Studios, gardens, masks -- what to expect when boxing returns to the UK

Boxing promoter Frank Warren has told ESPN it has been difficult to meet necessary government guidelines while organising fights. Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Referees tell boxers "protect yourselves at all times, keep it clean" before the opening bell, but this has also applied to organisers ahead of the first professional boxing event in the UK since the coronavirus lockdown.

Sports ceased around the world in March as part of rules to stop the spread of the coronavirus and when boxing resumes in the UK, it will be behind closed doors without crowds, just as was the case when boxing returned in the United States last month.

Promoter Frank Warren, whose first promotion was 40 years ago this December, admits it has been a challenge to meet necessary government guidelines and stage the five-bout show at BT Studios in London.

"It's been quite a nightmare," Warren told ESPN.

"We're dealing with various people to ensure it happens safely. First of all, we have to make sure the venue is ok at BT Studios and they have only allowed a certain amount of people in there at one time to set up, so getting people in and out has been a logistical problem.

"Secondly, the testing has been crucial and from everyone from the fighters, to the trainers, seconds, referees, doctors and TV commentators.

"Thirdly, everyone involved in the show goes into a hotel two or three days before as part of a lockdown, and that is an additional expense, as well as all the safety and protection like PPE [personal protective equipment], testing, so it's all an expensive process."

Warren's team at Queensberry Promotions have worked around the clock to meet regulations laid out by the British government and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).

Warren estimates five shows behind closed doors at the television studio will cost him up to £140,000 in extra expenses due to coronavirus safety precautions such as tests, personal protective equipment and a hotel for quarantine before the event.

"The gyms the boxers train at have needed to be sterile environments, as will the venue and ring on the day, and it's going to be hard work," Warren said.

"The hardest thing has been the uncertainty of what it's going to be like. The fighters usually do a head-to-head press conference before the fight -- now they are doing a Zoom video call. How will that go down? Government guidelines are changing all the time too. When you think what people were saying it would be like a month ago, now it's totally different with different rules, some restrictions eased.

"I think on each show in additional expenses over five first shows we will do £130,000-140,000 in additional expenses.

"The boxers -- and everyone else involved -- have had up to three tests by now, and will be tested three or four times in fight week. We've had to keep it down to 70 people involved in the day of the show, and they won't all be allowed in the building at the same time."

What to expect (and not)

According to a BBBofC operational document for behind-closed-doors events, boxers and their trainers will travel to the venue wearing full protective masks after self-isolating at a hotel. The protective equipment can only be removed once inside a certain zone at the venue.

Trainers and seconds will wear masks, eye protection and gloves at all times, as will the referees and judges. The ring will be cleaned in between contests, with a 20-minute gap between each of the five fights.

Some of the safety aspects involved include referees showering and changing clothes, as well as using new protective equipment, before every bout.

Don't expect to see any ring card girls in between rounds, or a ring announcer. There will be no entourages with the boxers either -- just three people are allowed in a fighter's corner.

The only people allowed into the ring before and after the fights are the boxers, one trainer per fighter, referee and medical officers. Television interviews by BT Sport will take place elsewhere, with the floor around the ring split into three zones.

Expect to hear the sound of leather on flesh as well. As of Wednesday, Warren and the UK broadcaster are not planning to use fake crowd noise to enhance the atmosphere for viewers.

Studio vs. back garden

Warren has opted to stage his behind-closed-doors event at a television studio, while rival British promoter Eddie Hearn plans to hold a series of shows in the back garden of the office headquarters of his promotional company Matchroom, which was also the house where he grew up.

Hearn will host events at Mascalls, Brentwood on Aug. 1, 7 and 14, before scaling up to big event on Aug. 22 which will see England's Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs) -- No. 1 challenger for the winner of the WBC world heavyweight clash between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder later this year -- and Russia's former world title challenges Alexander Povetkin (35-2-1, 24 KOs).

Ireland's Katie Taylor (15-0, 6 KOs), the undisputed world lightweight champion, is also set to defend her belts on the event which will be screened on Sky in the UK.

For Warren's first show this week, British and Commonwealth junior featherweight champion Brad Foster (12-0-2, 5 KOs), 22, defends his belts against Midlands rival James Beech (12-0, 2 KOs) as the main event.

"There will be no live gate so we have BT Sport to make it more creative and imaginative to present something good for the viewers," Warren told ESPN.

"We can only have five fights per show at the moment, so we are trying to make the fights competitive. It's what happens in the ring that matters, not ring walks or fireworks in a back garden.

"I don't even know [if] he's got consent to do that in his back garden, you're not supposed to be doing events at houses yet.

"It's down to competitive fights, nothing else. The problem we have got is the lack of a live gate and that's restrictive on budget, but I don't think it's fair to go to pay-per-view when subscribers have not had any content for a few months. It's a liberty.

"I think Foster-Beech is a really competitive fight, they have both won the same amount of fights, and that's what we want. We've also got a great undercard, which also includes Hamzah Sheeraz and I really rate him. David Adeleye is a heavyweight who has a good future too."