In the run up to Tyson Fury’s championship defence, the latest chapter in the Daniel Kinahan saga is more than just a blot on boxing’s landscape. Matt Christie on a shame that lingers
YOU might say it was the last thing that boxing needed, a mobster with a $5m bounty on his head threatening to overshadow a world heavyweight title fight, but it’s exactly what it deserved.
We were warning, you see. Not once but several times. We were warned in 2016 when a shooting took place at a boxing weigh-in in Dublin. Warned again when Tyson Fury made it clear that his agent was Daniel Kinahan, an alleged target at that shooting and a man at the very top of a cartel linked to numerous drug crimes. Warned again and again and again by crime crime in Ireland, and even by the High Court, who made it clear what kind of man we were dealing with. No matter, said those who had fallen under his spell. Even a Panorama documentary, aired on the BBC in 2021, had little effect in the boxing world.
Plenty of influential voices, so brazen in their belief that Kinahan was untouchable and therefore by association they were too, decided to stick their heads out of the window when cowering behind the curtains might have been a more sensible approach. Kinahan is a joy to work with, shouted too many. IFL TV (which was sponsored by MTK Global, the management group that Kinahan co-founded in 2012 and supposedly left in 2017) would regularly post videos where Kinahan devotees were given astonishing amounts of screen time to wax lyrical about him. It’s a stitch-up, they said.
But it shouldn’t have been a shock when law enforcement agencies ultimately proved to be far better at uncovering the truth than YouTubers attempting to make light of an alleged murderous past.
The incessant and at times stomach-churning propaganda designed to cleanse Kinahan’s reputation spectacularly backfired last week. After six years of intense investigation by the Garda, the US government sanctioned Kinahan and six others linked to him, including his father and brother. Boxing has long been compared to the Wild West, but when a wanted poster was released with Kinahan’s name on it and a promise of a $5m reward for information – yes, really – the reality of boxing’s lawlessness became achingly apparent.
It seems that Kinahan’s desire to be noticed and his failure to step back into the shadows – where his father, Christy Snr, always insisted on remaining – have disproved, at long last, the theory that what happens in boxing stays in boxing. Though he is yet to be convicted of any crimes, it is no longer viable to use that as an excuse to do business with him. In short, anyone now dealing with Kinahan will be involved in a criminal network.
So where does this leave the sport? It’s too early to say, but the signs are not good. Even after all the warnings, and just days after the US government had made their feelings quite clear, boxing yet again chose to turn the other way when it could and absolutely should have addressed the matter head on.
On Thursday evening, Fury and Dillian Whyte took part in an online press conference alongside promoters Bob Arum and Frank Warren. There were promises of victory and a record-breaking fight. Conspicuous by its absence, however, was any talk of Daniel Kinahan’s links to both Fury and criminality. Quite what Top Rank, the organisers of the press conference, were thinking by skirting the issue is anyone’s guess but it was hard to believe it happened by chance.
Just under 100 members of the media were invited (and the media these days don’t need to be able to ask intelligent and searching questions, they just need a smart phone and a Twitter handle), making it impossible for everyone to ask a question . It was peculiar that out of the 10 to 15 permitted to speak, not one of them asked about the Irishman who just two days before was sanctioned by the US Treasury department. It hasn’t been explained why reputable and award-winning, like Matt Lawton of The Times and Donald McRae of The Guardian, for example, were denied just one question while others of significantly less ability or influence were allowed to ask several. Odd, too, that the host Crystina Poncher, while warning us that the clock was ticking, used up precious time by asking benign questions of her own. It has been denied by organisers that there was any effort to censor the questioning. But it certainly highlighted why the boxing media has long been accused of burying its head in the sand.
Needless to say, far from complimentary articles have since been published in the national press. Articles that make boxing look like an utter shambles.
Some have argued that the fighters should not be exposed to difficult questions in the build-up to a fight. They have far more pressing matters to concern themselves with, namely the very dangerous business of boxing. That’s understandable to a degree, but not remotely the right practice.
Thankfully, the silence has since ceased. Though what’s been said is far from ideal. Arum, in particular, has made some very concerning claims. The 90-year-old head of Top Rank and not so long ago “Captain” Kinahan’s biggest fan, said that he will do no more business with him and had already grown of his tired involvement. It’s a massive U-Turn on what he said two years ago, when he essentially hailed Kinahan as a breath of fresh air. He also admitted that Kinahan had been paid $1m for each of Fury’s last four contests, all staged in the USA where Arum is Tyson’s promoter. The veteran will not travel to the fight for health reasons. Fury and Warren, his UK promoter who had nothing to do with the fighter’s American business dealings, were this week left to deal with the fallout.
“I certainly knew nothing and Tyson certainly knew nothing about the payments made by Top Rank to that company in the Middle East,” Warren told Steve Bounce on the BBC. “That’s their business, it’s nothing to do with us. It’s nothing to do with me and it’s nothing to do with Tyson.
“As regard to him [Kinahan] being involved in this [Fury-Whyte] fight, that is totally untrue. He has no involvement in this fight nor did he try to get involved because it was a purse bid.”
Fury said of the photograph of him and Kinahan taken in February and Arum’s admission of paying the Irishman: “A picture does not mean I am a criminal. I can’t control who is in the building. There could be a criminal in the building now. It doesn’t mean I am involved in his criminal activity does it? It’s none of my business. I keep my own business to myself, that’s it.
“That’s Bob Arum’s own personal business what he does with his own money, he can spend it on all gummy bears if he wants to. What someone else does with their money is out of my control.”
It’s not just those attached to this weekend’s superfight, at Wembley Stadium no less, who should have questions to answer. Everyone who turned a blind eye should have this on their conscience.
MTK Global and Probellum last week released statements saying they have no ties with Kinahan. A few days later, MTK’s CEO, Bob Yalen, announced he was leaving the organization.
The World Boxing Council’s Mauricio Sulaiman, three weeks after promising to offer his support to ‘Daniel’, said: “I made an innocent mistake due to absolute ignorance of the situation. In this way, I confirm that World Boxing Council and all its members absolutely reject any action that is detrimental to human beings and we will continue, as always, in total compliance with the laws of all countries in the world.”
Eddie Hearn said: “Matchroom is well known for its integrity, abides by all laws and regulations and we will continue to do so.”
Ben Shalom, of Boxxer, has been advised to say nothing but a statement was forthcoming at the time of writing.
What all of these highlights is the need for true governance in the sport, one capable of stopping something like this from happening again. Because too many who are clearly unable to tell right from wrong are being left to do as they please. It’s sad, in a way, that it had to get as far as the US government but nonetheless a huge relief that it did.
Some of the boxers with ties to Kinahan continue to voice their support and thanks to the man who enriched their lives in a way that others supposedly could not. It’s undeniable he leaves behind an almighty mark that will take some shifting.
But most are now trying to distance themselves from the mess. One wonders how many broadcasters, news agencies, sponsors, endorsers and government figures might now decide to distance themselves from boxing full stop.