Sportsmail has been granted special behind-the-scenes access at the Matchroom Fight Camp.
Having exclusively revealed in May that Eddie Hearn had hatched a bonkers and brilliant £1million plan to stage boxing in his back garden, we have now been invited into the Fight Camp hotel in the build up to Saturday’s first of four shows at the Matchroom HQ in Brentwood.
Here is Riath Al-Samarrai’s fight week diary…
For this whole project to work, a major part of the operation has involved getting everyone who will be involved on Saturday into a bubble, where they can be tested and isolated. In the context of a five-card fight, broadcast by Sky Sports, it has meant housing around 90 people, including Sportsmail.
Along with most others, we arrived at 1.30pm on Tuesday at a hotel a short distance from the Matchroom HQ. For reasons of security, Hearn and his team do not want the address published. There is an acceptance on the ground that it might prove futile.
Upon arrival on Tuesday, I had been taken straight to a Covid testing station a few yards inside the front door. A swab sample was taken from inside my cheek and the same swab was then put in my nose. From there, everyone – fighters, trainers, publicists, operational staff – were directed to their rooms in a cordoned off section of the hotel to wait for the results.
After 19 hours in my room, the result came back clear at 0830, meaning the temporary wristband issued on arrival was upgraded to one of a different colour that also cannot be named – the concern is that onlookers will attempt to create clones and gain access. It has been a problem in the past. With lockdown within the lockdown over, all cogs in the show were free to move around the hotel.
To that end, there is a function room kitted out with a full-size ring and heavy bags, a small outdoor space and a second gym. ‘It’s amazing that this is on but you can lose your mind here,’ says Sam Eggington, who is headlining against Ted Cheeseman in defence of his IBF international super-welterweight title.
While it is deeply impressive amid the Covid chaos that promoters are finding ways to stage fights, and this plan is by far the most eye-catching, the scenario of 10 fighters and teams in a small space is an inherently interesting one.
An interesting dynamic surrounds use of the gym. No one wants an opponent to know if they struggled to make weight but a shared gym will make it eminently obvious who is spending more time than others on the treadmill.
‘Hard to keep secrets,’ says Jon Pegg, Eggington’s coach. And especially with everyone sharing the same corridor on the same floor, though it should be noted that the fighters of week one are a largely laid-back group. Reece Bellotti has been mostly playing Grand Theft Auto in his room; Fabio Wardley is watching Ozark.
A big talking point of the first day is food. The hotel menu is somewhat better suited to those who are not cutting weight – breakfast, for instance, is a choice between two paninis, two toasties or a hot egg, bacon, sausage bap. Most fighters brought their own fridges and specific meals; heavyweight Wardley had both curry and a burger on Tuesday evening and didn’t have a care in the world.
The main task of the boxers on Wednesday was a lengthy media session, which included a photoshoot, interviews with Sky Sports and zoom chats with writers. The access in boxing remains one of its great qualities in comparison to other sports – they often have the best stories to tell and a greater willingness to tell them.
Jordan Gill, whose career was almost wrecked by a thyroid problem last year, speaks well on most topics, not the least of which was his refusal to get a haircut before his fight – ‘I have had so much bad luck I am not going to risk getting Covid off a barber.’
The recurring tale of this week centres firmly on how such a wacky notion of fighting in a garden has come to fruition and the steps necessary to making it happen during a pandemic. Time will tell if the paninis and burgers become a problem. Likewise if rival fighters can share a floor and a gym.