OLIVER HOLT: Back off fun police, Tommy Fury versus Jake Paul is the LEAST of boxing’s problems… PLUS, Manchester United had become a vehicle for egos but they are now a serious club again
- Jake Paul and Tommy Fury finally fought in the hotly-anticipated bout on Sunday
- The fight was denigrated by the sport’s purists but this is the least of its issues
- Conor Benn has been reinstated in WBC’s rankings despite his failed drugs test
I did not watch the Jake Paul-Tommy Fury fight on Sunday night. I was still on a train home from Wembley with some Manchester United fans who had grown tired and emotional in varying degrees as the journey progressed.
It appeared that they might have had a few drinks during the course of the evening but I suspect, on reflection, that they had been adversely affected by a highly-elevated consumption of eggs.
That’s right. Boxing tells us that the British fighter Conor Benn failed a couple of drugs tests last year because, essentially, he’d had a few too many omelettes. We’re supposed to accept that explanation with a straight face, apparently. It was good enough for the World Boxing Council anyway. They reinstated Benn in their rankings last week amid much hilarity about his eggstra-curricular activities.
So, no, I didn’t watch the Fury-Paul fight and I wouldn’t have watched it even if I hadn’t been on a train back from the Carabao Cup Final.
I’ve glimpsed some of the highlights since and seen Fury’s knockdown in the eighth round of his points victory but I had little interest in paying to watch two novices, whose celebrity far outweighs their skill, slugging it out in a boxing ring in Saudi Arabia.
British boxer Tommy Fury defeated Jake Paul by split decision in Saudi Arabia on Sunday night
YouTuber-turned-boxer Paul was beaten by split decision as the fight went to all eight rounds
You’ll have to excuse me, though, if I don’t express any moral outrage about the damage being done to the sport by the spectacle of a fight between a man famous for being on YouTube and a boxer who has gained more attention for his exploits on Love Island than for anything he has done in his fledgling professional career.
In the litany of boxing’s ills, Fury-Paul is near the back of the queue. It has got far worse things to worry about.
Boxing is a noble sport peopled by incredibly brave and skilled men and women but it is being undermined every day by its failure to police itself. It is a sport that just this year has brought us the thrilling fight between unified light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde and the relentless WBA featherweight title battle between Leigh Wood and Mauricio Lara.
But it is also a sport that has been – and perhaps still is – brought under the influence of a man like Daniel Kinahan, named as a senior figure in organised crime in the High Court in Ireland, but name-checked by Tommy Fury’s brother, Tyson, in the past as a key part of his career. While boxing wrestles with issues like that and its impotence around performance enhancing drugs, an occasion such as the celebrity scrap in Riyadh qualifies as light relief.
I don’t see the problem with Fury v Paul. If you don’t like it, don’t pay for it and don’t watch it. If you think it got more attention than it deserved, that’s fine, too. But it is impossible to deny its appeal to a younger generation, in particular, and that is something that should be celebrated. There is no reason why a fight like Fury-Paul should not exist happily alongside Beterbiev-Yarde. Sport has room for both of them.
I saw Fury-Paul denigrated as a ‘fight for the new age’ but there has always been an element of vaudeville about sport. It’s not new. When the former presenter Dickie Davies died earlier this month, it brought forth a festival of nostalgia about the World of Sport television show and the way it showcased wrestlers like Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy.
Usain Bolt raced against a bus in Argentina once. Mansour Bahrami was not a great tennis player but crowds loved his trick shots. That was all more showbiz than sport, too, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t entertainment.
In the same way, I have no particular interest in watching celebrities run around in the Soccer Aid for Unicef football match but 54,000 people turned up to see it at the London Stadium last year and it raised £15m for charity. Why condemn that? Different people get enjoyment from different things. It’s still sport. It’s still entertainment. The fun police should stay out of it.
The heavily-anticipated fight in Saudi Arabia appealed to the younger generation in particular
No one has tried to claim Fury-Paul was a meeting of two skilled pugilists. It was not as if the fight was mis-sold. No one was conned. Viewers wanted to see a white-collar fight between a guy they love to hate and a Love Island pin-up and that was what they got.
