Adam Smith tells us how Best of Enemies has caught on... way beyond the fight fraternity.
Last Updated: 12/11/10 8:39pm
The electricity being generated here in Manchester is like no other boxing event I've known in recent years. We have been in this wonderful city for many big nights with Ricky Hatton, but what we are seeing with Best of Enemies might even top the Hitman's hysteria at his peak!
The closest I can remember was when Floyd Mayweather paid a visit before they fought in Vegas; he brought a real buzz with him. Or Tyson's arrival back in 2000.
Yet between them David Haye and Audley Harrison have more than matched that this week. They are both great characters and I think the public have really latched onto them - and it's not just fight fans either, it's the casual observers, viewers beyond the trade.
I was fortunate enough to fly up in a helicopter with David on Tuesday and we were wondering what would we land in the middle of - well now we all realise what a huge event this is. I have done plenty of grand occasions in Las Vegas, and you know when the A-listers are out in force, that it has transcended the sport.
We don't quite have the spattering of Hollywood stars, but the big guns of British boxing are all arriving in town and that tells its own story. For a start Lennox Lewis landed on Thursday afternoon. He's really excited to be with us at the weigh-in (which should be some event at The Lowry theatre) and in our studio on Saturday night.
We will also have Barry McGuigan and Johnny Nelson alongside him, while Manchester's favourite fighting son, Ricky Hatton, will be sat ringside with me. We are also expecting the likes of Frank Bruno, Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn and plenty of past champions at the MEN Arena - and when so many great fighters turn out, it really dawns on you what a huge event you are dealing with.
You'll have seen both David and Audley all over your papers as well - more so than we usually get for a big fight, and as the new Executive Producer of boxing at Sky, my aim is to carry on this interest beyond Saturday night. It has been refreshing and fascinating to see how massive our sport can still be and we have tried this week, to make everyone as aware as possible of what big-time boxing is all about.
We have had tremendous help from Sky Sports News, Sky News, our publicity team and if you're reading this, you will know our website dedicated entirely to this fight has been up and running for three weeks now. Everyone has pulled together to get you involved as much as possible - and David and Audley have more than played their part.
You can still catch our wonderful new show Behind the Ropes - airing on Sky right up until fight time and that sums up for me, just how well Sky Sports and boxing work. I genuinely believe we get the best access to boxers out of all our sportsmen, and these two have been no exception. Even with fight night just hours away, they are more than willing to be interviewed - even if they have said the same sort of thing a million times before.
But please don't make the mistake of thinking everything is done for the cameras, because believe me, this dislike is real. Very real. I know both David and Audley well and I did wonder if the needle was staged, over-exaggerated to sell this, but they really don't like each other one little bit. Yes there will be respect when this is over, but I don't think they'll be meeting up for a pint on Sunday night!
They are though, both consummate professionals, which is why there were no punch-ups at the press conference on Wednesday. Later that night we got them both to go to Eastlands for the Manchester derby and pose for photos. David even jumped on the United coach when it turned up, and said hello to his old mate Rio Ferdinand. Later he headed off to one of his notorious late-night workouts.
That's David though, he takes it all in his stride and remains icy-cool. He looks in fantastic shape, and when he strolls into the MEN Arena ring it will be business as usual, I am sure. He usually delivers something dramatic, but Audley is utterly convinced, and genuinely believes he is going to win on Saturday night.
With heavyweight boxing, it would be foolish to completely write him off. There's a poll in our trade paper, Boxing News, this week in which 53 per cent are picking Harrison to win. Remember despite 45 seconds against Alexander Gurov, Haye has not fought a southpaw as a pro. If Audley can somehow stay with him for seven or eight rounds, the question marks about David's stamina will come to the fore and then who knows? I cannot wait to see what Audley does because he needs to find something we've never seen before to win this.
RecordsWhatever happens it is sure to be a phenomenal night full of drama - and that's only in Manchester. Don't forget in the early hours of Sunday morning, we are live from Dallas on Sky Sports where Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito do battle in front of something like 60-70,000 people. To go from the biggest fight Britain has seen in years to arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet possibly breaking indoor attendance records, just shows the appeal boxing still holds.
It is up to us now to make sure the interest lasts beyond this fantastic weekend. These are exciting times for the sport; we have this fight, Amir Khan coming up in December and a whole host of youngsters like Nathan Cleverly and Kell Brook on the way through to world-class and possible world titles.
Best of Enemies will be the first world-title fight shown live in 3D and with the fantastically talented team we have here at Sky, our aim is to take you right to the heart of the action, try and convey the drama that is unique to this wonderful sport. I hope we have done that from Manchester this week.
We know we might not bring everyone back to sit down in front of Saturday Fight Night, but if we can showcase this great occasion properly, we must be able to convince some casual viewers to stay with us. David and Audley will no doubt pick up new fans along the way, too, which is what it is all about.
The boxers are of course the ones who really matter, and I firmly believe they are the most hard-working, committed and accessible sportsmen you will find. Footballers are paid huge amounts of money and are treated like superstars. Sometimes you get the feeling interviewing them, that they are not always encouraged to say exactly what they really think.
Boxers know that every fight could be the last of their career and they have worked so hard for eight, 10 maybe 12 weeks, that they want to tell the world. They are terrific talkers, and I will always have the utmost respect for those gladiators who get into the ring. In my new role I hope we can make more household names - just like Haye and Harrison have become.
As Executive Producer maybe I shouldn't make a prediction, but I am an honest guy and have always enjoyed calling fights, both at ringside and in my blog.
So I'll give you my thoughts on Best of Enemies. I have to go with David, simply because I think his speed and class will prove too much for Audley. I can see him getting in and out; doing damage when he gets back in range.
Yet, Audley keeps telling us he can do it, and if the very best Audley Harrison turns up, you just never know. I can only hope he gives it a real go, because win or lose, we will all have a lot more respect for him if he does. I have a feeling that given the size of the occasion, given that Britain will be watching, he'll have no choice.
Enjoy the final hours. Enjoy the event. It will most certainly be a night to remember.