By Jake Collins (@MelancholyFolly)
“British boxing is back on the map!” is something I’ve seen a lot of over the last year or so. Is it currently at its highest peak for some time? Did it ever fall off the map like Czechoslovakia did? It reminds me of the existentialist argument of “Have we ever had it this good?”. Has British boxing become bigger at all or are we just more aware of it?
I feel like since Joshua stopped Klitschko, the aforementioned axiom has become even more commonplace from British boxing fans on social media. Finally, we have a British Heavyweight world champion! The first one since…Tyson Fury. And it was just last year that we were again shouting how tremendous British boxing had become with all of our world champions, a chunk of which held ‘paper’ titles or were comfortably not the best in the weight division. That isn’t to say British boxing isn’t in a great place but it is to say we need to look at that statement a little less dogmatically.
Heavyweight boxing is and always will be king. It’s the biggest. It’s Jupiter in a boxing solar system. it appeals to all due to the chance of upset and that these fights aren’t often ‘chess matches’ which can put some viewers off. Sure, there can be a lot of sweaty hugging at time – even Ali loved a clinch – but we can forgive the big fellas. With the conquering of Wlad, Joshua has placed himself as the number 1 Heavyweight in the world. And to be honest, I’d have the 41 year old Wlad as probably still the 2nd best in the division at the moment. With that in mind, upsets aside it’s difficult to see Joshua losing outside of a Wlad rematch. It stands to reason then that with a Brit leading the premier division we can unequivocally state that the Brits rule boxing. Well, not exactly.
Can we pick another division where a Brit is the clear cut number 1? Outside of perhaps Carl Frampton, could you argue a British fighter into your top 10 P4P rankings if you’re so inclined? I couldn’t personally. If he beats Spence Jr convincingly then we could argue Brook is the best at 147 but it’s still an argument as opposed to a fact. Currently we have 8 ‘proper’ world champions, which let’s be honest is very good. We have 1 fighter in Joshua who is the clearest number 1 in their division (albeit a decaying one), which isn’t quite so impressive but that’s politics.
What are the measurements for boxing being ‘big’ or ‘flying’? What does it even really mean? Is this a judgement based upon the regularity of fighters on TV? I don’t really know and having an active interest in boxing viewing numbers makes you a massive nerd I’m afraid to say. To me it should be measured on British fighters being in meaningful fights. Last year when the British flag was allegedly thrust into the map again, we saw world title losses to Kell Brook, Amir Khan, Charlie Edwards, Liam Smith and Anthony Crolla just off the top of my head. We can’t ignore that. Of course, there are highlights such as Bellew’s emphatic KO of Makabu too and these triumphs should be venerated accordingly.
What I think we can say is that British boxing certainly receives more attention, or has begun to in 2017. As a personality (or lack there of) Anthony Joshua has started to transcend the sport. He’s been marketed excellently and non-boxing fans even seem interested in his fights. Without question that makes something feel ‘bigger’, even if it isn’t so. The verisimilitude of this has – in this cynic’s eyes – paved way for us to be paying out for more PPV’s but that’s another argument for another time. But exposure in general should in theory be a positive thing. BoxNation now has a partnership with BT Sport which should encourage a cash flow into Frank Warren’s stable and allow him to put on better fights, which in turns should Matchroom’s hand into more meaningful or expensive bouts too. The BBC have started to have a lot more boxing articles on their website too, although they still seem particularly reluctant to ever broadcast any of it.
Don’t misread the intent of this article; this isn’t a belligerent stab at the boxing fan’s patriotism. I don’t mean to say that British boxing is dead in a ditch. We have a lot of good fighters out there, maybe a couple of great ones. But for British boxing to be ‘flying again’, it had to have stopped. And I don’t quite see that this has happened in recent times. Froch-Groves was fantastic and not that long ago. We’ve had a genuinely great (not just a potentially great) Heavyweight in Lennox Lewis a little further back. There’s been excellence in between too. Celebrate British boxing by all means, but don’t use it to undermine recent history.by