Danny Flexen looks at the likelihood of Regis Prograis vs Lewis Ritson taking place at St James’ Park
It is easy to see where the idea came from. Lou DiBella, promoter of Regis Prograis, presumably saw Lewis Ritson edge past Robbie Davies in a thrilling fight before a rapturous audience at a sold-out (11,000) Newcastle Arena, just a week before his own man would lose valiantly to Josh Taylor in another incredibly close and absorbing battle played out, once again, in front of a passionate UK audience. Naturally excited by the widespread enthusiasm for boxing on our shores and perhaps further inspired when Ritson advanced to No. 2 in the WBA’s super-lightweight ratings, DiBella took to Twitter and posted an interesting idea.
Now, I have tremendous respect for DiBella. A veteran of the sport, in a broadcast executive role before turning to promotion, Lou is one of boxing’s more conscientious operators, a fact clearly illustrated by his missing the Prograis vs Taylor World Boxing Super Series final to ensure he could attend the funeral of the late Patrick Day, one of DiBella’s lower-profile fighters who had tragically lost his life while pursuing his dream.
That being said, the idea of Prograis vs Ritson in a stadium setting, in their next fight at any rate, seems somewhat fanciful. The fact DiBella believes it could be viable says a great deal about the perception of UK boxing overseas. Yes, the sport is booming here, but not every local ticket-seller is automatically a stadium fighter and it tends to be a process rather than a rapid progression. Anthony Joshua had posted regular big gates at smaller venues, before setting records at Wembley and Cardiff, just as he had racked up numbers on subscription TV before moving to PPV. How many times had Josh Warrington sold out the Leeds Arena before finally headlining at Elland Road for an estimated 25,000 people. Ditto Carl Frampton in Belfast before Windsor Park (22-24,000). Even Luke Campbell vs Tommy Coyle – local rivals pitted against each other, one an Olympic gold medallist, the other a community leader, in a boxing-starved city – ‘only’ attracted around 20,000 fans to the KC Stadium.
Given the admittedly popular Ritson is not yet the draw Warrington and Frampton were (and remain), a fight with Prograis would have no regional pride nor world title on the line and the American is probably at a similar celebrity level in the UK as his compatriot Errol Spence was when he ventured here to meet established world-level fighter Kell Brook at Brammall Lane (27,000), it appears unlikely DiBella’s dream match would surpass any of these gates.
It would undoubtedly require a strong undercard, featuring a number of North East ticket-sellers, including Josh Kelly and Joseph Laws, but even then I feel it would be a struggle to get north of 20,000. That is fine in a smaller stadium, like some of the ones referenced above as you still get the big-event feel on TV but it looks relatively packed. The problem with this particular idea is that St James’ Park is enormous and holds a massive 52,000 people. Fill fewer than half the seats and it becomes a financial risk, not to mention a television disaster.
I admire DiBella’s ambition and his regard for our boxing scene, but if this is to become successful, it needs to be scheduled for late 2020 at the earliest, with a few steps forward in the meantime in terms of marketing and profile-raising.