Bunce’s boxing review of the decade

The decade started with world heavyweight title fights in Manchester, ended in Saudi Arabia with a British boxer regaining the heavyweight championship and in the middle, the British boxing business was booming.

British boxers went on the road, winning and losing in massive world title fights, filling arenas all over the world; Anthony Joshua was in the fight of 2019 in the Madison Square Garden ring, Tyson Fury in the comeback of the decade in 2018 in Los Angeles, Carl Froch in the performance of the decade one night in Helsinki in 2010 and David Haye in the oddest of fights one wet night in 2011 against Wladimir Klitschko. Fury, remember, defied the odds, the crowd and the record books to give Klitschko a boxing lesson and win the world titles in front of 50,000 in Dusseldorf in late 2015.

However, it was in British rings that high standards were set and maintained with a series of fights that changed history.

Froch led the way ten years ago, winning and losing to the very best and then ending his great career in front of 80,000 people outdoors at Wembley Stadium in 2014 in a rematch with George Groves. The first fight, the previous year in Manchester, was a 20,000 sell-out and contender for fight of the decade, the rematch was clinical: Froch knocked out Groves in the 8th and then retired. It was only the second fight outdoors at Wembley since Henry Cooper dropped and then lost to Cassius Clay in 1963; the last fight had been Frank Bruno winning the world heavyweight title 19-years earlier. Froch opened that giant door in style.

In 2017 over 90,000 packed the steep walls at Wembley for another contender for fight of the decade: Joshua v Klitschko. Joshua was a product of the whole decade, a novice amateur in 2010, an Olympic champion in 2012 and world heavyweight champion in 2016. In April of 2017 he met and beat and dropped and survived a sickening knockdown against Klitschko. It was an unforgettable event, the boxing world watched in amazement and respect. Joshua then defended twice outdoors in Cardiff and returned to Wembley in late 2018; in four consecutive fights nearly 300,000 people watched him live. In New York in June of 2019, Joshua lost the titles but was in the round of the decade when he dropped and was then dropped twice by Andy Ruiz in the third. The heavyweight roadshow then moved to Saudi Arabia, Ruiz struggled to avoid the fridge and Joshua won on points in the Middle East’s first world heavyweight title fight. It will not be the last.

The boxing shock of the decade was not in the ring — the Ruiz win was a contender — but outside the ropes when Frank Maloney, former manager of Lennox Lewis, became Kellie Maloney. She still is Kellie Maloney and she is back working in the boxing business. Nobody saw that coming.

The O2 in London became the venue boxers from all over the world wanted to fight in. Froch thrilled there in a remarkable rematch with Mikkel Kessler, Joshua won his title there, Vasyl Lomachenko defeated Luke Campbell, Gennady Golovkin beat Kell Brook and just about every single big British fighter fought in that ring. The crowds of 20,000 at the Manchester Arena and the 02 are now the envy of the boxing world. “The 02 now for American boxers is like Madison Square Garden was for generations of British boxers,” said American fight promoter, Lou DiBella, who was in London in 2019 for the unforgettable fight of the year between Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor at the 02.

So many memories of fights and events and controversies: In 2012 Dereck Chisora pushed Vitali Klitschko the full twelve for the world heavyweight title in Munich and then at the post-fight conference had a fight with David Haye — in the summer of 2012 they fought for real, outdoors at Upton Park in east London. Haye won a slugfest. Haye finished the decade with back-to-back losses to Tony Bellew in massive, sold-out fights. There were dozens of popular events, made unmissable by the hype attached to both real and fake rivalries — the business enjoyed the rewards from a few bad boys acting wild.

The GB squad, run for the entire decade by former British champion, Robert McCracken, is now established as one of the finest in the world. At the 2012 and 2016 Olympics the boxers won four gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals — a haul that just about equals the previous 12 Olympic Games. Those same boxers are fighting for and winning world titles now.

During the decade British boxing fans ruled the world, no mistake. In their thousands at outdoor fights in Britain or on the road, they delivered that special feeling. After decades with just one or two outdoor fights in Britain the crowds this decade at outdoor fights came close to 600,000 people.

And in Las Vegas the British fans flooded in once again. Big numbers for Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin fights. Bargain hunters, happy to be in the fight city for a big one.

On fight day the British fans have a habit of digging out a bargain, they find the man selling tickets from their hands (known as touts in Britain and scalpers in the USA), men who had dropped their 1,000 dollar seats to fifty bucks in a last attempt to get rid of the few they had left before the first bell of Mayweather and Pacquiao or some other ‘sold-out’ fights. That fight was a unique event, the twilight city flickering brighter than ever as the A-listers filed back. Two years later there was a similar feel when Mayweather ended a retirement, but never really trained, and defeated Conor McGregor in a fun fight in Las Vegas. By 2019 it was Tyson Fury’s turn under the lights and the city welcomed him in his pink suits, with his twinkle toes and karaoke-voice. The fans followed in their thousands.

He will be back, the city’s neon will shine, the O2 will sell-out again and the giant lights at Wembley Stadium will dazzle year after year as the conveyor belt of big boxers for big British fight nights continues. It is a rare time to be in the boxing business, a fabulous time.