Could the Millennium Stadium be the key to keeping Welsh boxing’s biggest names at home?
With ‘Sugar’ Lee Selby (21-1, 8KO) joining the long list of Al Haymon advised elite operators and seemingly set to spend his foreseeable future stateside, the likelihood of big fight nights in Wales are fading and genuine options to entice Wales’ best boxers to stay at home appear to be scarce.
The 28-year-old from Barry Town produced an historic performance in May to become Wales’ 12th ever world champion and overcome the previously undefeated IBF featherweight belt holder Evgeny Gradovich with relative ease.
Selby’s not the only soon-to-be exile though as Welsh boxing’s other established star, Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly (29-2, 15KO), is penciled in to face Andrzei Fonfara (27-3, 16KO) under the Haymon banner at a New York City venue in October.
‘Die hards’, a term often bestowed upon the most committed of supporters, will always dust off their passports and cross the Atlantic but they’re few in numbers, while many thousands more will remain at home, unable to afford the collective costs of flights, hotels, tickets, beers and bagels.
The immediate situation isn’t helped by the timing as Selby and Cleverly are due to fight at the end of the year when Christmas is just around the corner, leaving Welsh fight fan’s chances of attending memorable events of international quality even bleaker.
It’s no secret that boxers under Haymon’s umbrella often earn career high paydays and few observers would criticise those who choose to pursue that route, after all it’s a short career. The problem for those who want Wales’ best to fight at home is that it would undeniably take a monumental occasion to persuade them to stay here.
Could that be the cue for the Millennium Stadium, with its ability to host so many fans and therefore generate significant gate revenue, to step in? There has been no professional or amateur boxing staged at Wales’ national treasure since 2007 when Newbridge’s undefeated International Boxing Hall of Fame entrant Joe Calzaghe unified the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF super-middleweight world titles against Mikkell Kessler in front of 55,000 fans.
If the 75,000 capacity is too large a jump (which it almost definitely is), promoters could consider the use of a curtain, which is officially titled an ‘Arena Partition Drape System’. The black curtain, which weighs 11,00KG and would be suspended from the stadium roof, can be placed in four different positions with the ability to reduce event attendance to as little as 12,000 spectators.
The Welsh Rugby Union, who own the venue, and the Wales Tourism Board funded the curtain in 2005. Combined with the retractable roof that can close, the curtain can transform the Millennium Stadium to one of the biggest indoor arenas in the world.
The curtain has been used on previous occasions, most notably when Calzaghe defended his world titles against Peter Manfredo in 2007 with a crowd of more than 30,000 fans cheering him on. Frank Warren, the promoter of that fight, also used the curtain in 2006 when he staged the show that featured Gary Lockett’s win over Ryan Rhodes in front of a reduced capacity crowd.
Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn and Sanigar Events, who promote and manage Selby respectively, staged two shows at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena in 2014. The venue only holds 5,000 fans and that limits the budget, which has now increased due to Selby’s new world championship status.
The purses paid to Selby’s opponents is also likely to increase given that they’ll be premier level operators, meaning Welsh boxing’s only realistic hope of watching their flag bearer on home soil is the Millennium Stadium. Stadium fights are hard sells, they need storylines and a sense of occasion that attracts the masses and engages with casual fans who would otherwise only own a passing interest in pugilism.
It’s a more difficult task than turning up in America with no requirement to sell tickets and a lot less risk, especially since Haymon already has the budget – reported to be more than $400m from investment firm Waddell & Reed Financial Inc.
The deal breaker that will persuade Welsh boxing’s best to stay fighting in their home country is whether or not they can make as much money here and the Millennium Stadium is the last hope there is to match Haymon’s millions… but is it enough?
The soonest the answer will be known is 2016 and if it’s not a positive one, Welsh fight fans may be forced to watch their best boxers compete abroad for the foreseeable future.