DAVID HIGGINS is a perplexing character. Is he mad? Drunk? Or does he know what he’s doing?
He certainly makes a unique impression. Rarely does a promoter compare their fighter to Abraham Lincoln and Wladimir Klitschko in the same sentence. “Our goal is to become unified champion,” he says. “We may get there, we may not. Abraham Lincoln I think ran for president many times before he got there and Klitschko lost three fights in his 10 year reign. Joseph’s still hungry and we’re going to try to get him back as quickly as possible. So why wouldn’t we fight Dillian Whyte in the biggest boxing market in the world, on British Sky Sports, go back to number one and start going for that rematch against Joshua. Why wouldn’t we do that, rather than go to some backwater and fight a procession of bums and journeymen? It’s a risk return game. We’d probably make less money fighting three easy fights and still risk losing or injury. So only an idiot would do the latter and to us the Whyte fight is like the golden opportunity, it’s like the golden ticket in Charlie in the Chocolate factory, if you’re offered a fight on British Sky Sport. Not only that Whyte’s respected and it’s a good scrap.
“We’re coming to win and then go hard at Joshua again.”
Maybe he is the New Zealand Don King. He was inspired to get into boxing by watching the documentary When We Were Kings. He wasn’t involved in the sport, was just running events like conferences or dinners with celebrity speakers. “There’s multiple revenue streams; pay-per-view, part pay-per-view, international television, host city or government money, sponsorship, corporate hospitality, general admission ticketing, merchandise, food and beverage revenue. I started thinking, there’s 12 revenue streams. Whereas a conference or celebrity dinner has one or two or a concert. So that got me excited,” he said of deciding to get involved with boxing.
In 2009 he offered David Tua and Shane Cameron far more than anyone else was prepared to and put the fight on as a pay-per-view. It proved to be a record breaker in New Zealand, although, during the course of that single day Higgins thought he was going bankrupt.
“So we had a crack at making it happen by taking a risk basically, by putting by far, 10 times, the New Zealand record ever paid for a boxing event on the table and rolling the dice. It was a nerve-wracking six months trying to cash flow it. We nearly went under. We weren’t sure what was going to happen on the day,” he recalled.
“Because as promoters know the pay-per-view revenue comes in largely on the day, the day before. So the morning of the event, I was going bankrupt, losing a million bucks and the CO of the TV company is texting me buys. So by that afternoon, October 3 2009, on a rainy Saturday, at Mystery Creek in Hamilton, which is a shed in the middle of a farming area with eight thousand people in it, it was quite surreal, it was like New Zealand’s Rumble in the Jungle. That afternoon I reached break even at about 5pm, then it kept going. It was a rollercoaster.”
He launched himself into the consciousness of British fans when he launched himself into his own press conference, before the Joseph Parker vs Hughie Fury fight, decried the referee chosen for the bout and drew the ire of Peter Fury.
“It all happened naturally. We were outraged,” he said. “If I’d politely said from the stage, I’m outraged… It would have either not got covered at all by the media or covered on page 12 of sport. Well I put it on the bloody front page. It was a trainwreck that was a 10/10 in terms of impact. And let’s not forget they did change the referee the next day. On the way to the press conference Francois Botha was with me and he said, ‘What are you trying to achieve at today’s press conference?’ and I said, ‘Well, one, we need media coverage and, two, the referee needs changing.’ He goes, ‘David we need to make a scene.’”
“We did make a scene,” Higgins notes. “The New Zealand media in my home country crucified me. I suffered reputational damage, they said I was mad and drunk, they absolutely crucified me.”
Was he drunk though? “No, it takes a lot more than one or two to get me drunk,” he responds.
He exhibits no regrets, nor does he have any great qualms about the way he called out Anthony Joshua on Joseph Parker’s behalf. “At the outset of the Joshua negotiation Eddie said quite rightly that we weren’t big enough here to warrant the shot against Joshua next,” Higgins said. “We heard rumours around British boxing around people dropping Joshua in sparring, some of it was probably true… I thought no one really talks about this. If we attack that hard, the Brits will be outraged, there’ll be lots of media coverage. The ones who adore Joshua will feel disrespected on his behalf.
“So we just hammered the glass jaw thing and slowly interest in the fight reached a level their side were willing to come to the table.”
He remains an at times puzzling figure. Not all are convinced He called Dillian Whyte “mentally unstable” at a press conference while the British heavyweight, outraged, condemned the size of the percentage that Higgins takes from his fighter’s purse. Challenged on that directly, Higgins insisted those details of the deal were confidential.
“David Higgins doesn’t know anything about me, I think I’ve spoken to him twice ever. He’s definitely mentally unstable. Who the hell takes 35 per cent of their fighter’s money before he pays the rest of his team? You have to be mentally unstable to do that,” Whyte said afterwards. “If I was Parker I would beat him up.”