It didn’t have to be Lomachenko-Rigondeaux. People had other motives to watch it. Home Alone actor Macaulay Culkin tweeted: ‘There’s no better way to celebrate your half birthday than to watch Jake Paul get punched in the head repeatedly.’
Professional boxing is called prize fighting, don’t forget. It’s about the money as well as the glory. Former world super-middleweight champion Carl Froch made the point on the radio that the limit of Tommy Fury’s abilities as a professional boxer is probably fighting for a Southern Area title or the British title and that he could never hope to earn anything like the money he earned for fighting Paul at that level.
Fury has got a young child now. Make some money in easy fights against people like Paul and then get out while he can. Who is to begrudge him that? Who is to begrudge viewers the fun stuff? Just leave the rest of us to keep our integrity in tact by concentrating on the more serious side of the sport, covering fighters of renown whose reputations have been redeemed by the highly-elevated consumption of eggs.
Boxer Conor Benn has been reinstated in WBC’s rankings despite his failed drugs test last year
Martinez the epitome of the new, unselfish Manchester United under Ten Hag
It is still early in the Manchester United revival and even though they are lingering at the edge of the Premier League title race, it feels as if they are not quite at the level of Manchester City or Arsenal yet.
No one should get too carried away with the fact that they beat a Newcastle team that is running out of gas in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final, the least of English football’s domestic competitions, but it is enough for now to know that United are a serious team and a serious club again.
In the latter years of Ed Woodward’s tenure at the club, United had become a vehicle for egos and has-beens. They were a commercial entity blinded by the light of personalities like Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The new chief executive, Richard Arnold, and the manager, Erik ten Hag, have changed that. United are a football club again now. Players who once exuded division and complacency look hungry and united again.
Ten Hag deserves most of the credit for that. On the pitch, Casemiro has been a game-changer in midfield. And if you wanted a symbol on Sunday of the new defiant, immovable, competitive spirit that has infused the club, there was no need to look any further than Lisandro Martinez.
Bloody but utterly unbowed, a superb reader of the game, an indomitable leader in defence, Martinez is as good as example as any of the kind of player who turned United from a team that always folded under pressure to a side climbing back towards the summit.
Lisandro Martinez (R) has come to typify the new-found attitude and application at Man United
Mac Allister interview was a privilege
It was a privilege to speak to Alexis Mac Allister at the Brighton & Hove Albion training ground on the south coast last week. He radiates class off the pitch as well as on it and it was fascinating to talk through his part in Argentina’s second goal in last year’s World Cup final in Qatar. That goal, finished by Angel di Maria, is one of my top five in the tournament’s history. Here’s my list:
i. Carlos Alberto for Brazil against Italy, 1970
ii. Angel di Maria for Argentina against France 2022
iii. Diego Maradona for Argentina against England 1986
iv. Eder for Brazil against Scotland 1982
v. Marco Tardelli for Italy against West Germany 1982.
Brighton and Argentina midfielder Alexis Mac Allister is a class act off the pitch as well as on it
Angel Di Maria’s strike to put Argentina 2-0 ahead is one of the best goals in World Cup history
Potter’s struggles partly down to being bequeathed a bloated and shapeless body of talent
A petition demanding the sacking of Graham Potter has garnered thousands of signatures from Chelsea fans apparently. How about a petition demanding the sacking of whoever sanctioned the signings of almost £600m worth of players in the last 12 months without bothering to include a functioning centre forward?
That might be slightly inconvenient because it would lay some of the blame for Chelsea’s current predicament on the supermarket-sweep-style recruitment policy operated by owner Todd Boehly since he took over the club nine months ago.
Potter is struggling at Stamford Bridge, no doubt, but part of the reason for that is that he has been bequeathed a golden jumble of talent, bloated and shapeless, rather than any coherent plan.
It is to be hoped that Boehly recognises this and that it is one of the reasons he is giving his manager more time. Either way, it feels as though the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund next Tuesday represents a critical moment.
Go through to the quarter-finals and Potter will get the breathing space he deserves. Fail to progress and it is likely to mark the end of his short reign at the club.
Graham Potter has been bequeathed with a bloated and shapeless squad by the Blues chiefs
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