Sky's the limit: Smith, Nelson, Woolhouse & Macklin round-table transcript

Paul Zanon
15/01/2018 1:10pm

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PHOTOS: Top: Paul Zanon with the Sky team Middle: Nelson, Woolhouse and Smith (courtesy Sky Sports), Bottom: Macklin (courtesy Sky Sports)

On a cold and wet wintry morning, Boxing Monthly’s Paul Zanon was kindly invited to Sky Sports' west London HQ to host a 'round table' with the channel's boxing team: Adam Smith (AS), Johnny Nelson (JN), Anna Woolhouse (AW) and Matthew Macklin (MM). Here's the transcript of the in-depth discussion...

The team kicked off discussions by sky3reflecting on the biggest boxing upset of 2017... although not at breakneck speed!

JN: Hmmm, erm, biggest upset…hmmmm….might have to come back to that one!

AW: Bellew-Haye.

AS: Yeah. The way it developed round by round was pretty shocking.

JN: Are you talking about Bellew-Haye? I don’t think that was shocking.

AS: Ninety percent of people thought Haye was going to wipe him away.

MM: Obviously, what happened to him [referring to Haye’s Achilles tendon snapping], contributed to the shock result.

AS: James DeGale against Caleb Traux. That was a big one [Everyone nods in agreement].We probably didn’t realise what the Badou Jack fight, the teeth [knocked out during the Jack fight], the time out and what the recovery period had taken out of James as well.

MM: I was in New York with [Michael] Conlan and thought the DeGale fight was a foregone conclusion, that he’d win and he’d take on the winner of Eubank (Jr) against Groves. I think everyone had looked that far forward.

AS: I was watching the fight and after two rounds thought he [DeGale] was doing fine. But after five rounds I thought, ‘he’s going to lose this’. He just didn’t look himself in there. It was almost like he knew what he wanted to do but he couldn’t pull the trigger.

MM: He does that. The first half he wins, the second he takes his foot off the gas. Same with the Jack fight.

Flipping the coin, the team then focused on their biggest 'boxing highlight' of 2017...

AS: What we don’t think about is that this time last year we had DeGale-Jack in New York, the coming of age of Gervonta Davis, beating [Jose] Pedraza in a fantastic performance, then you went to Vegas two weeks later and had Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Not to mention Mikey Garcia’s rehabilitation in an unbelievable knockout. We don’t even think about that, because it was so long ago.

AW: What a great year we’ve had!

AS: It was an amazing year. Certainly the best year since I’ve started here in 1994 and we’ve had some great times during those years, living through the era of Lennox Lewis, a late Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, and then the likes of Ricky Hatton and David Haye, Naseem Hamed’s magical ride, Carl Froch’s epic night; which he reminds us of on a daily basis!’ [Everyone laughs]. Last year, [it] all came together, but in terms of the biggest highlight, it has to be AJ against Klitschko for all of us. Ninety thousand at Wembley, for an event that was pure class from start to finish. Utter respect between the two fighters. A brilliant showcase for boxing. A thunderously thrilling fight which had everything and no one knew who was going to win, pretty much at any point. It had it all. Then you had, love it or loath it, Mayweather-McGregor, then Haye-Bellew and you’ve had Katie Taylor winning a world title less than a year after turning professional. Then there was Golovkin-Canelo, Billy Joe Saunders' wonderful performance. It was a huge year and a fabulous time for boxing.

Delivering an event of the magnitude of AJ vs Klitschko obviously comes with its challenges, as Smith then explained...

