ONE morning 10 years ago I received a slew of angry emails, the apparent collective purpose of which was to get to the bottom of why 20,000 boxing fans’ Saturday night had been ruined by me – or us.
There had been an injury and a cancellation, you see, and I, as part of the so-called cover-up, had a secret I was allegedly hiding. As well as wanting refunds, then, this gang of people wanted the truth and, what is more, believed and said they had a right to it. They wanted to know why, just a week from fight night, their plans had suddenly fallen apart and they wanted to know what we, as the promoter, would do about it. Some even said their trust, on account of this not being the first time, was now gone forever and that never again would they buy a ticket for a fight, whether promoted by us or anyone else.
In response, and as instructed, I said nothing. I was told there was a process to follow and also told not to feel sorry for these people. I was reminded that to operate in boxing it was imperative to have thick skin, take the rough with the smooth, and learn when to go to the mattresses in moments of high drama. What that ultimately meant, of course, was this: to operate in boxing one must develop a coldness, not far off a superiority complex, and be able to put fans and other minions in a box, deeming their opinion and viewpoint immaterial. Only in time, however, and with both distance and maturity, did I come to understand this.
Back then, having written yet another press release to announce yet another cancelled fight, I couldn’t help sympathising with all the people feeling let down. After all, I, as a fellow boxing fan, had been there myself on more than one occasion; let down after buying a ticket to a fight that would now have to be rescheduled due to an injury or illness. In those instances, too, I questioned the legitimacy of the boxer’s injury or illness and wanted someone at whom I could vent my fury. In those instances, too, I would have received no response, at least not one remotely satisfying.
I was fortunate in that sense that after regularly paying for tickets as a teenager (or, more accurately, having my dad pay for most of them) I was able to find a position in the sport which allowed me to attend fights for free (and thus return the favour). Be it in the role of either press officer for a couple of world champions or in the role of journalist, I was able, from these privileged positions, to swan into an arena on fight night with a lanyard around my neck and for the most part go wherever I wanted. Not just that, never once did I have to worry about being out of pocket or having my plans ruined by someone quote-unquote being injured or ill because tickets were not shifting as quickly as they had hoped or training wasn’t going quite as well as planned.
No, as part of the fortunate ones, everything was now on my terms and therefore such issues – issues of the peanut gallery and paying punters – were quickly shoved to the back of my mind. They no longer affected me, these issues, so no longer did I think or ever really care about them. Besides, I had other things to worry and write about now, like the fighters and fights themselves. Better yet, I had the access those in the cheap seats could only dream of experiencing.
The truth is, I was probably not the only one to think like that. In fact, of all the questions journalists, or people at press conferences, will ask promoters and others in the sport these days, you can be sure that the one they will forget to ask will be the one pertaining to the price of tickets in 2023. That, if you’ve been following the issue, is a major one in boxing right now, and in sport in general, yet is an easy one for promoters to shirk because it is the one issue about which they are so rarely asked. Why, after all, should a journalist care if a punter has to pay over 60 pounds for the worst seat in the house, or over 250 pounds simply to remove the need to watch the fight on a big screen? They’ll be just fine in their complimentary ringside seat.
Indeed, how about this for a nightmare vision: entirely empty arenas in which fights take place and around the ring only promoters, family members, influencers, sheikhs, and starry-eyed content creators holding phones and cameras can be seen. (The Important People, in other words.) Then again, how, you might ask, would organisers ever be able to fund such a thing without the presence and hard-earned cash of fans? To which I would then reference various events in the past few years, some at home and some abroad, and say to you, “This is boxing. There is always a way. Furthermore, Neil Diamond sounds just as good singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ alone.”
Frankly, one has to wonder whether fans would be considered an inconvenience in the eyes of those running the show were it not for their money. We have seen some evidence of this, sadly, in the welcoming of and reliance on secondary ticketing websites, as well as ticket prices in general and the way in which fans are then treated when a fight is cancelled and they are left to pick up the pieces. You have also seen the smugness on promoters’ faces when their events are funded by other means, mysterious to all but them, for the simple reason that this allows them to ignore the value of fans altogether.
And yet surely now, with boxing such a deformed and unlovable beast, it is more important than ever to remember and respect those, like the readers of this publication, who can still see its beauty and are prepared to look beyond the superficial. Moreover, as boxing struggles for an identity in 2023, it is not the boxers, the people who promote the sport, or the people who cover it who should be regarded as its doctors, lifesavers, or even the most essential people in the room. Instead, it is the fans. It is the people who continue buying Boxing News when the rest are content to scroll through social media for a simulacrum of an education while streaming and tweeting about fights from their sofa. It is the people who continue to purchase tickets for events despite both the risk of disappointment and knowing that feeling all too well. It is the people who are quick to forgive and understand, as few others do, what boxing can be when on its best behaviour and when they, the fans, are actually put first (if just by the boxers once the opening bell rings).