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A boxing treat

Overnight – because these things happen when you’re a senior citizen – I was wide awake (albeit lying on my back in bed) when Carl Frampton, former word super-bantamweight champion, stepped into the ring at Brookyln’s Barclay Center in New York to challenge Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA super-featherweight title in an attempt to become only the second Northern Ireland fighter ever to win world titles at two different weights.

It was my good fortune, along with the rest of the audience listening at home and abroad, that the BBC’s Radio Five Live station had arranged to provide live coverage from the auditorium courtesy of their boxing commentator Mike Costello and his co-commentator/pundit on the night – American Daniel ‘Danny’ Jacobs, the current WBA word middleweight champion, and a Brooklyn boy to boot.

My personal experience of listening to live broadcasts of great professional boxing bouts from around the world, most often lying in bed late at night or in the wee hours, is extensive and goes back as far as my days at prep school in the early 1960s. I listened to some great ones – featuring the likes of British boxers such as Alan Rudkin, Walter McGowan, Howard Winstone, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner and Brian Curvis – and also some not-so-great ones. In those days, of course, title fights were usually scheduled to take place over the proper ‘full’ distance, by which I mean 15 rounds not 12.

Somehow for an impressionable kid, straining (with earphones or not) to maintain the broadcast sound in the darkness – listening to the commentator’s voices, tone and state of excitement – and all the while having to conjure up an image in one’s mind of the action taking place half a country (or sometimes half the world) away was a strangely vivid and rewarding experience.

Mike Costello

Mike Costello

Today I want to tip my hat and pay tribute to Messrs Costello and Jacobs.

In my opinion Mike Costello is worthy to sit alongside the great boxing commentators of the past (and specifically those I recall fondly from my own memories). Not only is he exceptionally knowledgeable, but his ability both to describe the detail of the action going on some four to six feet above him in the ring, especially when the fighters are going at it hammer and tongs with quarter neither asked for nor given, and then to provide on the spot analysis of how the bout is progressing, is of the highest order.

Daniel Jacobs

Daniel Jacobs

Accompanying him Jacobs – who I had never heard of, let alone heard speaking on the radio, before – was also right on the money. He called it as he saw it, complemented Costello’s comments with aplomb, and was resolutely unbiased towards either of the contestants.

Dear reader, Frampton duly took said WBA world super-featherweight title on a majority verdict, one judge scoring it a 114-114 draw. The crowd of 9,600 had been making enough noise for one three times bigger, with plenty of Irish-American support for the man from Northern Ireland whilst Santa Cruz had brought his Hispanic fans to the party.

As for the verdict, in advance Costello took the view that it was almost too close to call and might go either way (although he personally had it 7 rounds to Frampton, 5 to Santa Cruz) whilst Jacobs felt Frampton had won 6 rounds, Santa Cruz 4 with two rounds even.

Pandemonium as the result was announced.

Not long afterwards we heard Carl Frampton being interviewed for the television audience in the centre of the ring. More filler-chat from our hosts, hoping to speak to the new champion in due course, but suddenly he was whisked away to take the obligatory drugs test and – joy of joys – they managed to motion Frampton’s manager the legendary Barry McGuigan over to them (Shane, his son, is Frampton’s trainer).

Barry McGuighan

Barry McGuighan

McGuigan was a class act. He was dignified and humble, greeting both commentators by their Christian names and then first praising Frampton for sticking to his game plan (part of which was “box when Cruz wants to fight and fight when he wants to box”) and executing it so well. He went on to pay tribute to his son (“now a world class trainer”) and also to Santa Cruz himself for being a three-weight champion who would come again.

He then involuntarily became emotional, for which he later apologised. Sobbing, he name-checked his brother (who had seemingly died not long ago), saying that he – Barry – had felt his presence on his shoulder at ring-side, and then also his father. Costello suggested “There’ll be a major party with the angels tonight …”.

McGuigan responded “Yes, there’ll be a major party with the angels tonight …”

There was just time for Costello to do twenty seconds’ worth of summary and win-up before the clock flicked to 05.00 hours and Radio Five Live returned to its British studio with the news and then a recorded Money programme on sporting finance.

All-round an excellent hour or so of radio broadcasting.

Mind you, Radio Five Live wasn’t perfect yesterday.

At some point around midday they were featuring a programme celebrating the 50th anniversary of 30th July 1966, the day that England won the football World Cup at Wembley Stadium. It was a mix of ‘real time’ coverage of build-up to and then the playing of the Cup Final with reminiscences from those great and small, plus news and sports results of the time, interspersed with music from 1966 as well.

At one point coverage switched to a modern concert at which Chris Farlowe was singing Out Of Time, the Jagger-Richards composition which had been Number 1 in the charts on the day of that famous Cup Final.

But suddenly an aberration.

Cooper-Clay 1963

Cooper-Clay 1963

They made reference to other great sporting occasions of 1966, including the world heavyweight title fight between Henry Cooper and Muhammad Ali that took place at Wembley Stadium on 21st May that year … and then they played an extract from the recording of the radio commentary on the fight, specifically the moment when Cooper felled Ali with a peach of a left hook right at the end of the fourth round.

Only, of course, as any 64 year old could have told the BBC producer and programme makers concerned, it wasn’t that fight in which Cooper decked Ali at all!

Cooper-Ali 1966

Cooper-Ali 1966

Cooper had actually put Ali (then still named Cassius Clay, of course) down in the fourth round three years before – in their non-title bout on 18th June 1963, which also took place at Wembley Stadium – before being stopped with a terrible cut in the fifth.

He never knocked Muhammad Ali down in their second fight, which ended in similar fashion in round six (Our ‘Enery was famous for his tendency to cut).

I was driving my car at the time, but had I possessed a Twitter account, or some other means of contacting the BBC to point out this monumental cock-up, I’d have done it.

How can the BBC make such a basic mistake? Being the age I am, of course, you’d expect me to say that – in my era in the media – i.e. when standards were so much higher and demanding than they are now, it would never have happened.


Well, in my view it’s because in those days all aspiring sports journalists and researchers had to have ‘paid their dues’ and have encyclopaedic knowledge at their fingertips, probably after a three-to-five year apprenticeship on a local newspapers or radio station.

It’s so much different today, when nobody really has to prove themselves before getting opportunities in the media – they get in somewhere, somehow, solely because they’re keen and/or know someone – and then, because everyone else (senior or junior) is simply resorting to Google and/or consulting Wikipedia when researching, that’s what the youngsters do as well.

Two ways of looking at it. Sadly, they haven’t yet learned ‘the grammar of their trade’, or – alternatively – they’re just lazy.



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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts