The spirit of P.T. Barnum makes a transatlantic crossing when David Haye and Dereck Chisora square off in London tomorrow night at Upton Park in a 10-round scrap for the British Empire Dustbin Championship. Barnum, “The Prince of Humbugs,” would no doubt have found his funny bone tickled vigorously week after week knowing that more than 30,000 fans shelled out millions of shekels to see a set-to between a journeyman heavyweight—Chisora—and a mouthy morning glory—Haye—whose last performance in the ring was universally condemned as a disgrace.
Boxing rarely yields to the wishes of the public. Certainly in America, where there are only four or five box-office blockbusters per year, boxing is virtually consumer-proof. It hardly matters if a ticket sells, a Nielsen point is produced, a pay-per-view is ordered, etc. This is the business model to end all business models, perhaps. But when the masses in the United Kingdom rise up for a collective prizefighting fix, what is it that galvanizes them? Not exactly something out of Thomas Kyd or John Webster, but a supposed revenge match between a second-rate lout who has lost three out of his last four fights and a man who single-handedly drove pay-per-view boxing off of Sky Sports. Here is what Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, told ESPN UK about The Haye Effect: “We have shelved pay-per-view boxing for the time being because of a couple of bad experiences we had….There was general dissatisfaction with the Haye v Harrison fight, and then the Haye v Klitschko fight, so we don’t think it’s a great time to ask the public for more investment into pay-per-view boxing.” Still, Haye and Chisora have managed to produce, however shamefully, their own wage scale, and arguing with a dollar in boxing is like arguing with a civil servant on a Monday morning.
This sleazefest, wittily dubbed “License to Thrill,” is the culmination of a series of events that began a few months ago when Frank Warren scored a TKO over the bumbling British Boxing Board of Control. With its vague—and haughty—suspension of Chisora, the BBBoC left an opening for Frank Warren to stick the pitchfork in. Anyone who leaves a loophole for Frank Warren can only be considered a closet masochist, and, predictably, Warren pulled out the cat-o-nine-tails and commenced to flay—with vigor.
Ignominy is as much a part of boxing as the right cross is. Two boors bashing each other about in public—something you could see on a regular basis at the St. Helier Tavern 20 years ago—is nothing to get alarmed about. But the capsizing of regulatory protocol is. By shunting aside the BBBoC, Frank Warren has set a dangerous precedent. According to the BBC, the Luxembourg Boxing Federation was paid to oversee this fight. Whether remuneration is strictly a sanctioning fee based on a percentage of revenues is irrelevant—buying and selling licenses in a blood sport is vile, regardless of EBU membership. Next time it might be half the fee and approval from EBU affiliates—and boxing hotbeds—like Bulgaria, say, or Kazakhstan. Anyone who needs an easy dollar can simply step in and license dodgy fights. Boxing needs more regulation, not less, and the message this move sends out is troubling.
For some, the entire affair seems beneath even the usual boxing non-standards. Brian Hughes, the venerable UK trainer who recently retired after over half a century in boxing, is one of them. “The Haye-Chisora fight is nothing but a money making affair and the three of them–Frank Warren included–should not be allowed to con the public any more,” Hughes told TCS via e-mail. “The British Boxing Board of Control were quite within their rights to ban it. Both men were disgraceful pulling the stunt they did when they put on that performance of pretending to have a genuine fight with each other. I hope you do not mind my feelings on these two so-called professional boxers, but I am disgusted.”
By trying to commit GBH on each other at a press conference in Hamburg last February, Haye and Chisora have, in effect, promised a night of electro-violence in West Ham. But Haye, 25-2 (23), is a footloose heavyweight, most comfortable flitting along on the perimeter, and Chisora, in his last winning performance, could not even KO the immortal Remigijus Ziausys, whose 21-51-3 record includes 19 wins against fighters making their pro debuts. To be fair, Chisora, 15-3 (9), only had six rounds to score a stoppage. Lumbering and limited, Chisora somehow earned plaudits for taking an extended beating from an injured Vitali Klitschko. That night, Chisora proved his stamina and his chin, but there was nary a sign of skill to be seen. Chisora, who last made news after his trainer, Don Charles, attacked him during a workout (no doubt “Del Boy” lost a decision), is sturdy and works hard in the ring, but he is not a top-notch heavyweight.
As for Haye, last July he performed with enough dog in him to make him an honorary member of the Westminster Kennel Club. After his disastrous exhibition, he blamed a broken pinky toe, but this injury did little to prevent him from racing from one corner to another while fleeing from Klitschko. Having cheated thousands of paying fans with his embarrassing display, Haye, 31, returns once more, like the killer in any number of slasher flicks of the 1980s: Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger. Hughes believes Haye-Chisora is little more than a battle between also-rans. “Haye was once a top class prospect, but is no longer,” Hughes noted, “while Chisora has only been an opponent. Neither one of them is world class; nor have they ever been. This is nothing but a money making performance and only highlights how British boxing has slipped further down.”
For Haye, who has become wealthy by offering little more than a poisonality, Chisora represents a chance to gatecrash another professional boxing event in the future. For Chisora, 28, this fight is another big payday for a pug who posted his best wins against Sam Sexton. In other words, the winner is irrelevant. “Both men know this is the last time they will make money, honestly,” wrote Hughes. “Haye will flatten Chisora. This so-called fight has no justification for taking place, none whatsoever. They are a complete disgrace to boxing. The more I see or read about this event the more I realize how the heavyweight situation over here is rubbish.”
For the majority of the public, “License to Thrill” is just another grotesque knick knack in the boxing cabinet of curiosities. If you peer in and look close enough, you may be able to spot your reflection in the glass staring back.