Frank Warren reflects on a hall of fame career

After recently celebrating 40 years in the boxing business, you’d have forgiven Frank Warren for pulling out the pipe and slippers and settling into a comfortable retirement.

But relaxing in an easy chair isn’t the 69-year-old’s style.

The Hall of Fame promoter maintains his hunger for success and passion for the sport and is still going strong, whether it’s dealing with his stable of nearly 100 fighters or buzzing from the excitement of seeing flyweight Sunny Edwards become the latest in his long line of world champions.

In conversation with Boxing Social, Warren freely admits that he prefers to focus on the future rather than the past.

“I’ll be honest with you – I don’t think about it [the past] that much,” he chuckles. “As a promoter, I’ve always tried to look at the bigger picture. From when I started in boxing I think I helped open things up and ensure boxers got much better paid for example and much better exposed.

“I also tried to get the Americans involved and interested more in British boxing as well, and to show people that British boxing was much better than people thought or said it was. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have many great moments in the sport over the years.”

Warren’s journey in boxing is compellingly documented in the recent BT Sport documentary Make It or Die Trying: The Frank Warren Story and he kindly indulges Boxing Social when we ask him to select and reflect on some of the highlights among the 339 world title fights he has promoted.

“Proving everyone wrong about Joe Calzaghe was a big one for me,” Warren begins. “A lot of people, particularly the TV companies, really didn’t rate him. I remember I had a letter from Vic Wakeling at Sky and a similar letter from ITV saying they didn’t rate him and didn’t really want him.

“He had a great fight against [Mikkel] Kessler [in 2007] – they were both at their best for that fight – and I don’t think Kessler was ever the same fighter after that, but Calzaghe’s best fight and the night that he really proved himself was against Jeff Lacy [in 2006].

“People forget that Lacy went into that fight as an undefeated world champion who was seen as Showtime’s next big thing and America’s next big thing. Joe was a massive underdog. I don’t think a single newspaper picked him to win. But the fight proved a total domination. He was phenomenal that night. And he nearly pulled out the week before – I had to talk him into fighting!” 

Warren’s rollercoaster spell promoting ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, guiding the Sheffield sensation from prospect to dominant world champion also provided many big nights and memorable moments for Warren.

Chief among them was Naz’s initial assault on the American market in the form of his 1997 up-and-down thriller against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden.

“It was very special being the first Brit to promote a show at Madison Square Garden when I went there with Naz versus Kevin Kelley,” Warren recalls. “That was a great occasion. We proved everyone wrong – they said we’d sell hardly any tickets because the fight was just before Christmas and we not only sold loads of tickets but it was an amazing fight, and Naz won, of course, which was the icing on the cake.”

Warren also pinpoints a trio of heavyweight showdowns as among the most memorable nights of his career.

“Performance wise, I have to mention Tyson Fury and that dramatic last round in his first fight with Deontay Wilder when he got up from the canvas when he looked done for – it was probably one of the most dramatic rounds ever. And then the second fight as well – when he totally destroyed him – that was also a great moment.

“And Frank Bruno beating Oliver McCall, of course, was another highlight. He’d been to the well three times without success in fighting for a world title then he came to me and finally won a world title. That was a great night at Wembley.”