05 June 2008 – by Mark Doyle
It is fair to say that Paul Dempseys love of the fight game is showing no signs of waning.
In his role as a presenter, both for Sky Sports and now Setanta Sports, Dempsey has covered nearly every major bout in Britain and Ireland over the past two decades and, for him, the sports appeal and lure remains as strong as ever.
Ive always been a big boxing fan. It was one of my favourite sports as a kid and it has obviously been a huge privilege to have been involved with companies for whom boxing was and is very important, because, quite frankly, you can make a lot of money out of the sport and, when its done well, it always rates very highly, he explains in an exclusive interview with irish-boxing.com.
And Ive learned a lot during my time covering the sport, too. Boxing has a reputation as a very murky and sinister world and, on some levels, I suppose thats justified.
There are some very clever and calculating people involved in it. It is a very cruel business at times. But, lets not kid ourselves, thats part of the mystique of boxing. Thats why people are so drawn to it, particularly from show business. They understand its very like their own world but even harder again.
People are used and abused and thats the kind of business that it is. But there are some incredibly successful business people in boxing. Personally, Ive learned an awful lot from them men like Jarvis Astaire in the United Kingdom, or Bob Arum in the United States. I really admire these guys. You cant help but learn something from being around these people.
And for all the bad things that are said about promoters, to me it seems that the people who last are the people that do it professional and in a respectable fashion.
Theres an awful lot of people who get involved in boxing and are out of the game five years later. To last, like Astaire, Micky Duff and Arum, youve got to be a very shrewd but honest businessman. Thats what Ive learned from these men.
Much has been made of boxings resurgence in popularity over the past two years and Dempsey acknowledges that there has been a welcome increase in interest of late, particularly in the mainstream media.
However, he rubbishes the suggestion that boxing was dormant from the preceding 18 years.
If you think back just over my time, the past 15 to 20 years, some people would say its been a very quiet era but I would argue the complete opposite, argues Dempsey, who was born in England but moved back to Ireland as a child.
I believe that when people look back in 20 years or so people will be saying that the 1990s and 2000s were very exciting times in Britain and Ireland and also worldwide.
Indeed, Dempsey has amassed a lifetime of special memories from the past two decades, so many, in fact, that he warns that to list them all would take up the duration of our interview.
Still, there have been some standout nights, nights when he felt lucky just to have been present.
I think the first Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson fight would take an awful lot of beating for me. I was over there for that it was a truly amazing experience, he reminisces.
I would say that it was easily one of my favourite sporting memories ever. It was just an incredibly surreal night. So thats a real personal favourite of mine.
Some of the early Oscar De La Hoya fights were amazing. Im talking in particular about the time in which he was really starting to become a massive star.
The Julio Cesar Chavez fights were a particular highlight. Chavez would be one of my favourite fighters of all time but it was really thrilling when Oscar started to move in and take over. That was a very exciting time.
He was a unique fighter in that he was a real sexy Hollywood-type star who could fight. He was also an incredibly nice man. Ive met him a few times and hes an amazing human being in many ways.
So hes probably been the most exciting fighter of my time and what hes continuing to do outside the ring now as a promoter is pretty incredible, too.
Turning his attention to the domestic scene, Dempsey unsurprisingly brings up a night that will forever be remember by fight fans from these shores.
Obviously, Steve Collins versus Chris Eubank in Ireland was great. That first fight in Millstreet and it really was quite a happening.
I think the fact it was indoors helped because the second one was in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and, for me, it just didnt have the same kind of atmosphere.
Of course, with Andy Lee, John Duddy and Bernard Dunne all currently hovering around world level, the hope is that Ireland will again see nights on the same scale as Collins-Eubank.
However, Dempsey is sounding a cautionary note.
Ive been following whats happening in Ireland over the past 18 months or so and Im excited by it, he enthuses.
Its always been something of a mystery to me as to why amateur boxing has always been so strong in Ireland and, historically, the professional game has struggled. Weve never really had an established professional game.
But boxing is such commercial business the size of the market place is a key factor. Boxing, as a sport, is all about money, and the size of the Irish market has made it difficult to compete.
Its a bit like some of the other European countries in that its never going to be a major money sport. Like France, its not that there arent good fighters there there are its just takes a bigger economy is what Im saying.
Look at Germany, which has become a massive player in world boxing over the past decade – they have the market.
Unfortunately in Ireland, weve six million people all in. Boxing gets big when the money starts to get big, so, internally, we cant generate fight nights of that size.
Maybe we can occasionally, and I salute Brian Peters for what hes trying to do, which is to bring Irish fighters forward and get the Irish public interested in regular fight nights throughout the country.
Thats a fantastic initiative but theres only so big it can get in Ireland. And lets not forget that, historically, the best of our fighters have to go abroad to learn the trade, such is the nature of the sport.
And I always say the same thing about British fighters. Youre never going to get the preparation you need for world level if you stay in Britain, and the same goes for Ireland. And thats the truth of the matter.
However, Dempsey still believes that Irish fight fans could still see a major title fight on these shores in the coming years.
Ive been watching Duddy and Lee over the past while and Ive been impressed with the way theyve gone about things. They went over to America early on, which, as I said, is what you have to do, and theyve given it a go.
But things have been getting hard for them. I think with Duddy were probably at the peak now and but they have to somehow keep him moving forward if hes to get that world title shot. But its going to be very difficult for him.
I think Andys got a lot of potential. Hes very exciting and hes doing things the right way but in two years he might find it just as tough as Duddy is finding things now.
But at least when theyre finished they can both say that they did it the right way. Theyve gone over to America to see what theyre made of. And theyre going to find out in the coming months.
So, you have to respect that. I admire the fact that these guys are not cutting corners and I wish them all the best.
And if one of them could find their way to a meaningful title fight it and win it, then theyd be in a position to bring it back to Ireland. That would be huge as that could really take professional boxing in this country on to a new level. And thats what we all want.