The Beltline: Busybody builders and the dangers of doing too many interviews and saying too much

THE benefit and beauty of writing things down can often be found in the delay. For regardless of whether a reader likes it or not, or believes it makes sense or not, everything you see written here on these pages, as well as the order in which it has been arranged, has been carefully considered by the person whose fingers hit the keyboard. In the process, the person will have had to make certain choices, edit whatever they have written, and will have bought time to think, question, and get it absolutely right – to their own satisfaction, chiefly – before hitting send.

In other types of writing, such as the lawyer-approved-failed-performance-enhancing-drug-test statement, the target audience may be slightly different, yet the same theory applies. In that instance, too, by virtue of a point being made via the written word, there is a delay. It is then in this delay, an essential one, that a boxer, or promoter, or indeed a lawyer, takes the time to ensure everything is in its right place and that no further harm will be done by whatever is being expressed.

These days, of course, given the growing prevalence of social media and video content, the tightrope each of us must walk when offering our opinion is getting thinner and thinner. Unless it’s needed, after all, the effort and time required to express one’s thoughts via the written word is nowadays deemed a task beyond either the capabilities or patience of many people in 2023. That’s perhaps no more than a sign of the times, yet what it ultimately means is that people are more susceptible now than ever to offering too much of themselves, speaking out of turn, or, for want of a better phrase, putting their foot in it – either on social media or in front of a camera.

Frank Smith, for example, Matchroom Boxing’s CEO, made a comment recently which succeeded in riling a section of the social media pitchfork-wielders, all of whom had been waiting for an opportunity to go for his throat. It was a comment Smith likely knew was ill-judged the second it left his mouth and, in fairness to him (for at least it shows self-awareness, which not all men in boxing possess), he said, not long after it, “I’ll get myself in trouble if I keep talking.”

He did not of course mean “trouble” in any legal sense, or even necessarily with Eddie Hearn, his boss and the man whose path he has for years followed at Matchroom. Instead, what Smith meant when he mentioned “trouble” was precisely what he was to discover when the clip of him dismissing the public’s desire to know more about Conor Benn’s PED case went viral. Trouble, for Smith, meant the fury of people quick to take the clip out of context and just as quick to lambast him for supposedly denigrating “builders” and speaking in a manner which suggested he was somehow superior or possessing knowledge the minions, those who annoyingly want transparency from this sport and in their spare time build houses, lack. It meant, in short, a bit of stick and a lot of fuss about nothing.

Had Smith kept his mouth shut, or his thoughts to himself, it goes without saying that he would have been spared this backlash. However, to his credit, and much like the man he admires, Smith finds it very difficult saying “no” when people – basically anyone – ask for his opinion on something having pressed the record button. This, for obvious reasons, is in the field of promotion an important trait to possess and Matchroom Boxing, as a whole, are typically very good at both communication and providing whatever is asked of them. Yet, equally, one can easily fall in love with one’s own voice and the very idea of being wanted, at which point, when robbed of the time to delay and think, mistakes can be made and words one will later regret might slip out.

Hearn and Smith at ringside (Melina Pizano/Matchroom)

Reasonable people will know what Smith meant when he said what he said. They will also know that such thoughts are common in boxing and that Smith, someone key to Matchroom’s recent deals in Japan, is not alone in wishing there was a longer bridge between what happens behind closed doors and what the public are able to access. (No doubt social media and the court of public opinion have made things increasingly awkward for those in official positions of late, not only in the case of Conor Benn but in others, too.)

Moreover, when Smith mentions “builders” in a seemingly derogatory fashion, I don’t for one minute think his intention was as mean-spirited as it sounded. Work in boxing for any length of time and you will soon come to realise there are plenty of more noble jobs out there, one of which is the building trade, and that the learned skills required to successfully do these jobs far surpass the ability to answer emails, take calls, attend meetings, sign contracts, arrange for men and women to punch each other, and regularly tweet. That’s a humbling reality for most people in the sport and one that requires a degree of self-awareness, which I believe Smith has, to understand.

In a sense, then, Smith’s biggest crime was probably being a bit too giving and maybe mentally exhausted from the endless merry-go-round of reaction videos about reaction videos about reaction videos. His boss, the master of this world, and someone who plays the game better than anyone else, has in the past fallen into similar traps himself, which is why you will occasionally see clips of Hearn’s contradictions come back to haunt him and Hearn, a good sport, just laugh it off. He knows better than anyone after all that it’s the risk you must take in a game like this; just as getting knocked out is the risk every brave boxer takes when setting foot in a ring. Nobody’s perfect and nobody, in boxing especially, is blessed with the intellect to articulate their thoughts in a way that is both insightful and honest, as well as remotely eloquent. Even Hearn, for instance, continues to endearingly pronounce the word “hyperbole” as though it is the final game of an American Football league exclusive to ADHD-afflicted kids; which, in light of his profession and both the nature of and his expertise in that profession, is rather poetic.