By Anthony Cocks
Boxing can be a tier one sport in Australia.
That’s the opinion of DDP Sports general manager Paul Keegan, who promoted one of the biggest cards in Australia for years with last weekend’s stacked Dennis Hogan versus Jimmy Kilrain Kelly show, aptly title ‘Revolution’.
It was just the second show for the rookie promoter, who spoke about his vision for the sport at the weigh-in for the world title eliminator between junior middleweights Hogan and Kelly on the weekend.
“We’re all about making Australian boxing a first tier sport,” the passionate Keegan told T2T Boxing’s Tommy Watt. “It breaks my heart when people say boxing is a second or third tier sport. No it’s not, it’s a first tier sport.
“On our side of the world in Ireland or the UK, it’s classed as a big deal. We want to make it a big deal [in Australia] and the weigh-in is part of the show.”
When Keegan and his business partner Danny Dimas decided to move across from an informal managerial role for Hogan to promoting him, they set out a business plan that would not only see their promotional venture succeed but also help elevate boxing in the eyes of sports fans across Australia. It was an ambitious plan but in little more than nine months they have already delivered on that vision, generating huge interest in the sport and getting buy-in from boxers and their managers who are now lining up ten-deep to get a berth on their next show.
The live gate for Saturday’s ‘Revolution’ show drew just under 1,900 punters through the turnstiles. The entire card was carried live and free on Epicentre.TV and was also broadcast live on Irish television with Fox Sports Australia providing a delayed telecast on April 25. The live stream was watched by over 100,000 screens – more than four times the anticipated audience – with an estimated three people watching per screen, bringing their viewership numbers to over 300,000 for the streaming service alone.
By any metric the show was a huge success.
“We are over the moon to announce that 106,277 screens tuned in to Revolution on Saturday night,” Keegan revealed on social media. “With an average of three people watching per screen we are looking at over 300,000 [who] would have witnessed one of the biggest boxing events in Australia.”
As DDP Sports extends their footprint in the burgeoning Australian market they are set to launch a feeder program for new and emerging boxers to provide them with a platform to stay busy while they develop their own brand.
“We already have our next show planned for June 16 when we’re going to launch our new brand ‘Future’ which is all about building the next generation of superstars,” said Keegan at the weigh-in.
“That’s our new brand and that’s what we’re going to be doing, we’re going to have our big shows but also our feeder shows so that the Joe Goodalls and the Nathan Webbers can get some experience out there fighting in the ring rather than being inactive for four or five months. And then their goal is get onto these big shows here.”
While the ’Future’ shows will be all about developing new talent, at the other end of the scale DDP will be looking to bring the big fights fights to Australia, starting with Hogan’s bid to win the WBO junior middleweight title from the winner of next month’s world title bout between champion Sadam Ali and challenger Liam Smith.
“We spoke yesterday and we want the world title here in Brisbane,” Keenan said in the ring after WBO #2 Hogan defeated WBO #3 Kelly on points on Saturday night to line up a shot at the winner of the Ali-Smith bout.
"No more do Australian boxers have to go overseas and be cannon fodder for anybody else.
"We want a world title, we want it here in Brisbane. There’s multiple Jeff Horns in Australia and this is the next one coming.
"We want that world title and we’re going to do everything we can in our power to get that here."
DENNIS HOGAN VS JIMMY KILRAIN KELLY ALMOST DERAILED AT ELEVENTH HOUR
While the big DDP Sports ’Revolution’ card was an awesome spectacle for those at ringside or viewing the live stream on Epicentre.TV, the show didn’t go off entirely without a hitch.
In fact, while the undercard had already started the main event was in jeopardy.
The dramas started 24-hours earlier when the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) advised DDP Sports that they had some health concerns for Kelly.
The English fighter had already gone through his medicals and been cleared to fight, including being examined by a neurologist.
But rather than tell the Australian promoter outright what their apprehensions related to, the BBBofC left it to DDP Sports to try to figure it out for themselves.
“The BBBofC wouldn’t say what the problem was,” Keegan told the Irish Independent. “We were determined, however, to do everything possible to ensure the fight went ahead.
“So we brought in a neurologist by helicopter from Toowoomba and he examined Jimmy Kelly and found nothing wrong. His report was immediately passed on to the BBBoC and finally, three hours before the fight, they indicated that it could go ahead.”
The BBBofC withdrew their objections at 6:49pm local time on the night of the fight. The Hogan versus Kelly fight was scheduled to begin at 10:00pm.
