C5’s boxing was a black-out rather than knock-out

Televised boxing got a standing count on Saturday night, but NORMAN GILLER is more worried about whether new heavyweight hopeful Tyson Fury is in danger of being over-hyped

Tyson Fury takes a blow during last weekend's bout in Belfast

I wonder if media tycoon Richard Desmond settled down to watch his Channel 5’s coverage of the latest Tyson Fury punch-up? If so, I bet he quickly erupted with the famous Desmond Fury as his screen went blank mid-fight apart from for the commercials.

If it had happened during their Big Brother coverage there really would have been Big Bother. None of Desmond’s newspapers reported the great Channel 5 outage that caused outrage in many homes, where in some parts of the country the picture from Belfast disappeared for 10 minutes at the peak of the boxing action.

I felt sorry for the production team masterminded by the multi-talented Mark Sharman, who has been a big beast in British television sport for more than 30 years.

He has tub-thumped ambitious plans to turn Channel 5 into a major home for boxing, but trying to cover the Fury fight without a picture or commentary will have had his former Sky and ITV colleagues rolling about laughing.

They imported from America the omniscient Al Bernstein, of Showtime fame, to give expert summaries. He might as well have stayed at home and talked to himself.

When the picture was at last restored, they had to replay the fight with the result already known, and so the action lacked the tension and the unpredictability that makes boxing such a compelling sport.

Yet more annoying for me than the loss of picture were the brave after-fight comments of promoter Mick Hennessey. If he’s not careful he is going to talk the promising but raw Fury into a good hiding.

Fury – 6ft 9in tall, a plodding 18-stone and with an 85-inch reach – has a lot going for him, but he is way short of the world-class suggested by Hennessey. To be mentioning him after his fifth round victory in the same breath as the Klitschko brothers or David Haye is idiotic to the point of irresponsible.

To paraphrase Henry Cooper’s wise old manager Jim Wicks when he was offered Sonny Liston as an opponent: “We don’t want to be in the same room as him, let alone the same ring.”

Hennessey must put the brake on Fury’s career and get him properly tutored. He was out on his feet in the third round under a two-fisted attack from the average Nicolai Firth, “the Stone Man from Ohio” whose main claim to fame is the ability to soak up punishment while seeming to offer just his flattened face as defence.

Fury must be taught to hook off his jab, which is the best punch in his armoury but predictable and ponderous. The amateurish way he drops his right when launching an attack will be spotted and exploited by any decent pro with fast fists.

Boxing has been a passion of mine from way back in the days of Bruce Woodcock and Freddie Mills, and in the 60 years I have followed the sport, the heavyweight cupboard has never been so bare.

I made a living representing the major promoters and boxers in the 1970s through to the ‘80s, and put the publicity words into the mouths of dozens of fighters, and learned the secrets of the Noble Art from one of the finest of all trainers in Terry Lawless, my much-mourned mate of more than 40 years.

Terry would have loved to have got hold of Fury to mould him into a fighter who could defend as well as attack.
Tyson – he is named after Iron Mike – has a huge heart, a silver tongue and a big likeability factor that could make him a huge box-office star. But he has had just 16 fights, and if they rush him to the top too quickly they could have a seriously damaged boxer on their consciences.

I FED THE TICKET-SELLING lines to Frank Bruno for most of his career, but after his second hammering by Mike Tyson I was concerned to the point where I tried to talk him into retirement. I warned him that while he could keep on working at improving his wonderful physique, he could never build muscle around his brain.

Understandably, Frank suddenly saw me as a negative influence in his career and when he cut away from Terry Lawless he also distanced himself from me.

If they take their time with Tyson Fury, they could sweep up some of the major alphabet soup titles. But if they rush him, the golden goose could get well and truly laid – flat out on the canvas.

Bagpipe blows: Frank Bruno in a typically 1980s pre-fight stunt, with Norman Giller (centre) and - for once in the picture, rather than taking it - Monte Fresco

What a pity few newspapers no longer have specialist boxing writers on their staffs, the likes of Peter Wilson, Sydney Hulls, Frank McGhee, Walter Bartleman, Reg Gutteridge, Neil Allen, Peter Moss (and before him on the Mail, Harry Carpenter), Tom Phillips, Frankie Taylor, Frank Butler, Fred Burcombe, Alan Hoby, Donald Saunders, Hugh McIlvanney, Gilbert Odd and the best of them all, George Whiting. They would have advised caution.

My old chum Colin Hart is in semi-retirement, but I know he would write the truth about 23-year-old Fury – that he is still wearing L-plates and could be in a nasty collision if he is not guided slowly and in the right direction.

I once collaborated on a book with top TV producer Neil Duncanson called The Crown of Thorns, in which we revealed how many world heavyweight champions had ended up as wrecks. It was to accompany a Channel 4 documentary that Neil was making. In the week it was to go into production, Michael Watson was seriously damaged in a ring war with Chris Eubank at White Hart Lane. The programme was pulled, and just the book published.

Channel 5 must be seen to be demanding sensible matchmaking. It is never easy, though. When the BBC last had a jab at showing live boxing, paying a ludicrous amount for the rights for Ordinary Audley Harrison’s first pro fights, the criticism levelled there was that the Olympic gold medallist’s opponents were too much like push-overs, sometimes literally. That was certainly not Strictly Come Fighting.

However careful the promoters might be, boxing is a sport in which people get seriously hurt. I have seen too many middle-aged boxers walking on their heels and suffering punch drunkenness, the result of taking punishment on behalf of brave promoters.

Let’s just hope Channel 5 can keep us in the picture.

  • Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here
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