AS: AJ-Klitschko was a huge technical, operational event. We had the fortune of two years earlier by doing Froch-Groves [II], which at the time was, sort of unthinkable. We’d gone from a few hundred people watching to a few thousand, to suddenly packing Wembley with 80,000! We had to do it the night after England played a warm- up [football] match against Peru for the World Cup. We couldn’t even get onto the pitch until 10pm that night, until the game had finished. We literally had a number of hours to turn it into a boxing arena. That was an enormous challenge operationally. But because we did that, when we had a bit more time leading up to Joshua-Klitschko, it seemed to run a lot smoother. Albeit, a much bigger show with HBO, Showtime, RTL and huge amounts of international TV – I think it went out to 140 countries. We also used the spider cam for the first time. There was so much that happened on that night, behind the scenes, getting 90,000 into a stadium and let’s not forget all the build up shows. Certainly for me, that’s the most proud I’ve been of the team, not just my inner team, but the team at Sky. The collaboration across the business was absolutely phenomenal. The press conference here was unbelievable and the night itself is one we’ll never forget. Probably one of the greatest we’ve ever had.

Shining a torch on the Sky Sports Boxing team’s dynamics, Smith then expanded on the medley of characters, pointing at Nelson as the joker of the crew...

JN: That really hurts! [The others burst out laughing].

AS: I’m sitting in between the biggest jokers of the team, [referring to Woolhouse on his other side]. These two are like kids when they get together. But probably Johnny is the biggest joker. We know the most intense is Carl Froch. Matt’s [Macklin] the most laid back.

JN: You know you get those Mr Men books? Matt’s Mr Cool. Carl’s Mr Serious.

AS: Matt’s the cool cat. He knows so much about boxing it’s ridiculous.

AW: If I have Carl, Johnny, Tony Bellew as the team for a show, they’re a lot of fun together. But the team is obviously more than just them.

AS: You have the inner core here, but we also branch out and get Tony Bellew, Jamie Moore, Paul Smith [Jr].

JN: I think we’ve got the best team I’ve ever seen.

AS: And don’t forget probably the biggest joker of the pack, Paulie Malignaggi, who is a huge part of what we do.

JN: Bottom line, without blowing her trumpet [referring to Woolhouse] -

AW: You feeling alright Johnny?

JN: Adam wanted to get a female on board and Anna has just blended in perfectly with the rest of us.

AS: She’s an amazing team player and when I first had the conversation about her coming on board, it was nothing but genuine excitement from her.

AW: The team is brilliant and working for Sky is incredible. In terms of the sport itself - I certainly enjoy boxing and used to go to the fights myself. I still go on the pads, but am not very good!

AS: I’d reckon Anna would make a good fighter!

Perhaps Woolhouse might prove the female answer to Jake LaMotta. ‘Raging Wool’ anyone? Shifting the focus to the incredible success of women’s boxing in the last 12 months, Woolhouse kicked off the discussion...

AW: It’s massively exciting. We’ve mentioned Wembley, but for me, one of my highlights of 2017 was Katie Taylor winning a world title. That was the fight of the night [referring to the Joshua/Takam bill], in my opinion. [Nods of agreement all around the table].

AS: Definitely. Stole the show.

JN: She absolutely stole the show. To me, it’s not about gender, it’s about boxing ability and skill. Katie performed better than everybody on that bill. Her development is second to none and her attitude – she’s like an alley cat. She’s dangerous. It’s not what people say in front of you, but what they say behind your back. When you hear other professional fighters, top tier fighters, saying how good she is, you know she’s made it. Man or woman, you just look at her and think, ‘Bloody hell. She’s good.’ Forget gender, it’s all about business and entertainment. That’s what’s most important. If you’re a good fighter and put bums on seats, that’s where the future of boxing will always be. I wasn’t an attractive fighter. I didn’t put bums on seats. And that’s nothing to do with the fact I was a fella, it was simply because I wasn’t a big draw who brought the excitement Katie does to the table.

MM: Katie’s got a very exciting style and she’s got a nation behind her. When she boxes in Dublin in April, there won’t be anyone in Ireland who doesn’t know she’s boxing that night. If they can’t get a ticket, they’ll be watching on television, but without a doubt, she’ll have the full support of Ireland.

