20 The Daily Telegraph Monday 27 July 2020 ** Sport Final whistle Alan Tyers Boxing revels in its biosecure return S ir Alex Ferguson said of Dennis Wise that he “could start a fight in an empty house”. Frank Warren and BT Sport have been testing out the theory, hosting professional boxing in an empty television studio, in a biosecure bubble, because you would not want anyone to be putting their health at risk nevertheless provided some decent live sport, and a showcase for a couple of British boxers at various stages of their professional development. A bit like the Test matches that have been on television over the past few weeks, some things were different, some were not so good, and others were better. Only football is an unequivocally denuded TV product without a live crowd, although it should be noted that one of the other great impresarios of our time, Barry Hearn, is putting the World Matchplay darts on Sky Sports at the moment with a route-one fake crowd soundtrack over the top. Hearn understands better than anyone alive the concept of “sport-tainment”, that sweet spot between a good night out (or in) and watching elite competitive action, and he and Sky have clearly decided that, without the crowd noise, there is no product. But boxing carries a jeopardy that darts does not, so does the sweet science need a crowd to make it an enjoyable watch? On this evidence, no. The five pairs of fighters took to the ring accompanied by the usual walk-on tunes of their choosing, and a little smattering of applause from, presumably, the TV crew and whatever entourages the guys were each allowed in the studio back in Stratford. This was really the only jarring factor: the applause from inside the studio giving the sensation of this being a game show rather than a sporting event, but while none of these lads was walking away from their Saturday-night telly work with a speedboat, or even a really lovely cutlery set, several left with enhanced reputations, and the viewer left feeling that they had got to know some British fighters who might be contesting under brighter lights in a few years. Headliner Joe Joyce was definitely living up to his while being repeatedly battered in the face and head by a highly trained pugilist. No crowds, then, but an unusual and surprisingly satisfying viewing experience it turned out to be. Saturday night at 7.15pm has traditionally been TV’s big time and while even the most hypecrazy boxing promoter could not claim this to be a major event, it “Juggernaut” tag at over 19st; the left hook to the body that ended Michael Wallisch’s evening in the third round would have done an articulated lorry a nasty mischief as well. He fights up-and-comer Daniel Dubois later in the year and the programme brought the two of them together for a frosty appetitewhetter of a chat via the magic of technology. There is something odd about seeing a heavyweight issuing chilling warnings to an opponent while he is sitting on his sofa, as Dubois was, but certainly interesting to watch. The other element I found intriguing was to hear the corners coaching and instructing their man throughout, bringing the viewer closer to the craft and discipline, rather than the spectacle. This trade-off might not work so well for a major match, but for a couple of British-level – or even regional-level – featherweights, you are not giving up too much hype and hoopla as it is, and the excellence of commentators John Rawling and Richie Woodhall contributed to an instructive air. David Haye, too, is one of the best ex-pro analysts working in sport. Some of the fights on the Joyce undercard were at the sort of sporting level where you get some great life stories, improbable runs to the third round of the FA Cup territory, such as Edinburgh University biology graduate and featherweight Monty Ogilvie, or Ramez Mahmood, a 26-year-old maths teacher who fought Chris Bourke for, it says here, the vacant British Southern Area Super Bantamweight Title. Alas, Mahmood could not solve the problem of his opponent, but on the plus side, the superb sporting nickname “The Mathemagician” now has broader recognition. I felt I knew a bit more about British boxing after watching this on Saturday night, and I enjoyed time in this echoey bubble. Put ‘em up: Joe Joyce (left) and Michael Wallisch keep their distance before meeting in the ring Please send us your views Our reader letters and emails column is back. We would love to hear from you. Please send us your views on sport and our coverage to the Sports Editor, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1W 0DT. Or email sportletters@ telegraph.co.uk. Please include your postal address. We will publish the best each week.
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