Chris Lakey: Squaring the circle in the toughest game of them all
- Credit: Archant
Head of sport CHRIS LAKEY looks at the changing face of the local boxing scene – and how it is meeting its newest challenge
When Liam Goddard delivered the knockout blow on his boxing debut, the cheers from his fans were probably matched by the sighs of relief from those behind the latest Norwich boxing show.
Goddard is the latest off the steady production line, courtesy of trainers Graham Everett and Jon Thaxton. His popularity in the city was reflected in the strength of support at The Halls.
The fighter and his supporter: they go hand in hand. Without the support, the fighter struggles to sell tickets and without tickets sold, shows run at a loss – and that is when promoters have to choose between putting food on the table or being altruistic.
The bigger the promotion the less obvious the difficulties are to spot, but when it is a local show, with just a handful of fights scheduled, when one goes missing it is like a lost tooth. The gap is obvious.
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The night Goddard won should have seen Iain Martell top of the bill: Martell is a cruiserweight, hugely popular, hugely talented and hugely dangerous. Opponents look twice at his videos. Fighting him isn't fun. Which is when they decide to drop out. And when that happens, it becomes a problem for promoters. Everett and Mervyn Turner who, between them, have put on small hall shows to bring on the local boxing talent for the past six years, spent days leading up to The Halls show trying to get an opponent. They failed, not through the lack of effort.
'It was very frustrating,' said Everett. 'There are so many obstacles put in our way that it became very, very difficult and very frustrating. We went to the 11th hour and couldn't pull it off. It is not the first time it has happened and it won't be the last. It put a lot of pressure on everybody.'
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Fortunately, Goddard helped save the show, although the performances of Joe Steed and Connor Vian were more than welcome support. The crowd were entertained, but Everett knows it is a fine balancing act.
'We had, for the amount of fights, a cracking show and people left happy, certainly everybody's set of fans,' he said.
'It was a decent finish and comfortable for us as a promotional team, but we really want two or three more fights. Nobody wants or expects to lose shows.'
And that's where the crux lies: boxing is not exactly at a crossroads locally, but perhaps has reached the end of one era and the start of another.
Everett's success with fighters mean they have been 'promoted' to the national stage – Liam Walsh's talents mean he has never even boxed in the city; brother Ryan, the British featherweight champion, operates at a higher level. Former British heavyweight champion Sam Sexton also outgrew local shows.
Craig Poxton is extremely popular, but a shoulder injury has sidelined him, while Zaiphan Morris and Nathan Dale, both of whom had big local support, have called it a day: it is a hard game to be in when it is a full-time job and you have a family to support.
Those boxers have to be replaced – which is where Goddard, Steed and, soon, Owen Blunden, come into the equation. The gym from where Everett and Thaxton operate in Norwich's Hall Road is rarely quiet. The place reverberates to the sound of boxers learning and honing their skills. It is the beginning of the production line, where young meets old, pupil meets master.
It is now that boxing, especially on a local scale, could do with some favours.
While the local scene changes, obstacles should not be put in the way of staging local shows, where the boxers of the future begin their careers.
'Boxing has become a very difficult now,' adds Everett. 'We have just had a situation where Nathan Gorman, a top British heavyweight and world ranked, lost his opponent and he wasn't replaced, and that was on a very big show.
'These things are happening a lot in boxing and I don't quite understand why.
'It is not as clear cut any more. There seems to be a lot of changes – there are a lot of home fighters and ticket sellers. You get 20-fight shows starting at 4pm. It is all affecting boxing - there are a lot of journeymen and a lot of red corner fighters being taken up on one show. Me personally, I don't think a show should be more than 10 fights.'
When opponents get consumed by a big show, the smaller one misses out: that might mean phone calls overseas to bring in a fighter from Europe – and that swallows up a lot of money, putting even more pressure on the 'smaller' promoters.
Fortunately, in Norwich, there is some sort of continuity, but the bridge between old and new is precarious: it hardly needs any obstacles put in its way.