Boxing alone has neither the capacity nor the will to prevent future waves of The Dandemic

With Kinahan stating his intention to remain at the forefront of professional boxing, only external pressure on major broadcasters can realistically dilute his influence.

Daniel Kinahan2

IN SEPTEMBER 2019, almost 18 months after the boxing management company MTK Global first claimed to have parted ways with its co-founder, Daniel Kinahan, an MTK-managed Pakistani flyweight by the name of Mohammed Waseem won a bout at Caesar’s Palace, Dubai, by first-round knockout.

His promoter, former unified light-welterweight world champion Amir Khan, tweeted: “I just found out by MTK promotions boss Dan, waseem won his fight in Dubai.”

Amid murmurs of suspicion, Waseem’s trainer — the conveniently named Danny Vaughan, a friend of Kinahan’s and husband to his official successor at MTK, Sandra Vaughan — dove on the grenade. “Great to speak to you champ as always,” he replied to Khan.

At that stage, the absurdly conspiratorial Regency ‘documentary’, the comical rap song, and the overall blueprint for Kinahan’s return from the cold weren’t yet complete.


Fast forward another 18 months and the cat is well and truly out of the bag. We now find ourselves enduring the second wave of The Dandemic. Kinahan’s name is no longer hushed by those in his boxing orbit. Instead, just as was the case during the first iteration of his attempted reinvention last summer, it’s being celebrated.

The BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on his and MTK Global’s rise in the sport introduced the story to many who were previously oblivious. Kinahan’s statements on either side of its release meanwhile — both of which correctly outlined that he has no criminal convictions — accentuated the already existent divide in what has become, like everything else, a culture war.

On one side, there are the Dubliner’s devotees, including boxers like Khan who on Monday echoed the sentiments of many of his British peers in stating, “We need people like Dan to keep the sport alive,” describing Kinahan as “one of the nicest guys I’ve met”.

On the other side, there are the masses old and new, who recognise Kinahan as a man accepted by the Irish High Court to be the controller of a billion-euro international drug and weapons-smuggling cartel: it’s known as the Kinahan Organised Crime Group, it’s understood to span three continents, and it has been linked to innumerable deaths across the world, including 18 execution-style murders in Ireland.

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That Normal People actor Paul Mescal inadvertently found himself in the crosshairs, flirting with having his national-treasure status revoked when footage emerged of him training in an MTK gym in Sydney as part of his preparation for an upcoming film role, is testament to the impact of Darragh McIntyre’s Panorama and the consequential broader scorn for Kinahan’s role in boxing.

The production company behind the film released a statement to RTÉ’s Claire Byrne on Mescal’s behalf in which it pled ignorance of MTK’s connections to its co-founder.

But ignorance is simply not a luxury affordable for boxers connected with Kinahan, no matter how incessantly they try to portray ‘Dan’ as some sort of Christ figure.

Of course, not unlike acting, professional boxing is an insular pursuit. Sacrifice and single-mindedness are prerequisites for success and, as such, most boxers have existed in a kind of echo chamber since long before professional sportspeople were forced to operate from within isolation bubbles.

There are Irish boxers signed to MTK who believe they have only gained from aligning themselves with a company widely derided outside of boxing circles in this country. Looking at it through a purely careerist lens, it makes sense: MTK does the ‘career’ side of boxing management as well as anybody and, in the most volatile of industries, its fighters enjoy a level of job security that their contemporaries can only dream of. For those on the inside, that’s the meat and drink of it. For those on the outside, that’s the appeal.

The fact that were it not for the logo plastered across their trunks, those same Irish MTK fighters — some of them former amateur standouts and Olympians — might be considered sporting heroes on a national scale doesn’t really bother them; they’re exposed mostly to adulation from their social-media followers and within their local communities, and their reputations outside of that hugbox is not of paramount concern.

But the vast majority of the Irish fighters in question aren’t stupid, either — indeed, the opposite is true. They live in this country and they know full well the havoc the Kinahan cartel has wreaked upon Irish streets, and the damage its trade has inflicted upon Irish families. It’s why most of them don’t speak out, one way or another. But their silence will always speak volumes.

Conversely, literally speaking at great volume are their MTK stablemates from across the Irish Sea. These are fighters who don’t know the affected streets, don’t know the afflicted families, but are familiar with the stories of devastation and care even less.

It’s not uncommon for professional fighters to reject ‘mainstream media’ and to show a belligerent disregard for even inarguable facts. But for a cohort of MTK stars, most of them from the UK, groupthink has engendered such a detachment from reality that they more closely resemble cult members than contracted boxing colleagues.

The Venn diagram of Kinahan’s British bootlickers and pugilistic personalities who believe Covid-19 is ostensibly a hoax is almost a perfect circle. When confronted by any sort of scrutiny towards Kinahan, MTK or both, many reflexively counter by channeling QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories, implying that ‘the same media who are out to get Dan’ are one component of a global elite complicit in covering up an international paedophile network.

This tactic was plenty conspicuous in MTK fighters’ and employees’ attempts to dismiss the legitimacy of the recent Panorama documentary, and once more after news emerged later in the week that the PSNI had informed members of the Panorama crew that threats had been made against them by “criminal elements” in the wake of the film’s release.

billy-joe-saunders Kinahan (wearing hat) celebrates Billy Joe Saunders' win over Andy Lee in 2015. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Kinahan himself denied involvement in any such threats in a statement released to Talksport on Monday morning, saying: “I have full respect for journalism. I have worked with journalists and I value their role. Journalists should always be free to do their job, free from any threat or harassment.”

