Boxing and bikies have gone hand in glove for a long time but with
the sport on the verge of a revolution here, there will be no place
in it for insignia-clad henchmen to incite action outside the ring.
The sweet science has suffered an image problem in the past decade
but the local scene is in prime position to capitalise on interest
generated by Anthony Mundine and Danny Green to reach new and
far-reaching audiences through free-to-air coverage.
Pugilistic types are calling it a return to the good old days,
before the advent of pay television, when free-to-air channels
beamed the sport to viewers who embraced it as enthusiastically as
today's Friday night football.
But Ten's One HD channel has adopted a wait-and-see approach
before committing full-time to boxing. They've signed four shows for
Thursdays in July starting from the 9th, but any sign of crowd
trouble could jeopardise the entire deal.
"We will evaluate it when the four fight nights are over," a Ten
spokesman said."Boxing is certainly a franchise we hope to have a
continuing association with, but, like all of our sports, it must
give an appropriate return to the network.
"For true boxing fans, the last thing they would want to see is
[crowd violence]. We trust the people we're working with to ensure
that doesn't happen."
Promoter Fidel Tukel has started the ball rolling by banning gang
colours in the audience. "We will have the strongest security
possible, colours won't be allowed, there will be dress
restrictions, and we will be very strict on levels of intoxication -
people will get one warning only," Tukel said.
"We've all been to the football and see fights happen every week,
but in boxing, we can't afford to have one fight."
The Ten spokesman said organisers had gone as far as to research
the fighters appearing on the cards and the entourages they bring
In the last three years, boxing and mixed-fighting shows in
Australia have resulted in shootings, stabbings, and all-in brawls
involving chairs and bottles - including brawls between fans and
fighters. "We looked at fighters and those people they brought in
with them," the Ten spokesman said.
Tukel said Ten yesterday agreed to four to six more shows
regardless of the performance of July's shows. But planning has hit
several hurdles, with fighters pulling out.
Solomon Haumono, who was to have fought a rematch with Colin
Wilson on July 23, has withdrawn. A show scheduled for Melbourne on
July 30 featuring Sam Soliman has been changed and will now be
staged in Campsie, headlined by Sakio Bika.
The first show features former world champion Billy Dib, one of
the fastest rising stars in Australia. Dib (22-1) clashes with
Japanese tough guy Kenichi Yamaguchi (15-1) for the WBO Asia Pacific
featherweight belt at Luna Park.
As exciting will be the two lead-up fights in the cruiserweight
division; Dominic Vea (10-1) v Anthony McCracken (10-2), and Daniel
Ammann (15-2) v Jamie Withers (11-0). Rarely are there such
competitive support bouts to a main event in Australian shows, and
it's difficult to pick a winner in either contest.
"We don't really have any set expectations of what will come
after this," the Ten spokesman said. "It is certainly not the be-all
and end-all of our association with boxing."
Ten indicated that even if ratings were poor, Australian
promotions were unlikely to be dumped altogether for US bouts.
Tukel believes the free-to-air deal will breathe new life into
boxing. "People are saying, 'We've heard it all before', but this is
exactly how it started in Germany seven or eight years ago. They put
it on free-to-air and now it's among their top-rating shows."
But in a sport built on feuds, Tukel can expect a backlash from
Fox Sports, who regularly run live boxing shows and will see this
new venture as direct competition.
Muddying the waters, fighters signed to Fox Sports are given
pathways to feature on MainEvent, the pay-per-view arm of Foxtel,
which could lead to demands of allegiance.
Tukel said: "It is a dwindling sport and we have to work together
to make this happen."
Getting bikies to ditch their jackets is one thing, but what has
never gone hand in glove is boxing and unity.