Freelance journalist and boxing promoter SONIA RANDEV examines the controversial role of Daniel Kinahan in making the sport’s biggest match – and whether it can survive his involvement…
Boxing can feel like two sports sometimes. There’s the one, occupied by the vast majority of fighters and hit badly by the last three months of lockdown. Some will survive thanks to a good promoter, sponsors, and management that have remained committed to them, though it is harder for those who rely heavily on ticket sales alone to survive. No fight, no pay.
Then there’s the elite sport, comprising those who may have had to change their routine and adjust to a new schedule but not hugely financially damaged. Into that category fall Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, two of the most famous athletes in the world just now and scheduled for two hugely lucrative superfights in 2021.
If, that is, the deal recently announced can survive the whiff of scandal that is accompanying it and which has the main TV players in the United Kingdom, Sky and BT Sport, wanting more information and answers, and to gauge the public mood, before they commit vast sums of cash to covering it.
The match-up between the two fighters dominating the heavyweight division has been discussed widely during lockdown, certainly in the UK. And it is easy to see why. Fury is the current WBC champion, beating Deontay Wilder in emphatic style. Joshua owns the other four versions of the title after winning his rematch with Andy Ruiz.
This one even attracts non-boxing fans, such a huge event will it be when it does go ahead after worldwide regulations post-COVID 19 are hopefully in place. The figure being cited is some £60 million each guaranteed – even before pay per view – for the title of undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, one of sport’s blue riband accolades. And that’s just for the first fight. There is a rematch in the contract too.
But this silver lining, has a cloud. And it is a dark one, hovering over the whole event.
Fury’s announcement via his social media stating how happy he was that negotiations were practically over the line, mentioned one person’s name. A name that has been under scrutiny for several years now – one Daniel Kinahan.
Fury’s statement surprised many, aligning the fight as it did with a man who has been named by a judge in court as a senior figure in Irish organised crime. The Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, even went public, saying that he was concerned about Kinahan’s involvement and that there had been contact on the matter between the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs and the United Arab Emirates – where it has been suggested the bout could be held. His government, he added, would raise the issue with broadcasters intending to air the event, added Mr Varadkar.
Yet Kinahan has no criminal record, and clearly loves boxers and the involvement in boxing. Once the co-founder of MGM Boxing Management (rebranded to MTK Global), he stepped down in 2017. The year before, at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, a gang of gunmen attacked the weigh-in for a contest that Kinahan was attending – though he had left before the incident – and shot dead one of his associates.
So why, if this man is allegedly so dangerous and has been on the police radar for so many years, is he still highly regarded by the boxing industry? How has he been able to get the Fury-Joshua deal agreed in principle when the two promoters, Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, have argued for so long over its terms?
Well, despite everything Kinahan is frequently referred to as a trustworthy advisor and friend to many boxers, with many in recent months coming out and supporting him by sharing an online book, rap video, and documentary featuring him. In addition, the legendary American promoter Bob Arum, who works with Frank Warren, has declared Kinahan helpful and easy to deal with.
It has been suggested that Kinahan is using boxing to try and rehabilitate his image but that is now coming into question. Last month, he was appointed as a special adviser to the KHK sports management group in Bahrain but this week they ended that abruptly.
And so it has all become messy, with Fury-Joshua even coming into question. Boxing has been known to have dalliances and liaisons with certain undesirable elements but the spotlight being so much on Kinahan may be too much for this deal to survive intact given the hugely significant financial role of television that cannot be seen to be involved with anything that is not above board.
That said, TV and sports fans around the globe will be desperately keen to see Fury and Joshua finally meet where it matters – in the ring. Could it mean, for that to become reality, that Daniel Kinahan, after being amply rewarded for his role in doing the deal, now has to be seen to step away?
*Sonia Randev is the CEO of Slick Sport Consultancy, specialising in athlete and brand representation. She is a licensed boxing manager and promotes boxers domestically and internationally. Sonia is also a freelance writer for FourFourTwo magazine.