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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: MALARKEY IN THE UK

By Paul Magno | January 15, 2024
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: MALARKEY IN THE UK

Don’t expect this to be a fight report.

On Saturday, we saw a rare double appearance from members of the “White guys who fight infrequently, but are never chastised or value-judged for being ‘inactive’” club when Artur Beterbiev met Callum Smith at Centre Videotron in Quebec City.

It was a predictable mauling in Beterbiev’s favor.

I bring this up-- underline it, highlight it, and photoshop red arrows pointing to it-- because of some flak I took on Twitter/X late last week (@boxing_tribune). 

On Friday, I pointed out that 3-belt light heavyweight champ Beterbiev would, indeed, maul Smith because, like so many UK fighters, Smith’s reputation as a world class fighter was the product of a zealous, wildly nationalistic, and self-obsessed UK media. 

And, as is usually the case, the uncomfortable truth I dropped on people turned out to be irrefutable truth.

But I’m not going to pat myself too hard on the back for this one. Beterbiev was clearly the better fighter. The oddsmakers and anyone with a clear boxing mind knew this. It was glaring and obvious. Beterbiev vs. Smith was a case of great vs. just good, high-end world class vs. high-end regional. 

All through the buildup to this fight, though, we heard the UK media pump wishful thinking, creeping into the realm of delusion, into the public narrative. And just as they did when Smith was sold as a match for Saul Alvarez back in 2020, it was all, as the Brits say, “bollocks.”

Aside from raw potential and a stoppage of George Groves (who, himself, may have been an overhyped English fighter), there was nothing to suggest that Smith was “special” at a world class level. Good, yes. Not great...and definitely not elite. 

We’ve seen this a lot when it comes to UK fighters in general. Because the UK media has been so good at hyping their “own” and in, honestly, keeping media gigs among themselves, they’ve sold a lot of UK fighters as being better than they really are. And, feeding off of that hype, UK promoters have gotten their fighters disproportionately high rankings with the sanctioning bodies. 

Just in recent days/weeks/months we’ve seen guys like Sunny Edwards and Ohara Davies utterly unraveled. Joe Joyce was laid out (twice). Daniel Dubois was gutted by Usyk. Josh Taylor fizzled out. I could go on and go back further (like, gulp, Ricky Hatton was never as good as he was hyped, gulp!). All of these guys got the hard-sell treatment from UK media who heaped copious amounts of exaggerated praise and attention on them, bending reality to the point of breaking reality.

It’s an affront to common sense to have some of these guys hyped as “real,” when you can plainly see from their skill sets and a resume full of falafel cart salesmen and Bulgarian gym coaches that they aren’t. It’s a waste of our time. We, as fans, want good, competitive fights featuring well-developed, well-tested fighters and not “let’s give it a go, mate” challengers who get mangled when they step up in class and then re-hyped into another big fight a couple years later...where they’re mangled again.

One prominent UK boxing media personality even labeled Beterbiev-Smith as a “Fight of the Year contender” during fight week. I mean, seriously. In what weird parallel universe would Beterbiev vs. Smith have EVER been a Fight of the Year? Smith just wasn’t good enough—no matter how often British boxing media “experts” told the world otherwise. 

I don’t mean any of this as a personal attack on Callum Smith, but if the man gets his feelings hurt as a consequence of this kind of reality check, then so be it. There are levels to this sport, just as there are with every sport. Nobody covering football would, with a straight face, insist that the Boise State Broncos had a real chance of beating the Dallas Cowboys in an all-time classic. 

I got a lot of nonsense hurled at me when I stuck this red-hot dagger of truth into the backside of promotion-as-journalism. There was the “The UK is producing more world class boxers-- per population” silliness and the “Britain runs boxing at the moment” crowing (plus lots of general nastiness in my inbox and a claim that I’m “filled with toxic nationalistic tribalism”). But I defy you-- if you’re not a boxing moron or a wildly patriotic Brit-- to look at all of the UK fighters who are champions or world ranked contenders and count how many of them are actually proven, world class fighters with the resumes to match. What would that tally be? Maybe 3 or 4. Maybe. And two of them-- Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua-- have been pretty inconsistent in recent performances. Out of a UK population of over 67 million? That’s actually a lower percentage of world class fighters produced than many nations. 

But I digress.

Fighters are overhyped everywhere and in in every country. Resumes are artificially beefed up everywhere. Boxing media sucks everywhere. But the UK has pulled all of this together and turned the misleading hard-sell of relatively pedestrian fighters into an art form. 

UK media (and the fans who buy into what’s peddled) are supporting their “own.” I get that. Their devotion to their “own” is almost sweet. As I’ve said many times before, I wish American fight fans and media were more supportive of their own. But charming devotion doesn’t necessarily make for a good boxing product. Some would say that it actually gets in the way. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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