By Gav Duthie: It has been 18 months since Sky announced their exclusive partnership with Ben Shalom’s Boxxer promotions. During the summer of 2021, Eddie Hearn packed his things and left Sky Sports to fully commit to DAZN, leaving the Broadcaster with zero fighters or content in the boxing world.
Many wondered if Sky would continue their commitment to boxing given the situation, and if they would, how would they do it. In the end, they decided to go with what they called a young innovative company in Boxxer.
I had my reservations. All they had been known for up to that point was their Boxxer series tournaments, where 8 fighters fought to win 3 fights in 1 night for a small prize. Rather than being innovative, it was more a repackaging of the Prizefighter series that Sky/Hearn had tried previously, and although successful, it had seemed to have run its course.
By the end of 2022, I have to admit it has been a very fruitful collaboration. This article discusses the UK markets, the decisions that have gone right, and how they continue to wrestle for share with Eddie Hearn.
Boxxer going into 2023
There is still a lot to be done. They have made great strides, but if you look at their website, their champions are listed as Claressa Shields, Savannah Marshall (who lost it to Shields), and Natasha Jonas. Currently, they have no male champions, with the closest contenders being Cruiserweights Richard Riakhpore and Chris Billam-Smith. They definitely have a lot of exciting prospects, particularly the Azim brothers Adam and Hassan. They have also signed a number of Olympians and are looking to build on their profile over the next few years, with most of their future eggs in this basket.
Sky in the Summer of 2021
Pardon the pun, but everything was ‘up in the air’ at Sky at this point. Would they bother investing in boxing at all? It’s a niche sport, and they lost all their PPV fighters which makes the sport worth showing. Fortunately, Anthony Joshua was the only one who had a remaining one-fight deal with Sky, giving them another PPV date with his Usyk rematch as well as time to build a stable.
The initial murmurs were that Sky might work with a number of promoters, certainly to give them content in the interim. Small but well-known promoters like Mick Hennesey were mentioned. Fortunately, they didn’t go too heavy with MTK management, or Probellum gave their supposed links to organized crime.
They first announced a link with Top Rank, which sounds grandiose, but in reality, it only meant that their shows at 4 am on a Sunday morning would be shown on Sky and that Josh Taylor might come back for the odd show. A Top Rank UK division seemed unlikely and still has never happened, but it was good marketing initially.
The exclusive signing with Boxxer was a surprise. They were novices and didn’t have any stars. When they announced the first schedule, it looked thin. The only fighters with any reputation were Hughie Fury and Savannah Marshall. The Sky machine was doing its magic with Richard Riakhpore, given his story of being shot and his ascension to contender level and his action and his powerful style. The rest was going to be a struggle. 3 fighters, the odd Boxxer tournament wasn’t going to scare Dazn or Eddie Hearn.
How Sky/Boxxer fought back
In chronological order of the moves made as well as their importance in gaining market share.
Signing Chris Eubank Jnr
Although not signed to Boxxer, Sky took advantage of the big name and his awkward past working relationship with Eddie Hearn. Eubank was/still is signed to Sauerland/Wasserman promotions. At least with him, they had a few shows they could headline him with or prop up an undercard.
All of Wasserman’s other fighters are on Channel 5, but Sky secured Eubank. It reminded me of when Man City first became billionaires. They could afford the best but had to settle for the bad boys like Robinho, Adebayor, and Carlos Tevez, who had top-level talent but also top-level baggage.
Eubank brought the same, but they need a marquee name in the short term. They used him on the Hughie Fury-Christian Hammer card fighting Wanik Awdijan. It was an easy fight but a stacked card and had Roy Jones in his corner to add more glamour.
They then built up a rivalry between Eubank and Liam Williams for their first big night, which did well. They would have lost him to the Eubank v Benn fight, but he is signing to fight Liam Smith, which will be another big fight for Sky.
Kell Brook v Amir Khan
After 5+ years of waiting, Boxxer was finally the one to deliver. Eddie Hearn made a huge mistake not staging this fight. He said it was past its sell-by date, that they would want more money than what it’s worth and that people didn’t care anymore. He was wrong.
To an extent, I understood Hearn; it was high risk, low reward, as there was no future in either fighter. Both talked about big fights after, but both retired. The point he missed was even if it lost money, how much more Dazn subscribers would it have gained? Sky stated it did 500,000 buys at £20, gaining £10 million.
The Manchester venue sold out in one day. The other thing DAZN missed is that it told the public that Sky could still deliver the big fights, and it also told potential fighters that Shalom can deliver the big fights that Hearn didn’t. It made potential signings more likely to take Boxxer and Sky seriously. For me, that alone was worth Matchroom making the Brook v Khan fight.
Taking Matchroom Fighters
So far, there have not had any of the biggest names, and Anthony Joshua agreeing to move to DAZN wasn’t ideal, but they have encouraged Liam Smith and Chris Billam-Smith to move over to their side of the street. Both have world-title potential in them. Joseph Parker, who had worked a lot with Matchroom, also signed and is popular in the UK despite being from the other side of the globe.
Investment in Olympians
Frank Warren and BT didn’t take on any of the successful 2020 Olympians. Hearn bagged arguably the main man in Gold medalist Galal Yafai as well as the McCormack brothers, but Boxxer made the biggest splash. They took Bronze medalist and GB Captain Frazer Clarke, giving them a charismatic Heavyweight on their books, Silver medalist, marmite character, and slick specialist Ben Whittaker. They also signed Gold medalist Lauren Price and the other member of the power couple Karriss Artingstall. Last but not least Daniel Dubois younger sister, Caroline, is already impressing. All gave a bright future.
The first-ever full female card
Eddie Hearn can certainly be credited as much as anyone else in history for helping give female boxing a boost. Katie Taylor v Amanda Serrano was amazing, but Claressa Shields v Savannah Marshall was groundbreaking. To sell out the 02 in London for an American female against a Geordie with a supporting cast of all females would have been laughed at even a few years ago. The event was a huge hit and makes Boxxer and Sky the leaders in women’s boxing going into 2023.
To say are struggling is maybe an oversimplification, but it certainly hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped. They have changed their stance on PPV after initially saying they wouldn’t do it. Despite this, they have been unable to offer any, with Anthony Joshua losing and taking time out as well as Conor Benn failing a drug test and canceling the Eubank contest. Sky has delivered big nights, and they have 2 going into 2023 with Eubank v Liam Smith and Josh Taylor v Jack Catterall.
Boxxer will need to keep their Olympians and the Azim brothers busy because the public will want to see them all in competitive fights rather than overmatched journeymen/women. DAZN arguably still has the best UK stable, but Sky/Boxxer has made much more progress than expected in 18 months and is likely to continue its upward trajectory.