in Britain is multi-faceted; they have 7 regional areas to control, belts to manage, contenders to line up, licences to issue for managers, referees, promoters, matchmakers and boxers.  Therefore I was delighted to be given the time to speak with their General Secretary Robert Smith to discuss some of the key issues that are currently impacting British boxing.

We started by discussion the idea of catch-weights.  These haven’t been seen regularly on the British boxing scene, but are becoming more prevalent overseas.  Recently a number of high profile fights have taken place at weights outside of the traditional categories.  Historically this would have been used to facilitate fights between the best of different weights, but nowadays are seemingly used to help certain fighters gain an advantage over their opponents (see Miguel Cotto vs Daniel Geale), leading critics to wonder if the belts are devalued by not being defended at their full weight class.

“The issue has never been raised in a Board meeting here” Robert tells me.  “Personally, I have no issue with it.  If the weight the fight is agreed at isn’t sensible then you shouldn’t agree to it – we haven’t had to discuss it in depth yet”.

We moved on to the issue of the British titles (or, Lord Lonsdale belt, after the founder of the belts in 1909).  The belt is seen as an integral stepping stone to a British boxer’s career – win it four times and they get to keep their own belt for good.  We have previously covered the issue of the defence of the British title here, so what are Robert’s and the Board’s view on title defences and what are the complications faced?

“The regulations on this are clear.  When a mandatory is put in place a title defence is to take place within six months.”  So what are the reasons this may not happen?  “Paul Butler (British Super Flyweight Champion) is a prime example; We put purse bids out for him to defend the title but the challengers withdrew.  It’s a case of a champion being too good for his own good”.  It’s a limited market within that weight category, and various managers chose not to take that fight.”  So what about Paul Smith, the former Super Middleweight Champion (vacated this month) who hasn’t defended his title since June 2013? “Paul got the opportunity to fight for a World title against Arthur Abraham – it would have been harsh to strip him because he was going for World honours.  He did well enough to get the rematch, so again he chose to take that fight.  He wanted to be British Champion going into the ring.  We wouldn’t penalise him for that, but at the same time we need to defend the integrity of the belt.  He has relinquished it prior to his fight with Andre Ward – there are numerous fighters now around that level and it just so happens his brother (Callum) is one of those who could fight for it, as well as Rocky Fielding”.

Having fighters on a World level is clearly good exposure for British boxing, and having the prestigious Lord Lonsdale belt (each one is handcrafted at great expense) on display is good for the Board.

We moved on to the issue of Pay-Per-View (PPV) boxing in the UK.  The Board have no control over a promoter’s stance on offering fight cards out on PPV, but I wanted to know if the Board felt it was good for UK boxing to make fans pay out more than they already are tp view fights.  “The world of TV has changed – just look at the news this week that the BBC aren’t guaranteed to be showing the Olympics in the future.  Like it or not, the model being employed now is being copied from America and PPV is going to be here to stay.”

It has seemed that since the first meeting of Carl Froch and George Groves (incidentally on PPV), the issue of refereeing standards in Britain have been under scrutiny.  On that night in November 2013 Referee Howard Foster stopped the fight in the ninth round, deeming Groves to be in no fit state to carry on.  What goes after is of course infamous, culminating in Froch knocking Groves out cold in front of 80,000 people at Wembley (in case he hadn’t made you aware himself).  So what is the Board’s view on refereeing in Britain? “All refereeing aspects are considered.  In fact we had a referee review meeting just last week.  If we need to after a review we can issue suspensions to referees or at worst we can withdraw their licence.  Froch vs Groves – the reaction was out of proportion.  As it turned out, the complete ending happened.  Our referees in Britain have a long process to get to the top.  The critics out there – they have never done the job themselves so they aren’t in a position to make an educated comment however they are entitled to their opinion.  The quality of officiating in Britain is very high in comparison to other countries.”

Finally, I asked Robert for clarification over the presence of fights in Britain that are being covered by overseas boxing commissions.  Recently there have been the cases of Roy Jones Jr, the multi weight World champion, being advertised for a fight in Liverpool sanctioned by the Malta Boxing Commission (MBC).  This is on top of Scott Harrison, the Scottish former World champion refused a licence by the British Board, also being licensed by the Malta Boxing Commission? Well, it’s complicated as Robert explains:

“As for the Maltese bodies – there are two, one based in London and one based out of Malta.  The EBU (European Boxing Union, who verify the governing bodies around Europe) recognise the MBA (Maltese Boxing Association) – they do not recognise the MBC.  If any British licence holder wants to fight on an event outside of the BBB of C jurisdiction then they have to apply to the Board and the Board will make a decision based on criteria clearly set out in the regulations of the BBB of C.  It is important to the Board that the Board's licence holders are looked after and that the interests of professional boxing and the wider public interests are not jeopardised.  As far as the GBA and the MBC are concerned neither body is recognised by the Board

This does raise the question as to who the Maltese Boxing Commission are and what rights they have to run events in Britain.  In the build up to the Haye Chisora matchup there were protracted threats of legal action by the Luxembourg Boxing Federation – and counter threats from the BBB of C to rescind licences of anyone involved in the event.  It will be interesting to follow what transpires with the MBC based out of London.

As of the time of writing we have contacted the Maltese Boxing Commission who will be issuing their own statement.  We thank Robert Smith for the time he has given us.

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