How fickle the fortunes of British boxing, and boxing in general in fact. A year or less ago, every article spoke of the terminal outlook of boxing’s various ills. Naysayers pointed to the rise of Mixed Martial Arts and its most notable body, the UFC. David Haye’s weekend capture of the World Cruiserweight title and Joe Calzaghe’s acceptance as a modern day great are the latest links in a chain of good news that has transformed the complexion of British boxing. The doom-merchants have been vanquished, the threat of UFC forgotten and boxing galvanised.
Although now focused on challenges at weight classes above the one over which they presently reside, mess’s Haye (Cruiserweight, Calzaghe (Super-Middleweight) and Ricky Hatton (Light-Welterweight) offer the UK a trio of genuine world-champions amid the 17 weight classes. An unparalled success story in modern times.
And these are proper champions. Not, as David Haye pointed out, one of more than 68 belt-holders possible under the jurisdiction of the main four sanctioning bodies; WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. Real, genuine, World Champions. There is after all, only one world.
Implicitly this denigrates the achievements of British contemporaries Clinton Woods (IBF Light Heavyweight), Enzo Maccarinelli (WBO Cruiserweight), Gavin Rees (WBA Light-Welterweight) and Junior Witter (WBC Light-Welterweight) who trained and fought hard to win their various belts. But in reality, remove the splintering of the title and none of these very capable fighters are actually world-champions.
Sad but true. This doesn’t make their belts worthless, as it assures increased remuneration and greater negotiating power with both the television networks and the promoters of other contenders, it simply means the belts don’t make them champions.
However, irrespective of the merits of these other belts they do contribute to the buoyancy of British boxing and have helped return the sport to the consciousness of sports fans across the country. The renaissance has several contributory factors. Notably, the Contender Series, the nostalgia factor initiated by the Rocky film, competitiveness of rival television networks – most notably Sky’s rejection of peripheral belts and baubles – and the successive emergence of two Amateur stars in Audley Harrison and Amir Khan. Despite their flaws, they brought boxing back to terrestrial television. A key watershed.
The day to day result? People are now asking me about fights, fighters, titles, weight-classes. They, the great uneducated, want to hear about boxing. Want to understand. I have friends signing up to Setanta because they want to see Joe Calzaghe fight, I have work-colleagues worried about seeing Hatton batter Mayweather because it clashes with their Christmas party. I have family members asking me about the boxing gym and what its like, self-betterment programmes for errant school children grow in popularity.
As we prepare for the most significant boxing match featuring a British fighter since Lennox fought Evander Holyfield and the arrival of a New Year, British boxing and the sport as a whole is blossoming. Medals at World Championships show the production line is far from empty either.
British boxing is alive and well in 2007 and coming to a living room near you. To quote Bernard Hopkins in a post-fight quote from earlier this year. “Boxing is back”.