Boxing has made its tentative return to our screens across various platforms in recent weeks. Frank Warren has hosted shows at the BT Studios. Scott Harrison made his return on a BIBA event. Fights have been taking place up and down America — there has also been some boxing, too. Eddie Hearn of Matchroom has opted to put on his first show in his back garden. Luckily, his back garden is part of Matchroom HQ, and there is ample space for a boxing ring and all that is required to put on a show.
It all kicks off with Sam Eggington’s fight against Ted Cheeseman this Saturday, with James Tennyson against Gavin Gwynne for the vacant British lightweight title as chief support. Still, it isn’t just a case of putting up a ring, using a wing of Matchroom HQ to host the fighters and their teams, and then hoping it all works out. A lot of work has taken place behind the scenes to ensure that the event goes ahead as safely and as successfully as possible. To that end, Simon Roberts, the Operating Manager of Security Alert UK, and his team have been working tirelessly in recent months.
Roberts runs Security Alert UK alongside former fighter Clifton Mitchell, the Managing Director. When Covid-19 resulted in a nationwide Lockdown they were worried that it would impact on their company and staff. However, the company found itself in a unique position to help combat the Coronavirus then, later, to bring boxing back to Sky Sports as part of Hearn’s four-show run, which will be topped by a heavyweight fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin on August 22.
When the pandemic started, Hearn offered NHS staff a discount on tickets when they could finally attend shows again. Sky have been less charitable towards their loyal customers, who will get the first three shows for the price of a Sky Sports subscription — and that isn’t cheap, especially if you have been left out of pocket by this pandemic — then they will have to fork out to watch Whyte-Povetkin on Pay-Per-View. It seems that although Sky’s boxing coverage will begin again at Hearn’s home the same can’t be said for charity when it comes to Matchroom and Sky Sports.
Roberts and Mitchell sat down at the start of Lockdown to figure out what happens now, what comes next, only to end up busier than ever before. Now that the boxing and football are back, they are up to their necks in documentation, logistics and working hard to ensure that the upcoming shows run as smoothly as possible. They have also been working with the NHS and Army throughout the past four months.
“Clint and I sat down and wondered how we would get through it,” Roberts told Boxing-Social. “We are busy geezers so have contracts with building sites and then we got the job with the NHS so got through [that] then [we] could start back with the football and the boxing.
“We were worried about the sports side of things as that and the personal bodyguarding side of it is maybe 60% of our turnover. Before Lockdown started, we were worried that it would be tough for us to get through it. Then we got the call from the NHS and the Army because we were the only close security company in the country with disease insurance.
“Twelve-years ago, we had the swine flu situation, so we did the security for the people administrating the cure,” he added. “We did security at the medical centres. A few weeks before Lockdown, we were asked to come and look after these external triage sites. Basically, if you’ve got Covid-19 and are really, really, poorly you call the local practice and they would send you for treatment. We had to make sure the doctors wouldn’t get harassed or attacked as well as securing the sites.
“Now we are started on the boxing again. I’ve been over to Matchroom a few times to work out security for the event and the hotel. We know what we are doing anyway with boxing and have worked closely with them to get everything we need. It is different as it is in Eddie’s back garden with no crowd, which will be very, very strange, and we need to stop any trespassing. We might even end up having to take down those drones that they use to record stuff. We might have people climbing up trees to get a look in. The press might be trying to get in.”
The Boxing Board of Control have guidelines in place for the post-Lockdown boxing scene. You would think that the fact there won’t be any crowds would make things easier. Roberts, though, told me that there are a whole raft of new regulations to follow if a show is to go ahead. If anything, Roberts and the rest of the company will have to work even harder to ensure that the show can go on. Matchroom have recently announced that Prenetics, a ‘leading international genetic testing and digital health’ firm will provide the testing ahead of the shows.
“The Board have got some very strict rules,” he said. “The worst-case scenario is that someone gets poorly after a show so it is our job to make sure that the people who have had the certain tests are kept in certain areas, hotels and houses, and if they get tested positive they’d need to isolate as well. We will also be looking after the people who are looking after the fighters. It is very complicated, but we love a challenge. Everyone has to keep things sensible. Our job now is to prevent cross-contamination. We need to make sure everyone goes home safe.