The Republic of Ireland-based journalists who found themselves ‘banned’ by MTK in 2018 — which, granted, was publicly announced not by Kinahan but by his friend Sandra Vaughan — wouldn’t have been the only ones to raise brows.

Depicting himself as a kind of working-class hero was a more comical distortion of reality but there were some home truths to be found within the same statement, too, most notably pertaining to the sport Kinahan undeniably loves.

“I continue to be involved in planning multiple record-breaking and exciting world-title fights,” he said, later adding: “I’m blessed to work in boxing at the highest level having organised some of the biggest fights in boxing previously and in the future. I will continue working every day to bring out the best in, and look after, the boxers I am lucky enough to work with.”

This marked a significant departure from Kinahan’s previous predilection for excusing himself from the kitchen when things get too hot, as was the case both in 2017 and last summer. It was an unabashed declaration of his intent to remain at the forefront of professional boxing indefinitely.

So, what’s changed in the past six months?

Even if you were to add to the equation the extra eyes opened by the BBC’s documentary, the best answer is probably ‘nothing’ in a material sense, and for that reason, Kinahan likely feels he can simply brazen it out in the boxing business from this juncture onwards. Ultimately, who in the sport has the capacity to stop him and, more pertinently, does anyone even want to?

You can forget about the global sanctioning bodies, for starters. The WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO are merely private companies that serve little more purpose than to issue belts and collect hefty fees. They lack transparency and shame in equal measure, and Kinahan has his hand in the pockets of at least two of them.

Forget about national governing bodies, too. Associations such as the Boxing Union of Ireland (BUI) and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) are also privately owned and perform only perfunctory roles as gatekeepers of the pro game despite their respective veneers.

The promoters? As Frank Warren would say, do me a favour. Prescribing morality to major boxing promoters is like trying to swim on land. Most are scarcely as evil as regularly depicted but the handful of them who earn real money from the sport didn’t escape their industry bottleneck by adhering to strict codes of ethics. Warren, Eddie Hearn and Bob Arum, the three of whom deal with Kinahan most regularly, don’t deem him to be a problem because, to them, he’s more of a solution. They’ll seek change only if they run out of notes.

As for the paying customer… Well, it’s complicated.

Whereas the previously unacquainted non-boxing consumer’s response to the BBC’s Panorama documentary was invariably one of alarm, the ardent boxing fan’s reaction was more commonly one of apathy.

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See above and know that boxing fans follow a sport that is so absurdly dysfunctional, they have conditioned themselves over many years to expect only the absolute worst at every turn. Many feel they have no alternative but to make light of its state of severe disrepair, and even to embrace it in a sort of ironic way. Professional boxing is a demon child but it’s their demon child, and they don’t need other parents popping their heads in to tell them they’ve got a problem on their hands. ‘Try living with it.’

It’s not necessarily that none of them care about Kinahan’s incursion into boxing (although many plainly don’t, morally or otherwise). It’s more the case that most are intimately familiar with the sport’s mechanics: they know that it’ll run on contaminated fuel, that there’s nobody at the wheel, and that the brakes were cut years ago.

All of which leaves us with the final stakeholder outside of the ring, and the only collaborator that undoubtedly can be swayed by external pressure: the broadcasters.

This is where Kinahan has conceivably slipped up in removing any shred of ambiguity from his involvement in the sport at the top level.

Broadcasters like Sky Sports and BT Sport will likely face questions on a parliamentary level in both Ireland and the UK for so long as he’s deemed to have pulled up a seat to the negotiation table for fights scheduled to air on their platforms.

This is not the means by which these companies wish to reach us in our living rooms. For as long as those questions persist, they will be at least a significant inconvenience on a multi-departmental front.

This has a trickle-down effect, too: bad publicity absolutely exists in this context and would unequivocally lead to customer complaints and the loss of subscriptions.

And boxing is not an indispensable component of Sky’s or BT’s TV offerings; really, nothing outside of top-level club football is. These companies’ sports budgets are perpetually shrinking, boxing events are extremely expensive to produce and, Box Office pay-per-view cards notwithstanding, the sport doesn’t make back enough buck for its bang in order for it to be considered an untouchable staple.

Boxing has in recent times become less valuable to Sky in particular, with Eddie Hearn moving his Matchroom USA cards exclusively onto DAZN, his Stateside broadcasting partner. Matchroom’s remaining UK deal with Sky expires this July and with the deeper-pocketed DAZN set to pursue that contract aggressively in a bid to bolster their global streaming package, a full parting of ways between Hearn and Sky is hardly inconceivable.

MTK, whose Golden Contract tournaments have been broadcast on Sky the odd week, would ordinarily be in pole position to at least partly deputise if Matchroom were to leave behind a weekend void.

As they continue their own attempted takeover of boxing as a de-facto promotional outfit, MTK have begun to more openly flaunt their financial reserves, putting up six-figure purse bids for significant fights. At a time during which even their established promotional contemporaries are feeling the pinch, the origin of their ‘pot’ of cash, as was described in the Panorama documentary, remains open to interpretation.

But regardless, Sky would almost certainly face intense external scrutiny if they were to formalise ties with a company inextricably linked to Kinahan. Whether or not they could reject it as blindly as his cult following is another question.

In any case, if you’re reliant on billion-euro corporations to take a moral stand for the greater good, something has gone dreadfully arseways somewhere. In boxing, that’s been the case for decades, but the past is not a valid excuse for the present.

The saga remains as depressing as it is ugly, and so too does the prospect of a future filled with further waves of The Dandemic.

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