A dangerous precedent was set last week when Frank Warren circumvented the British Boxing Board of Control and announced a sideshow between David Haye and Dereck Chisora, two lunatic fringe members looking to cash in on notoriety not earned in the ring. Neither man is licensed to fight by the BBBoC. The fight, which has already sold over 20,000 tickets, is scheduled for July 14 at Upton Park. Since this travesty was announced, threats of lawsuits and license revocations have flown back and forth between Warren and the BBBoC.
As for the fight itself, bad taste seems to be its generator, not competition. Haye is a thermonuclear bore. He is also the boxing equivalent of a morning glory. More and more Chisora resembles a sociopath and not the limited journeyman that he is. In fact, his last win came against a fighter with a 19-43-3 record. After a brawl at a post-fight press conference in Munich, one that involved glasses, tripods, and death threats, Haye and Chisora will now bring their special brand of vulgarity to West Ham punters and BoxNation subscribers.
But this is not an issue of morality. Boxing is full of vile characters—managers, matchmakers, fighters, promoters, trainers, editors of certain independent websites—and there is no point in pretending that a livelihood based on hurting and being hurt can have an air of gentility about it. Moral qualms about a blood sport ought to be checked at the door the moment you decide to buy a ticket, order a pay-per-view, watch Fight Night Club, or cheer for a KO finish.
No, this is about thwarting regulatory protocol. If Haye wants to “glass” half of Western Europe, it is a matter between him and the authorities (if they can ever catch him, of course). Similarly, if Chisora is compelled to abuse women, that is a matter for the City of Westminster magistrate and his own conscience. (In 2010 Chisora was found guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.) But when a boxing context is involved—and this includes press conferences—some kind of order has to reign. Last week the BBBoC released a statement condemning the fight. “Those behind this proposal are not concerned with the interests of the sport of professional boxing,” it read in part. “Any member who participates in such a promotion would bring the sport of boxing into disrepute and would wholly undermine the authority of the British Boxing Board of Control, of which he/she is a member, as the regulatory body for professional boxing in the United Kingdom. This is nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the decision of the Stewards of the British Boxing Board of Control, in respect of Dereck Chisora, for monetary gain.”
The Board—self-appointed and, apparently, without statutory powers—also threatened to suspend any current licence holder who dares to get involved in the Haye-Chisora circus act. From Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian: “As neither fighter has a board licence, the promoter Frank Warren drafted in the Luxembourg Boxing Federation to supervise the show, and the conflict has now reached another level. The implications are wide-ranging because the term licence-holder refers to everyone from promoters, managers, boxers and trainers through to officials, including referees, judges and timekeepers. Effectively any of those people who are involved in this promotion will be unable to work at any show sanctioned by the British board.”
Some have compared the Haye-Chisora situation to fighters receiving licenses in different states in America. This is a poor analogy. Until now, at least, the BBBoC oversaw boxing throughout the United Kingdom—from Truro to Thurso. Boxing in America, on the other hand, has no national commission, and is comprised of dozens of regulatory jurisdictions (athletic commissions) run by individual states. Yes, boxing commissions in America are largely staffed by political hacks; yes, they are incompetent, inept, underfunded, and, here and there, possibly corrupt. In addition, as municipal agencies, they must also keep state budgets and tax revenues in mind when they make decisions. But these commissions are the only flimsy barriers between prizefighting as a sport and prizefighting as it was practiced during its outlaw years—like a particularly mean little clip joint. Boxing needs more regulation, not less, but, incredibly, we are now seeing fighters who have suffered brain bleeds (Alejandro Valdez, Jermain Taylor) plying their dangerous trades with approval from major boxing jurisdictions like New Jersey and Las Vegas.
The strange machinations behind Haye-Chisora are best explained by the BBC, but this farce also brings up a number of odd questions no one seems prepared to ask. Boxing in the United States and the United Kingdom are two different things, of course, but how is it possible for Warren to be a promoter and a manager simultaneously? And how is it possible for a television network—in this case, BoxNation—to be a co-promoter of Haye-Chisora? And how about the fact that Frank Warren is a shareholder of BoxNation?
With Warren running a dummy-pass on the BBBoC, it opens the possibility of other managers and promoters doing the same thing. Unfortunately, the BBBoC chose the wrong fellow to knuckle up against. To his competitors, Warren, raised in a council block in Islington during the Kray era, is a deadly combination of Don King and Bob Arum. Although Warren is never seen in public without an elegant suit and a recession-proof wristwatch, there was a time when he could be spotted wearing a t-shirt at a pub full of topless waitresses. The son of a bookmaker, Warren learned early what it took to make money in twilight, and when he reinforced what he gathered from racetracks with a short-lived position as a clerk to a solicitor, he set the foundation for a tumultuously successful 30-year career in boxing. Having survived an assassination attempt, splits with high-profile clients, dozens of lawsuits, and competition from upstarts in a cutthroat business where hostile takeovers are the norm, Warren will be damned if the BBBoC is going to get in the way of him making millions of pounds.
Warren has never had an easy time with the BBBoC, which gave him the hairy eyeball as long ago as the late 1970s, when Warren took underground boxing matches out of smoky back rooms and glizted them up under the auspices of his own National Boxing Council. When he finally got a “legitimate” license, Warren managed to crack the previously indestructible UK boxing combine of Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire, Mike Barrett, and Terry Lawless. Not many people ever managed to get an edge on Duff, whose ruthlessness ought to have gotten him a part in The Long Good Friday, but Frank Warren is no morning glory. Twenty years ago, the BBBoC suspended his license temporarily over a monetary dispute with Tom Collins, and now, in 2012, Warren and The Stewards are at it again, with Warren having the upper hand at the moment. In fact, Warren-BBBoC looks like a mismatch.
The BBBoC erred when they suspended—with vague airs–Chisora last March. By allowing Chisora to fight in other jurisdictions, the BBBoC likely figured “Del Boy” would be shipped across the Atlantic as if the States were still a penal colony for The Crown. But Warren boomeranged on the poor stewards, and now they are forced to see a fight they are against (and one they will not be able to profit from) succeed under their upturned noses. “He is not banned from boxing,” Warren told BBC 5 Live about his client, Chisora. “The fight has been licenced by the governing body in Luxembourg, which has the same standards as the British Boxing Board of Control. It is the biggest fight of the year and the fact of the matter is that the fight is legal, lawful and will go ahead.”
It is possible that the BBBoC is not competent at overseeing boxing in the United Kingdom. Otherwise, why would hazards like Robin Deakin—who has lost 46 bouts in a row–be allowed to continue fighting? Still, nothing good is going to come of having promoters and managers making up the rules as they go along.
Boxing is an open city for grifters of every type. Nearly anyone can walk into boxing at nearly any level. And ticket-buyers for Haye-Chisora will make it easier for the lowest of the low to turn loopholes into wormholes in the future. Boxing in the United Kingdom deserves better than that, even if, in the end, all anyone really cares about is seeing two dim geezers bash each other up.
In addition to The Guardian, The Telegraph, The BBC, The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and The Independent, this post uses Lords of the Ring by Harry Lansdown and Alex Spillius as a source.