Boxing: First rule of this fight club - anything goes

By Steve Deane

Boxer Rosanna Arkle will face Jaime Ridge in the ring in the hope of drawing in more pay-per-view fans. Picture / Dean Purcell.
Boxer Rosanna Arkle will face Jaime Ridge in the ring in the hope of drawing in more pay-per-view fans. Picture / Dean Purcell.

It's the sort of moment that leaves most folks staring wistfully at a ceiling or intently pondering a blank space near their feet.

By "most folks", we're talking mainly sports hacks. The moment comes when one hack asks a glamour model/wannabe TV star why she won't be wearing breast protection during a "celebrity" boxing match tomorrow night?

Goodness, these floors are nicely polished.

Welcome to the future, sports fans. At least it will be if tomorrow night's Godfather of All Fight Nights meets sales expectations. Early indications are that it will.

"It is going to work big time," says promotor Dean Lonergan of an event that pairs the previously incongruous worlds of professional fighting and celebrity vacuousness.

With Shane Cameron headlining and Jaime Ridge, Rosanna Arkle and Jesse Ryder supporting, tomorrow night's event blends two proven formulas for pay-per-view television. Lonergan's Fight for Life cards, which pit rugby and league players against each other in the ring, have sustained box-office appeal. His partner, in what some hardcore boxing fans will view as a crime, is David Higgins, whose company Duco pulled off the biggest PPV success this country has seen by pitting Cameron against David Tua in 2009.

Last year's Fight For Life broke new ground when surfer Paige Hareb and former snowboarder Haley Holt upstaged the men in a highly entertaining bout. However, by including non-sportswomen, Godfather takes the celebrity concept a step further. It will be a step too far for some, but for others it is the first toe dipped into the captivating waters of Fightbiz.

"Normally for a big boxing card you've got the main fight and that is it," Lonergan said. "But because there are so many different angles on this, the media has really embraced it."

For Duco, media coverage equals PPV sales. And for Godfather, media coverage has included previously untapped outlets, gossip columns and women's mags.

"We are in the entertainment business as well as the boxing business and we have to supply as much entertainment as we can," Lonergan said.

He isn't worried the sideshows will be a turn-off for genuine fight fans.

"The hardcore boxing fans will be there for Shane Cameron v Monte Barrett, they'll be there for Solomon Haumono v Joey Wilson and they'll be there for Isaac Peach."

Lonergan estimates about 5 per cent of the country are boxing fans and that usually translates into around 8000 PPV sales, even for the biggest international title fights.

"We'll do an absolute s***load more than that - and we have to because our expenses are high," he said.

For Godfather, those upfront expenses are close to $1 million. Much of that will be offset by the sale of sponsorship, corporate tables and tickets. But it is the PPV that will determine whether the show sinks or swims.

"It's pretty simple: every time you make a sale the risk comes down," Lonergan said. "We try our best to make sure that by the time we get to kickoff there is no risk and we can actually make some money."

A former Kiwis league international, Lonergan has been involved in event promotion for 22 years. He was the driving force behind NRL teams touring this country long before the Warriors existed. He once lost $1 million on a failed circus venture, but is proud that he paid back all of his debts, even though it took him more than four years.

His critics will argue the circus is back in town.

"Any criticism we've copped, I really don't have any time for those people," he said. "If anyone wants to step up to the plate and have a crack they are more than welcome to, because this is a tough business. You can win big and you can lose big - and it ain't fun losing."

Articulate American Monte Barrett has been the real star of the pre-fight publicity drive.

"Boxing is the only sport where you can beat the s*** out of a man and then shake his hand and love him afterwards," Barrett said yesterday.

It's also the only sport where you can get away with boosting sales by chucking a couple of good looking young girls in a ring and asking them to beat the s*** out of each other too - with or without breast protection.

As Barrett's colourful manager Stan Hoffman said: "We don't care why they buy it - as long as they buy it."

- NZ Herald

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