OPINION: Managing boxing
1 April, 2023, 5:54 pm
Last week, I brought to you an article on Fiji boxing, a sport that has had its ups and downs over the years.
This was not always the case.
In the 1960s and ’70s, boxing had the same importance in the national psyche that rugby had.
Our boxers plied their trade all over the south seas and beyond.
In fact, there were south seas belts that were fought for with great anticipation.
Perhaps the most prized of these was the south seas heavyweight title.
Many of our heavyweights proudly challenged for and many even won that belt.
This subsequently took us to the US, Europe, NZ and Australia.
I do not want to get into this too much here, but we have had south seas heavyweight champions, a Commonwealth champion, two Commonwealth title challengers, bonafide Commonwealth ranked boxers and a number of world ranked fighters.
In the 1980s the momentum remained, but key changes were happening in boxing.
In Fiji we suddenly had two boxing bodies – Professional Boxing and Wrestling Association (PBWA) and Fiji Boxing Council (FBC).
There was political rivalry between the two and this made it difficult to determine undisputed champions.
The same was happening on the world stage (as well as in other countries).
Numerous boxing bodies sprang up and the “alphabet boys” went to work creating numerous (often meaningless) championship belts.
When we took over in 2019, two of our more prominent boxers were constantly talking about fighting for the “world title”.
This was meaningless because those were not world titles they were talking about, they were frivolous belts manufactured by enterprising promoters and sanctioning bodies.
In my last article (FT 25/03/23), I tried to take readers behind the scenes to see exactly what we have been doing to straighten out and revive boxing in the country.
A little bit of the result of these efforts was seen at the gala boxing program at the National Gymnasium in Suva last Saturday.
It had a level of Samoan input not seen in a while in Fiji.
It also had a level of professionalism that had been lacking in boxing all this time despite veteran promoters being involved in staging multiple lackluster programs.
That was the second program held by Lewis-Hill Boxing Promotions who only entered the scene in September 2022.
Let me share with you some of the things that we worked on to tune that program right.
Referees and judges
Experience has shown us that referees and judges are a key cog in the efficient and professional running of a program.
There have been numerous repeated blunders in the past with the public going bonkers.
In response, (in a first for Fiji) we have been appraising R&J performance after every program.
In the process it dawned on us that, there were some referees whose performance appeared to be blighted by decisional paralyses.
There were others who forgot the golden rule that “the best ref is invisible”.
We also identified good judges and those who appeared to be watching a totally different fight.
This allowed us to design training programs that helped plug these holes in the knowledge, skills and abilities that our R&Js possessed.
For the last program, the promoter (Winston Hill) brought accomplished boxing official, Faiyaz Khan, from Auckland, New Zealand to conduct a series of workshops over two days at the Commander Stan Brown Gym in Walu Bay just before fight-night on Saturday.
After too long to remember, we had five new trainees in the program — three of them were females.
The whole program was highly focused and six out of the 14 participants made the mark — that is how intense the training was.
With this, and information collated from appraisals carried out in past programs, a roster was prepared assigning refereeing and judging to only those individuals who we considered ready.
In the past, this roster used to be modified; this time we did not allow it.
The result was there for all to see even though a few criticised what appeared to be an “early” stoppage in the main bout between Bullet Senidoko and Joseph Kwadjo.
There is no arguing that it was a totally electrifying contest — either boxer could have ended it with one punch.
And Kwadjo was the first to get in that punch.
Senidoko went down and got up at the count of nine.
The ref noted that at that point he was going backwards and appeared to be looking for the ropes for support.
I agree with this because I was sitting just a metre from the Bullet.
Later as Kwadjo turned on the heat, the referee stopped the fight when he saw no retaliation from Senidoko and he invoked the boxer safety rule.
This is considered normal overseas.
In fact, three experts from three different countries agreed when I consulted them the next day.
What we do have on our hands is a mouth-watering rematch that is being worked on right now — that is good for Fiji boxing.
Now, let me turn the spotlight on promoters who are another key cog that needs to be worked on to up our standards.
When we took over in 2019, there were two active promoters: South Pacific Boxing Promotions (SPBP); and Kiran’s Boxing Promotions (KBP).
SPBP has Freddie Chand as promoter and Mohammed Shameem (Canada) as financial backer.
KBP, on the other hand, has Ben Krishna as the sole man in charge.
We had been keenly watching past programs and noted many things that were contributing to lack of quality and professionalism in programs.
With one of them, the biggest problem was that they never had or followed a fixed schedule.
Whatever was set as a schedule was highly fluid and changed at will.
There were long unnecessary waits between bouts.
Then there were long prolonged breaks for no obvious reasons.
And there was that 30-40 minute prayer break while the audience listened to music and generally flexed their patience.
This not only appeared unprofessional, but it showed a clear disdain and lack of concern for the paying public — there was no customer
There were also frequent skirmishes and ring invasions with boxers (and their corners) refusing to accept official decisions.
The mic changed hands haphazardly with no professional ring announcer being clearly designated the task.
No one appeared to be in charge.
In one case, a fight was allowed to go to round six even though the rain had begun to wet the ring in round three.
It appeared that nobody was able or willing to stop the fight.
And when it was finally stopped, nobody was calling out the decision.
All these appeared totally unprofessional and should have been considered unacceptable, but we saw this repeated over and over again.
In another case, a boxer was not going to appear for the main bout — a title fight for the Fiji heavyweight belt.
BCF officials and the promoter apparently knew this, but the audience was kept waiting until midnight before the decision makers finally decided to let us know.
All this had to change and the best way to do that was to set rules for guidance.
When we came in, we set the changeover time at a maximum of four minutes.
Breaks had to be approved by us in advance and it was capped at 15 minutes.
The prayer break was removed.
A requirement was set for a professional announcer.
And we centralised decision-making even though it was later found that firmer hands were needed on this.
A key change we made when it came to promoters was to require them to apply for annual license renewals.
Previously, it was extremely difficult to decide who was an active promoter and who was dormant.
More importantly, it was extremely difficult to evaluate promoter performance.
Now, this has been integrated into the annual license renewal process and one promoter is having difficulty accepting that this is an important part of the overall apparatus set-up to manage Fiji boxing better so that we have more quality programs like the one
at the National Gymnasium last Saturday.
I will share more next week as we cover disciplinary procedures, overseas clearance and much more.
I wish to thank the media-wallas who have shown interest in helping Fiji boxing gain better exposure.
I also wish to thank all our well-wishers who have helped boost our morale and renew our commitment to Fiji Boxing.
Till next week, sa moce mada.
• DR SUBHASH APPANNA has been writing on issues of historical and national significance. The views expressed here are his alone and not necessarily shared by this newspaper or his employers.