“I’ve been doing boxing for a long time and we’ve been doing risk assessments for a long time. The risk assessment goes from one to six and with Covid-19 it is set to six, which is the worst-case scenario. Granted, we had to go to six after the Manchester bombing when we did the Kell Brook [Errol Spence] show in Sheffield, but this is the first time since then that we’ve had to go to six. Level Six is multiple death risk — we’ve had to account for that for these shows.
“We will have to deal with it as normal. It is the boxers who have to get their heads around it. They will miss the crowd and their fans. It is a cliché, but if you get to the late rounds and are blowing out of your arse it is the family and fans supporting you who can get you through it. That ring is going to be a lonely place for those men and women.”
The lack of a crowd will be a big factor when it comes to generating an atmosphere. Sky have used tinned crowd noise for the football. It doesn’t work. It is all a very sterile and staged. It might be better to just let the punches do the talking. Without the noise of the crowd, every clean punch registers on the decibel scale. You can either try to pipe in an atmosphere or just hope that a fight becomes a real to and fro affair in which you can hear every brain cell rattling, every rib-bending punch sink in.
“The crowds, and I don’t care what anyone says, give that fighter twenty-percent more energy,” said Roberts. “You land a good shot, your crowd goes mad and you will continue to attack. Plus you can now hear every shot. You can hear the crack of the punches much more.”
Roberts also loves a good ring walk. He has been walking fighters to the ring for years. The baying crowd, the abuse, the cups of beer hurtling through the air, even the odd dose of what can only be described as piss has been thrown at him. Despite the stress that is involved in this part of the job, he told me that he will miss the interaction with the crowd as well as their reaction to the fighters.
“I love the ring walks,” he said. “Three of them stand out for me. George Groves on the bus at Wembley for Carl Froch. That was a logistical nightmare, but it worked. The second was Ricky Hatton against Kostya Tszyu. It was the early hours in Manchester at the Arena and it was electric. You’ve got Russell Crowe sat there at ringside and everyone who is everyone in British boxing.
“The best, and people will say this is the one every goes to recently, was [Anthony] Joshua’s ring walk against Wladimir Klitchko at Wembley. That was my favourite. It was a huge occasion. A huge crowd. We look at it the opposite way the crowd looks at it. They are looking at the fighters. We are looking at the crowd to protect the fighters. It was so vast, noisy and lit. It was an incredible ring walk.
“Funnily enough, though, the worst ring walk I had was one that I was talking about the other day. Tommy Coyle fighting Derry Mathews up in Hull was one hell of an experience. We got covered in beer, piss and they were like animals. They didn’t want Derry anywhere near that ring that night! It was both the funniest and the worse one I’ve done. What a mad night that was. Tommy has got some huge support from his fans up there.”
The crowds will slowly begin to come back. We just have to hope that they have got something to come back to. Covid-19 cannot be studied properly right now. We are too close to it. We are right in the eye of the storm trying to make sense of a senseless situation that is in a constant state of flux. Like 9/11, we will only really start to appreciate the true impact once we are through it and can look at it as a whole. In the meantime, we are all just doing what we can to get by and hoping that some form of normality resumes down the line.
“I know it is not the same behind closed doors, but football started off slowly with some one-nils and nil-nils and I think boxing will be the same,” Roberts opined. “The players in football had to get back into it and it will be the same with boxing. These four shows from Matchroom will allow fighters to get back into it. I’m a boxing fan, the first fight I stayed up for was Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno. I’ve been watching boxing for decades now, and it is always an honour and a privilege to work on boxing shows. At the same time, we have so much to do we don’t see much of what happens in the ring.
“Boxing has never been this big. I’ve been around it a long time and it is huge now. It is on a par with any sport apart from football, which is so big, but I believe that when you get the right fight and the right crowd nothing beats the atmosphere that is generated by boxing. It is so intense. I’m just glad it is back.”