How far do boxers need to go in order to grab our attention when it comes to hyping up a big fight? And how far is too far?
These are questions that came to mind when Dereck Chisora threw a table at Dillian Whyte during a news conference to promote their recent contest in Manchester.
Are the months of sweat, pain and dedication that goes into preparing for a bout not enough to attract viewers? Does there have to be bad blood – or at least what appears to be real animosity between boxers?
“There was mutual respect shown in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place”
That certainly seemed to be the case in 2002, when Mike Tyson sank his teeth into Lennox Lewis’s leg during a press conference brawl in New York.
A few years down the line, it was David Haye gatecrashing the media event after Vitali Klitschko had beaten Chisora (that man again).
A heated exchange of insults quickly descended into chaotic scenes in which Chisora was hit with a bottle and threatened to ‘shoot’ and ‘physically burn’ his fellow British heavyweight.
Ahead of their fight at West Ham’s Upton Park stadium, the two Londoners were kept apart by a fence and a battalion of security staff.
Back to Chisora v Whyte, and was that airborne item of furniture really necessary just to sell a few more satellite and cable TV pay-per-views?
It resulted in their bout being stripped of its British title status, and could have resulted in someone – a journalist, photographer or passing PR person – getting seriously injured. All in the name of selling a fight.
As it turned out, that fight was a bona fide thriller, with Whyte winning by a split decision and the general consensus being it was one of the year’s best contests.
There was mutual respect shown between the two fighters in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place.
Isn’t it fascinating how we lap up the pre-fight narrative of boxers being sworn enemies, only to commend them for sharing a warm embrace at the end of the fight.
Boxing is particularly prone to opponents trash-talking each other, and has a long tradition of fighters ‘calling out’ rivals and threatening to do all sorts to them once they step into the ring.
“There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral”
Surely what makes a fight is the match-up, the clash of style and tactics, the test of character and one’s chin inside the ropes, not at a press conference or weigh-in.
True, nobody was better at winding up opponents that Muhammad Ali, but this was a form of verbal showmanship – you never saw ‘The Greatest’ throwing tables at George Foreman or Joe Frazier.
Their fight build-ups involved no flying furniture, or any need for an army of heavies to keep two adults apart in case they couldn’t possibly resist the temptation to knock each other’s blocks off there and then, with no cheque, title or win-loss record at stake.
Perhaps ‘the show’ is losing its credibility as a result of too much window dressing. Instead of magnifying meaningless spats that happened years ago, why don’t promoters focus more on the human stories of these boxers and their backgrounds?
Okay, so when Whyte fought Anthony Joshua in yet another ‘grudge’ bout, they were indeed former amateur opponents, with Whyte the winner over three rounds.
But when it came to Whyte v Chisora, we were told their feud was all down to a few sparring sessions in the gym a while back.
What about the struggle that each boxer has had to face throughout their careers? Why do they fight? Why do choose to risk their health every time they enter the ring?
There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral.
Nick Blackwell had to be placed in a medically induced coma for a week after his fight with Chris Eubank Jr earlier this year.
Eduard Gutknecht underwent surgery after his fight with George Groves, and Mike Towell died after his fight with Dale Evans as a result of severe bleeding and swelling to the brain.
Whyte and Chisora are both family men. Is there not a better story to be told here in light of recent events?
Chisora’s £30,000 fine and his suspended two-year ban isn’t going to do much in the way of deterring this sort behaviour in the name of selling a fight.
The irony is, when the hour of reckoning came, their fight proved to be truly memorable one.
But while actual tickets to a fight night are limited by the size of the arena, there are always more PPVs to be sold, so the hype and the press conference antics will continue.
One day, someone is really going to get hurt…