Just in

It ain’t like it used t’be (and that’s both good and bad)

For my sins, last night I had spent just over £20 to Sky Box Office for the privilege of watching Anthony Joshua beat Joseph Parker ‘live’ from the Principality Stadium over twelve rounds on points last night and thereby become holder of three (or is it four?) world heavyweight championship boxing belts.

In my heyday – the Seventies and Eighties – I used to go regularly to the Royal Albert Hall and elsewhere to see the Jarvis Astaire/Mickey Duff boxing promotions.

Good Lord – on its own, even that straightforward and unprepossessing statement has the capacity to cause a wave of fond nostalgic memories to wash over me!

This was in the era of Tony Sibson, Herol Graham, John L. Gardner and the up-and-coming Nigel Benn – when, to be a successful boxing promoter in the UK, it was an article of faith that you needed a terrestrial broadcaster on board.

From the 1950s onwards this tended to be the BBC – largely because ‘Auntie’ was British broadcasting in those days and Harry Carpenter, being their boxing correspondent/commentator, was also therefore de facto the nation’s guide and confidante on the sport.

In a similar manner that Richard Dimbleby was for national and state occasions; Robert Dougall for news; Raymond Baxter for science and technology; John Noakes (and Shep) for wholesome boyhood adventures; James Burke for space exploration; Fanny Cradock for cooking; and, of course, David Attenborough for the animal kingdom in all its aspects – a role his still occupies to this day.

Whether your area of academic interest or commercial activity be ever so worthy and highbrow or – alternatively – slightly ‘whiffy’ in terms of each of its acceptability, business ethics or practice –  if you could only persuade Auntie to take it on, apply her ‘voice of the nation’ brand to it and then package its coverage in bite-size chunks all tied up with a ribbon bow and transmit it anywhere close to mainstream peak-time, you could make a healthy living.

Later, of course, in 1955 along came ITV – which tried to establish itself by buying the rights to sporting events that the BBC hadn’t already hoovered up via its monopoly of the airwaves. That’s how we Brits first came to be exposed to the absurdities of early British televised wrestling featuring the likes of Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus and Steve Logan.

By the Eighties, ITV was dipping its toe into the murky world of boxing via its equivalent of Harry Carpenter, the great Reg Gutteridge, and the arrival on the scene of the upstart promoter Frank Warren who was soon tilting at the Astaire/Duff windmills.

Warren was a representative of a new breed of promoter from a different, brasher, younger generation, in comparison to which Astaire and Duff seemed very much dusty, old hat and rather ‘old school’ – and I mean that in an out of date sort of a way, rather than a ‘to be admired’ one.

Courtesy of Warren’s promotional bills, my muckers and I used to travel to see boxing in the flesh at new venues – e.g. the York Hall; a sports hall somewhere in Essex; and even to a large hotel not far from Tottenham Court Road whose name escapes me where I saw a couple of Joe Bugner fights when at one stage he was on the comeback trail.

Frank Warren’s stable included the likes of light-welterweights Clinton McKenzie and Terry Marsh.

Marsh, the one-time IBF world light-welterweight champion – whom I note from Wikipedia had his sixtieth birthday in February which factor alone makes me feel very old indeed – was a notable character as much for his antics outside the ring as in.

I’m digressing here because I’m stunned to learn from Wikipedia quite what an extraordinary life Marsh has led. A boyhood chess champion, he served at different times in the Royal Navy and as a firefighter. After the notorious near-fatal shooting of Frank Warren in November 1989, with whom he was engaged in a libel suit at the time, Marsh was arrested, charged and eventually acquitted of attempted murder.

Later he tried politics with successively Labour, the Lib-Dems and now the NOTA (“None of the above”) Party – see here for more via his entry on – WIKIPEDIA

Anyway, none of the above has prompted my post today, in which I just wanted to record two observations about the Joshua fight last night.

My first is that – never mind the rose-tinted glasses and vagueness of memories dragged back from eons ago that made me smile as I savoured them sitting in comfort at home whilst keeping one eye on the television screen and also attending to seven or eight other little domestic tasks when distracted – the spectacle of the scene at the allegedly sold out (80,000 souls) Principality Stadium was in a different league altogether from anything that was ever mounted from the 1960s through to the 1990s.

In short, everything about this Eddie Hearn promotion (he also acts as group managing director of Matchroom Sport, founded by his father Barry) was infinitely slicker, more impressive, bigger, louder – just all-round better. In Barnum & Bailey terms – i.e. giving the punter all the razamataz he or she would ever need for a great night out and a burning aftertaste of ‘wanting to come back next time’ – this was right up there.

Rather like comparing a modern digital DAB radio with snooze control and a ‘remote control of all your household appliances’ facility to a grandfather clock in the corner of your bedroom, in fact.

My second observation is that the best entertainment last night was to be had from the undercard bout between lanky – six foot seven – on the comeback trail Scouser David Price and the 38 year-old Russian former world heavyweight champion (former convicted drugs cheat) Alexander Povetkin. It was a brief but explosive encounter – just the sort of things that true boxing fans adore.

In contrast, the Joshua/Parker fight was dull and disappointing – a bit of a snore/bore.

Eddie Hearn’s promotions of Joshua are indeed ‘state of the art’ 21st Century pizzazz and presumably (hopefully) making everybody concerned – most particularly the boxers – a great deal of money.

But – sorry, everyone under the age of 35 – Anthony Joshua ain’t no Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield or Riddick Bowe … still less Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali.

He looks and sounds like a billionaire fighter all right, which of course is about 80% of what it takes. However, the trouble is that the school of boxing he hails from is the Frank Bruno Robot Academy. He’s only a novice graduate, of course, but essentially he’s a cautious man.

The true fighter’s instinct, by which I mean that vein of boxing gold from which such as Tyson/Hearns/Duran/Monzon/Sugar Ray Robinson/Jack Dempsey were hewn – is missing.

Joe Frazier or George Foreman would have had both Joshua or Parker ‘out of there’ inside five rounds.

Any real warrior would have ‘done their thing’ or found a way – and Muhammad Ali several, from which he’d have made his choice on a whim of the moment.

About James Westacott

James Westacott, a former City investment banker, acquired his love of the Noble Art as a schoolboy in the 1970s. For many years he attended boxing events in and around London and more recently became a subscriber to the Box Nation satellite/cable channel. His all-time favourite boxer is Carlos Monzon. More Posts