Statistics don’t lie.
Well, at least normally they’re not supposed to. The sport of boxing may be an exception to that rule right now; records show Britain currently has eleven different world champions, holding an exceptional thirteen world championships between them.
Astonishing right? A remarkable seven world champions have been crowned this year alone. Before 2015 is out, Billy Joe Saunders will also challenge for the coveted WBO middleweight world championship against ‘Irish’ Andy Lee.
In any other sport, the crowning of seven world champions in a calendar year would have the public in raptures.
Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton was recently crowned world champion for the third time during a remarkable and storied career; whilst Andy Murray led the British Davis Cup tennis team to a historic first title in 79 years – both figures were lauded as heroes, their names plastered throughout the back pages of every newspaper and media outlet online.
England have failed to win the football world cup in nearly fifty years, yet football’s support is as feverent as ever.
Walk out of your front door now. Chat to a neighbour, the postman, the window cleaner or the milkman, and ask about Lewis Hamilton, about Andy Murray. Now pause for a moment and ask them who Britain’s world boxing champions are. Then wait for the pause and look of the confusion, the look upwards at the sky.
‘Tyson Fury!’ They’ll say confidently – his name reverberates off the lips of everybody in the vicinity and rightly so, he did the unthinkable, stripping the world heavyweight championship from a long reigning champion in boxing’s most storied division. But who else?
‘Carl Froch’ – recently retired, ‘Amir Khan’ – fights infrequently, neither of whom are longer world champions. So what figures did they tend to recite? Eubank, Benn, Frank Bruno, Naseem Hamed, Ricky Hatton, hell, a few even named Mike Tyson – that guy’s not even British right?
Despite the fact Britain, has the highest number of world champions in its illustrious boxing history, the general public have completely lost touch with the sport. Household names were built in the nineties, with the Benn’s and Eubank’s duking it out on live terrestrial television, drawing crowds of thousands at ringside and millions of viewers at home.
By the end of 2015, Britain could have fourteen world championships on it shores, a 180% increase on it’s five world championships in 2005 and a 133% increase on it’s six world championships in 1995.
So why during this ‘Golden Age’ of British boxing, a sport which we seem to be excelling compared to other countries around the world, are the British public so in the dark?
Has the standard of British boxing increased? Is the sport bigger at a grass roots level now? Are more kids packing the gyms up and down the country in the hope of becoming the next big thing?
More bluntly, does the British public actually care?
Speaking to numerous well respected boxing figures in the game, gave an insight into the attitudes and feelings of why the sport, so strong statistically, is so weak in terms of the public conscious.
Dave Coldwell, successful manager and world class trainer shared his views on the matter, “We’re definitely in a more successful stage of British boxing. Boxing is back in the headlines and there are massive crowds on a regular basis”.
Despite this, he wasn’t totally convinced by the ‘big names’ boxing now has compared to yesteryear. “We miss stand out stars such as Benn, Eubank and Naz [Naseem Hamed]. They were more cross-over stars, and we need a few more of the current fighters to build that type of personality. Anthony Joshua is the obvious flag bearer at the moment, but we need more.”
Has the standard of British boxing improved?
Well respected veteran promoter Steve Goodwin shared his opinion on the matter. The answer was a sad indictment of the sport, “I’m not sure it has improved. Less of the public are able to watch boxing now than they used to when boxing was on terrestrial television.”
“The public do not know who the world champions are and with there being so many world champions in different weight categories I cannot see that it is currently in a better state than it was in 1990.”
Before writing this article, a poll was run asking some well respected boxing fans how many world champions Britain does actually have. Only 21 out of 86 of those surveyed got the answer correct, with answers ranging from three to nineteen.
Something just isn’t right about that.
Former British, Commonwealth and soon to be world title challenger Stephen Smith, shared his views in support of boxing’s current state, “British boxing is 100% better now. We now have more British world champions. A British fighter winning a world title nowadays doesn’t seem as big of a deal as it used to.”
Highly ranked WBA middleweight contender Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan was short and concise with his response, “I think it has improved because Britain now has more world champions than it did in 1995”
There is no simple answer as to whether or not the sport has declined, or it is in fact on the up. Britain’s James Degale defended his prestigious IBF super middleweight world title out in Canada, a fight which was previewed as the toughest fight of his career so far. The former Olympic Gold medalist heroically retained his title and earned a sack full of money in the process – but who knew, barring boxing’s main protagonists, that the fight was actually happening. The answer in short – very few.
Boxing has largely been removed from the public psyche with it’s lack of coverage across terrestrial television in the UK over the past ten years. Boxing’s main platform appears to be restricted to Sky Sport’s niche coverage of the sport, helped along in glimpses by the dedicated boxing channel Boxnation.
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, with ITV recently airing live boxing and Channel 5’s continuing support of the sport in a regular prime time Saturday night slot every once in a blue moon – but there needs to be more.
British boxing is very rich in its champions, but is arguably less rich than ever in it’s public consciousness.
The exposure of fighters on Sky Sports is now greater than ever, with Matchroom posterboy and Olympic Gold medalist Anthony Joshua leading the charge, but that exposure is limited in itself to 10.6 million of the 61 million residents across the British Isles, that’s assuming all Sky subscribers actually have the sports package.
Terrestrial TV encompasses a staggering 91% of the nation – a figure that could once again help boxing rise up from the niche, if it’s shows could once again be broadcast to the mass market.
Premier Boxing Champions in the USA, brain child of super advisor Al Haymon, has identified this stance, with it’s motto “FreeBoxing4All”, it’s trying to push the boxing narrative to the masses. Is it time British boxing did the same?
British boxing could have fighters such as Stephen Smith, Tony Bellew, Callum Smith, Chris Eubank Jr., David Haye and Gavin McDonnell all challenging for world titles before 2016 draws to a close.
If you think eleven world champions is impressive, just wait until this time next year – now is the time, the public should know about it.
By Luke Madeira, follow Luke on twitter @lukemadeira15