AS: Everybody talks about AJ and rightly so, but Katie has had an unbelievable 12 months. She is without doubt, one of the most dedicated professionals I have ever seen. She is fabulous outside of the ring and is a wonderful role model. She’s inspiring a whole new generation of youngsters and to fellow boxers, male and female out there. Savannah Marshall, you know, was our Scholar here at Sky for four years. It’s wonderful seeing her turn professional. Nicola Adams has been brilliant. Chantelle Cameron is coming through, Claressa Shields over there [in the USA], Tasha Jonas. Bottom line is that women’s boxing is massive, exciting and vastly emerging.

In terms of predicting the next British female world champion, the group um and ah, before Smith says...

AS: Should be Nicola [Adams] really.

JN: It should be Nicola... and I rate what she’s doing, but I’m just waiting to see some brilliance there, where I think, ‘Oh my God!’, like I’ve seen with Katie. We need to give Nicola and the rest time to develop. Not everyone can develop and fast track at the speed Katie has.

MM: I can tell you now - one of the highlights of 2018 will be Katie Taylor defending her title in Dublin. Mark my words.

I doubt anyone would try and debate Macklin’s statement. On another note, debatable decisions within the prize ring were certainly a talking point in 2017 - the team next discussed how bad judging could be remedied - whether technologically or otherwise...

MM: I was at the Golovkin-Canelo fight. It was a great fight and I thought Canelo had the best of parts of it, but over the 12 rounds I had Golovkin winning. In terms of technology – mmmm – it’s a difficult one. They’ve used it a lot in the amateurs, but it’s always difficult when a round is close. Who do you give it to? Me and Adam did the Kovalev-Ward fight and it could have gone four rounds either way. But when you get a fight like that [GGG-Canelo] and there’s a ridiculous card, something needs to be done. The person needs to be held accountable. When you give a 118-110 card for a fight like GGG/Canelo – yeah – you need to be held accountable for that.

JN: But do it publicly. Not in-house. If a judge knows he or she is going to be held accountable for his or her stupid decisions, they’ll check themselves in the first place to make sure they don’t put themselves in a position of giving ridiculous scorecards. It doesn’t do our sport any good when you get decisions like this. Everyone starts to come up with conspiracy theories that this person has been paid off and that sort of thing. People lose faith and that’s such a shame. I don’t think technology is the answer, but accountability. 

MM: And the real shame was that it took the shine off such a great fight between Canelo and Golovkin.

2018 sees the welcome return of two fighters who have generated as much attention outside of the ring as they have inside. The team discussed whether the comebacks of Amir Khan and Tyson Fury are a tantalising prospect or a damp squib in the making...

AS: This is hugely exciting. Amir Khan – I’ve worked for a long time behind the scenes with Eddie Hearn trying to persuade him, after all the problems they’ve had over the years, that Amir Khan is a Box-Office fighter. People want to see him. Everyone watched him in the jungle and whether you love him or hate him, he’s watchable. He’s always had that air of vulnerability when he’s in the ring, but also those sublime quick skills. People always want to see, ‘What next?’ with Amir Khan. Now he’s with Matchroom, the possibility of the fight with Kell Brook increases in possibility and it’s great to have him back on Sky, because we’ve had a strange relationship with him over the years. He’s come, he’s gone and then he’s back again.

JN: I think it’s the best business move Amir Khan has made. He’s a nice kid, but he’s had a lot of flack for the decisions he’s made, not so much the fights he’s had. This move to Matchroom makes common sense on every level. He’s been out of the ring for almost two years, so now we can see exactly how good he is.

And in terms of the last of the red tape to cut with Tyson Fury’s comeback…

MM: He’s got to lose weight and get himself fit, but I think he’ll fight in April. He’s talking about fighting Joshua this year, but that’s not realistically going to happen. He needs to get a win under his belt, shake off the ring rust and get fit again.

JN: I think Tyson Fury is the most dangerous opponent in the world, because he’s the most unpredictable fighter. That’s why he’s achieved what he’s achieved.

