Everyone is familiar with the large boxing show spectacles: the glitter and glamour, first row seats that cost an extortionate amount and boxers that bag multiple millions of cash in one night. Even if they lose because of the extremely lucrative pay-per-view deals that come along with the high profile fights. But many people will have much less of an idea what the world of boxing looks like below that shiny surface, below the glossy images of fighters.
The UK, for example, counts as many as 1000 professional boxers. To qualify as a professional, it means that they hold a professional licence with the British Boxing Board of Control. Whilst a lucky few get to perform at Wembley stadium or in Saudi Arabia in front of an audience with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo for example in the stands, for the vast majority, TV appearances are a rarity and multi-million pound paydays on pay-per-view are a very distant dream. Instead, they perform their job in slightly less flashy venues such as town halls, leisure centres, nightclubs and ice rinks.
These small hall fights range from debutants to regional title hopefuls. Some champions are made, many dreams are shattered, and the brutal realities of the fight game are exposed. While big names in boxing train full-time, most fighters at this level have regular day jobs, with some even working as coaches, managers, and promoters. One such company is Goodwin Boxing, founded by Steve Goodwin, who also works in financial services.
Goodwin Boxing looks after 90 fighters, including current Southern Area middleweight champion, Lewis Syrett, and has previously worked with some of Britain's top boxers like Derek Chisora, Frank Buglioni, and Nicola Adams. However, the industry often gets a bad reputation, with many people assuming that promoters exploit young fighters for financial gain. Kevin Campion, Goodwin's director of operations and a former boxing coach, believes that very few people understand the inner workings of professional boxing.
Goodwin Boxing hosts regular events at the York Hall in east London, a venue with a capacity of 1,250, but shows are usually only half full. Despite this, costs can quickly add up, starting the night £20,000 down due to venue hire, referees, doctors, ambulances, security, ring hire, MC hire, and potentially a DJ. To ensure the business is sustainable, the cost must be earned back, with breaking even at the very least being a necessity for every show.
The main challenge in professional boxing is how to break even the costs of small hall events, which primarily rely on ticket sales as they lack the money stream provided by TV revenues at big shows. However a big natural fan base, the responsibility of selling tickets falls for the most part on the shoulders of the fighters themselves, regardless of their in-ring performances.
But Goodwin boxing doesn't let its fighters stand completely in the cold. To support them, Goodwin Boxing promotes the show through various channels, including online and posters, and sells tickets directly from their website. Nonetheless, the responsibility is on each boxer to sell as many tickets as possible, as careers in this business live or die on this factor alone.
While ticket sales can contribute towards the show's costs, including the referee and opponent's wages, fighters who cannot generate a significant amount of money before each bout risk being shut out, regardless of their talent in the ring. As a result, boxers must also be skilled salespeople, with the number of bums on seats ultimately determining their success in the sport.
"The fight game is a tough, demanding business, and it's crucial to be honest and upfront with people," says Kevin Campion, Director of Operations at Goodwin Boxing, a promotion and management company.
Campion acknowledges this unfairness in the boxing industry, where talented boxers may struggle to sell tickets due to their personality or network. The current reality is that only a small minority of fighters, such as Olympic gold medallists, are able to secure financial backing without relying on the 'ticket deal' model.
Despite the challenges faced by boxers, Goodwin aims to be an ethical promoter by thoroughly explaining the expectations and advising those who may not be suited to the professional boxing career to not turn pro. This approach has earned Goodwin a reputation among boxers as a promoter that ensures their fighters are fully informed before entering the industry.
While Campion longs for a return to a simpler time in boxing where local shows sold themselves, the reality is that the 'ticket deal' model is currently the most viable option for many boxers. Nonetheless, Goodwin remains committed to giving their boxers the platform they need to succeed and doing their best for them. While not perfect, the small hall scene remains an important part of the sport. At least in the UK.