While professional boxing is back on our screens after a television blackout, dissatisfaction from former world champions has surfaced over the staging of box-and-dine tournaments.
But this salvo has been parried by Boxing SA (BSA) and some promoters, who believe this is the way to go to showcase the sport of fisticuffs.
The events are usually held at venues such as casinos and hotels, where groups of supporters can buy corporate tables to watch the action while being served food and soft drinks during the bout.
A table of 10 people normally costs about R5 000, which includes meals and drinks. This means each person pays R500.
But four erstwhile world champions, Dingaan “The Rose” Thobela, Jan “Kid Gavilan” Bergman, Lehlohonolo “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba and Takalani “Panther” Ndlovu, have shot it down.
However, this has been dismissed by some impresarios as “sour grapes”.
The former combatants claim that this way of showcasing boxing chases ordinary fans away as many “cannot afford expensive tickets to gain access into venues”.
Thobela, the erstwhile World Boxing Council super middleweight, said that while the shows were of great quality, they marginalised “poor fans”.
“My opinion is that box and dine mainly caters for corporates. Ordinary people cannot afford the price and this makes them miss out on attending some of the fights,” said Thobela, who promotes fights in Namibia.
He urged impresarios to lure more supporters back to the sport by taking shows back to the townships. In the past, fights used to draw large crowds when they were staged in “location venues”.
“This will hopefully help inject more vibrancy back into the sport as more people will fill the venues. As it is, many fans watch boxing at home as they cannot afford to attend fights,” said Thobela.
Bergman, a trainer who previously held the World Boxing Union welterweight crown, said the sport had lost its vibe as fights no longer took place in township halls like before.
“In most cases, you find a cheap ticket for ordinary seats at these shows costing about R500. Ordinary folks can’t afford that. Promoters must do the honourable thing and take boxing back to the townships. As matters stand, the sport is dying,” said Bergman.
Ledwaba, the man who famously lost his International Boxing Federation (IBF) super featherweight title to Filipino Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao in Las Vegas in 2001, said the concept was a blow to the sport.
“Tournaments are being overpriced and this makes it difficult for fans to attend fights. Something serious must be done to save boxing,” said Ledwaba, who is also a mentor.
Ndlovu, who previously held the IBF super bantamweight diadem, said most fans preferred to stay at home because they “cannot afford costly tickets”.
“In some of the bouts, the cheapest ticket at open stands costs R50 upwards. This contributes to many fans not enjoying the luxury of going to fights, unlike in the past, when the entrance fee used to be R20 upwards,” said Ndlovu
But erstwhile IBF super featherweight titlist Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita offered a different view.
“From a purely business sense, this way of staging fights is fine because it generates more revenue for promoters to keep boxing alive. That’s why more shows of this nature are widely supported by people who can afford to go.”
BSA chairperson Muditambi Ravele said the organisation could not tell promoters how to host events.
“We need box-and-dine shows because they attract another side of a market that we as an organisation would want to attract into boxing.
“All the events that BSA has hosted as part of the Boxing is Back broadcasts, and the programme TKO on SABC, have catered for the box-and-dine format, as well as an area allocated for cheaper tickets,” said Ravele.
She said affordable tickets for open stands at some shows were “from R20 to R40”.
Ravele said that, since last year, BSA had sanctioned 11 tournaments featuring the box-and-dine format and ordinary seatings in all provinces. They are: Gauteng (two); Eastern Cape (two); Free State (one); North West (one); KwaZulu-Natal (one); Mpumalanga (one); Western Cape (one); Limpopo (one); and Northern Cape (one).
Xaba Promotions boss Ayanda Matiti said there was nothing wrong with staging box-and-dine showdowns.
“As a general principle, box and dine should not be a prerequisite to boxing. It must not chase people away. As a promoter, I think you can provide a section during the event for those fans who want to dine and those who don’t.”
Anton Gilmore of Gilmore Masters Promotions said: “There are no more sponsors in boxing like before, therefore the money a promoter makes from selling tables at these events can go towards paying for things like purses for boxers, an ambulance and ring announcer.”
Another promoter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The guys do not want to spend and now want to discourage fans from attending our shows. Box and dines are an international phenomenon and we move with the times by staging these events.”