The crowd of just under 1,900 people was none the wiser.
And as it turns out, neither was Hogan.
“Fair play to Paul, he kept me away from all that,” said Hogan. “Luckily enough, everything went ahead as scheduled.
“It would have been such a shame if something like that had scuppered everything because it was such a great fight. So I’m delighted that the fight went ahead and I got a good win.”
No truth to the rumour that DDP are seeking sponsorship from Panadol in case they face similar headaches in the future.
You wouldn’t be a promoter for quids.
DAMIEN HOOPER DELIVERS WITH MIRACULOUS VICTORY OVER RENOLD QUINLAN
Damien Hooper 14-1 (9) proved that he is not only one of the most skilful boxers in Australia, but also one of the most exciting after his Fight of the Year candidate against Renold Quinlan at light heavyweight last Saturday night.
After sweeping the first four rounds, the lanky boxer-puncher showed tremendous ticker to peel himself off the canvas not once but twice in the fifth round and will himself back into the contest, rallying to win by ninth round stoppage. It was a huge show of courage and heart.
Quinlan, 12-3 (8), who holds a second round KO over former WBA and IBF middleweight champion Daniel Geale, proved once again that he has fight-changing power despite fighting outside of his natural weight class. The heavy-handed Quinlan was just one good shot away from finishing Hooper in the mid-rounds of the fight, but it just wasn’t to be on the night.
The 28-year-old Dunghutti Destroyer from Kempsey on the New South Wales mid-north coast will now drop 15 pounds to return to the middleweight division when he takes on OPBF Silver champion Mark Lucas 9-0 (3) at The Star Casino in Sydney on the next instalment of the Johnny Lewis Fight Night series on May 24.
Meanwhile Hooper, 26, will be looking for more big fights in the hope of landing a title shot in the near future.
While his shaky whiskers might ultimately let him down at world class level, the WBO number nine and WBC number 16 contender with his 80-inch wingspan – yes, that’s 6-foot-8 in length – and tremendous heart will make for thrilling matchups against any of the leading light heavyweight contenders.
JAI OPETAIA LOOKING TO CLEAN OUT THE CRUISERWEIGHTS BEFORE TAKING ON THE HEAVIES
Australian cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia 15-0 (12) logged another early win on Saturday night with a second round stoppage of German Lukas Paszkowsky 9-2 (3) on the Hogan-Kelley undercard.
The clever southpaw boxed the German beautifully, twice sending him to the canvas with stiff left hands before the referee saved the visitor from further punishment at 2:35 of the second round. It was a dominant performance by Australia’s youngest ever Olympic boxer, something we have come to expect from the 22-year-old.
"We don’t go in to try to dominate every minute of the round, it’s just the way Jai fights," explained his father and trainer Tapu Opetaia. "We’re very confident in his ability and fitness so he’s able to fight like that. We try and prepare for everything."
While most of Opetaia’s fights haven’t lasted past the third round, his Australian title winning effort against two-time national champion Daniel “The Doberman” Ammann last July was the exception to the rule, lasting nine rounds.
"Daniel Ammann was a great learning fight for Jai, he learnt a lot from it, like how to stay composed," Opetaia senior said. "I didn’t want Jai to go for the knockout, I wanted him to break Daniel down. Daniel is very tough and I knew Jai would stop him but it just depended on how much pressure Jai put on him."
Opetaia, along with Townsville’s former world title challenger Mark "Bam Bam" Flanagan, are the two standout cruiserweights from Australia. A fight between the pair of them would be one of the most highly anticipated stoushes that could be made on the local scene.
One gets the sense that with ever victory, the Flanagan fight inches closer.
"Jai is ready to fight Flanagan next week," laughed Opetaia.
But first things first. The Opetaias have put in a formal challenge to undefeated Commonwealth champion Luke “The Duke” Watkins 13-0 (9) of Swindon, Wiltshire in the UK.
"Yes, we have already put in a challenge for the Commonwealth title against Luke Watkins and our management team are discussing it further, so hopefully they will accept the challenge and we can either bring them over here I will go over there, doesn’t really matter,” said Opetaia.
The 200-pound division is on fire internationally, thanks in large part to the World Boxing Super Series that has shone a spotlight on the division just one weight class south of boxing’s marquee division. The 6-foot-2 Opetaia plans on stepping up to heavyweight later in his career once his body matures, but first he wants to claim a world title in his current weight class.
