“Who would ever thought it would come to this?” said Frank Warren as a large Perspex screen was set up to allow Daniel Dubois and Eric Pfeifer to pose face to face for the cameras. It was an attempt to reintroduce a bit of normality in a post-pandemic world, even if it merely emphasised how strange things have become.
Dubois and Pfeifer, who clash in a behind-closed-doors show on August 29, did there best to pose a normal for the cameras. Joe Joyce and Michael Wallisch, who box on Saturday, had more fun. First there was a wave, by the end they were pulling faces at each other up against the screen.
The lawn outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich was the somewhat historic venue for the UK boxing press pack to start to get to know each other again. It might not have been hugs all round – that wouldn’t have been allowed – but it had been some time since the chance to put questions to boxers had not been at the mercy of a phone or Wi-Fi signal.
It was a grand setting – Warren joked that he had considered inviting everyone to his garden, in a clear dig at rival Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp series – but despite the spaced out chairs and podiums, it was largely business as usual. That was apart from two people dressed in full-on PPE who moved in to spray and wipe the screen and podiums at every given opportunity.
Warren’s Queensberry Promotions staged the first show since the coronavirus pandemic two weeks ago at the London studios of the broadcaster BT Sport, with Brad Foster defending his British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight titles against James Beech Jr. Viewing figures were low for that show, but it was a case of job done, the system worked. Saturday’s show, headlined by the heavyweight encounter between Olympic silver-medallist Joyce and Germany’s Wallisch is a significant step up in terms of quality.
It’s also part of a bigger story, with Joyce in line to have a twice postponed fight with Dubois at the O2 Arena (two miles along the river from Tuesday’s event) on October 24, provided he beats Wallisch and Dubois dispatches Pfeifer.
“I’m not usually nervous before shows,” Warren said. “But I am nervous before this. We have a big show lined up for October and I don’t want to see it upset.
“I don’t really want to be doing this, it’s a big risk. But both of them needed fights because they have been out of the ring a long time. And they are tough fights. These guys have come over here because they fancy their chances.
“They are good quality opponents and our guys have ring rust. They have got nothing to lose.”
October 24 will be the third date for the Dubois-Joyce clash, after the coronavirus pandemic put paid to dates in April then July. Warren insists it will not go on without a paying crowd. While crowds are expected to return in October in the UK, it is not clear whether that will mean venues can be filled to capacity.
“We would do it if we were allowed 75 per cent attendance but would have to think about it if it was only 50,” Warren said.
He said that there had been about 1,000 tickets unsold when the fight was originally postponed and about 10 per cent of tickets (just short of 2,000) were returned for a refund, with the rest hanging on for a rearranged date.
“In the last couple of weeks, people have started buying tickets again. That will be a problem if it is only half, or 60 per cent full. Who can’t go?”