By Declan Taylor
Wednesday, 15 November
BY MY RECKONING
I’m still not exactly sure how they pulled it off but on Wednesday evening, one of the biggest press conferences in British boxing history took place in London at Wembley Arena. The Week has been involved in some bizarre, surreal days covering this sport but this one, to announce December 23 in Riyadh, probably tops the lot.
Before it had even started, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren met for the first time, in a room down one of the Arena’s many tunnels, while Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder prepared in suites separated by only the width of a tiny corridor.
The heavyweight duo sat just a few seats apart at the presser itself, which kicked off with an address from Turki Al-Alshikh, from a balcony overlooking the main stage, in what was his first public speech on these shores since taking control of boxing in the Kingdom.
Once they got going, the vast array of big names all spoke. Drug cheat Jarrell Miller spoke longest and was dressed down by Joshua for it. As was host Dev Sahni, who asked AJ a simple question only for the heavyweight to insist on it being Hearn who speaks to him. December 23 is going to be wild.
Thursday, 16 November
Exactly 24 hours after Wednesday’s fun, Queensberry Promotions went again with a press conference to officially announce the most significant fight they have ever staged: Tyson Fury against Oleksandr Usyk.
Just after 6pm at HERE at Outernet, on Tottenham Court Road, the two heavyweights were present as it was confirmed that their undisputed clash will take place on February 17. Given so many fighters attended on Wednesday, it was strange to hear only two boxers speaking this time around, although Sylvester Stallone did pop up out of nowhere for some reason. Fury did most of the talking, sweeping through the full compendium of his favourite insults which ranged from sausage to bog-eyed, ugly man.
All things considered, this was a crazy double from Queensberry, who had to move their final press conference for Saturday’s Magnificent Seven card to Tuesday in order to accommodate them both. Although Warren had described Hearn has his best PR man in recent weeks, special mention must go to his actual one Matt Rich, who somehow pulled it all together. He even had time to serve the press mini burgers and chicken pies.
A few hours later, in Las Vegas, Shakur Stevenson UD’ed Edwin De Los Santos so hard that he had to apologise afterwards for what he described as a ‘bad’ performance.
Friday, 17 November
EAR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
The Week caught up with rising British middleweight star Hamzah Sheeraz, although the undefeated puncher could not quite hear the conversation.
Sheeraz suffered damage to her ear during a sparring session in Los Angeles right at the end of his camp, which forced the postponement of his scheduled December 2 clash with Liam Williams. He said the injury came as a result of a slap on the ear and he did not even have time to have a shower before rushing to the hospital for a diagnosis.
The worst bit was that once Sheeraz was told the bad news, that he could not train whatsoever for four weeks and definitely not fight before the end of the year, the doctor also told him he was not allowed to fly home to the UK for another 10 days.
By Friday, however, he was safely back in Blighty, still hard of hearing and unable to train fully but with his sights set on a rearranged February clash with Williams. Come through that unscathed, he said, and it will be straight into a summer barnburner with Denzel Bentley. “But let’s see how he gets on against Nathan Heaney first,” he said.
Saturday, 18 November
HEANEY DOES IT
There was so much to go at on a crazy Saturday night of boxing in Britain as Frank Warren’s Magnificent Seven in Manchester show went head-to-head with Boxxer’s Wolves at the Door in, you guessed it, Wolverhampton.
But without doubt the story of the night took place up north, in the very last fight of Warren’s gargantuan bill, as Nathan Heaney claimed the British title via majority decision over Denzel Bentley. Firstly, an apology. In my preview for the show written in these pages, I suggested that Bentley would not only win, but win well inside the distance. I was not alone in such a pick.
But Heaney, with one of the most heartbreaking back-stories in British boxing, made us all look silly with a spirited display, roared on by his legion of fans at the Manchester Arena. These are strange times for boxing, with few crossover stars and widespread infection via unlicensed influencer fights, but on Saturday Heaney served up a reminder of what this sport is all about. There were goosebumps watching him celebrate the result, face down in the centre of the ring. Your old man would be so proud of you, and so should British boxing.
Sunday, 19 November
YAFAI GOT NEWS FOR YOU
It was into the early hours of Sunday morning by the time that Kal Yafai, with ‘the last dance’ written on his groin guard, ringwalked for the final time. The fight against Jonathan Rodriguez, at the Youtube Theater in Inglewood, California, lasted just 137 seconds as the Birmingham man was dropped and stopped in stunning fashion.
In his post fight interview, Yafai confirmed that he would be retiring and that he would have done even if he had won. In the end, maybe this performance against Rodriguez will make it easier for him to walk away, knowing that he had given everything to this sport and there was simply nothing left to give.
The eldest of the fighting Yafais, Khalid made an impression on the wider boxing public way back in 2008 when he came out of nowhere to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. He turned pro, won titles and boxed at the very top level – even facing modern day great Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez in February 2020. This was only his second fight since that night and, he insists, the last of a stellar career. Yafai, 27-2 (15), we salute you.
Monday, 20 November
Monday kicked off the final ever fight week for a Showtime pay-per-view, with David Benavidez set to face Demetrius Andrade in the main event in Las Vegas on Saturday. As confirmed earlier this year, Showtime will bring the curtain down on nearly 40 years broadcasting the sport at the end of this year and this is the last time they will ask viewers to fork out for an event.
This show, which also includes Benavidez’s older brother Jose taking on Jermall Charlo, takes place at the Mandalay Bay hotel, just down the Strip from the scene of Showtime’s first boxing broadcast when Marvin Hagler stopped John Mugabi at Caesar’s Palace in March 1986. We are still waiting for news on where PBC will land but Showtime will undoubtedly be missed.
On this side of the Atlantic, as fight week for Chantelle Cameron’s rematch with Katie Taylor began in Dublin, it was confirmed by Matchroom on Monday that the 3Arena in Dublin is now a total sell-out for the show.
Elsewhere in women’s boxing on Monday, Alycia Baumgardner claimed that an independent test on a hair sample ‘rule out any possibility of intentional doping’ after she returned an adverse analytical finding in a drug test after her fight in July. “Vindication,” she Tweeted. “Case closed.”
Tuesday, 21 November
If you thought the idea of Francis Ngannou making his professional boxing debut against Tyson Fury in October this year was barmy, wait until you hear the one about Deontay Wilder.
On Tuesday, the PFL boss Donn Davis said that he expects Ngannou to fight under the banner of the organisation during 2024. “I still think it will be a mixed-rules fight,” he told the MMA Hour. “And I still think Deontay Wilder is the most likely opponent. We’re listening to Francis and he’s sequencing his options. He has a great boxing option and this great crossover option.”
Ngannou stunned everyone, especially Fury, when he dropped the 6ft 9in heavyweight and only narrowly lost on the cards in Riyadh. Everyone involved already has designs on him boxing there again, with a rematch with Fury possible, but it seems that he might fight in the Saudi-backed PFL first.
The news comes in the same month that Ngannou suggested a fight with Wilder would do better business than one against Anthony Joshua. That might be so, but can we all just concentrate on keeping Wilder and Joshua in the same sport so that they can fight each other please?