Make no mistake about it, the Wray & Nephew Contender Series has returned energy and interest to boxing in Jamaica.
Congrats once again to rum company J Wray & Nephew and the Jamaica Boxing Board for partnering in the revival of a sport that, not so long ago in this country, seemed at death’s door.
The use of television has been absolutely pivotal. In this regard, all sporting disciplines, their sponsors and business partners should be looking at ways to follow the example of boxing.
The anecdotal evidence suggests that the Contender boxing series, now in its seventh season, is among the more popular television shows in Jamaica — with matching enthusiasm among live audiences.
Of course, money makes the mare run, and cash prizes on offer have steadily improved down the years. For the 2017 edition of the tournament, the winner will receive a cash prize of $2,000,000, the runner-up $500,000, third-place $250,000, and fourth-place $200,000.
We note that the organisers and sponsors have found innovative ways to make their production interesting and different. Considerable effort has also gone into preparing the public through pre-tournament promotions.
This season, prior to the start of the ‘main event’ in early April, there were ‘Road to Contender’ boxing shows at Colonel Cove, St Thomas; Island Village, St Ann; and Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth. Organisers explained that while “traditionally, live fights were held only in Kingston… we believed it was time to take the action to patrons in all three counties of Jamaica”.
They claimed that “all matches held outside of Kingston were successful and over $400,000 in cash and prizes were given to the boxers and patrons”.
All of that aside, this newspaper has relished the quality of boxing thus far this season.
In the past we have been bothered by the distinct impression that a few boxers who competed in the Wray & Nephew Contender Series were untrained and ill- prepared for the ring. Not so this time.
To begin with, as a collective, the Canadian invitees have been far superior to overseas teams we have seen previously.
Also, though down 3-5, Jamaican boxers have looked solid and as if they belonged.
We expect that the Wray & Nephew Contender will continue to generate interest and give root to participation in boxing by young people at community levels, not just in Kingston and major towns, but in rural communities. History shows boxing to be a sport of great value in offering options to marginalised and disenfranchised youth.
No doubt well pleased by the popular response to its Contender Series, J Wray & Nephew is sponsoring other boxing competitions, including tonight’s start of a series involving Panamanian and Jamaican fighters.
This may sound far-fetched to some, but with proper guidance and the help of sponsors like Wray & Nephew, Jamaican boxing could even get back to the glory days of decades ago when the likes of Messrs Bunny Grant and Mike McCallum captured the imagination.