New York comes to Manchester

John Evans
13/06/2016 10:01am

Boxing is booming in Manchester.

Whilst Frank Warren and Matchroom hold frequent world title fights at the city’s famous arena, Steve Wood continues to work wonders with his own shows, and in recent months Black Flash Promotions have burst on to the scene.

The latest face on the promotional block, Manchester businessman James Lindemann, appreciates his contemporaries efforts but feels that he can bring a a different dynamic to the sport.

This Saturday [18 June], James will put his money where his mouth is as Lindemann Sports and Entertainment Ltd [LSEL] hold their inaugural promotion: ‘A New York themed evening of professional boxing’ at EventCity in Trafford Park. A New York themed evening is an extremely appropriate choice for a company taking their first steps in the hardest sport of all. After all, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

For a man who has spent the majority of his working life in the corporate environment of head hunting, breaking into the world of prizefighting has been an eye opener. Many have tried to gain a foothold in the exciting but precarious business of professional boxing, but rather than cheerfully whistling Sinatra’s standard on the way to their next meeting with a television executive, the majority end up reciting something more akin to the hook from Grandmaster Flash’s ode to the Big Apple.

“It's like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under."

The evening isn’t a one-off gimmick designed to bring in a ‘few quid’ as Lindemann says. As you might expect of a man from his background, there is a long-term business plan in place. It is a plan which took root in an elevator in Las Vegas just over two years ago and has quickly branched out in all directions, bearing some particularly juicy fruit.

“It’s a strange story!” Lindemann told Boxing Monthly.

“I went to see Floyd Mayweather fight Marcos Maidana and I bumped into Sam Watson [Al Haymon’s aide] and got a quick photograph with him. After the fight, I was in an elevator and looked to my side and there was a guy who looked exactly like Sam. We got talking and it turned out to be his brother. He invited me up to a party where Sam and all the PBC fighters like Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia were. I’ve spent some time in America and ended up talking to Sam about American sporting sub-cultures like ‘The Curse of the Billy Goat’ [which affects the Chicago Cubs baseball team]. He couldn’t understand how this British guy knew about this kind of thing. We got along well and exchanged details.

“A couple of weeks later I got a phone call asking me to go out to LA to meet Sam. I figured I had nothing to lose so went and ended up going out for lunch with Sam and a promoter from Warrior Promotions. A short time later I went out again for Canelo’s fight with Erislandy Lara and at the weigh-in I was introduced to Al Haymon. Again, I came home and although nothing concrete was in place, I could feel that there was something happening. I got invited out to Carson for Shawn Porter’s world title fight with Kell Brook and ended up sat with Team Haymon.

"I came back and helped to arrange a Las Vegas charity event with Steve Wood in Manchester which got shown on Ringside, and Josh Warrington saw the job I’d done and he asked me to take care of his sponsorship for his fights with Dennis Tubieron and Joel Brunker. Anthony Crolla asked me to arrange the post-fight parties for his fights with Darleys Perez and things have just gone on from there.

“We signed on business management terms a cruiserweight from Sale called Sam Hyde [who holds a 7-0-1, 3 KOs record]. A young, exciting, good looking fighter and we oversaw two fights on other promoters shows. It became obvious he was a good ticket seller. This led me to go in front of the Board of Control and I gained my promoters licence.

“Our initial plan was to promote an outdoor show at the old Sale Rugby Club but the logistics were a total nightmare. Sadly, Sam has an injured hand at the moment but all these factors have combined to bring us to where we are now.

“We’ve got a purpose built arena especially for the night. We’re going to have sporting and entertainment celebrities in attendance. There will be music acts and street performances throughout the night and we’ll have people walking all around the entire arena selling American type snacks. The idea is to bring the feel of a big American sporting event to Manchester. We’ve even got a New York cab for people to have their picture taken in. The night will finish in a purpose built club.”

David Haye’s comeback may have been disparaged by boxing traditionalists but commercially his return to the O2 Arena has been a success. Haye’s opposition has been woeful but the shows have delivered music acts, celebrity appearances and spectacular knockouts to large crowds. Many of the fans happily tottering out into the London air are far more interested in discussing which nightclub to go to rather than whether Bermane Stiverne would be a logical next step for Haye. Boxing will leave their minds until the following morning when they lie in bed flicking through their mobile phones and see a shaky video of Haye’s ring entrance and a selfie with Lethal Bizzle.

Boxing isn’t in a position to turn these so called ‘casual fans’ away at the door and packed houses are good for the sports profile. If just 1% of those who have attended the Haye jamborees in East London decide to attend the next show Steve Goodwin or Mickey Helliet host at the York Hall, then everybody can benefit.

