LONDON — They chewed their nails, gesticulated and shouted encouragement at heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua in the ring as he fought for the WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles against Wladimir Klitschko.
They whooped, whistled and chanted in delight, too, as the British boxer eventually got the better of his opponent; they even applauded the fighters’ interviews in the ring when the action was over.
|— Courtesy of CompuBox|
But these fans weren’t among the 90,000 who had tickets for Wembley, they were separated from the heat of the battle by more than nine miles of densely-populated London landscape and watching the fight on a bank of television screens in a bar near Victoria.
The atmosphere was tense at the Greenwood Sports Lounge nonetheless. In the early rounds it almost felt as if there had been a collective intake of breath from everyone there that was only released when the bell rung for the end of each session.
They were waiting for a big punch, a knockout blow, or some other drama to unfold. Who was going to make their mark first? Could the young man from Watford really stand up to the experience of Klitschko?
Anticipation was everything, then, and the modern, airy room, was relatively quiet even though the drinks had been flowing for several hours.
There was a wide age range of people from a variety of places, with groups from a stag party from Newcastle to a more local bunch of friends who got together from time to time to watch boxing, but their reactions were shared.
During a thrilling contest, mouths and faces were covered, and there was jeering when the warriors on screen looked like their physical strength and ambition were spent; “Go on, AJ” was also a regular refrain.
The action was captivating and, even with the sound turned up loud in the bar, there weren’t many in the crowd of around 110 who risked running out of the bar between rounds while Joshua and Klitschko had vaseline applied to cuts and pep talks from their teams.
As the final drama came in the 11th round with Joshua’s victorious knockout of Klitschko, they edged closer and closer to the screens, cheering, hollering, punching the air. The bar erupted when it became clear the home hero had won, chants to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” ringing out.
In many ways, there must have been similarities for the watchers in the bar and those at Wembley Stadium. The emotions experienced and the involvement they felt in the fight, as well as the chants, were likely to be among them, and there were people in bars up and down the country for whom you could probably say the same.
Not all venues would have made this world title fight a paid-for ticketed affair, as the Greenwood did, but the idea was to prevent overcrowding and, by the number of additional people trying to get in, it seemed to have been a wise move.
The interest in this fight in Britain has seemed simply huge for some time. Sky, which broadcast the fight in the UK, doesn’t give out pay-per-view (PPV) numbers, insisting the information is commercially sensitive.
However, there were said to be a record 1.15 million UK buys for Ricky Hatton vs. Floyd Mayweather in 2007 and if Saturday surpassed that, as many predicted, it meant a large chunk of the country was busy watching between about 10-11 p.m. (the undercard was underwhelming for those in the bar, at least).
The cost of watching Joshua vs. Klitschko on the Sky platform at home was £19.95, and you could get access via another provider for £2 less, so it says something for the bar-watching experience that those at Victoria were prepared to pay £15, and some an additional booking fee, for the privilege.
In at least one other London venue, the fight was being shown on a cinema screen, and there was a convincing logic to watching with a crowd away from home but not at the staging venue itself.
One of the patrons at Greenwood said they had asked about tickets as close as they could get to ringside at Wembley and were quoted prices of up to £1,000 for seats that were still some way back.
But the cost of seats at the fight was not the only reason given for choosing to watch it another way. “I don’t like a lot of the people you get at boxing,” said Dave, from west London. “And you are so far away from the action at Wembley that you end up watching it on a screen anyway.”
Paul, from east London, said: “You get a good atmosphere in the bar and you don’t have all the problems getting home that you do from Wembley.”
As the bar crowd cheered, hugged and stayed glued to the screens some time after the sound had been replaced by music, the reality that the fight was over dawned. Then they either left to catch their trains from across the road or continued to enjoy a more normal Saturday night.
For all the fun that was had at Wembley, the reality for the vast majority there was just not that simple.