Boxing Promoter Lifts The Lid On The Boxing Business

Recently we spoke to a boxing promoter from Ireland in one of the most informative, open takes on the boxing business we’ve heard.

Boxing is a sport that has always captured the imaginations down through the decades – but sometimes the glitz and glamour can be mistaken for how difficult it actually is to stage a successful fight event.

With the sport seemingly growing again everywhere around the world, we caught up with Ireland’s Leonard Gunning, a man who knows more than most about every aspect of the sport whether media, promotion-wise or from a manager standpoint, who is busy making final preparations for his latest event on September 9th in Dublin, Ireland

He spoke to us on all things boxing, as well as his upcoming show in Ireland and the state of the sport in the Emerald Isle.

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Leonard, there has been an upturn in more and more pro shows happening in Ireland this year – what do you attribute the positive momentum to and where do you see it possibly growing to in 2018 in terms of professional boxing shows in Ireland?

“There has been a massive upturn in the popularity for professional boxing around the world and not just Ireland. It’s hard to put your finger on why exactly that is, but it’s probably a range of factors that combined have made an impact. The effect that Matchroom Boxing have had on the sport in this region (Britain and Ireland) cannot be underestimated. It might be frustrating to see some of the weaker PPV offerings they lay out but when you look at the success of say Froch vs Groves II and Joshua vs Klitschko then you know they are doing something right. It’s raised the profile of the sport with the average punter and the bar for their competition. 

Domestically the promotional offering goes from strength to strength. Frank Warren and MTK, Matchroom, Cyclone and even Top Rank have been looking arena shows in Belfast in the second half of the year, that is heavy duty artillery being rolled onto the lawns there. The precarious nature of boxing has meant that probably only half of those will actually occur, even at that its pretty good going and I can see them all having shows in Belfast very soon. Also in Belfast you have Kieran Farrell, MHD and Alio Wilton supplementing that with regular small hall shows. If anything that market is probably over saturated north of the border – there is so much for the punters to have a bite at. 

Down south its a slightly different story.

We have had our own well documented problems that have kept fans away and Matchroom are continuing with their strategy of building Katie Taylor outside of Ireland, but with the work that ourselves at Boxing Ireland Promotions with Tony Davitt and the guys over at Red Corner are doing, then the crowds are starting to come back. We are both trying to make the best fights possible and have increased the quality of the journeymen that some have brought in in the past. We are just trying to put on better nights and better fights – it’s not rocket science and its starting to show dividends. 

Over the next year we want to double our stable so that we can put on regular shows. Myself and Stephen Sharpe have been tipping around the periphery of the scene for a fairly long time now, picking up skills, learning the trade, building contacts and streaming the work needed to put on a show. We are getting close to having it where we want it and what we want is a conveyor belt where young fighters can come along, jump on board, build their experience, record and profile on regular shows until they are in a position where they can springboard into title fights. The future is looking pretty positive.”  

You’ve been around the sport for a long time both from a media, managerial and promotional capacity. Speaking from experience – what do you see as the main differences in boxing management and promotion and what do you prefer?

“I’d prefer if I was just able to dedicate my time to managing boxers and someone else was putting on shows that I could place them on. Putting on shows and promoting is the most time consuming, frustrating, financially risky, thankless task that I have ever undertaken. People think boxing promoters are rinsing boxers ‘yadda yadda yadda’, but my response is always:

“Trying putting one on, I’ll even help you for free.”

As a business proposition, boxing promotion is farcical. Especially without a TV contract. Imagine three people working for two or three months solid at a very stressful job and the best outcome that they are hoping for is that they don’t lose any money? Well, that is non-TV boxing promotion in Ireland. That’s the reason that there are no long running boxing promotion companies in existence in the Republic.” 

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Your upcoming show on September 9th at the National Stadium in Dublin looks like a cracker. What can you tell fight fans perhaps not from Ireland about the headliner – featherweight Eric Donovan (4-0-3KO) and where you think he could go in the sport over the next 12-18 months and beyond?

“I really can’t wait for Celtic Clash 3, like Celtic Clash 2, we have again beaten the record for the most fights on one show in Irish pro boxing history and the most debutants to take a bow under the ropes. It is a mammoth undertaking and there are loads of cracking fights to get stuck into. We are trying to get as much preparation done prior to fight night so that I can sit down and watch as many of the fights as possible. We have eight lads making their debuts including a couple of lads like Colin O’Donovan and James Cahill that are going to be real surprise packages – with the standout prospect potentially being Donegal’s Youth Olympic medallist. Michael Gallagher, who is looking to make waves at in the Cruiserweight division, but also keep an eye out for Dublin trio Aiden Metcalfe, Martin Quinn and Dylan McDonagh who have been flying in training. We also have the return on British title challenger Anthony Cacace who is one of the biggest punchers on the scene. I know he is looking for a knockout performance so he can jump straight back into title contention and is a great addition to the show. Dublin’s Gerard Whitehouse is having what is likely last fight before he gets his own title fight. Then we have the return John Joyce, Keane McMahon and Stephen McAfee who were the standout performers on Celtic Clash 2, and we were extremely keen to get them back on again. 

It’s all headlined by Eric ‘Lilywhite Lightning’ Donovan and Welsh champ Dai Davies who will square off for the BUI Celtic featherweight title. It’s a massive jump in class for Eric and a real risk in his first title fight. Eric has only been pro for a little over a year but is as hungry and confident as any man I have ever met. He might not have built up a big record in the pros but he has the pedigree and experience from the amateur game and the WSB to drive forward, but it is his determination and work ethic that have been a definite contributor in giving me the confidence to make a match like this so early in his career. Davies is from Merthyr Tydfil and they have a history of producing the toughest fighters in Wales, and he is the type of fighter that wins when he is supposed to lose. I know he really fancies the fight with Eric and is bringing a crowd with him from Wales – he wouldn’t  do that if he wasn’t confident of putting on a really sizzling performance. Just look at his last few fights, he has won five of his last seven contests and all have been against really tough competition. He beat Andy Townend and Robbie Turley who both have since gone on to win Commonwealth title. He took the unbeaten record of Norbert Kalucza and outpointed Ash Lane – who is on a serious run of form and has his own Commonwealth title in September. Davies is looking at Donovan as a springboard to get another crack at the British title and I have heard reports from close to his camp that he is in fantastic condition and has really turned the clock back in sparring. 

It’s poised to the really sensational fight and there are so many unknowns that will be answered on the night. It’s sink or swim time for them both.”