On the 19th of July we have the next generation and next contest in the British and domestic knockout tournaments. The Ultimate Boxxer competition is another example of promoters attempting to make some noise in a market that should always be looking for innovation to keep it fresh.
But years ago from 2008 to 2015 the UK was the home of the last high profile attempt to us a format of 3 rounds, quarter finals, eliminators and an overall prize fund the like of which most would dream about until winning that night. The winner’s prize may not have been enough to change the lives of the boxers involved but the win, for quite a few changed their careers.
Of the winners of those 34 Prizefighters, there were and are currently 3 British champions, 4 Commonwealth title holders, 5 who failed in attempts to win world honours alongside those with WBA, WBF and IBF championships.
The winners were not always the biggest long term beneficiaries though and amongst the tournament losers – where there are 7 times as many boxers of course – we can count 4 British champions, 3 Commonwealth champions and world champions from the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBF, IBO and WBO.
In short this was a tournament that may have begun without prestige, but it soon became one that people were looking to win and looking to build from. Big fights followed for quite a few and if the money did not change their lives in Prizefighter, it led to fights that did.
Winners included two who met Golovkin or Canelo – Martin Murray and Rocky Fielding. In amongst the losers, there was one who fought Lomachenko – Anthony Crolla. It was a tournament that fit within the structure of the sporting reality that is the alphabet soup of professional boxing.
Of those winners who did not catapult their careers into the stratosphere such names as Audley Harrison, Gavin Rees, Ovill Mackenzie, Gary Buckland, Lee Haskins and Patrick Mendy get decent mention whilst in the losers’ camp such names as Bradley Pryce, Josh Wale, James Toney, Junior Witter, Sam Eggington, Tyrone Nurse and not once but twice, Derry Mathews. All of them have been part of the massive story of British boxing in the last decade. They were brought to prominence and used it to good effect.
I loved these nights and watched in wonder as the tournament took on its critics and showed that it may have been seen as a flash in the pan but what a flash it was going to be.
The beginning was settled at a table where Eddie Hearn made a rash promise to Audley Harrison about getting him title shots. The result? April 2008. York Hall. And it all began.
As you would expect it started with the big boys, as it was Harrison; the heavyweights.
The boxing landscape at the time was not rich as it is now. The British heavyweight champion was Danny Williams and before him it had been Scott Gammer. World titles were held by Ruslan Chagaev (WBA), Samuel Peter (WBC) and Wladimir Klitschko (IBF and WBO); these were hardly household names. People were not watching out for big fights and big fight nights anymore.
Hearn may or may not have realised that the time was right for the boxing world to be shaken by the creative and innovative. As the new guy on the block, Eddie was at the helm of his father’s organisation and he had that idea and the means through which to make it a reality…
British boxing was literally, never going to be the same again.
In a previous Boxing News interview talking about the whole programme he introduced to juice up the sport, Eddie Hearn said of Prizefighter, “It’s great entertainment and makes us a lot of money.” That was, without a doubt, a slight understatement.
It ended due to its own success. Once people had got back in love with boxing the desire was not for one night tournaments but how we could take the winners and participants of the Prizefighter tournaments and put them up against World Champions, European Champions and gather prestige belts that would make them champions of the more traditional sort.
Hearn continued in the same interview, “I haven’t ruled out doing another Prizefighter, but for now, we need the dates for championship fights. Prizefighter was taking up dates I need for my championship fighters. If we put on a Prizefighter, that’s 10 slots for our fighters we’ve lost.”
But it was the time in which it appeared that made the difference. UFC was knocking on the door, Matchroom were not a big player and Sky were looking for something to give an old favourite some love.
It could hardly have had a less glamourous start. The first night began with a binman versus former soldier; it was won by a taxi driver.
There was no demand from the “names” in boxing. The fact is that, that did not truly change but something subtly altered. The people who managed to win the contest suddenly had profile.
Paul Butlin, who appeared in the first contest reflected later on “We all ate breakfast together in the morning – and beat each other up later that night! We had all been fighting for a few hundred quid on small-hall shows, then all of a sudden, people were chucking money at us, we were staying in nice hotels and we were on television. With Prizefighter it felt like everyone had a chance.”
Of course the idea of a tournament of this nature is not forgotten as both Ricky Hatton and Pauli Malignaggi have fronted the Ultimate Boxxer series with Channel 5.
Can we already see the effect that this new tournament with an old style format is having? Ask Ted Cheeseman. He got in the ring against a guy who took the fight on 3 weeks notice, believing that this would be his redemption fight and an easy night. It was meant to show the world that his European loss against Sergio Garcia was a one off. He fought someone who had lost in his second fight in Ultimate Boxxer III, Kieron Conway. Having won his first fight he lost to the eventual winner, Derrick Osaze. Cheeseman struggled and got a draw.
Will Ultimate Boxxer become as influential as Prize fighter? Who knows but we love a tear up, we love the format and we hope it does…
As for Prizefighter, there is little doubt that the format was one people originally scoffed at thinking no hopers were going to go in and no hope was the result.
Many boxers saw the prize money and thought a decent payday was better than a small hall show.
The television coverage turned them from fringe fighters into real contenders and eventual champions.
Boxing is flying right now in the UK but the momentum needs a new boost as some of our potential world champions cannot get past the word potential.
The cruiserweights are coming to Ultimate Boxxer in July and whilst the riches of the World Boxing Super Series are not on the table, the potential for the next stage of their career, certainly is. It’s a roller coaster we are all strapped in for – just press the button.