“Get me a Goddamn chair!” huffed Leon Margules, scratching around for somewhere to sit. It was 2011 and we were situated in a spacious room at Belfast’s Europa Hotel waiting for a big fight announcement. Matchroom boxer Paul McCloskey was fresh off the back of a slightly dubious technical decision loss to Amir Khan and craved a rematch. Khan told McCloskey to go away and beat the people he’d beaten then come looking a rematch. Eddie Hearn inverted the demand and went for the one man (at the time) who had beaten Khan, Colombian Breidis Prescott, and bought him across the water for a title eliminator.
Prescott’s representative Mr Margules was obviously present but no chair had been laid out for him. Lack of options caused him to grab hold of mine (I wasn’t sitting on it at the time, luckily) and take his place at top table, mumbling to himself as he went. As I watched the Warriors Boxing supremo skulk across the room I quickly realised that this is a guy you don’t want to mess about with. I certainly wasn’t going to march over and try to take back my seat so we shuffled up and down the front row until a vacant space became available for me to neatly slot in to.
Fast forward to early 2016 and Eddie Hearn is once again thrashing out deals with Leon and his crew. I doubt much has changed in the intervening years since “chair-gate”. If Eddie was a little nervous about his golden goose Anthony Joshua taking on IBF champion Charles Martin perhaps it wasn’t that he was afraid of his man getting plucked. Maybe having the formidable, seat-snatching Margules representing Martin at the negotiating table was more than enough to bend Hearn's arm and make the April 9 matchup a reality.
This is, of course, probably nonsense. There is a very real reason why the heavyweight clash is happening right now and it has nothing to do with Eddie being intimidated by anybody. The reason it’s happening is because on January 16 virtual unknown Charles Martin looked just about as surprised as anyone to have claimed a portion of the world championship bling. Suddenly he was a player at the highest level and his name was on the lips of prospects and fellow champions alike. It may have been down to a larger slice of luck rather than outstanding performance but either way ‘Prince’ Charles took his big opportunity.
Martin is a surprise title holder who many of the boxing public had never even heard of prior to his victory over Vyacheslav Glazkov. That much has been established. The fact that the bout was decided on a freak injury doesn’t exactly boost his standing in the credibility stakes either. So what does he do next with the belt? He could have dug out a mandatory contender, hunted down a voluntary and then a rematch Glazkov but these are all risky moves. Nobody, including perhaps his own management team, knows just how good or bad Martin really is. Knowing that their man is unlikely to withstand too many title defences, they have decided to cash out early and hand the title over in exchange for a sizeable sum.
Fighting Anthony Joshua in London, on Sky Box Office Pay Per View, with all the hype and ticket sales and blah, blah, blah will garner the “champion” a fat pay packet, make no mistake. Charles is expected to lose the fight. Joshua’s prospected odds to win are unprecedented for a challenger and Martin finds himself in the bizarre position where he can take his belt across the pond with effectively nothing to lose. If he gets beaten up then he was expected to lose anyway. If he puts up a good account of himself, hurts Joshua, puts him in deep water or does anything slightly unexpected before losing then he adds credibility to his name as a former belt holder and credible future opponent down the line. If he wins then he’s right in the mix with the Wilder’s and Fury’s of this world.
Since the fight was announced I’ve seen it written on social media and also on some reputable websites that Joshua is not ready to compete at this level and some feel that he’s been moved along too quickly. I don’t always agree with some of Matchroom’s decision making but I completely see the logic in this one. It’s an opportunity too good to pass up; a belt grab on a plate. Even if Martin is dismissed and Joshua becomes IBF champion he will have to then contemplate swimming in the shark infested waters of the heavyweight division, right? Wrong. Take WBC champion Deontay Wilder for an example. Wilder wins the belt from Bermane Stiverne in January 2015 and then takes three consecutive voluntary defenses! How is this even allowed?
Not only was he able to hand pick his dire trinity of stiffs but he made sure they were really of the most barrel-scrapingly depressing foes seen in a ring in many a year. “He’s learning on the job” I hear some say. Yes really, people make that argument. He’s a WBC champion that’s learning on the job.
Therefore, using Deontay’s blueprint here we see why AJ can satisfactorily take the crown on April 9 and then plot a nice money-spinning path thereafter. First of all the fact that the IBF stripped Tyson Fury of his belt creates a neat narrative and perfectly legitimises the April scenario. It’s not like the promotional unit will be selling a WBA interim or intergalactic super bullshit title on fight night, it will be the genuine article inasmuch as any of the belts are these days. That won’t be Matchroom or Joshua’s concern and I exempt them from blame. The IBF stripped Tyson, the IBF allowed Glazkov and Martin to contest their belt so that is their “problem” if indeed they are worried in any manner, which I’m sure they are not.
Once AJ has sucked up the title, probably by knockout if the general consensus is anything to go by, then throw in a mandatory and let the train roll. Erkan Teper’s drug issues most likely rule him out of the question and Carlos Takam could fill the void. Takam's decent, solid but barely top 30 in any other heavyweight era so he’ll fit the bill as a first defense. Then look over the top 15 to get an idea of who we could slot in for another couple of defenses (voluntary or mandatory who really cares how they arrive) and we see names like Cunningham, Ustinov, Helenius, Breazeale, Chisora floating around the list.
I’m sure from that motley assortment Joshua’s handlers can sort out three fights, bang them on PPV, sell out arenas for a year or so and then at some point down the line make attractive mega scraps with the likes of David Haye or Tyson Fury.
This situation is wholly milkable and the propensity of the IBF to force mandatories can provide sweet music to Eddie and Co. The same IBF outfit that ensured we got Jo Jo Dan for Kell Brook and then a year later, two-time Dan victim Kevin Bizier, can work their magic once more.
I’m glad I managed to get all of that off my chest even if I’m still as frustrated as when I started. Where’s Leon Margules when you need him? Get me a Goddamn chair and I’ll gladly throw it at somebody.
Steve has been writing about boxing since 2005. He covers the Irish scene by regularly contributing to a variety of publications including Boxing News Magazine and the Sunday Life. He is a panel member of the Boxing Asylum podcast and writes the Irish Boxing Review books with five released so far.