“The people who are promoting David Haye are geniuses. He’s a marketing dream. Look, the fights haven’t been brilliant but they’ve tapped into the British mentality perfectly. British people love getting dressed up for a night out, a drink, some entertainment and celebrities. The vast majority of people who go watching boxing nowadays don’t care about a jab or a left hook, they want a good night. I think the key is to get the balance right though. Of course I want to put on shows which appeal to those fans but you also need to satisfy the true boxing fans who are the lifeblood of the sport.

“Our strategy is to get exposure for the lesser known fighters and we want fighters to actually want to be on our shows. I’m hoping we’ll get over 1000 people at this event. If you go to a restaurant and tell 10 people how good it was, three will go and try it. That’s exactly what I’m hoping to achieve here so that when Sam Hyde headlines the next show in October, we’re looking at 2500 people. Looking further down the line, if we can get 3000 people in for an upcoming event we can get a title fight on the bill and start thinking about getting television coverage there.”

Lindemann has learnt quickly and instantly realised that it would be a nigh on impossible task to sell an event without featuring a recognisable name on the card. Enter Gallaghers Gym products Marcus Morrison and Callum Johnson. Neither will feature in title action on the night but the presence of two championship level operators lends a real air of legitimacy to the event.

Morrison is one of British boxings brightest young talents, building an (11-0, 8 KOs) record in less than two years as a professional. The 22-year-old light-middleweight lives a left hook away from the estate from which Ricky Hatton drew the hardcore of his legendary fanbase.

Selling tickets hasn’t been as pressing a concern for Morrison as it is for many young fighters, as he has been featured predominantly on Matchroom’s arena shows and ridden on the coattails of Anthony Crolla and Scott Quigg’s success. Nonetheless, he realises the benefit of being able to offer friends, who may not have the attention span to watch a fight other than his own, a little extra incentive to continue supporting him.

“I’ve been really lucky,” Morrison told Boxing Monthly. “I’m not sure it’ll affect me as I’ve always had a good group of fans and friends who have come to watch me fight every time but I guess a show like this does sound better to some people who aren’t massive boxing fans. It sounds like a really good, different sort of show. I live a couple of minutes away from the Hattersley estate where Ricky lived and the people from there saw him come up and go on to achieve what he did and now they can see me starting off along that same path.

“It’s only really an four rounder so it’s not as if I’m really headlining the bill but it’ll be nice to see my name higher up a poster. It’ll be good to fight in a smaller, packed arena too. We’ve had a couple of earlier fights in places like Barnsley Metrodome but recently it’s all been in big arenas.”

Johnson, (14-0, 9 KOs), is overjoyed to simply be fighting again. Last month, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist made his first appearance after a year beset by injury and personal problems and couldn’t be happier at being given another opportunity to get back into the swing of things.

Being a part of a major arena show is often said to provide invaluable exposure but when you fight before the television cameras begin rolling, and there are more people in your entourage than in the venue, it must be a pretty uninspiring experience for a fighter with Johnson’s calibre. The 30-year-old light-heavyweight is looking forward to fighting in what promises to be a busy, atmospheric setting and getting his career back up and running. His explosive, exciting style could prove to be a big hit with a crowd who will be looking to be entertained.

“I’m looking forward to fighting in front of a more intimate crowd with them all being right on top of the ring and putting on a bit of a show, “ Johnson told BM. “It certainly sounds like it’s going to be different. To be honest, I’m looking forward to getting my fight out of the way, getting changed and watching everything else that’s going to be going on!

“I’m really glad to be back. Myself and Hosea [Burton, gym-mate and British 175lb champion] were probably about the same level before, but with me being out of action for a while, he’s obviously gone past me. Everybody knows I’ve had my problems over the past few months but it’s time to put those behind me now.

"To be honest, when I look at the other cruiserweights around Europe I just think: ‘Bring them on’. There’s nobody there to scare me and, pretty soon, maybe we’ll have two champions from the same gym. Hopefully after this fight and maybe one more, I’ll get a title fight. I need one! I think I’m the only person in the gym who hasn’t got one!”

The venue is booked. The ‘home’ fighters are confirmed and the grand plan is in place. All that is left for Lindemann to worry about is ticket sales, finding opponents, late withdrawals, officials, promotional activities, seating plans, suppliers delivering, celebrity confirmations…………..

“This isn’t a short-term thing. We really think there is an opportunity here. We’ve got Sam a sponsorship deal with JD Sports which is pretty much unheard of a fighter still operating at his level, and they wouldn’t sponsor our event if they thought we weren’t going to be in this for the long haul. Once Sam’s recovered, we are potentially looking at taking him over for some training in America and there is the opportunity to fight on a Golden Boy card. There isn’t another promoter starting out who can do that.

“I’ve just got to deliver the event I’m promising now!”