Scrawled over every video interview or the apron of any well-promoted boxing show, you’ll often find a logo for a high street Bookmakers. Commercially viable both ways, the relationship is something which seems to have been cemented for the last decade at least.
Fitzdares, the upmarket bookies, have taken a wholely different approach. Ahead of their first event, I caught up with Head of Boxing Charles Lee. Charles had been training on-and-off at Fitzroy Lodge for a number of years, the frequency detectable by the size of his stomach he told me.
“We want to make a big difference where we can in sport. Sport is something we use as our primary product and we want to give something back where we can, to make a difference. In grassroots sports, boxing was identified as an area where we can really make a difference. You can’t play boxing, whereas you play football or golf. With boxing, you’re in it for the long haul really.”
The Fighting Futures event will be held at The Ned on Friday 17th November, showcasing amateur boxers from London’s four most prestigious clubs. The boxers on the show are;
- Shafqat Khan (Lewsey)
- Tosin Olalekan (Fitzroy Lodge)
- Kyran O’Neill (Dale Youth)
- Frankie Storey (Finchley)
- Jack Johnson (Finchley)
- Joey Ephson (Fitzroy Lodge)
- Jonathan Kumuteo (Finchely)
- Charlie Wincott (Lynn)
I asked Charles, why now? Why amateur boxing, as opposed to a profit spinning, branded event within London’s paid circuit? His answers seemed genuine and sincere, a man who had fallen in love with the sport for the right reasons.
“Well, we felt that amateur wise, that is where the talent lies. That’s where you can make a real difference and you can change lives. Since going down to Fitzroy Lodge you see the difference it can make. People walking off the street as the toughest guy on the street but when they walk into the gym everyone is polite and respectful. There is a respect there. We feel that’s something that might get lost in the pro game when actually, money becomes more of a target for some people. In the amateurs, it’s more about progressing, learning your skills and making a difference that way. It was more appropriate, really.”
The involvement of Fitzdares has given the Fighting Futures program a touch of eloquence sometimes missing from your standard amateur or Small Hall professional show.
To provide some background, their Mayfair-based bookmakers require an application for membership. They make a decision on whether to accept and dedicate you a phone number to call in or text bets, no passwords and no casual log-on. Certainly no tiny disposable pens and horrendous coffee. Speaking to Charles around his work in the company, it was clear that a genuine passion for sports had brought their staff together.
The four clubs involved in the opening evening of the program are London’s most historically succesful. Stars of the present such as Anthony Joshua, David Haye, George Groves and James DeGale cultivated their natural ability each becoming World champions. However, their roots were in these gyms. These sweaty, cold, worn-out gyms. These gyms that see tears, sweat, blood and vomit. But they build character. They build men and women and shape lives. This is what Fitzdares wanted to capture.
“I basically went round to each gym and spoke to them; Shaun, Mick Delaney, Terry Pearson. We asked them, ‘who are the future stars in your gym?’ Not necessarily the ones who’ll turn pro, but will go on to great amateur things or deserve this shot. We don’t want 80/20 fights. We want competitive bouts, we think on the night it should be competitive and exciting. Areas we can make a genuine difference, not for marketing but for social responsibility, really… we want to help where we can.”
Charles Lee was very aware of bookies ‘reputation’ amongst the general public. This event and the concept in general was born not out of guilt or necessity, it was organically pieced together by a team of people determined to benefit the sport. To see the sport succeed, helping some of its brightest talents to thrive. I admired that genuine approach, sometimes hard to find.
To conclude, boxing could find itself in safe hands in London. The financial backing and strategising of a firm such as Fitzdares can only be beneficial. Amateur boxers given a platform to display their talent should be something to get excited for. The four clubs, historic. The boxers on the show, making their own way through one of the toughest sports available.
As a package, this could be – The Next Big Thing.
Written by Craig Scott