Terry Dooley draws parallels between the self-harming business model that originally sent HMV into administration and British boxing, where fight fans are being rinsed by multiple PPVs and substandard contests at a time when money is tight due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Dooley also weighs in on another eventful weekend for judge Terry O’Connor.

Do you remember when HMV went into administration in 2013? Do you remember the howls of derision over losing a staple of every high street in the United Kingdom? I do. I remember it clearly because I thought: ‘Good. They deserve it.’ When a major company or chain goes under our thoughts must go out to the frontline staff, who lose their jobs and must enter the market again. 

The second thought should focus on the people who caused it to happen. The people running a company will try to put it on the toes of the consumer, i.e.: “It isn’t out fault people started using Amazon for ease of use and because they sell at a lower price than us. The lack of customers is to blame for the loss of jobs.” 

In fact, the people at the top at HMV were to blame for taking the piss when it came to prices for far too long. They were the top dog when it came to music stores. They could charge that bit extra and say it was for staff, premises, business rates and whatnot, but then they charged more and more and more — and it all went wrong for them.  

I bought a copy of Umma Gumma by Pink Floyd from them for around £40 at one point. It is £12.55 on Amazon today, £16.99 on HMV online. Exports were another money-spinner, Crimson Tonight by The Stone Roses cost me a fair bit back then. Shopping at HMV is now more of a nostalgia thing as you can get CDs cheaper elsewhere. 

Now we are looking at a raft of cinema closures. This time it is because of a global pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. Jobs will be lost, so we need to have empathy with the people who are now out of work, yet I’m not crying a river for AMC itself. Cinema chains get you inside and charge prices for confectionery that would even make a motorway services employer wince. They found more and more ways to chisel money from us from the moment we walk in the door.  

Businesses need to make money, we get that; however, if they take it too far, they run the risk of rivals stepping in and selling the same products for less. Amazon did for HMV, home streaming will take cinemas out as you can watch stuff in the comfort of your own home and can pause for comfort breaks.  

In the dark days of working for credit card companies, I attended courses that focused on building and maintaining customer loyalty. One trainer called smaller accounts “Sluice accounts” because the people who had them were always either on the cusp of their relatively small limit or would go over it on a regular basis as well as failing to make payments on time. This worked out well for the credit card companies. 

Eventually, a customer may become enraged and phone up threatening to move on after clearing their account, although they rarely did clear it, so you would other them a few quid off as a ‘Goodwill gesture’. The customer would think, ‘They really value me’, and let us continue to rinse them. Alternatively, another company would offer them a 0% balance transfer and the whole process would begin again. “We always get them in the end,” said one trainer, with a big smile on his face. 

Boxing has been operating in a similar way to all the of above for years now. Regular Sky Sports and BT Sports shows are like the three CDs for a certain price that HMV used to offer, with PPVs the equivalent of the imported or niche CDs. The sport is also equivalent to the cinema experience as to see the latest film immediately you have to take a trip to one and as a live experience boxing has an immediacy about it that requires a subscription or a one-off payment (although PPVs are hardly one-off events over the coming months, Sky are treating us to two of them in the run-up to Christmas). 

As for the credit cards, boxing fans are the sluice customers — the ones who either will not or cannot leave. The ones who will continue to pay the price and are grateful when we are thrown the odd bone by way or a good fight or a stacked show, although these types of shows are increasingly rare in this era of boxing. 

Both Sky and BT Sport half met the challenge of boxing in lockdown by putting on shows, it is just that most of them weren’t particularly good. Like HMV and others before them, they have one job: to put on shows that are worth our money. They have a pattern of failure when it comes to doing this. The only thing consistent about British boxing is this failure. Now we have Usyk-Chisora on PPV despite the fact it isn’t PPV worthy and although Anthony Joshua is an established PPV fighter the undercards of too many of his fights have been poor. 

Usyk-Chisora isn’t PPV worthy, says Terry Dooley.

Our only ray of brightness came when both Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren proposed a meeting to sort out some big fights. This little spot of sunshine came in August and, to the best of my knowledge, they have yet to meet.  

A real kicker for UK fans is the fact that the USA is leading the way with better fights, plus more and better shows. Bob Arum put on a genuinely big fight last weekend by pitting Vasiliy Lomachenko against Teofimo Lopez for the WBA, IBF and WBO world lightweight titles. It eclipsed anything we are doing over here. In fact, the closest we have come is the news that Daniel Dubois against Joe Joyce on November 28 won’t be on PPV. A lot of people celebrated this despite the fact it was never truly PPV-worthy in the first place.  

Therefore, I finally ditched Sky Sports for good at the start of the lockdown. I’ve had the occasional break yet had subscribed steadily to the service since 1999. The “free” boxing coverage isn’t worth the money we pay for it, especially recently, and the PPV model means we can dip in and out. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made for a while as due to what my wife calls, “A logistical nightmare”, as I can ask her to set up fights on YouTube or elsewhere the next day for me so I can avoid the results.  

It is liberating to not be in the mix on Twitter, too, as the fights themselves get lost in the ebb and flow of live Tweeting. You can also end up second guessing yourself if you score a round one way and others have a different take. The true essence of live scoring is that you don’t tot up your card as you go along, as this can lead you into scoring rounds based on who other people say is winning the fight to bring your card in line or being swayed into doing this by the commentary. 

The uncertainly caused by the second spike in Covid means that the situation surrounding upcoming fights could become fluid. All eyes are on the returns of both Tyson Fury and Joshua, both PPV fighters, as we need to kickstart the top-tier of boxing’s most prestigious division once again. If there was a worst-case scenario second nationwide lockdown, and if boxing was pushed back again, it would be a huge blow for the sport.  

