It may be a time of overindulgence and excess, but the festive period is a wasteland for British boxing addicts. In Belgium, however, there used to be an annual Christmas Day boxing show that had a long, pre-Covid history.
The Belgium show wasn’t the only festive card; however, their festive fixture stood the test of time since its inception in the 1930s and used to be the only one of its kind in Europe. This year, though, shows are only taking place in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo, Ghana and Newark, New Jersey.
Bob Logist was often in attendance at the Belgium shows; in fact, he worked the entire show in 1998 as both a judge and referee. The European Boxing Union President explained how a leftfield idea from decades gone by stood the test of time.
“The modern show has been around for almost more than 40-years,” said Logist when talking to about when Christmas Day was Boxing Day. “It was the idea of Karel De Jager — a well-known manager in the Flanders region and also manager of (former world heavyweight title challenger) Jean-Pierre Coopman. I am not sure that this type of show would work elsewhere.
“People ask: ‘Why was it on Christmas day?’ It’s because on that day there is no other sport at all and fans, mostly male, who want to ‘escape’ from family visits are very happy to attend the show — not only because it was a good excuse to get away, but also the program is always very good.”
Logist explained that the pedigree of the show, plus the fact that Coopman himself appeared on it in the past, helped the organisers populate the bill. “All Belgian boxers were proud to perform on such a big show,” he said.
“It was more difficult for boxers coming from abroad since they have to arrive the day before and were not able to spend the evening of 24th with their family. Usually about 2000 people are attending. Don’t forget, this is the only sport on the day for the media to attend so the press creates good publicity.”
Here in the U.K., promoters cram the majority of their shows into the early-to-mid December period. The closest we come to a Christmas show is VIP Boxing Promotions boss Steve Wood’s annual Jolly Boys’ Outing — a male-only dinner show with dancers and a three or four fight card.
It has been going for 15-years, taking place on the last Sunday before Christmas Day, and this year’s show managed to overcome Covid and go ahead as normal — Wood’s former charge and close friend Jamie Moore beat Paul King over six-threes on the inaugural show to secure his third professional win.
“My missus wants to kill me anyway so if I put on a Christmas Day show I’d be dead!” said Wood when asked if he has ever considered taking it one step further. “I’m pulled apart between boxing and family anyway, so things like Christmas Day are important to me — I’d never compromise that.
“The Jolly Boys has become a bit of an institution. Stephen Foster Senior and I started in a small venue that only held about 450 people. Now it’s a thousand people, and the same people come virtually every year. I can enjoy the Jolly Boys. It’s nice to know that all the seats and tables are full [Writer’s Note: This show always sells out].”
Wood’s most cherished memory of the show was watching the entire venue unite in appreciation for two of the attendees in 2006. “A few months after Jamie Moore beat Matthew Macklin they came to the show together and sat at the top table to watch their fight,” he recalled.
“The fans watched it with them then stood and applauded afterwards — that was a special occasion. It was just something that happened naturally. They were both there, it had been a great fight, so we decided to leave the music off during dinner and put that on instead. Hardly anyone ate their dinner because the fight was so good.”
You may assume that is hard to match pre-Christmas shows. However, Jon Pegg, Wood’s matchmaker, revealed that it’s the opposite. “The good thing about Christmas is that people might take fights they might not usually take because they need the extra money, so someone who might be choosey about a fight in September will all of a sudden take it if you get to December the 17th,” explained Pegg.
“The only problem is that all the promoters want to get their boys out before Christmas, so they put a lot of shows on. The Jolly Boys isn’t too bad, they all want to be on that, but it’s like juggling hand grenades. As soon as I’m done, I’ll get Christmas out the way then get back into it on Boxing Day to look at the shows for next year.”
Fans have often called for a Prizefighter: The Journeymen tournament, which would work well on December 25th, according to Pegg. “I’d ask them if they’ve got a plan, they might have a sponsor, then dip into my book for people who will fight anybody anywhere,” he said when asked how he would respond if asked to match a Christmas Day show.
“That (an Away Fighter Vs Away Fighter December 25th show) would be a dream — it’d all fall into place, and they’d match off against each other.”
Featured image: Fox Sports