- Matchroom Boxing restarted its live events business with a four-week residency called “Fight Camp” on the grounds of its HQ in Essex, a grassy county east of London.
- The COO of Matchroom USA, Shaun Palmer, told Insider that Matchroom UK raised a bar that he wants to meet with the US team’s first pandemic-era show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
- What makes the Tulsa event as unique as “Fight Camp” is that it is an open-air venue sandwiched between skyscrapers in the downtown region of the city.
- The event features a super prospect called Israel Madrimov and a historic headlining bout between Cecilia Braekhus and Jessica McCaskill.
- Palmer told Insider how the Matchroom USA team organised the extraordinary show, and said similar concepts could become a regular part of the US combat sports calendar.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following a five-month, coronavirus-enforced hiatus, Matchroom Boxing restarted live event operations in July with fireworks and fist-fights broadcast from the 15-acre mansion which the promoter Eddie Hearn grew up in as a child.
Known for stadium fights in Britain’s capital cities, Hearn’s reach extended beyond the borders of his country and into New York, into Saudi Arabia, and now, through Matchroom USA’s COO Shaun Palmer, the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On Saturday, August 15, Palmer restarts Matchroom’s State-side combat calendar with a plan every bit as audacious, in-your-face, and brilliantly bonkers as the “Fight Camp” Hearn set-up in the backyard of Matchroom HQ in Essex, a grassy county east of London.
Like “Fight Camp,” Matchroom’s Tulsa event takes place in an unconventional setting. Palmer’s team had to co-operate with local government to close roads downtown just to make it happen, and lease sections of nearby hotels to provide a safe bubble in which fighters and staff would be kept as safe as possible from COVID-19.
They then constructed the fight card by adding an extraordinary prospect who is seemingly on the road to stardom, and a main event featuring Cecilia Braekhus and Jessica McCaskill in a women’s world title match with a lot at stake.
If Braekhus wins, she breaks the heavyweight great Joe Louis’ record for most consecutive title defences in the same weight class – a record which has stood for 72 years.
If she loses, she falls at the final hurdle and a new champion is crowned.
From backyard brawls to fights on the streets
On the gardens of Matchroom HQ in the UK, there’d been fight of the year contenders and knockouts so brutal they delighted those watching at home.
Knockouts like this:
Zelfa finishes it off with an EMPHATIC left hook! ???? pic.twitter.com/X0kGeemxLd
— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) August 14, 2020
Palmer praised the Matchroom’s matchmaking to Insider this week, and told us that he always wanted to replicate what Hearn had in store with “Fight Camp” with something similar when live events were green-lit in the US.
“It put the pressure on the US team to come up with something equally iconic and that could still look good and make the fighters feel like they were part of a big event, even without the fans,” he said.
Matchroom USA looked at closed, TV-studio venues at first. Palmer said this is the “simplest way of doing [live boxing events] safely.”
One of Matchroom’s rival companies Top Rank demonstrated the safety of such a venue during a summer series of boxing inside a quarantined area of the MGM Grand Conference Centre in Las Vegas.
“But Eddie set me the task of finding something a bit different,” Palmer said. “I got chatting to a local promoter called Tony Holden, who promoted [the late, former heavyweight champion] Tommy Morrison. And he was going back-and-forth with me about various casino venues.
“I sort of joked with him, and said: ‘Shame we can’t do something outside, as Eddie likes outside fights. It would be great if you get us downtown Tusla.'”
Palmer was half-joking, but said Holden stopped laughing. “‘If I can do that, would you come to Tulsa?’
“I said, ‘If you did, I’m sure Eddie would be on board.'”
Within a day, Holden returned to Palmer with an outline which they developed together so it contained a coronavirus safety plan, a location, permit options, and security.
Palmer then sent his plan to Hearn to get it signed off before booking the venue.
“I know what Eddie’s like, and know he likes to visualise stuff,” Palmer told us. “So I sent him a first draft of what we ultimately released on social, a 3D rendering of the ring.
“Eddie very rarely says ‘Yeah, that’s great,’ because he quite rightly comes back with feedback and suggestions, but this time he texted me saying, ‘Looks great – it’s like we’re having a proper street-fight.’
“After having Eddie on board, I had about two days to get all the details together, as is the way, but we got there.”
Here’s a rendering of what fight night will look like:
Palmer spoke to Insider a day before one of the fighters, Marc Castro, and his father/trainer Tony, both tested positive for the coronavirus.
But it is here where Matchroom’s protocols kicked in, and the pair were quarantined and isolated from all the other athletes and event staff.
As everyone else involved, from fighters, trainers, to staff tested negative for the coronavirus, the event goes ahead as planned – just without the involvement of Marc and Tony Castro.
There are still five fights scheduled for Saturday, including:
- Israel Madrimov (5-0-0, 5KOs) vs. Eric Walker (20-2-0, 9KOs) – super welterweight
- Cecilia Braekhus (36-0-0, 9KOs) vs. Jessica McCaskill (8-2-0, 3KOs) – super lightweight championship fight
Excited by Madrimov, Palmer called the unbeaten young star “a very special talent” who “always pushes for the toughest opponent possible.
“This is a final eliminator for the world title,” Palmer said. “That’s all his doing – he never says no to an opponent.
“I think it’s hard to find [quality] opponents who would box Madrimov [at this stage in his career].”
Then there’s the undisputed title fight between Braekhus, who Palmer called “a future hall of famer,” against McCaskill.
“The tide is turning and women’s boxing is getting the attention it deserves,” Palmer said. “To be spearheading that at Matchroom is great.”
Street fights could become a regular part of Matchroom’s calendar
Hearn has said he’s interested in making the “Fight Camp” series of fights on the lawns of the Matchroom mansion an annual event, and so Insider asked Palmer whether fans might also see the street fights concept again and again.
“It could quite possibly [be an annual thing],” Palmer told us, stressing that Matchroom wants to welcome fans back at live events as soon as it is safe to do so.
“But while we don’t have fans, we can look at doing things you can’t do normally – like closing off streets.
“I’d like to explore a few different options in iconic locations. Golden Boy Promotions mentioned holding events on Alcatraz, which is very ambitious.
“But I don’t know why we can’t do something equally ambitious [as Saturday’s show] whether it’s a street in another city, something else in Tulsa, or completely different.
“Tulsa has unbelievable architecture and when you’re seeing unique buildings, it makes up for the lack of excitement which would have been brought by a live crowd.”
Matchroom USA’s show will be broadcast on DAZN in the US, and via DAZN’s beta-test of its global product for worldwide audiences.