Four decades after his first licensed professional boxing show, Frank Warren has said there are similarities between his debut and his most recent events.
Warren’s Queensberry Promotions staged the clash between English heavyweights Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce without spectators on Saturday — won by Joyce after a 10th round KO — due to government restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus at Church House, a conference centre in Westminster, London.
There have been ups and downs for 68-year-old Londoner Warren but operating without gate revenue is up there with the hardest times. The coronavirus pandemic halted crowds at sports events in the United Kingdom in March and they have yet to return.
“Ironically, the shows in November and December are the same as my first one because no one [supporters] will be there,” Warren told ESPN.
“We’ve managed to get some shows on and it’s been tough, but being shot [by a masked gunman in 1989] was not great, so I’ve had my ups and downs.”
Church House, which will also host Saturday’s light-heavyweight fight between Anthony Yarde and Lyndon Arthur, is two-and-a-half miles from where Warren put on his first professional boxing event at the Bloomsbury Centre Hotel on Dec. 1, 1980.
“I couldn’t get into the Royal Albert Hall or Wembley Arena because there was a cartel at the time so I had to hold it at a ballroom,” Warren said.
“I had done some things outside of the British Boxing Board of Control jurisdiction, but this was the first one with a license. It was tough, there was no money, only two venues to promote and the cartel had it all tied up. It was a stinker of a fight and the place was nigh on empty. I lost a lot of money.”
One of the key moments in Warren’s early career came when he staged Clinton McKenzie taking on Steve Early for the British super lightweight title in 1982.
“My first fight on TV was on the BBC, the only one I’ve had on the BBC, and it broke the cartel’s monopoly,” Warren said.
“I got it on but they paid me stupid money for it. I forced them to let me have advertising on the corner posts, because until then you didn’t have it. I then got into more live boxing and got Joe Bugner [versus Winston Allen] onto ITV in 1982 — that was very significant.”
Warren went on to promote some of British boxing’s biggest stars including Nigel Benn, Frank Bruno, Duke McKenzie, Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe, Steve Collins, Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan and reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. The English promoter also worked with Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera and American Mike Tyson.
“I launched the boxing on Sky Sports [in the UK] and got their pay-per-view up and running, doing Bruno-Tyson, Bruno-Oliver McCall on there,” he added.
“I co-promoted Bruno-Tyson with Don King. But the big nights have been when my guys were all underdogs like Joe Calzaghe against Jeff Lacy [in 2006], Lacy was the big favourite going into that fight and Joe just destroyed him. Naz [Hamed] did the same in a couple of fights, memorably against Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden [in New York, 1997].
“That was a big one for me because I was the first Englishman to promote at Madison Square Garden and it was such an exciting fight. No one expected us to sell tickets but we did over 20,000.
“Frank [Bruno] was a big underdog when he beat McCall to become world heavyweight champion at Wembley [in 1995]. That was a great night. Kostya Tszyu was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world when he fought Ricky Hatton and he was fancied to win [in 2005], and Ricky did the business on him.”
One fight that sticks out in Warren’s mind is the 1995 clash between Benn and Gerald McClellan where the latter was left with life-changing injuries.
“In a tragic fight, Nigel Benn was the underdog when he beat Gerald McClellan [in 1995] and it showed you the danger of the sport and it was such a brutal fight,” Warren added.