All eyes will be on the BT Sport studio in Stratford, East London, on Friday night when professional boxing returns to the United Kingdom for the first time since March 14 with a five-fight Frank Warren promoted card, headlined by Brad Foster’s British and Commonwealth 122lbs title defence against James Beech Jr.
Looking back at the pre-lockdown boxing world that existed back in March it is striking, and terrifying, how much the landscape of our world and our beloved sport has altered in less than four months.
On the night of March 14 , a jaw-dropping 56 professional bouts took place across the UK, in shows mounted by small hall mainstays Kieran Farrell, Carl Greaves, Frank Duffin, Steve Wood, Mark Prior and Arny Sinfield in Bolton, Leicester, Colne, Liverpool, Cardiff and London, while 35 Olympic qualifiers took place at the Copper Box Arena in Hackney Wick.
The Copper Box also hosted further qualifiers on March 15 and March 16 – British featherweight Peter McGrail securing qualification for the Tokyo Olympics a matter of minutes before the arena – and boxing in the UK – was plunged into darkness and uncertainty.
When we will see that sort of activity and such a packed pugilistic calendar again is unclear, as is the fate – both sporting and monetary – of so many of the country’s pro boxers and promoters right now.
Nevertheless, perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.
As Frank Warren himself pointed out to Boxing Social recently, the sport’s return to live action has come sooner than many dared hope: “To start with, I thought the way things were going with the virus nothing might happen his year,” the Hall of Fame promoter admitted. “But now we are getting fights out sooner than some expected and I’m a little bit more optimistic.”
While Warren’s arch-rival Eddie Hearn returns his stable to action from August 1 with his back garden ‘Fight Camp’, it is Warren who is first out of the traps with a show that looks set to provide plenty of interest and intrigue.
The headline attraction is the super-bantamweight showdown between Brad Foster and James Beech for the former’s British and Commonwealth straps. Both men are unbeaten and, for Foster, there is the added motivation that victory will secure him outright ownership of a Lonsdale Belt in just his 15th professional contest.
While Foster has had to prepare for Friday’s contest while working night shifts stacking shelves at Tesco, Beech has been locked down at home with his young son.
Both – of course – have had to cope with the various restrictions and social distancing guidelines that have made gym work and sparring at times impossible and at other times merely difficult.
The duo have also both shared their thoughts ahead of the contest with Boxing Social, with Foster declaring: “I’ll prepare for everything and I know the outcome is a Brad Foster win.”
For his part, Beech has claimed: “Once it gets really tough from rounds six or seven onwards, I think I’m going want it more than him.”
It’s not quite a pick ‘em contest, with Foster’s superior experience at a higher level making him a warm favourite, but it should be a close and entertaining contest.
Elsewhere on the card, another interesting match-up sees the talented Hamzah Sheeraz defend his WBO European title against Scotland’s Paul Kean – a contest that has already been cancelled twice in April and then July due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Ilford-based Sheeraz possesses some decent pop to his punches, while Kean – who hails from Dundee – is a tough customer who won world kick-boxing titles before moving into pro boxing in 2016. As with the Foster-Beech fight, an upset is unlikely but not beyond the realms of possibility.
Also on the bill, heavyweight prospects David Adeleye and Dorin Krasmaru are both in action. Adeleye has won praise from WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who he has sparred against several times, while Krasmaru, a Ukrainian now based in Sidcup, is trained by Martin Bowers and a frequent sparring partner for Daniel Dubois.
The five-fight card is rounded off with an appearance from unbeaten Portsmouth lightweight Mark Chamberlain.
With plenty of eyes sure to be trained on BT Sport, it’s a fantastic opportunity for these young prospects to shine, while for Warren’s Queensberry Promotions there is the chance to set the production standard in terms of how behind-closed-doors boxing is presented.
Warren has promised: “All that matters is what is going on in the ring. Fireworks and ring walks mean nothing. Without a live crowd to respond to them, they’re pointless. It’s all about what goes on in the ring. That’s what counts. The fireworks need to be in the ring.”
After so long without live boxing in the UK, we will settle for five decent fights on Friday night. The fireworks can definitely wait.
Brad Foster – 8st 8.5lbs
James Beech Jr. – 8st 9.75lbs
Hamzah Sheeraz – 10st 13.5lbs
Paul Kean – 10st 13.25lbs
Mark Chamberlain – 9st 11.5lbs
Stu Greener – 9st 9.5lbs
David Adeleye – 15st 9.25lbs
Matt Gordon – 17st 5.25lbs
Dorin Krasmaru – 17st 11.75lbs
Phil Williams – 17st 13.5lbs