By Ralph Welch
On Friday morning it all seemed so unlikely, didn’t it?
The build-up to the Vitali Klitschko – Dereck Chisora clash had been somewhat low-key. The two had traded amusing barbs on niche subscription channel BoxNation, but as is often the case in a Klitschko title fight, the challenger received little credibility from the world’s media. Indeed, when sponsors are offering you large sums to put their logo on the soles of your feet, it’s hardly a confidence booster for a professional fighter.
All seemed in order for another run-of-the-mill title defence. Doubtless some scribes had their cut and paste icons ready in anticipation of another write-up bemoaning the lack of interest in boxing’s flagship division. And then came Dereck Chisora.
He arrived in Germany with a reputation as an enigmatic and volatile character. But even by his standards, the events that followed his descent from the scales at Friday’s weigh-in were truly extraordinary.
There were slaps, spit balls, brawls and verbal gunshots, either side of the most impressive performance of the Londoner’s career.
Incidentally, let’s not forget the fight. There was one – and a damn good one at that. From the first bell Chisora took the fight to the elder Klitschko. Round after round, he pursued the taller, more skilful foe and made him fight for every second of every stanza. It was a performance to be proud of.
If we’d have stopped there, it’s likely that “Del Boy” would have returned home to a muted response with a few column inches affording him mild praise for a gutsy display.
Today Chisora, along with fellow protagonist David Haye, continues to command back and front page news for his part in one of the most outrageous press conferences the sport of recent times.
Hype and handbags – the boxing business
Now there’s a standard formula to a boxing press conference confrontation: ever-increasing personal insults followed by one fighter swinging the proverbial handbag at his adversary, before being escorted away by burly security guards amidst threats of vengeance.
It’s a tried and tested recipe for hyping a fight and selling tickets. And like it or not, selling tickets is the business we’re in.
Except on this occasion the burly security guards were – incredibly – nowhere to be seen. And rather than aiming a handbag, David Haye commandeered a camera tripod and swung for the fences with the sort of aggression that was so lacking on his last visit to German shores.
Cameras and phones flashed excitedly. The footage spread around the world at a furious pace.
Every TV station, every pundit, every call-in screamed that these scenes were “not what we wanted to see in boxing”. Curious given that within hours the footage had hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.
As well as facing the German police, both brawlers will be summoned before the British Boxing Board of Control to explain their actions. Despite the doomsday scenarios appearing in some of today’s papers, lifetime bans are unlikely. Chisora will most likely be fined and receive some kind of temporary suspension. Haye, having officially retired from the sport in October, is currently not under the jurisdiction of the governing body. However he’ll almost certainly be subjected to an unofficial dressing down and any future application to regain his license will be subject to more rigour.
When the dust settles and knees have jerked back into place, we should consider the wider repercussions for the sport of boxing.
Why the doom and gloom?
It may be because boxing has been relegated to the sidelines that we’ve become such sensitive souls.
There’s no denying that the sport is drifting further from the mainstream consciousness. Gone are the times when legends such as Benn, Eubank and Collins lit up the terrestrial TV screens of 20 million viewers. How we miss them. How us boxing diehards wish that others would share our passion for a sport that deserves so much more than the meagre media rations it is afforded.
Instead we seem to be constantly apologising for the occasional bad headline that boxing receives. It seems we’re only one incident away from a tidal wave of ill-informed callers to Radio 5 asking for boxing to be banned.
Why do we care? These folk will never, ever show a flicker of interest in professional pugilism. Let them be.
We live in sensational times and what happened in the unlikely location of a German press room was indeed a sensation. For some people, heavyweight boxing just got exciting. For the first time in a long time they actually cared.
Every great champion needs an adversary
Before Saturday night’s unbelievable scenes, the heavyweight scene was a barren landscape ruled by possibly the most under-appreciated champions of all time. The Klitschko brothers, deprived of credible opposition, have been reduced to plucking the best from the cruiserweight division, pawing them around the ring like a big cat toying with its prey.
Make no mistake, the Klitschko brothers are great champions, wearing their crowns with dignity and humility. But great champions need great adversaries.
A quick glance through the YouTube comments yesterday saw an avalanche of support from non-boxing fans for the Klitschko brothers to clean up the division and rid boxing of Messrs Haye and Chisora.
With some intelligent promotion this could be the most interesting few months the heavyweight division has seen for a long time. Think about it. We now have two legitimate bad guys – pilloried by every pundit, aficionado and average Joe who clicked onto YouTube – for their behaviour. According to them, boxing would be better off without the likes of Chisora and Haye – and they would pay good money to see Sheriff Klitschko run these outlaws out of Dodge.
That means tickets, TV, tear-ups and a chance for some undercard fighters to get some exposure in front of a decent audience. In my opinion at least, that’s good for boxing.
Would I like to see a repeat of Saturday night’s shenanigans? I’d argue that we were a burly security guard short of one of the best press conference we’ve seen in years.
Saturday’s scuffle wasn’t the reason people have switched off from boxing in their droves. In the early hours of Sunday morning underdog Gabriel Campillo was robbed by some appalling Texas judging for the title of Light-Heavyweight champion of the world.
It’s a moniker that Tavoris Cloud shares with at least four other combatants, depending on which of the plethora of so-called “world” titles you choose to recognise.
Trust me, boxing’s got bigger problems than two heavyweights having a 20-second dust-up at a press conference.
Besides, there’s still a way that this whole episode could end up selling a lot of tickets.
It’s the business we’re in.
You can follow Ralph on Twitter at @RalphWelch