ON big nights at the fights old memories are essential for comparison.
When Derek ‘Del Boy’ Chisora walked out on Saturday, there was a desperate need to be reminded of his glory days. This is the Del Boy who held his nerve when Wladimir Klitschko twice lost his and the Del Boy who chased Vitali all over the ring one night in Munich. This is the Del Boy who pushed Tyson Fury in their first fight and has provided British boxing with night after night after night of fun and games and blood and guts. That wonderful fighting man is gone.
Hopefully, the talk backstage is genuine and that somehow, somebody can persuade the man to walk away. It’s not the punch or the punch resistance that are the final parts to leave a fighter, it is the delusion that simply refuses to see what everybody else can see. I went in search of Del Boy at midnight when the boxing was over and missed him. I like to think I would have told him to walk away, but I doubt it – he is persuasive in his desire to fight on and on.
Big Frank Bruno was there, not looking quite so big anymore, but looking every inch the ambassador that he has become in his troubled retirement. If Anthony Joshua needs a guide through the murky waters of fame, then Bruno can take his hand. Loved, adored, ridiculed and dismissed, Bruno was subject to crazy extremes. He now walks through hushed crowds away from the spotlight and there is respect in that silence. He is like an endangered species, a man from a very different time, nodding, smiling and strangely regal.
His arrival from the private car park, walking through the tunnels that link the various areas of the O2, was in stark contrast to his arrival at ringside; at ringside, he is public property, but behind the scenes he is very much, Our Frank. I like him being Our Frank a lot better. Even the great racehorses get a glorious field in some beautiful corner of Ireland to roam and frolic after their sporting glory. Boxers never get that shot at tranquility. Bruno was abused at times; I hold my hands up. It was harsh, he was an easy target. The parallels with the stick that AJ gets are uncanny.
And then there was the Conor McGregor touring party. He arrived with two bantamweights in his unique honour guard: Phil Sutcliffe, European bronze at bantamweight in 1979, and Ebanie Bridges, IBF belt-holder at the weight now. Conor is a one-man riot, but he likes his aides to be part of the howling game. Bridges played a blinder, Sutcliffe just seemed to be tapping constantly full pint glasses of McGregor’s forged stout. There is no doubting that McGregor lives and breathes every shot that the boxers make and take in the ring. He annoys some people, he entertains me.
Sutcliffe, by the way, is genuine boxing royalty. He won medals at a time when Western boxers were lucky to win five or six of the 44 medals available at the European championships. He got a bronze in Halle, deep behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, back in 1977. And a bronze again two years later. That is cream, trust me.
There remained a distant echo of McGregor’s shouting for a long, long time in the corridors at the O2. He is an infectious type of guy.
Those are corridors that have seen a lot of great fighters make their way to the ring in hope and walk back in tears. Some good men have lost their souls in that O2 ring. And their crowns. Charles Martin, having lost his heavyweight world title to Joshua, walked back to his dressing room with his cheap, golden crown still on his head. Who thought that was a good idea? Still, it is the O2, and I remember Lou DiBella telling me once that Americans want to fight there, just like British boxers once dreamed of headlining at Madison Square Garden in New York. British boxers also want to fight there and especially on big nights.
I once saw Lennox Lewis looking up at the packed seats, listening to the howls. The venue is about two miles from where he was born. He would have been the king of that place if it had been built 10 years earlier. Joshua was the king of it, but he had to go away and fight in front of about 300,000 people in the outdoor phase of his career. I know, he is such a loser.
The first ever act at the O2 was Barbra Streisand and the management should have turned her dressing room into a permanent shrine. A Joshua room with bloody towels and old tape and empty bottles would be nice. There is always a strip or two of tape on the wall and nothing screams boxing dressing room like those short strips. It’s just a thought. Perhaps we will get one final Joshua night in the O2 ring, perhaps. He started there; he could finish there. They build statues of players outside football grounds.
At close to 2am, as I was finishing my backstage duties, Robert Helenius finally emerged from his dressing room. He was amazingly bright-eyed and typically philosophical. He shrugged: “I got sloppy; I could have won that fight. I got sloppy.” Helenius came with a plan.
He was a gentleman all week. And, by the way, so was Joshua. It was a big week.