"Mairis Briedis 23-1 (18) and the guys in the top ten are a different game again,” said Opetaia. “We are not in a rush. Jai is still only 22-years-old, but we are definitely casing the top guys in the world.
“By the end of the year will have another four fights, so that will put us a great position to challenge the top guys. Hopefully by the end of the year he will be 20-0.”
With Jai ranked number 14 by the WBO, Opetaia Sr believes his son is already ready for the big names at cruiserweight but also recognises that they have time on their side.
"Right now, I think he’s differently up there with them, and I know he can handle it but why throw him in the deep-end straight away? The last thing I want is to see him get hurt,” he said.
JEFF HORN NOT THE BIGGER MAN, WILL BEAT TERENCE CRAWFORD “ON TOUGHNESS AND SKILLS” SAYS COACH GLENN RUSHTON
Stretton Boxing Club trainer Glenn Rushton, whose boxers went 3-0 with two knockouts on Saturday night, has challenged claims that his boxer Jeff Horn will have a sizeable weight advantage over Terence Crawford when the two meet for the Australian’s WBO welterweight title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 9.
“I wouldn’t say a huge size advantage at all actually,” Rushton told T2T Boxing on the weekend. “Jeff’s five-nine, he’s [Crawford’s] five-eight. But Crawford was 74 kilos (163lb) I heard back about a month, so we’re not going to have any huge size advantage.
“We’re going to have to beat him on toughness and skills and we’re prepared to do that.
“He’s just a man at the end of the day. He’s not a god, and if he bleeds, we can beat him.”
The Horn versus Crawford bout will be broadcast on the newly launched ESPN app in the United States, called ESPN+.
Super flyweight contender Andrew “The Monster” Moloney 16-0 (10) returns to action on May 19 when he defends his WBA Oceania title against heavy-hitting Richard “Explosive” Claveras 18-3-2 (15) at the Malvern Town Hall in Melbourne. The lightly-raced 28-year-old Filipino had his lone world title shot against Mexican Pedro Guevara 30-3-1 (17) in April 2015, losing by TKO in the first when an expertly-placed body shot appeared to land right on his liver. Up until then he was boxing very well. Claveras hasn’t fought at junior flyweight since dropping a twelve round decision to Jonathan Refugio for the WBC International title in February 2016. The joint Hosking Promotions/Peter Maniatis Events show will also feature bantamweight contender Jason Moloney 16-0 (13) defending his WBA Oceania title against experienced former champion Kohei Kono 33-11-1 (14) of Japan.
Queensland cruiserweight Aaron Russell 11-4 (4) has landed a fight against Japan’s OPBF heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto 18-1 (10) in Tokyo on May 7. The only loss of the 6-foot tall WBO #6 and WBA #15 heavyweight’s ledger came against another Aussie, Solomon Haumono, by TKO5 back in 2012.
WBA #5 and WBO #11 ranked lightweight George "Ferocious" Kambosos 13-0 (7) has joined New York promoter Lou DiBella’s stable and will be back in action on May 5 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut as part of DBE’s Broadway Boxing series. The 24-year-old Sydneysider said: “It is a pleasure for me to sign and join American powerhouse promotional company, DiBella Entertainment at this exciting stage of my career. I’m looking forward to making my long-awaited American debut and moving in the right direction of becoming a world champion under the guidance of Lou DiBella and his team at DiBella Entertainment.” Kambosos recently moved to Los Angeles where he has been training under the guidance of another Aussie expat in Justin Fortune.
Australian junior welterweight champion Liam "The Prodigy" Paro 13-0 (9) looks set to face former national lightweight champion Valentine Borg 14-2 (8) on a huge Big Time Boxing card in Melbourne in July on a date to be determined. It will be the toughest test of the young Queenslander’s career.
Team Ellis return with their first show of the year at the Melbourne Pavilion on Friday night. The 14-fight card is headlined by Dwight Ritchie 16-1 (2) versus Emmanuel Carlos at 7-0 (5) at middleweight, while Sam Soliman-trained cruiserweight Kyle Webb 4-0-2 (4) will clash with Nathan MacLean 1-2 for the vacant Victorian state cruiserweight title in the main support bout. The card will also feature Mark Schleibs, Clint Alderton, Nick Themelakis and Shaun Thomas in separate bouts, along with Darcy Ellis in his third professional outing. Doors open at 6:30pm.