Jason McClory: The art of matchmaking in the Covid-19 era

Frank Warren’s matchmaker Jason McClory explains the problems and pitfalls of arranging fights in the era of Covid-19, as Queensberry Promotions embarks on a five-show summer schedule.

Boxing returns on Friday and, even though I have matched the card, I’ll be unable to attend as my illnesses put me in the ‘high-risk’ category for Covid-19. We have been planning what we could and couldn’t do since the day lockdown was introduced and, even though it’s only five-fight shows, it’s probably been one of the most stressful times I’ve had in matchmaking. The simple fact is that things keep changing every day; from which fighters are ready to fight to the Government guidelines. It has been very, very stressful.

We had a rough plan of what we wanted to do. At the beginning. we asked all the fighters: ‘Would you be ready for X date?’ They all went: ‘Yeah! I’ll be ready’. Then after a month of lockdown where they’ve not been in gyms, doing their own cooking and eating crisps and what have you, suddenly they are not ready, so we had to rejig all over again. The fighters you see on these early shows are the fighters that kept themselves in good nick and that we could fit in. Some kept themselves in good shape, but we couldn’t fit them into the schedule.

Queensberry Promotions’ five-show summer schedule kicks off with Foster-Beech tomorrow.

It has been difficult because when we matched the first fights, we could only use British-based fighters. Only now is it starting to loosen up a little bit with regards to foreigners entering the country and testing. It’s kind of a double-edged sword: earlier in the year you perhaps wouldn’t have got the Brits involved, who now want the work because their promoter is not staging shows.

By the same token, if no British fighter is available, it’s trickier to bring in a foreign fighter as you have to check which countries have Air Bridges. It is difficult. Boxing is our job, but some of the people who are in the sport, it is not their full-time occupation. When you are asking them to be in a hotel from Tuesday until Saturday morning, that’s a big chunk [of time], especially if they’ve not been working during the lockdown.

That’s no slight against the people who haven’t been able to do it because they are trying to get money to feed their families. However, it does become frustrating because this is your job and you need them, but they have their own jobs, business and people they are responsible for. On the whole, it has been very difficult, but these trials and tribulations are just part of what we do.

All I can do is try to develop the fighters that we have got in the best way that I can. Where I can implement the plans we have for the development of younger fighters coming through, I do. Where I don’t have access to the fighter we need, the plan has to change slightly. I don’t think we’ve been affected by that too much, apart from only being able to have five [house] fighters on the show rather than 15. We are doing five shows over six weeks, so we are getting over 30 fighters work and advancing their career. Thankfully, in terms of development, it hasn’t been too difficult.

Just as ‘Phase One’ of our shows is about to be begin, I’m already working on matching ‘Phase Two’. I don’t know when the lockdown will be lifted so we can go back to ‘The New Normal’ where we can have live crowds at places like the O2 or York Hall even. I don’t know how far away we are from that. I’ve certainly given up second guessing. You get things right and just how they should be, then: ‘Bang!’ It all changes.

I think it’s been a shock to the system because we didn’t realise how spoilt we were pottering along with shows. We didn’t have to worry about cleaning the ring between fights, cleaning teams on standby and clinical waste bins everywhere. We are going first in this country; we are making the blueprint which the British Boxing Board of Control will distribute out to the other promoters that want to put on shows during Covid-19.

The rules have changed week-to-week. First, you had to keep two metres apart and the next week you can all go down the pub! I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m not being political, but the constant change has been challenging. At BT Studios, we have to clean the ring in between each fight. We have ‘Red Zones’, ‘Blue Zones’ and ‘Green Zones’ dictating where you can and can’t go, but technically after the show everyone involved can go down the pub. There is no blueprint for this. There is no: ‘Oh well, last time we did…’

‘Phase One’ of Queensberry’s return ends with the clash between big
heavyweight hope Daniel Dubois and Erik Pfeifer.

I think some good could come from the Covid-19 situation. I think this is the chance for the British Boxing Board of Control to say: ‘Right, this is the way forward. We will pre-approve who goes back stage’. Obviously, they’ll loosen it up a bit because I would like to get backstage at some point. The promoters and the BBBofC can implement procedures to stop every Tom, Dick and Harry coming backstage. I believe that backstage is for the fighters, trainers and managers, not the mums, aunties, best mates, masseurs or strength and conditioning coaches. There’s nothing a strength and conditioning coach can do on the night!

Now, back to the fights. I’m looking forward to Sam Maxwell against Joe Hughes, I think that will be a really good fight. It’ll be a good opportunity for Ekow Essuman to get a bit of the limelight, I think he’s been hidden away for too long. Denzel Bentley will be back out against Mick Hall. Daniel Dubois is always exciting. I like Sunny Edwards because he’s a very intelligent fighter and he’s got a live opponent there in Thomas Essomba. I’m looking forward to seeing the undercard fighters like Mark Chamberlain and Henry Turner. As a fan, there’s not much of it I’m not looking forward to sitting down and watching.

The main event on Friday between Brad Foster and James Beech Jr. – that could be a really good fight. Brad Foster was in the last main event we had before lockdown and he’s the first main event when boxing gets going again in Britain, so he’s obviously looked after himself. I’m wanting Brad to win so he can win that Lonsdale Belt outright. I think it’s a huge achievement for a guy with no amateur experience and still only 22 years old!

Boxing is back and I don’t have to stand in a draughty hall anymore, I get to sit on the sofa watching on my telly.

Jason McClory was talking to John A. MacDonald.