THESE are troubling times for the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC). This weekend in Saudi Arabia, a 10-rounder between a fighter widely regarded to be the best heavyweight in the world and a debutant will be under their jurisdiction.
The Board were invited by the local government to sanction the show that will feature an undercard including a British heavyweight title fight between Fabio Wardley and David Adeleye. It is understood that the Board made a collective decision to accept the offer, like they did in December 2019 when Britain’s governing body oversaw the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jnr card in Saudi. Tyson Fury versus Francis Ngannou is barely comparable to Ruiz-Joshua II, however.
Not everyone at the BBBoC was behind the decision, but with naysayers outvoted and both Fury and Ngannou holding boxing licences (the 37-year-old former MMA star managed to secure a licence in America), the Board elected to go ahead. Whether the BBBoC themselves would have granted Ngannou a licence to fight Fury is now a moot point – but it shouldn’t be. By sidling up alongside this promotion, they are to all intents and purposes giving the main event, a blatant mismatch, their blessing.
Some might argue that’s a good thing and an admission that, in the absence of an overriding governing body, these events simply cannot be stopped. Therefore, such thinking goes, it’s better to have a commission like the Board involved as opposed to one without their aptitude for safety. Irresponsible messaging it might be, particularly from a governing body who are widely regarded to have the strictest procedures in the sport, but that Board-affiliated doctors will be there for every contest should provide some comfort given the disparity in class between the two headliners.
The World Boxing Council (WBC), who recognise Fury as their heavyweight champion and rarely shy away from razzmatazz like this, will assign the referee and judges for the Fury-Ngannou clash while BBBoC officials will be in place for the rest of the bill.
Though the Board was put in a difficult position, albeit one with financial gain at a time when finances are tight, this remains a concerning development with ongoing consequences.
It should be little surprise that Eddie Hearn, whose own personal battle with the Board regarding Conor Benn has been well documented, reacted with apparent dismay. So much so, that in an interview with IFL on Saturday night, he declared that Benn’s long-projected bout with Chris Eubank Jnr will go ahead in the UK on December 23 or in January, with or without the BBBoC’s backing.
Hearn’s position is understood. He doesn’t need to spell it out again. And now the Board have approved a contest between Fury and Ngannou, the Matchroom boss’ warped belief that Eubank-Benn should be staged in the UK as soon as possible, and without any objection, is strengthened somewhat by the Board’s failure to wash their hands of a blatant cash-grab in Saudi Arabia. In short, if Ngannou is deemed a suitable opponent for Fury then Benn is most certainly okay for Eubank.
Should the Board attempt to block Eubank-Benn out of concerns for the latter failing VADA tests last year, expect Hearn to carry on regardless. Though the reasons for those failures are yet to be heard, the truth remains that Benn is no longer suspended after it was ruled by the National Anti-Doping Panel that those VADA tests should not be considered when the UKAD testing came back clear.
It’s a contentious ruling, no question. Hence why both the BBBoC and UKAD triggered their right to appeal the decision. Had they felt it fair that Benn should be ‘cleared’ without being made to explain why clomifene was twice discovered in his system, they would not be going down this route. That appeal is yet to be scheduled and looks unlikely to be until early next year.
In the meantime, Hearn is keen to get the incredibly lucrative Eubank-Benn showdown over the line. Then if UKAD and the BBBoC are successful in their appeal, and Benn once again finds himself under UKAD suspension, the money will already be in the bank.
So, if the Board does not sanction Eubank-Benn, who steps in? There will be numerous options no doubt already explored.
Whether the Board ultimately opts to support the event, with the view that retaining control is better than the alternative, seems largely irrelevant now. What’s more worrying is that we’re be on the brink of a tipping point that has long been threatened in this country, with promoters sitting pretty with every last crumb of power in their laps.