The trouble with boxing tournaments

The world of hardcore boxing fans was rocked last month when word broke that the innovative World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) may be struggling to continue. Lack of funds (yes, that old chestnut) was cited as the reason. Rumours circulated that the mysterious Saudi Arabian backers had decided not to invest in the three-division extravaganza of season two, and boxers had not yet been paid.

The tournament has been a hit among the regular boxing fraternity. Outside of the usual suspects -who are happy to get up at 3 am for a Murat Gassiev stream- who has actually been paying attention? Structuring acceptable TV deals has presented an ongoing issue, and many casual fans have not jumped on board. UK broadcasters were reticent about shelling out for the first series, while the American market was mostly devoid of any content at all. DAZN have picked up season two but how much really did they have to shell out? No UK broadcaster has come back in for the take-it-all-or-leave-it deal which has resulted in YouTube streams on the WBSS channel, or even through IFL TV. Great for the boxing fan; not so great for anyone looking to turn a profit.

Boxing tournaments are always seen as a breath of fresh air. However, few turn out to be a resounding success that leaves punters wanting more. The first season of the WBSS did appear to achieve that feat, prompting a well-received second instalment across the cruiserweight, bantamweight and super-lightweight classes. Divisions filled with decent fighters making less money than desired are always ripe pickings for an innovation. Boxers are incentivised to join in rather than stay on the sidelines and pick up minuscule cheques elsewhere.

On the UK scene, recent competitions have brought excitement, launched the odd star or two and served up some mediocrity along the way.

Matchroom’s Prizefighter campaigned from 2008-2015 across various weight divisions, totalling 34 nights of high octane fistic action. Enigmatic Belfastman Martin Rogan roared through the first tournament, sparking interest with his vibrant personality and an all-action style that perfectly suited the format. Future world title challenger Martin Murray won Prizefighter 4, televised as part of a Sky Box Office pay-per-view. Audley Harrison breathed fresh life into his career with a Prizefighter win, in the third instalment of the heavyweights.

One of the strongest domestic line-ups was Prizefighter 15 when the likes of Gary Buckland (the eventual winner), Derry Mathews, Gary Sykes, Stevie Bell, Choi and Scott Lawton all enrolled. Rocky Fielding powered through Prizefighter 17, winning all three bouts by KO, with two in the first round. That impressive display of power punching led him to a Matchroom contract. Alongside Rogan other victors have emerged from Ireland including Eamonn O’Kane, Jono Carroll, Willie Casey and Cork-based Cuban Mike Perez. In November 2013, a bizarre UK vs USA heavyweight Prizefighter saw the faded spectre formerly known as James Toney washing up on British shores to fight the likes of journeyman Matt Legge. Toney lost to fellow-American Jason Gavern.

One night of low-level brawling that might have long since escaped the consciousness of boxing fans was Prizefighter 25: The International Heavyweights Part 2. Won by Tor Hamer, a first-round contest saw Poland’s Albert Sosnowski outpoint little-known Maurice “Sugar Moe” Harris. New Jersey man Mo was busy losing for the 17th time in a professional career that started, unsurprisingly, with a loss, way back in 1992.

Skilled and unpredictable, Harris was no world-beater, but he did enter the Prizefighter backed by a history of upsetting the odds in tournaments nobody expected him to win…

Read Part Two: Maurice Harris – Thunderbox King

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