However, Sky, BT, Hearn and Warren are at the wheel because they insist they are the ones who can push boxing on. If they don’t deliver during 2021, they might find that they continue to haemorrhage subscribers. To paraphrase (mangle) Alan Moore, they could end up drowning in their own hubris, the accumulated cost of their PPVs and greed will pile upon them. In the end, they will look at their former customers and say, “Save us!”, and us consumers will have every right to whisper: “No — I’m series binging on Netflix.”  

Coda:  

Speaking of being the only game in town, or one of them, the limited series The Terry O’Connor Show continues to bemuse and entertain in equal measure. The latest episode aired live on Saturday night when he was pictured glancing at something in his hand when he should have been paying attention to Lewis Ritson’s vacant WBA Inter-Continental light-welterweight title fight against Miguel Vazquez. The visitor was thought by many to have won the contest. Whatever you think, the fact Michael Alexander had it 115-113, Marcus McDonnell had it 113-116 and O’Connor had it 117-111 shows a wide discrepancy between the scores.  

Initial speculation was that O’Connor was looking at his mobile phone. On closer inspection it seems to be a notepad. BBBoC officials turn in their score at the end of each round. They tear off a piece of paper and put that round behind them. Keeping a running tally, either physically or in their head, is frowned upon as it could lead to the temptation to tailor your scoring to suite a narrative or, worse, favour one fighter over another by reverse engineering your card to even things up. This can lead to lopsided decisions where the judges are widely out-of-synch. 

Now, scoring is subjective, we all know this, but some people seem to think that the subjectivity of scoring means that any card is justifiable when that isn’t the case. Like some forms of art, scoring is subjective yet there are rules. Eyebrows would be raised if a judge scribbled all over their card and said: “I decided to score this round in the style of Jackson Pollock.”  

Boxing fans are starting to lose their trust in the Board’s processes. This lack of trust was underlined by what was a dismissive interview with Robert Smith the next day. Smith pretty much said that there was nothing to see when, on reflection, there clearly was and the viewers saw it.  

Another thing to consider is that even if we take the weekend’s events out of the equation, O’Connor has a history of being the odd man out when it comes to his interpretation of a fight. He scored Tyson Fury-John McDermott 1 98-92 for Fury despite many having McDermott a clear winner. The Board didn’t do him any favours with that one, either, as O’Connor had lost to McDermott’s father, Stan, during his fighting career. Someone else should have go that job on that basis alone. 

O’Connor is still remembered for his controversial decision that appeared
to rob John McDermott of victory in his first fight with Tyson Fury.
Photo: Press Association.

Granted, judges sometimes come up with cards that are incomprehensible. The real shame in this case is if you go back through O’Connor’s fights to the beginning of last year, and I have, he does tend to be in sync with his colleagues by at least a point or two. If he rules the other way in fights with two or three-point swings, he tends to produce a similar score, i.e both Howard Foster and Steve Gray scored 113-115 for Anthony Cacace over Sam Bowen and O’Connor had it 115-112 to the other way. 

Sure, he was truly out of sync when scoring 96-92 in favour of Kyle Williams in what was a clear loss to Ionut Baluta last October and when scoring Joe Hughes’s win over Robbie Davies Jr. 110-118 compared to May Lyson’s 113-115 and 114-115 from Robert Williams. The problem for O’Connor is that his biggest gaffes have taken place under the bright lights of some pretty big fights. 

It is also worth considering the fact that O’Connor has allowed some brutal stoppages to go ahead when operating as a referee: Amir Khan against Breidis Prescott could have been stopped far earlier despite it only lasting a round, so too could have Danny Williams’s fifth-round win over Michael Sprott and he practically assisted Nathan Cleverly to the corner when he was brutalised by Sergey Kovalev in four. On the flipside, he stepped in to stop Peter Manfredo far too early in his contest against Joe Calzaghe. Right or wrong, there is a history of being out of tune at times as a referee, too.  

O’Connor is a nice guy, yet he is given a job to do that can impact on the health of others. Vazquez might get an immediate rematch with Ritson. If he doesn’t, he will probably have to fight a few more times to make the equivalent money and will accrue damage in the process. When I spoke to Smith in the summer, he was keen to reiterate that the Board’s safety measures are second to none — we were discussing this in the context of the BIBA — but what is the point of having such stringent measures outside the ring if there is a growing amount of incompetence from officials and a lack of transparency at the top?  

There is a lot to consider in this one. One final thing is the status of the Board itself. They are a private company limited by guarantee without share capital, so they are essentially not held to account by anyone but themselves. In short: O’Connor will go before a panel of his peers after being summoned before the Board in a notice that was released earlier this week. It all seems a bit: “We are the Board; we do what we like.” 

The other problem is that officials are discouraged from talking about their decisions. When Howard Foster halted Jon Thaxton in four in a vacant British lightweight title fight against John Murray, I asked him why he made the call. He explained it and it made sense. This has happened on a few occasions. If the Board allowed officials to explain decisions or cards we may not agree with the reasoning, but at least would have something to work with rather than a wall of silence that is both damning and damns people like O’Connor to trial by media and speculation at times like this.  

All of this begs once last question when it comes to the Board and it is another quote from Alan Moore by way of the Latin phrase, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” (“Who will guard the guards themselves?), and that question is this: “Who watches the watchmen?” 

@Terryboxing 

Main image: Ritson and Vazquez before judge Terry O’Connor’s latest bombshell. Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom.