By Matt Christie
THOUGH bah humbugging is common in this section of Boxing News, it’s important to note that 2023 has been a largely positive year for the sport if we’re to solely look at the contests that occurred. Big fights we wanted happened, some we had no idea we wanted delivered thrills and spills and others – like the vital Oleksandr Usyk-Tyson Fury showdown – are already promised for the coming year. Also, a glance at the small hall scene, while far from perfect, showed undeniable signs of improvement.
Due to the chaotic nature in which the sport is governed, boxing always feels like it’s in a state of transition. And in 2023, that feeling was pronounced as major broadcasters like Showtime waved goodbye, new streaming services like Amazon Prime signaled their intention to replace them, the influx of substantial financial backing from Saudi Arabia changed the landscape, and Britain’s leading promoters Matchroom Boxing openly went into battle with the British Boxing Board of Control.
With all of that and more in mind, here are 10 wishes, in no particular order, for boxing in 2024.
– No more Eubank-Benn chitter chatter
Whatever the truth of Benn’s two failed tests in 2022, the fact remains that only a select few are privy to the details of them. Until that changes and the British Boxing Board of Control are satisfied, any talk of him competing in Britain should cease. Though promoters Matchroom have been combative in their belief of the contrary, that the country’s governing body repeatedly blocked such a scenario is surely reason enough to wait. The last thing boxing (and Benn) needs is for this wretched saga to become one of the sport’s biggest stories for the third year in a row.
– Have clear guidelines for drug testing
As a matter of priority, one hopes that the relevant commissions can all agree on a uniform code of conduct when it comes to drug testing. Whichever drug testing agency is conducting the tests, the failure to pass should be a definitive red flag with the process of investigation to begin forthwith.
– The BBBoC is allowed to do its job
Board General Secretary Robert Smith is not to everyone’s taste. But I’d argue he’s one of the finest boxing governors in the world. That he’s stood up to threats from Matchroom and Benn should highlight his desire to do right by the sport. The Board’s decisions may not please everyone, and there have been mistakes, but one hopes that the BBBoC retain and strengthen their position in 2024. Think about this one, because the alternative is horrifying.
– Long live the British title
Though the British championship is no longer viewed with the importance of yesteryear, some of the most heartening scenes of 2023 were a consequence of it. It’s understood why promoters may prefer to take their charges down the route of intercontinental belts to boost ‘world’ rankings, but the romance of the Lonsdale Belt is hard to beat. Better still, it’s a more appealing proposition for the paying public – and the widespread media – than British fighter versus completely unknown import.
– Sky Sports to remain prominent in boxing
With Showtime following HBO out of the exit door in America, one naturally wonders if we’ll see a similar pattern here in the UK. And there have been whispers that Sky Sports’ relationship with boxing is under strain. We should never forget what the network has done for the sport in this country and, though streaming or the equivalent may well be the future, I’d argue that boxing is not yet nearly popular enough to prosper exclusively in that arena. Yes, we can point to the likes of Amazon Prime and their subscription numbers, but it’s a huge leap of faith to then suggest that a significant proportion will magically be drawn to boxing. Alongside TNT Sports, who thankfully remain committed to the sport, Sky Sports plays a crucial role in elevating boxing and its protagonists in the nation’s consciousness.
– Stop stirring the pot
One thing I grew sick of in 2023 was YouTube videos designed purely to give one promoter a platform to slag off a rival. The notion that these videos are doing the sport a favour because a lot of people watch is nonsense. For those who don’t yet understand – boxing needs its promoters to get on if the fights capable of taking us all forward are to be made. Inviting ‘Edward’ to be critical of a rival promoter, then scurrying off to that rival promoter to tell them what Edward said, only slams a gigantic wedge between them. Stop it, you left school at least 12 months ago.
– Best keep on fighting the best
There was a welcome uplift in the elite battling the elite in 2023. That must only continue. Though sanctioning bodies are probably a necessary evil to a degree, fighters and their teams shouldn’t be afraid to be stripped of a belt if it means making a better fight. Nor should they make it their mission to fight a largely unknown titlist if there’s a more appealing contest to be made. More and more we are seeing the importance of alphabet straps diminish and long gone are the days when such titles guaranteed progress for their owners. It shouldn’t need spelling out, but it’s the appeal of the matchup, and not the letters on the silverware, that attracts fans to our sport.
– Olympic boxing to go forth and conquer
Though the situation isn’t quite as dire as it was a few months ago, we still run the risk of boxing losing its status as an Olympic sport after the 2024 Games. The reasons for that, which in a nutshell is poor governance at the top with suggestions of corruption, paints a woeful picture. Should boxing cease to exist in Olympic form, the ramifications will be felt throughout and for many years.
– More people listen to Ringside Charitable Trust
This might well be the most important of the lot. Though one major promoter has entertained the idea of helping the charity, the silence from the rest has yet again been deafening. That remains astonishing. The mission of the registered charity is to help ex-boxers in need. It is not the enemy. It is not trying to get the sport banned. It is not trying to stop promoters from selling tickets or marketing shows. Quite the contrary. It wants to prove that this sport, which will inevitably produce casualties, can look after its own. To be able to do that, Ringside Charitable Trust requires a collective effort, and the message – to everyone in boxing and to the outside world – must be loud and clear: We know that boxing is a dangerous sport, but we have measures in place to help those who fall on difficult times.
Which brings me to my final wish, that I send with thanks to each of you who have taken the time to support Boxing News this year: Keep reading!
Have a great Christmas and we’ll be back in the first week of January.