After four months in the shadows, boxing in Britain finally makes its return on Friday. But not as we know it.
With fans being kept away for the coming weeks and possibly months, Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions have found a new home at the BT Sport Studios in east London.
It will be a while yet before box office attractions like Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury return to our screens. Until then, young, hungry, domestic talent is being given a new platform to shine in front of an audience starved of boxing action.
James Beech Jr and Brad Foster meet for the British and commonwealth super-bantamweight titles in Friday’s main event. Ilford’s Hamzah Sheeraz (10-0) is also among the first back, defending his WBO European super-welterweight title against Paul Kean while David Adeleye, another young Londoner who sparred with Tyson Fury ahead of his victory over Deontay Wilder in February, is also given the chance to impress.
Covid-19 measures mean Friday’s card and those to follow in the coming weeks will be restricted to five fights. Fighters have spent the week isolated in hotel rooms, with weigh-ins and interviews conducted via Zoom or over the phone.
In order to minimise risks, teams have been limited to essential members with family outside that small group missing out. Those on the bill have been regularly tested throughout the week with Warren noting doctors and medical staff have been on those competing ‘like a rash’.
“The fighters will be tested in training, they will be tested on fight week, they will be tested at the weigh-in, they will have their temperature taken on fight day,” Warren said.
21-year-old Sheeraz has been living out a very different fight week. He told Standard Sport: “We’ve been advised to stay in our room unless you absolutely have to [leave] or to work out or do pads or to grab some food from the canteen.
“That’s about it. If anything, it’s like prison life!” he joked.
Sheeraz usually brings a few hundred loyal followers in with him on a regular fight night. On Friday, the only noise will be from the two in the ring and the odd tactical instruction from his coach and his cutman – the only two permitted ringside as part of the new measures.
“I suppose what I have got to keep in mind is that I am one of the lucky ones, given the opportunity to fight this early. I’ve got to take the positive from the negative situation and just get on with things.”
Explaining some of the new measures on the night, he added: “The way it works, we get transported to the studio and in terms of the ringwalk it will work on a flag system, giving you the all clear to go. It’s all a bit mad. The coaches have to meet you at the ring, you are not allowed to walk with them. It’s something I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to, but I still can’t wait to get in there and get on with it.
“At the end of the day we are fighters, that’s what we do.”
23-year-old heavyweight Adeleye made his professional debut in devastating fashion last December and has waited seven months to get back in the ring. The Londoner has quickly got to grips with the new normalities the return of boxing brings, including Covid-19 testing, and has quickly made it just another thing to tick of the list leading into fight night.
“It’s pretty extensive. But I just get on with it,” he said. “And so we should. It is part of the game now. It is an obstacle we just have to get over. I wouldn’t focus on that two minutes it takes to do the test when I’ve got so many other things to focus on.”
Sheeraz agrees: “It ain’t too pleasant but it has got to be done.”
Adeleye has barely had a week off since his debut, whisked out to Vegas to work with Fury in January before returning for his own fight camp for what was meant to be his second fight in April. It’s been a long wait and he is now eager to make up for lost time.
“I wasn’t fussed about [the new measures] whatsoever. If they opened up to the public I still would have loved it, I would have still been involved if it was in front of a big crowd or behind closed doors. The aim was still to stay active as possible and God-willing that’s what happens to throughout the rest of the year. I was just buzzing to get going.”
Friday presents a unique opportunity for Sheeraz and Adeleye. Casual and hardcore fans alike will be watching and there is the chance for them to widen their fanbase with an audience desperate for action - and even secure new sponsors with all eyes on them for a change.
“The casual fans usually just tune in for the big fights,” Adeleye said. “It’s not going to be a card of fighters who are really known to the general public but the platform is there for everyone to prove themselves and show what they are capable of. I’m sure people will tune in to watch.”
“The platform I’ve been given for this fight compared to my last one has just catapulted me,” Sheeraz said. “Hopefully we will have millions watching. If it gives me a much bigger platform and audience to showcase my skills then that can only be a good thing coming from a bad situation.”
Hamzah Sheeraz and David Adeleye will be fighting live on BT Sport 1 from 7pm on Friday July 10.