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‘It’s crazy’ – Boxing is shooting itself in the foot with three world title fights in one night

Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood face off at their weigh-in in Manchester - ‘It’s crazy’ – Boxing is shooting itself in the foot with three world title fights in one night - Action Images/Jason Cairnduff
Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood face off at their weigh-in in Manchester - ‘It’s crazy’ – Boxing is shooting itself in the foot with three world title fights in one night - Action Images/Jason Cairnduff

Three world title fights on Saturday night – in Belfast, Bournemouth and Manchester – being shown on different broadcasters at the same time is a ludicrous situation, with fighters and fans losing out. There is no other way to see it.

There have been clashes in the past with two fights on one night – in 2018 Carl Frampton faced Josh Warrington in Manchester while Derek Chisora took on Dillian Whyte in London – but boxing is simply shooting itself in the foot again.

In Belfast, Michael Conlan fights the IBF featherweight champion Alberto Lopez, while over in Manchester, Leigh Wood rematches Mauricio Lara for the WBA featherweight title, and finally in Bournemouth, Lawrence Okolie defends the WBO cruiserweight title against local hero Chris Billam-Smith.

Lara was stripped of his title after failing to make the weight on Friday, but promoter Eddie Hearn said the fight would still go ahead, with the English boxer eligible to claim the title. Wood's team, however, said they were not certain the bout would take place.

But all three are potentially big fights, significant contests, and have intrigue and storylines to capture the imagination of fight fans over a weekend. The crush is the worst thing that could happen for these six protagonists, and it is galling that three of the next four weekends do not have major fights in the UK.

Frank Warren, who has been 40 years in the sport as a promoter, told The Daily Telegraph: “It's crazy. I can’t ever remember a night with three world title fights in the UK. Collectively we need to sort it out. It divides the fans. It can come down to availability – and all that goes with that – but it does boxing no favours.”

Chris Billam-Smith (right) and Lawrence Okolie during the weigh-in at Bournemouth Pier - ‘It’s crazy’ – Boxing is shooting itself in the foot with three world title fights in one night - PA/Andrew Matthews
Chris Billam-Smith (right) and Lawrence Okolie during the weigh-in at Bournemouth Pier - ‘It’s crazy’ – Boxing is shooting itself in the foot with three world title fights in one night - PA/Andrew Matthews

Warren revealed that the Lopez-Conlan main event, on BT Sport, has been brought forward with the ring walks at 9pm. “It spreads the coverage thin, and means the media is spread. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he added.

Time was when a big UK card led into a big event later on a card from the USA, allowing a natural flow. But times are changing. Hearn, promoting the rematch of Mexican Lara and Wood for the WBA featherweight title on broadcaster DAZN,  told Telegraph Sport: “Show clashes are a regular problem now but it's very unique to have three world championship shows on one night in the UK.

“On a positive the demographic split is good – Belfast, Manchester and Bournemouth – however, it's never ideal to split your boxing audience.”

However, competition in boxing – a business as much as it is a sport – can be a vicious process and at the moment there are a lot of broadcasters and promoters who are aggressively trying to capture the market; none more so than Hearn, who also claims that scheduling has been tough.

‘You get what you are given with football stadiums’

“In an ideal world, everybody would agree that individual scheduling for promoters and broadcasters would be of benefit to themselves and also to the fans, but we are still coming off the back of difficult scheduling of venues because of Covid. A backlog of bookings means it's difficult to tie up your ideal dates and, more importantly, the broadcasters' dates with the availability of venues.”

Ben Shalom, head of BOXXER, whose world cruiserweight title fight takes place on Sky Sports at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium with Okolie defending his WBO crown against south coast hero Billam-Smith, insisted that the limited availability at Bournemouth FC’s football ground meant few options.

“For us a football stadium fight for this contest was an absolute priority and with football stadiums in particular it's one week a year. We get a special night in a sold-out stadium. You get what you are given in that case.”

But Shalom addressed the log jam, insisting to Telegraph Sport: “The way forwards is for the three promoters to sit down once a month and try sensibly to avoid clashes with major world titles. That is what will make the sport grow if we can manage the calendar properly, because there are still weekends when there is no boxing.”

Rivalry will always be there; it is the nature of the beast in boxing. And in spite of the promoters clearly trying to outdo each other there needs to be a level of communication to eliminate nights like this – where everyone loses out.

Whatever happens going forward, this needs to be a one-off.

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