Terry Dooley ponders Sky Sports’ PPV offering between veterans Kell Brook and Amir Khan that still captured the imagination and might just signal the dawn of a new era for British boxing fans.
A lot of in-ring questions were answered inside the ring when Kell Brook (40-3, 28 KOs) beat Amir Khan (36-6, 21 stoppages) into submission at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night. However, for many boxing fans, the bulk of the drama and intrigue these days focuses on what goes on outside of the ring, and who can blame them given the paucity of big fights that get made despite the talent pool boxing has to matchmake with?
Brook-Khan took place far too late, had nothing of significance outside of UK bragging rights, was hampered by a lack of poor recent form from both fighters and had been ridiculed in some quarters as being a case of much too little too late. Despite this, the bout did capture the wider imagination of both hardcore and casual fights fans and was, whisper it, not the worst fight we’ve ever seen.
For a few minutes, Khan looked like he could overcome a clear size advantage yet his erratic, herky-jerky style of boxing used to be covered, sometimes smothered, by his innate speed, but the speed has gone, the reflexes also, and it became clear that he was facing an uphill task the moment he took his first clean shot towards the end of round one.
Nevertheless, the thrill has still not gone when watching Khan. Brook has never been a big one-punch hitter above a certain level, but he managed to time Khan, land clean shots, and force a stoppage that although not leading to a world title was a solid start for Sky PPV’s relaunch.
Much was made of Sky’s demise when in-house promoter Eddie Hearn moved his stable over to the DAZN channel and app last year yet, as an outlet for boxing, Sky is nothing if not resilient. Over the years Sky and their production team have marketed less than appealing fights skilfully, across all promotional divides.
Prior to Hearn, Sky had access to the stables of Frank Warren, Kellie nee Frank Maloney, Mick Hennessy and Matchroom, who at the time did shows on a fight-by-fight basis using boxers outside of their stable, which was small at the time. Every single British fighter of note that you can name was available to Sky at that time, yet they were either unwilling or incapable of getting the promoters to make the match-ups that were required to push the product and the sport forward.
All this appeared to change when Hearn stepped in as sole promoter, with some huge nights taking place, largely due to the Anthony Joshua effect. However, and I’ve only been told this by other people, it is my understanding that when you first start buying drugs from a dealer they’ll shower you with good stuff in the early days, turn up at your house at a decent time and generally treat you like a prize customer.
In the end, though, you end up sat on a park bench in the pouring rain for nearly an hour waiting to pay a lot of money for very little product. This is what happened with Sky across the various promoters. They’d sign a new deal, the promoters would make some good fights and then serve up a diminished product before blaming the network itself and moving on. Warren left and started BoxNation, Hearn is now trying to make a go of things using his sky-high profile on the relatively new DAZN platform.
When speaking to me in April 2012, DAZN’s Tony Bellew explained that he decided to move from Warren and BoxNation over to Sky and Hearn because: ‘With the right amount of time, the right amount of profile and with Sky Sports behind me there is every possibility that I could become someone,” he said, eventually winning a world title on the Sky platform. “I don’t know how far I can go, but I want to give it a go and raise my profile — I can’t do that on a channel which gets less views than my Twitter page.”
DAZN aren’t quite as hidden from view, but they lack the proven Sky platform and their success lived and died upon Sky’s next move. Ironically, DAZN Boxing currently has 404.8K followers compared to Bellew’s 715.4K so one of their pundits, albeit an high profile one, has a higher Twitter reach than the app’s boxing Twitter account. Hearn also dwarfs their outreach due to his 1,000,000 or so followers, so they’ll both do, and are doing, a lot of the spadework when it comes to promoting the app.
The next move from Sky was to bring in Ben Shalom, who is fresh faced enough to stand by his own ideas about how to promote a fight, and if Chris Eubank Jr. vs Liam Williams was a baby step in the right direction, Khan-Brook was a major stride when it came to reminding fans, and, more importantly, fighters, that Sky is probably the best sports platform available in the UK.
This weekend’s meeting between WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO 140lbs holder Josh Taylor and WBO mandatory challenger Jack Catterall at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow is another step in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong, Sky was dire for too long when it came to wielding their considerable clout, they might have learned a few lessons about the power of the market and how to exploit it from their former promoters and could emerge from recent peaks and troughs with a few more peaks than troughs.
It isn’t rocket science, get two recognisable names — say, Khan and Brook — use sky-high production values to package and sell the product, get as many bums on seats as possible for the colour aspect of the production, unearth Michael Buffer and light the touch paper.
Sky did just that last weekend. It now remains to be seen how they operate moving forward and if they have a long-term strategy, and fortitude, to take on Hearn, Warren and co. To paraphrase Bellew, having a big social media platform is one thing, and can be a huge advantage, but you can never discount the allure of the Sky Sports and Sky Sports News PR machine, the advertising wider platform and their ability to see promoters come and go.
Key moves will involve the futures of both Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, who are both much more evasive outside the ring when negotiating fights and platforms for themselves than they are inside the ring when it comes to avoiding punches.
Plus, there is the Tyson Fury question. Sure, his fight against Whyte looks to be heading to BT Sports yet I have been told by more than one senior figure at Sky that they are desperate to get “The Gypsy King” back on their books, and it is hard to bet against them if they sense that he is receptive to switch things up at some point.
Supporting Sky is a jarring experience for most boxing fans. They are a big corporate beast, but we want to see the best fighting the best when at their best. This has been a consistent, systemic problem in British boxing, and one that we might have taken a small step towards solving should Brook-Khan pave the way for bigger nights of boxing on the nation’s biggest platform.
As we saw with Khan and Brook, ‘Time destroys everything’, especially your reflexes and sharpness, but it can also be a great healer and Sky might just pull a new era of British boxing out of the quagmire of egos and recriminations that has hampered it for over a decade.
You can follow Terry Dooley on Twitter via @Terryboxing.
Main image: Brook overwhelms Khan in Manchester last weekend. Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.