No, no, no, don’t get the wrong idea, this column is not returning after its summer break to cheerlead for Matchroom and Sky Sports. I haven’t attended a meeting with a man in the back of a long, sleek Merc and been offered an envelope of notes to espouse the party line every week. Not yet, anyway.
Anyone who reads this page, or in fact pretty much anything I’ve ever written on any subject, will know that I’m particularly interested in power structures. And while I added several inches to my waist and worked on my tan this year, it struck me just how clearly the Golovkin v Brook bout is a picture-perfect pay-per-view event for Boxing’s current condition.
Let’s be clear from the beginning – I don’t like it. I don’t like PPV in itself and completely reject all the propaganda that its necessary or essential. It is a system devised to make a small number of people very, very rich at the expense of everyone else. End of.
No wonder that Rupert Murdoch, currently valued at about $12 billion, who owns Fox in the USA, Sky in the UK and chunks of the media all over the world, loves it so much. No wonder that Matchroom Sport, owned by the Hearn family, a company which has used PPV to increase its annual turnover from around £10 million to £50 million a year between 2010 and 2015, loves it so much. And no wonder that a tiny crew of elite fighters, many of whom come from working class or deprived backgrounds and risk their lives every time they get in the ring, love it so much. Why take a few hundred grand for a fight when you can make millions, right?
Once established, what the PPV model obviously creates is the constant need to make and build PPV fights. One a year, two a year, why stop there? And that’s when boxing’s power structure can lead us down peculiar paths.
Matchroom have a deal with Sky to deliver a minimum (rumoured to be 3) PPV events a year. Some years, this is easier than others and with the ascension of Anthony Joshua to the level that people are now prepared to pay £16.95 to watch him cutting his toe-nails, this minimum can be matched and even exceeded with ease.
Initially, as we all know, toothy, smiling, master-of-destruction Gennady Golovkin was due to come to the UK to defend his titles against Chris Eubank Jr. Negotiations for that one stalled, with various reports providing contradictory reasons. (Essentially Matchroom blamed the Eubanks, while the Eubanks blamed Matchroom – go figure!) Then, so the story goes, Eddie Hearn texted Sheffield’s brave IBF Welterweight champ, Kell Brook.
Bear in mind that Kell is a fighter who has spent the last 12 years, since debuting against Peter Buckley in 2004, carefully building a career. Like all young men operating in the present system, his number one ambition will be to make life changing money. This hasn’t happened for him yet, despite picking up a world title, while his three defences so far, against Ionut Dan Ion (who?), Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier (who?) have done little to push him towards that level. Suddenly, from nowhere, he is offered a slice of the pie – a huge PPV fight with international appeal, sharing the ring with a superstar. Is it any wonder he bit Hearn’s hand off?
But why would Eddie offer a welterweight under his banner a bout with the very best middleweight in the world? Is it really because ‘Brook is a big welter’ as we keep being told? Or could there be other reasons?
A quick glimpse at Matchroom’s books does not reveal an abundance of top notch fighters boxing around 160 lbs. There’s Islington’s John Ryder, Blackpool’s Brian Rose or Manchester’s Marcus Morrison, but none of those would fit the bill, for various reasons. Beyond that, Martin Murray is still signed to Matchroom, but has only recently come through a damaging defeat to George Groves and has already been stopped by Golovkin anyway. IBF super middleweight champ James DeGale might have been an option, but DeGale’s affairs are now curiously split between Matchroom and Al Haymon’s PBC, with the latter seemingly well in control.
There’s also Callum ‘Mundo’ Smith, European champ at super-mid, but at only 26 and nearly at elite level already, that would be far too risky. If GGG gave him the mother of all hidings, which he would, a future PPV star could be lost. He is also still a bit ‘green’ for the event to sell, especially abroad.
The bottom line, is that if Hearn wanted to keep the September 10th PPV date alive and fulfil his obligations, he had no real choice. Kell Brook was his only chance of making it happen. Were Kell’s best interests a part of this decision making process? Who knows.
‘Can we build this into a saleable event?’ Hearn would have asked himself. ‘Despite the two weight divisions of difference, can we hype it so fans will buy it?’
He probably had a chat with Dad, Barry about it, probably canvassed opinion from Adam Smith, head of boxing at Sky, got some sort of agreement, then fired off his text to Kell.
For the naiive boxing fan, this is worth pausing a moment to reflect upon. In truth, Kell Brook is almost certainly not fighting Gennady Golovkin because his promoter thinks he can beat him. He is fighting because he is the only boxer in the Matchroom stable with a profile big enough to sustain a PPV against someone of Golovkin’s stature. Brook now has a big name in the UK and is widely regarded as one of our pound-for-pound best, while because he is known to play the rehydration game and come into the ring way above welterweight on fight night, facts can be twisted and the ex-boxers on the TV panel – McCrory, Nelson et al can be leaned on to give earnest opinions about what a great chance he has.
Clue – he hasn’t.
Hearn has weighed up the pros and cons and hopes Kell can come through without sustaining too much damage, make everyone some cash and go back to 147. How about from the other side of the promotion? How does it work? From the point of view of Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, this PPV is perfect too. After a slow start, GGG has cracked the American market of late. Despite that, they have struggled to find opponents for him, so fearsome is his destruction of one middleweight contender after another. For those who try to claim he has boxed soft opposition, eyebrows of incredulity must be raised. Hard-as-nails Martin Murray? Ex title holder Daniel Geale? Matthew Macklin? Curtis Stevens? These men aren’t soft and none of them heard the final bell. (Only Murray got past the middle rounds).
So Loeffler needs fights for his 34 year old Kazakh wrecking machine, with the likes of Canelo Alvarez dropping titles rather than face him. Like all promoters, his ideal is high-stakes, low-risk match-ups for his most prized asset, ensuring years of future earnings. And suddenly, because of the arse-about-face way boxing business is done in the modern era, he gets offered a highly lucrative PPV bout against a welterweight. Happy days!
Yes Brook is a good welter, with a tight win over Shawn Porter his best result to date, but he could not be claimed to be a dominant welter and has struggled against the likes of Carson Jones in the past. Golovkin, meanwhile, is a dominant middleweight. Far bigger men than Brook have been completely dismantled by him. Here is a key, inescapable fact – Brook will never before have been hit as hard as Golovkin will hit him. How will he react to that?
Of course Loeffler accepted the offer. He’d be a fool not to. In the boxing world, its as close as you can get to easy money.
I have spoken to people who know Kell Brook, people who have sparred and trained with him and they say that Brook believes, 100%, he can win. Some of them believe it too. Sheffield is a proud fighting city and it is natural they should get behind one of their own.
I have no doubt that Kell has self belief. After all, he is an excellent, unbeaten fighter with deserved confidence in his own abilities. But all fighters can be guilty of hubris, of believing in the power of self-belief too much. You can repeat slogans in your mind about never giving up, hard work paying off, skills paying the bills, but in the end they are only slogans.
The reality is that Brook is a cute boxer with a decent defence, but the idea that he will be too quick and elusive for GGG is laughable. He has never been an on-your-toes type. He sways from the waist and counter punches, utilising the size advantage he has over his opponents to wear them down. None of that will work this weekend. None of it. At all.
Equally, although he has respectable power, he hasn’t blitzed the welterweight division with a series of early rounds KOs. What evidence is there he will be able to hurt Golovkin, or get his respect, a man who sometimes gives middleweights free shots just to make the fight more interesting? I’m struggling to see it.
It is rare that I agree with much that Adrien Broner says, but when the fight was made, back in July, he tweeted;
‘These fights they making ain’t making sense, somebody go get seriously hurt’
Followed by Paulie Malignaggi, who agreed:
‘Does somebody really have to get hurt for people to start to understand how crazy the lack of respect for weight classes in boxing is getting?’
Kell Brook will make a lot of money on Saturday, as will Matchroom Sport and Sky TV, meaning for the power structure, the fight makes sense. That is what pay-per-view is all about. But he is also going to get absolutely battered, fighting a bigger, better, stronger man who he should not be sharing a ring with.
Let’s hope, in the end, it’s all worth it.
My book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ was longlisted for William Hill Sports book of the year and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
Please listen to this excellent and very topical podcast about the darker side of boxing, featuring interviews with Ryan Rhodes, Paul ‘silky’ Jones, Glyn Rhodes MBE and Jerome Wilson.