Interview: Matt Christie

Q: HOW does 2022 compare to other years you’ve been in the job? For me, it feels almost like the severity of the lows outweighed the highs.

RS: It’s been a long and tough year. But is it worse than any other year? I don’t know. Perhaps the things that have gone wrong, have been bigger. But don’t forget all the good things we’ve had, some great fights and looking at it purely from a boxing standpoint, it’s been a good year. The rest is admittedly slightly different.

This Thursday (December 22) will be the last show of the year and that will be the 307th show, which is the most we’ve ever done. We did 276 in the year before covid and when you consider what covid did to us and sport as a whole that’s something. And when you consider that, on average, each show consists of six or seven fights, that’s an awful lot of fights that went by in 2022 without any criticism or controversy.

Q: Your officials came under fire after Jack Catterall-Josh Taylor. Do you feel like you managed that situation effectively?

RS: You can always look back and say you should have done this or you should have done that. But at the time, and with the information you have and the people we were dealing with, we managed it as best as we possibly could. You know that judging is very subjective and I thought Jack nicked it by a couple of rounds and I was quite clear on that at the time. But it was a scrappy, tough fight. And I’m not defending anyone here but there were points deducted and in the round Jack had his deducted, he lost the round, whereas Josh won the round in which he had a point deducted, which creates a big swing. But talking to the officials, I could see it was tighter than I was being told by television and the media etc. I’ve always said to you, and I’m sure you scratch your head when I do, that an honest decision is a good decision. It was an honest decision and nothing has been said since to make me think otherwise.

Q: Daniel Kinahan continued to cast a shadow over the sport. What can you do as the Board of Control to prevent a similar scenario happening again?

RS: The problem we’ve got is that he’s not licenced by us, he’s never been licensed by us and I’ve never met the gentleman and I’ve never had any dealings with him. If they’re not a licence-holder, it makes it very difficult.

Q: So the Board office wasn’t raided as was reported at the time the sanctions against Kinahan were imposed?

RS: I have to say, I did laugh. I was at a show when I got a text from a journalist saying, ‘Your office has been raided, where are you?’ So I rung up Dennis Gilmartin and asked if anyone was in the office who shouldn’t be. He said, no, everything was normal. Then Frank Warren called and asked if we’d been raided. But no, we weren’t raided and there was no need to raid us. That was a story that was thrown out there. God knows where that came from.

Q: The year’s lowlight was unquestionably the Conor Benn situation. Looking back, do you have any regrets with how that was handled?

RS: On our side, no. It has been a very difficult situation. I can’t go into it too much because of the legal implications. We knew where we were, we told people we were not going to sanction the bout and then, after that, it was up to them. Unfortunately, these things take time when you’re dealing with legal representatives. I would have liked to have got it up wrapped up quicker, but there were reasons why we couldn’t. Ultimately, the right decision was made once we had the information.

Q: It seemed like the promoters were pushing back against your ruling. As a governing body who should have the final say regardless, how difficult and frustrating was that period of time?

RS: It was frustrating because we informed the promoters as quickly as we possibly could. But you’ll have to ask the promoters why they then did what they did. I spoke to representatives of the promoters and the promoters themselves, they believed they were right and we believed we were right. I still believe we were right [to not sanction the fight]. We’ll have to see what plays out in the end.

Q: I know you can’t say too much now, but when can we expect a ruling from the Board’s side and UKAD’s side?

RS: There will be a ruling at some point, but we’re not anywhere near that yet.

Q: Have you seen the 270-page document that’s reportedly been handed in to the WBC?

RS: No.

Q: Are you likely to?

RS: I hope so.

Q: Could we be left with a situation where the WBC reinstate Benn in their rankings while he’s serving a ban in the UK?

RS: That’s a possibility. The WBC do not licence boxers. They deal with their ratings and their business. We deal with licenses and who can box here, and who can’t box here. So we’ll see what comes up and we’ll take it from there.

Q: Looking back on it, should Tyson Fury-Derek Chisora III have been allowed to take place?

RS: He [Chisora] passed every single medical that was thrown at him and he’s never failed a medical. It wasn’t a fight that I thought was a particularly sensible fight but I’m not the promoter. As an event it seemed to be successful. Chisora was in the world [WBC] ratings and we don’t deal with ratings. But ultimately it’s our job to make sure he’s as safe as he possibly could be, and he was. On the night, you can argue he should have been pulled out quicker, I think the referee [Victor Loughlin] was left in a difficult position but ultimately did the right thing.

As a spectacle, it didn’t look great, but Chisora is safe and healthy, and that’s the main thing.

Q: Is a boxer like Chisora, who’s had a lot of hard fights, forced to undergo more tests than a fresh 21-year-old on the way up?

RS: No, everybody goes through the same medicals. But it does frustrate me when people don’t realise the extent of what we do. We have suspensions, we have MRI scans which are compared every year, we now have psychological assessments. I’m being completely honest here, if you want to stop any injury to any boxer, then ban the sport. We don’t want to see it banned. What we do, as a responsible organisation, is make it as safe as we can. You know as well as I do, that if you ban boxing, it goes underground.

We’re not going to get it right every time, there will always be times when people think we’ve got it wrong and I can honestly say, with hand on heart, there’s times when I read your column that I think you’ve sometimes got it wrong. But it doesn’t mean we can’t work together.

Ultimately, when it comes to making a decision, you have all the information in front of you – not hearsay – and you make the decision based on that and that alone.

Q: One of the columns that you probably didn’t agree with highlighted the amount of events taking place up and down the country where the winners can easily be predicted beforehand in every single fight. Can you do more to demand an increase in competitive fights?

RS: I think you’ll find that we are, behind the scenes, stopping fights from taking place that you won’t know about, certainly those involving foreign boxers. The increase in Eastern Europeans is difficult to manage because you don’t know how good they are until they get here. But we have got stronger on that. I hate the term, but we’ve got less and less ‘journeymen’ who can fiddle their way through and teach them something. Don’t forget, I have been that route myself as a professional boxer when you need to get the rounds in, you need to fight a southpaw, you need to box somebody tall, somebody short, and it’s all part of the education. But at some point you do need to be able to fight and we do see, as a consequence of these [unbeaten] records, fighters getting found out when they step up to championship level. But that’s down to managers and promoters.

Q: Is British boxing in a good place heading into 2023?

RS: Yes. I think people want to come here to watch the boxing, I think America has dipped a little bit, but we’ve got the best fans in the world. They are very knowledgeable about boxing but of course they have their opinions, they’re passionate. I’ve received abuse from fans, you have, everyone in a position of authority has. I can take that, criticise me all you like, but what I can’t accept is when that criticism manifests itself in abuse towards my family.

Q: With that in mind, will you be the General Secretary this time next year?

RS: Yes. I remember hearing a radio show saying I was leaving my job in November and I thought, well, they must know something that I don’t know. It’s now December and I’m still here. I’ve no idea how long I’ll be in the job, but I’m healthy and that’s all you can hope for. I just hope that when I do go, that the sport will be in a better position than when I took it over. I think, unless something goes dramatically wrong, and I’m not building myself up, but as a sport but I think we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been.

Q: What does Christmas look like for Robert Smith?

RS: Well I picked up my mother-in-law yesterday [Monday December 19] and she’s a really good cook so hopefully it will be a good day! I’ll come in [to the office] again on Friday [December 23] just to wrap up. Dennis [Gilmartin] will come in. Just to clear our desks so when we start again in January we’re starting afresh. Like in any other industry, we’re all very tired, we’re knackered, and we’d like to go home and have some rest, just like everyone else.