Monday, May 13, 2024

Notes from the Ennis-Crowley Press Conference

The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia is home to the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers. It's the premier indoor entertainment venue in the city. Walking through the relatively empty arena on Friday for the Jaron "Boots" Ennis-Cody Crowley press conference, one thought was rushing through my mind: How are they going to fill this place?  

As storied as Philadelphia is in boxing, with its dozens of champions, the  Rocky mystique, and a gym culture that ranks as one of the best in the world, what hasn't happened over the last two decades in the city is success on the big-time boxing stage. Sure, there have been a few attempts. Beterbiev-Gvozdyk was there, Tevin Farmer made a hometown title defense (at the time he was co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing/Eddie Hearn), and Danny Garcia also had a homecoming fight. Yet none of those events was a huge box office success. Furthermore, they took place at the Liacouras Center, a smaller arena, which had been scaled for 8,000-10,000 and not the Wells Fargo Center, which can seat 20,000 comfortably. 

Ennis, Hearn and Crowley at the press conference
Photo courtesy of Andrew Maclean/Matchroom

But Hearn believes that things will be different this time. He also thinks that with Ennis he has a future pound-for-pound level talent. Hearn announced that the ticket presale for the bout, which is an Ennis welterweight title defense and a homecoming fight, sold 4,500 tickets. 

Hearn also wants to signal to the boxing world that Ennis should be a superstar. And this is where superstars belong: in big arenas, trying to capture the imagination of a larger sporting audience. 

Hearn can be many things, but he is at heart a promoter, a dreamer. He believes in big events, whether it's at Wembley or Saudi Arabia or Las Vegas or at Cowboys stadium. He pointed to the success that Devin Haney had in selling over 15,000 tickets in a homecoming fight in San Francisco against Regis Prograis, and San Francisco is another city that had not recently had a lot of success as a destination for big fights. Hearn acknowledged that he could have taken a safer route by staging Ennis-Crowley at the Liacouras Center, but he's not interested in safe at the moment; he wants to make a splash. 


Ennis-Crowley is an unusual title fight in that a year ago Ennis was languishing as a mandatory challenger waiting for a big opponent to fight him (it never came) and Crowley was struggling to gain momentum in his professional career and in his personal life. Crowley is an atypical success story. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Crowley entered the professional ranks with few assets. A number of his early professional bouts took place in out-of-the-way locales such as Oklahoma City; Norfolk, Virginia; and the Maryland State Fairgrounds. He ultimately returned to Peterborough, Canada where he promoted many of his own shows.

Crowley doesn't have a big punch and lacks other athletic skills that jump off the screen. In his 22 professional fights, he has only nine stoppages, and much of this was against pedestrian opposition in his early fights. But he kept winning. Belatedly, six years into his pro career, he got an opportunity on a PBC card in 2020 and won. Since then, he has appeared on PBC-branded shows, but the fight against Ennis will only be his fifth fight in the last four years. 

There are reasons for those activity gaps. His dad committed suicide and Crowley had to overcome significant mental health concerns in the aftermath. He had a double eye surgery (always a bit of a worrying sign). He also had a problem with his former management. 

On Friday, Crowley was joined by Anthony Girges, his new manager, on stage. Girges was brilliant during the Q&A in the press conference, defending his fighter and riling up Team Ennis. It looked like he had been in the game for a dozen years. But in speaking to Girges after the press conference, he admitted that Crowley is his first fighter and that he's new to boxing management; he's flying by the seat of his pants.

Crowley sees himself as a winner. He mixed in the "aw shucks happy to be there" vibes with full confidence that he will be successful. He wanted to fight Ennis, even though other champs at 147 including Eimantas Stanionis and Mario Barrios (who has an interim belt) could have been easier fights to make and perhaps easier fights in the ring. He believes that Boots is the best at 147 and that's why he wanted to face him in the ring. 

Cerebral during his interviews, Crowley can be philosophical about himself and boxing as a whole. It's not quite clear where he will go, but he gets there. He'll drop in a word like "manifestation" and discuss the illusions of professional boxing, especially as it relates to the sanctioning bodies. He fully realizes that it's a game to get a title shot. Talent is only part of the story. And that's something that Boots, who waited years for high-level opponents, could attest to. So much about boxing is who or what is behind the curtain. Who has the right promoter? The right management? The right connections with the sanctioning bodies? It's an aspect of the sport that few are willing to discuss publicly, but Crowley held no reluctance on such matters on Friday. 


