Testing times often bring innovation and veteran promoter Dennis Hobson chose to do exactly that. On December 11, Hobson will promote another show, but one with a difference – with Tommy Frank and Kyle Yousaf meeting for the vacant British flyweight title in Sheffield Arena car park. Car parks have seen many a fight over the years, but usually alcohol-induced ones. Now Hobson has gone down a different route altogether. The Sheffield Arena has been hired out, with a drive-in concept, an idea born out of a casual conversation with his secretary.
“I call her Miss Moneypenny, everyone knows her as that. Michelle said I’m going to a drive-in movie this weekend. So I said send me some photographs to see how it all works, so I started to think why can’t I replace the screen with a boxing ring if we adhere to all the Covid criteria, and it has just evolved from there,” Hobson told Boxing Social.
Hobson has been involved on the biggest stages in his long career in the sport. Memorable nights with the likes of Ricky Hatton, Clinton Woods and others have seen Hobson experience some major highs. But this current pandemic hit world has resulted in boxing being restricted to a handful of promoters with big TV deals enabling promotions. Hobson, with the glimmer of an idea, set to work on making it a reality:
“The one thing that has struck me is how positive everyone has been, the local council, the Boxing Board of Control, for us to make it work. We are just having a go and I suppose that is what I have done throughout my boxing life,” said Hobson. “I have been fortunate to have been involved in generating five or six world champions along the way. I’m still a fan, I’m still passionate and that’s why I came up with the idea. If I was still involved in boxing just for the glory I would have just waited until things opened back up again, like a lot of people are having to. I have got a good partner in Steve Crump, whose company sponsors our promotions. We’ve got some great ideas that you will love when they get released. In the next few months, we are going to be releasing something that is quite exciting and will get a lot of fighters back out there.”
Seemingly endless restrictions and the great unpredictable British weather pose significant problems for Hobson to overcome. But, as ever, the promoter is working with what he has got to get the show on and give the best experience possible.
“We have got two big screens going up. We have got caterers so people can have food. In the VIP pods, they can have a meal served to them and we can serve alcohol in there as well,” he said. “We have got a massive canopy over the ring because of the weather risks in December, so if we do get a bit of rain it shouldn’t touch the ring. There is going to be around 120 cars and 14 pods that allow 6 people in them. Altogether there will be around 500 spectators in the car park. The set-up will be special and hopefully a blueprint for someone else to have a go themselves.”
We have seen with the Matchroom and Frank Warren promoted cards in recent months that the shows are not what they used to be. Bubbles need to be created, hotels need to be hired out, additional medical costs and restriction after restriction result in spiralling costs. Even putting on a relatively small show would cost in the region of £10,000 and that doesn’t include any purses for the fighters. Doing something on this scale will see even that figure multiplied several times. Hobson, albeit in different circumstances, has been here before:
“If you think what I did with Jamie McDonnell in 2013 with the world title fight at the Keepmoat. I’d got Jamie and their Gavin saying if the fight is at the football ground we will sell it out; they sold around 1,000 tickets between them. I’d got all the ground covered, I’d got it all geared for 15,000. I did my brains in with that one,” recalled Hobson. “But I got him the world title, we didn’t want to go to Mexico. So if you measure it at the side of that, it’s costing us, but I have done a lot of fights where I have lost money. But sometimes it is a means to an end, you invest because it will get you further up the ladder, so that’s what you do sometimes as a businessman.
“The hotel and the Covid tests will cost around £10,000. We have got two or three cars that will fetch and carry the fighters. We have got marquees there that will be like a holding area for the fighters, they will be all sectioned off. We have to do a test a few days before so they will be isolated in their hotel rooms. After each fight you will have to have a 15-minute break so the ring can be wiped down, you just have to adhere to the criteria that has been set down,” he continued. “It is not a cheap way of doing it, we haven’t got the Sky or BT money, we are doing it through sponsorship. But it is not something you can do every week or even every month. But I am looking at working with other promoters to try and do a show a month, maybe find a way between us to get some fights on, you just have to be a bit creative to make it work and get the kids some fights.”
The event was originally scheduled to take place this month, but the latest incarnation of a so-called lockdown put pay to that. Despite the current uncertainty, Hobson is confident the rescheduled date will not change again.
“This fight could have taken place in September or October, but Kyle [Yousaf] was due to get married and I moved the date to accommodate them,” he said. “So this fight would have already happened, but now it is rescheduled for the December 11. So hopefully we will come out of this lockdown. I can’t see them having another lockdown, I think people will start to kick off, I just think they have had enough.”
Despite the immense problems he has faced and will undoubtedly still face, Hobson has put together an impressive card, headlined by a British flyweight title fight between local rivals Tommy Frank and Kyle Yousaf. Before the first national lockdown, Frank was scheduled to challenge for the IBO world title, but now has to shift his focus to a domestic challenge. Frank will understandably be disappointed his world title has been put on hold, but in many ways, we have an even better fight, one that Hobson is excited about.
“I think it is a smashing fight, I think if it was a normal situation we would have waited to put Tommy and Kyle together. But you look round and think what fight can you make that is meaningful for that date. Both are more or less mandatory for the British title so it is a natural,” he said. “We made Kyle a good offer to take the fight so there were no excuses not to take the fight. Both are up for it, it is a great fight, two undefeated kids, both from Sheffield, it is a great fight for a great event. I think we have found a main event that livens up the event that is the first of its kind in history and I am really pleased with it.”
The main event stands out but with a supporting cast that includes Kane Salvin and Sufyaan Ahmed clashing for the Central Area super-featherweight title, with local talent Perry Howe, Keanen Wainwright and Nathan Owen also appearing alongside Belfast’s Cathy McAleer and Rotherham’s Kash Ali, Hobson has delivered a card that looks certain to offer plenty.
Hobson, the eternal gambler, deserves credit for daring to be different when in truth he didn’t have to. The passion still burns, clearly evident in the voice on the other end of the phone. The easier, safer way would have been to sit and wait, but Hobson deserves everything to fall in place to make his car park wars a success.
All images: Dennis Hobson Promotions.