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 Caesars 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, Waseems trainer the conveniently named Danny Vaughan, a friend of Kinahans 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 Kinahans return from the cold werent 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. Kinahans 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, its being celebrated.
The BBCs recent Panorama documentary on his and MTK Globals rise in the sport introduced the story to many who were previously oblivious. Kinahans 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 Dubliners 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 Ive 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: its known as the Kinahan Organised Crime Group, its 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 McIntyres Panorama and the consequential broader scorn for Kinahans role in boxing.
The production company behind the film released a statement to RTÉs Claire Byrne on Mescals behalf in which it pled ignorance of MTKs 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, thats the meat and drink of it. For those on the outside, thats 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 doesnt really bother them; theyre 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 arent 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. Its why most of them dont 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 dont know the affected streets, dont know the afflicted families, but are familiar with the stories of devastation and care even less.
Its 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 Kinahans 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 films release.
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 wouldnt 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: Im 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.
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This marked a significant departure from Kinahans 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, whats changed in the past six months?
Even if you were to add to the equation the extra eyes opened by the BBCs 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 didnt 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, dont deem him to be a problem because, to them, hes more of a solution. Theyll seek change only if they run out of notes.
As for the paying customer Well, its complicated.
Whereas the previously unacquainted non-boxing consumers response to the BBCs Panorama documentary was invariably one of alarm, the ardent boxing fans reaction was more commonly one of apathy.
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 its their demon child, and they dont need other parents popping their heads in to tell them theyve got a problem on their hands. Try living with it.
Its not necessarily that none of them care about Kinahans incursion into boxing (although many plainly dont, morally or otherwise). Its more the case that most are intimately familiar with the sports mechanics: they know that itll run on contaminated fuel, that theres 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 hes 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 Skys or BTs 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 doesnt 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. Matchrooms 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 youre reliant on billion-euro corporations to take a moral stand for the greater good, something has gone dreadfully arseways somewhere. In boxing, thats 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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