AS: [Referring to BM’s Paul Zanon] I like the way you put Amir and Tyson in the same group, because the public is intrigued to know what they will do and say. Tyson can change on a daily basis, but we saw him out in Monaco a few weeks ago, and despite not being in fighting shape, it was fantastic to hear the passion back. Anthony Joshua made a good comment a few months ago, that Tyson Fury finds peace in the ring. As Matt said, once the red tape has cleared, the fight between Tyson and Anthony Joshua will be the biggest fight we’ve ever seen.

With Eddie Hearn recently signing Danny Jacobs, the boxing boundaries for Sky have now expanded Stateside.

AS: It’s very exciting. Matchroom obviously see ‘something’ out there. You’ve got Golden Boy, you’ve got Top Rank, Al Haymon. Eddie’s obviously looked at it and thought, ‘We can make a bit of a splash.’ Danny Jacobs is a great signing. He’s articulate and has a great story behind him. He was good against Golovkin – whether he can make the pound for pound grade, I’m not sure. It’s a very wise move from Eddie Hearn and I’d be interested to see who else he follows up with. I know there’s talk of Anthony Joshua fighting in America this year. As long as Matchroom and Eddie are involved, we’re involved.

JN: I think we need to remember – America was the place that everyone wanted to fight at. When I was fighting people thought that from Sheffield you moved to London and from London to America. But now, especially after last year, I think you’ll find that the UK is a massive force in boxing now. If Eddie Hearn has presence out there, that will encourage more US fighters to want to come over here and fight.

As well as seeking to conquer America, Sky has also had to up its game in the last 12 months as its direct domestic rival, Boxnation, has forged a solid partnership with BT Sport. The team discussed whether Frank Warren’s outfit was healthy for Sky and boxing in general...

AS: One hundred percent. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got this competition. We were in a little bit of a bubble for a while. You can never relax with Frank around, which is great, because I think he’s a terrific promoter. He makes great fights and has great fighters. Billy Joe Saunders is one of his standouts for me last year and he has the likes of Anthony Yarde and Daniel Dubois coming through. Carl Frampton – I’m a big, big fan of Frampton’s. We’re all loving the World Boxing Super Series and all want to be ringside for George Groves against Chris Eubank Jr. Without a doubt we welcome the competition and ultimately it’s good for boxing as a whole. Sometimes it can be difficult with scheduling and fights on the same night. We’ve got Amir Khan and Carl Frampton clashing [on 21 April], which is not ideal for either side, but I think that the more we can work together, in a way, it will be better for the fans. Overall it’s very good though. It’s given us a kick, Eddie a kick and we want to do the best we can, but we’re also fully aware that we can’t have all the sweets in the shop and I think it’s important that the fight fans get as much value out there as they can. That’s why we want to put on bigger, heavier, thicker shows. The likes of Kell Brook in March, Khan in April, Dillian Whyte, Katie Taylor etc. The PPV arm will be the elite fights. The Haye-Bellews, the Joshuas, that what it’s there for.

But will the Sky Sports subscribers ever get treated to a dedicated boxing channel?

AS: No. I don’t think there will be, because we have the high end events and on top of that we’re doing about 40 shows a year. Two, three or a year from a Box-Office view is about right. You can’t do eight of those and expect the public to pay all that money.

MM:  Coming back to what Johnny said about fighters wanting to come over here [to the UK] to fight, I do think that’s because the Sky PPV is so healthy. Think about the shows [Sky’s Gloves Are Off] I did with Darren Barker and Andy Lee. Fights that never happened. We all had to take the fights in America against the likes of Golovkin. If Sky PPV was then where it is now, we’d have been fighting each other in great fights.

AS: And the fact is we’ve had less shows, so they are bigger and more substantial. It’s not a sport like football. We’ve done 50 shows a year up and down the country, getting 800 fans in leisure centres, but that’s changed. We want to put big shows on. When it comes to liner programming, we want to make sure it’s absolutely spot on.

MM: Quality over quantity.

With the clock hitting exactly 30 minutes, the round-table discussion came to a close. The future of boxing without a doubt is exciting. With the likes of Sky and Boxnation positively locking horns for the betterment of wider boxing coverage, the current golden era we are experiencing in Britain only looks set to continue...