I cannot think of a statement of more significance, if it is upheld, than the one Frank Warren delivered to the BBC in his attempt to substantiate the suggestion Nathan Cleverly is being primed for a ‘unification’ fight with Bernard Hopkins later this year. Followers of the noble art are well versed in the model Warren usually employs in his promotion of an unbeaten fighter like Cleverly; offer the fighter every advantage through shrewd matchmaking via the vagaries of the WBO’s ranking system and home comforts while simultaneously tantalising the public with tales of forthcoming opponents.
Sufficient evidence exists for this in the careers of Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton. This doesn’t make Warren the enemy of boxing fans but protracted reigns as peripheral champions are not what greatness is built on.
If, and it is a big if, he is now prepared to push his fighter beyond the limitations of the World Boxing Organisation’s top 15 and into genuine world class fights it will be a welcome change of stance from the wiley promoter. The craft of promotion shouldn’t be under-estimated; rather like Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, Warren has outlasted all of his competitors and rebuilt his stable countless times. He has wrestled with the personalities and sensibilities of the good, the bad and the ugly in the sport and he has largely prevailed.
Some of the methods have drawn criticism in certain quarters the most persistent of which is the perceived protection of fighters. Hatton was arguably over-cooked by the time he dethroned Tyszu, though the performance served to vindicate the protracted apprenticeship. For this observer, it wasted 18-24 months of Hatton’s physical prime which should have been better employed than dealing with Dane’s and Argentines. And it may be history forgives him for the wilderness years of Joe Calzaghe, as Joe never asserted with any conviction that he really wanted the big fights until it was almost too late.
Warren’s ethos, provide winnable fights, managed risk and every advantage of notice, geography and support possible, has previously been unshakeable. I remember an interview with Adam Smith that Warren did years ago when he openly acknowledge he was reluctant to put his “fie-deh” into a 50-50 fight. He would always look for the 60-40, 70-30. He felt that was his role as Manager.
Full houses for the likes of Hatton, Calzaghe and the likes of Kevin Mitchell evidence of his ability to construct an attraction.
But times are different. The market has shifted slightly. Some will say it is the rigour first applied by Sky Sports to their benchmarking of fights. Out went the meaningless WBU/IBA and WBF and even the sanctioned fights of the IBO/WBO and Commonwealth bodies were no guarantee of coverage. The TV picture has been messy, with loyalties and affiliations changing annually over the past five years. BBC and ITV came and went. Setanta came and went. Sky upped the ante and now Warren has elected to go out on his own and forge his own channel – BoxNation.
To make the subscription channel a success in a marketplace where approx. 12,000 fans spend £2.95 a week on the industry magazine and often less than 100,000 watch fights on Sky Sports he needs a compelling schedule.
His connection with Golden Boy Promotions is a significant addition to this armoury but perhaps more indicative of the challenge he faces is the suggestion he’s willing to put Nathan Cleverly in the most difficult fight available to continue his education as a fighter and promotion as an attraction. Bernard Hopkins, even at 47 years old. Is the toughest fight available in the division.
Cynics will point to the fact these comments come in the prelude to a mundane clash with Robin Krasniqi - a fighter with a flimsy body of work.
I’d like to indulge him and attach some belief that is small but significant statement will prove a watershed in the matching of his key fighters; Cleverly and Burns are two who could benefit, and perhaps even succeed in those types of fights.