A big happy birthday to BoxNation who’ve defied the doubters and staved off a few initial teething problems to celebrate its third anniversary this weekend.
Several within the fight industry forecast a short life span for the boxing only subscription channel and were penning my ring obituary when I opted to go solo and launch the Channel of Champions in September 2011.
Following productive relationships with ITV and Sky Sports, I saw a need to innovate when the latter opted to significantly cull its boxing operation, following two flawed and unsuccessful pay-per-view ventures featuring David Haye, firstly against Audley Harrison and then Wladimir Klitschko.
All involved in British boxing seemed set to suffer nearly a year later. Ricky Hatton, an integral cog behind the rise of Sky boxing during his time as a fighter, was dumped by email and the artist formerly known as Frank Maloney also lost his promotional contract.
It is a fact that, around inception, several key players on the Sky boxing team, enquired about the possibility of employment on BoxNation!
It’s somewhat ironic that a key factor in my departure from Sky revolved around the worth of the initial spat between Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew which eventually took place at Liverpool’s Echo Arena in October 2011.
At the time, ‘Clev’ was WBO World Champion and, though British and Commonwealth king Bellew was also unbeaten, he’d just been involved in a real stinker with Bob Ajisafe, then dumped on his arse twice by Ovill McKenzie.
Sky were extremely sceptical of Bellew’s credentials as a world title challenger. However, I stuck up for the ‘Bomber’ and, as I’d sensed, the pair produced a real cracker for BoxNation’s first domestic world title contest.
Back then, rival promoter Eddie Hearn made disparaging comments about the affair being no more than a British title fight. Three years on, with no world title at stake and after both fighters endured brutal knockout losses, Matchroom and Sky are trying to kid the boxing public that their pending rematch this November will be something akin to the second coming of Gatti-Ward. I seriously doubt it!
Regardless, with Sky’s interest flagging and its boxing budget diminishing, I identified the need to act fast, be pro-active and provide an avenue to showcase the plethora of talented champions and prospects on my roster.
In addition to considerable foresight and planning, the venture required staggering financial investment and it’s no secret that the early months were tough, especially when the channel was ‘free to air’.
Looking back, I probably encountered my toughest period in boxing and I took some hellacious stick, particularly from those ‘brave’ anonymous trolls on the internet. It’s true that, in a few instances, certain fighters were paid a little late but they were all paid in full.
Despite the difficulties, we steadfastly built the project on solid foundations, recruiting quality men such as Richard Brooke (our first Chairman), former MD Simon Green (now Head of BT Sport), Jim McMunn (Managing Director) and Jim Bentley (Producer). East End tycoon Bill Ives, Head of Rainham Steel and one of this nation’s most astute and successful businessmen, joined my family as the channel’s major investor. We also persuaded presenters of the calibre of Jim Rosenthal, Richard Keys and Steve Bunce, plus esteemed commentator John Rawling, to hop on board. The Channel has also seen the emergence of quality pundits Steve Lillis and Barry Jones.
We made a huge initial splash by debuting with Britain’s Fight of the Year for 2011, a savage war between super-feathers Liam Walsh and Paul Appleby at a sweltering York Hall and, by and large, it’s been onwards and upwards ever since.
By consistently delivering the very best available live action from both the UK and overseas, BoxNation evolved, at the time, into the fastest growing subscription channel in Britain, prior to the launch of BT. It remains the third biggest such channel, behind only Sky Sports and BT.
Since inception, BN has broadcast 417 title fights to British screens. ‘The Channel of Champions’ routinely delivers the best fighters, in the best fights from all corners of the globe, week in, week out.
World superstars such as Mayweather, Hopkins, Klitschko, Pacquiao, Cotto, Marquez, Khan, Garcia, Rigondeaux plus many, many more have featured live and, at varying times, over 350,000 different people have accessed the channel. In February of this year, at no small cost, we launched the channel in HD.
For less than the price of a pint in a pub or the trade paper each week, subscribers are treated to three weekly magazine shows, archive footage, fighter biopics plus an average of four live promotions each month; several showcasing world championship action from right across the planet.
I have to say that I still find it mystifying that so many associated with British boxing were waiting, perhaps hoping, to see us fail.
It is a cold hard fact that BoxNation has provided a fresh multi-million pound revenue stream that previously didn’t exist on these shores. This has created monies and opportunities for all involved with the sport, from the fighters and associated licence holders to administrators and media outlets.
The rise of BoxNation hasn’t just served the needs of Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions. Promoters of quality fighters such as Stuart Hall, Paul Butler and Carl Frampton saw them fight for and win, world titles on the channel and, take heed, none were required to travel overseas to receive their opportunity. Likewise, we’ve been instrumental in allowing a huge number of rising domestic prospects to develop their careers before a live TV audience.
Today because we consistently deliver quality product, the channel can now boast a stable and substantial fan base, confirming that there is indeed a market for a boxing only subscription channel.
Thirty-six months on, we’re still here, still delivering, still evolving, constantly re-investing. Last month we exclusively aired Carl Frampton’s sensational IBF super-bantam win over Kiko Martinez, pound-for-pound leader Floyd Mayweather in his rematch with Marco Maidana, plus world championship action featuring Leo Santa Cruz and Miguel Vasquez.
Next month, IBF champions Rances Barthelemy (super-feather) Carlos Molina (light-middle) and Zolani Tete (super-fly) defend their titles live on the channel. The latter, of course, faces Ellesmere Port’s Paul Butler in a ‘can’t miss’ affair.
Already secured for November’s schedule are brilliant WBO champions Tomoki Kameda (bantam) and Manny Pacquiao (welter), plus history maker Bernard Hopkins in his light-heavyweight unifier with Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev.
And these simply serve as an appetiser for what is surely the bill of the season when Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora, Frankie Gavin-Bradley Skeete and Liam Walsh-Gary Sykes all square off at London’s ExCel Arena.
Subscribers have my assurance that we’ll do all possible to ensure that we continue to evolve and deliver what they want – Boxing!