Turning a blind eye is not the solution to the problems in boxing, writes Matt Christie
LAST Friday, a crooked old promoter persuaded a powerful sanctioning body to hastily attach a ‘world heavyweight title’ to a bout involving two fighters contracted to him, neither of whom could be deemed anywhere near worthy of such an opportunity. Three days later, on BBC 1, we see an investigation into a highly influential boxing figure alleging numerous links to drug crime, a man who in 2012 set up a management group that today is arguably the most powerful in the sport. Boxing, in turn, doesn’t flinch. Nothing new to see here, the industry says, we’ve been here many times before. Well that’s okay then. As you were.
Last week, Boxing News detailed the lineage of that World Boxing Association heavyweight title that was contested between Trevor Bryan and Bermane Stiverne on a Don King-promoted bill in Florida. Bryan had been inactive since 2018 but remained the WBA interim champion despite the real WBA champion, Anthony Joshua, remaining active. The plan was for Bryan to challenge Manuel Charr (inactive since 2017 but still the WBA ‘regular’ champion) until Charr was not granted a visa. King quickly ushered in Stiverne and persuaded the WBA to approve him as a challenger even though he’d been knocked out in his last two bouts and hadn’t beaten a rated fighter since 2014.
For what it’s worth, Bryan stopped Stiverne in the 11th round and barely anyone noticed or, more to the point, cared. That’s something, I suppose.
There are of course arguments to suggest the proliferation of WBA titles is good for the boxers. More titles and opportunities to aim at and therefore more money to earn. One can look at Rocky Fielding as a case in point; without that lesser belt he would not have fought Canelo Alvarez in New York and not earned substantial money while doing so. Nobody should begrudge Fielding his moment in the sun. But then examine what happened in that fight – Canelo won in three rounds – and draw your own conclusion on whether that was a good look for the sport’s leading attraction.
My own view is that the more world titles there are, the less important they are and the more diluted the quality becomes. In turn, the appeal to the public diminishes greatly. In short, if there are five or six world champions per division then boxing is impossible to follow. A sport that is impossible to follow will not flourish in the long term. My request to WBA President Gilberto Mendoza for an interview has so far been ignored, which is a shame. It would be good to hear from him so we could also present his side of the story.
Bar a statement proclaiming his innocence, we didn’t get to hear Daniel Kinahan’s side of the story in that Panorama documentary, either. We were presented with a series of horrible crimes that have been linked to him and told of his deep foothold in the sport of boxing. MTK Global is undoubtedly where it is today because of Kinahan. Therefore, his supporters say, the opportunities and money granted to boxers who would otherwise go without should be deemed a good thing. There is of course an argument for that and he has no criminal record, don’t forget.
I was interviewed for the programme. My priority since taking over as BN editor six years ago has always been the sport and its long-term health. I thought long and hard about the potential implications of appearing before I was interviewed last year. I felt it important – as the editor of Boxing News – to voice my opinion with the future of boxing at the forefront of my mind.
Whatever the truth about Kinahan, whether or not this is an unfounded witch hunt as he claims, the fact that his involvement in boxing – a sport without the regulations to vet those who advise at the highest level – is the subject of an unsavoury documentary on prime time terrestrial television is truly dreadful for the sport. Turning a blind eye, I decided, was not the way to go. Yes, we can point to boxing’s past, the real mob rule of the fifties and sixties, the Don King years and all the old habits that keep coming back and biting us, but while doing so we should also understand that we live in a different world now. One where public perception really matters.
That public perception will overshadow everything else – from the wonderful work the sport does behind the scenes to the grand spectacle of bona fide super-fights – if we’re not careful. Blame Panorama for that, if you like. Or blame the next big broadcaster that decides it’s not going to show boxing again. Or blame the government, or the Olympic committee, if they rule enough is enough.
Or, before it gets to that, we should look a little closer to home – if our consciences will allow. On social media on Monday night, reviews of the show were mixed. Many in boxing said it told them nothing new. But if what we know already isn’t enough to be concerned, what hope is there?