Boots Ennis was asked if he was nervous about the homecoming fight and he laughed, almost dismissing the question. Boots has been around the sport his whole life. He had two older brothers who were successful professional fighters. But as good as Derek (24-5) and Farah (22-2) were throughout their careers, Boots was the one thought to be special. As an amateur, there was a huge buzz about him in Philadelphia. During his early career, he was selling out Philadelphia club shows with standing-room-only audiences. Philly fight fans might not agree on much, but seemingly all acknowledged Boots' special talent.   

“Listen, there’s really no pressure on me," he said on Friday. "I’ve been in this game since I was a baby. There’s no pressure. It’s normal for me. My brothers have been at the top and I’ve seen all this stuff before. This is like being at home in my house right now. It’s natural for me and it’s normal." And while all of that might sound like the right thing to say, Boots' nonchalance was clear. He has expected this from himself. Like Crowley, he has manifested it. When Errol Spence or Terence Crawford wouldn't give him a shot, he found another way. 

Photo courtesy of Andrew Maclean/Matchroom

At 26 years old and featuring a record of 31-0 (28 KOs), Boots is squarely in his athletic prime. He has an unusual combination of athleticism, power and ring smarts. But what Boots had lacked, and much of this was his own doing, was a big push behind him. Boots' father and trainer, Bozy, had rejected the advances of bigger promoters and Boots spent much of his career promoted by Cameron Dunkin, a legendary talent scout and manager, but someone who didn't have the stable or juice to help Boots land bigger fights. 

Boots is now with Matchroom, and he has the platform, the money behind him and the potential future opponents to ascend to the higher ranks in the sport. He will now have the opportunity to test himself consistently against top opposition. There will be no more excuses or "woulda, coulda, shoulda." Boots can now make of his career what he will. 

But I'd certainly feel better if his dad didn't say "we never watch tape of our opponents," seemingly unbothered by what Crowley could offer in the ring. Of course, Bozy also called Crowley a good fighter, and expected him to bring the best out of Boots. So maybe Bozy has seen Crowley fight before; press conference games are nothing new.


The press conference started late, and Hearn met with the media prior to the start of the event. He held court for well over 30 minutes as various media members pushed their microphones, phones and video cameras in front of his face. Observing from the back, it was impressive to watch Hearn navigate from topic to topic: "What do you make of Ryan Garcia's positive test?" "Could you see Boots fighting Crawford next year?" "What's Canelo going to do next?" "Is Conor Benn able to fight right now?" He didn't miss a beat.

I'm not sure there's a better promoter in the sport at that part of the job: working the media. I've seen Hearn after a fight card answer questions for hours. He never seems to tire from interacting with the media. He gives people their chance. He relishes the back-and-forth and he can be a really persuasive salesman. Sure, he can spin, but it's also his job to spin. It's the media's job to balance a statement given to them with a potential greater truth, especially if there may be daylight between the two. 

Matchroom and Hearn in particular have been a mixed bag since they entered the American boxing market. On one hand, they've been involved in some huge events with Canelo. They have cultivated talents such as Bam Rodriguez. Some of their U.S.-based prospects such as Raymond Ford and Diego Pacheco have developed into real talents. They've also provided platforms for smaller-weight legends such as Roman Gonzalez and Juan Estrada. 

But they also threw around a lot of money for fighters who didn't move the needle, such as Danny Jacobs, Maurice Hooker, Tevin Farmer and Demetrius Andrade to name a few. They entered the market with hundreds of millions to spend and their initial foray wasn't a total success by any measure. Yes, they have gained an important foothold in the market. They have become one of the key players, but they have fallen far short of anything resembling dominance, which was one of their stated goals.

Hearn believes that the Ennis signing (in which discussions had been off an on for over five years) is a vital step for his company in America. Since signing Boots, Hearn said that several pound-for-pound-level fighters in the U.S. have contacted him, and he expects to sign a few more over the next year. 

And whether that's true or wishful thinking, Hearn is happy to have another major chip in the U.S. market. Between the lines, he admits to some past missteps. He acknowledged on Friday that he only wants to make signings who will or can move the needle for the sport and his company. But will there be more big names after Boots? Will it be a trickle of top fighters following suit, a geyser, or just empty words from a promoter?   

One thing I'm certain of is that we won't know the answer immediately. But there's always intrigue in the sport. And even in a sparsely filled press conference on a Friday in Philadelphia, there was a lot of it. The major players who were there, the fighters, the managers, the promoter, all recognized that Boots-Crowley could be a significant step to accomplishing their long-held goals, to conquering. A lot will be on the line. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

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