Germany is the hottest market in Europe and everybody welcomes the chance of fighting there. This happens for many reasons: the purses are bigger than in almost any other European country, there’s the thrill of fighting in front of 14,000 fans in shows that are seen by millions of people around the world. To better understand the state of boxing in Germany, I flew to Berlin and interviewed Sauerland Event’s Sports Director Mr. Hagen Doering. He received me in the company’s offices next to the famed Olympiastadion where the Hertha Berlin soccer team plays. Calling Sauerland Event’s headquarters big is not enough: it’s huge; besides the offices, there’s a gym, dressing rooms, saunas and many other facilities. Unlike most executives of other companies, Mr. Doering has experience in almost every aspect of the boxing business and that’s why it’s a pleasure discussing the sweet science with him.
Mr. Doering, tell us about Sauerland Event.
Sauerland Event was founded by Mr. Wilfried Sauerland in 1978. He promoted the first show in Zambia (Africa). Mr. Sauerland was born in Germany, but lived many years in Africa because of his business. He is in the brewery industry. He builds and sells bottling machines. In 1980, Mr. Sauerland staged his first show in Germany and hasn’t stopped ever since. The biggest financial success came in the early 1990s, when a TV network decided to invest in the boxing business and choose Mr. Sauerland as partner. Today, Sauerland Event promotes about a dozen shows every year. We stage half of these events in small arenas, with 4,000 seats. Our major shows take place in Berlin and Mannheim in 10,000 or 14,000 seats arenas. We like to change location often to give the opportunity to see world rated boxers even to the small villages. We also want to give the fans a great entertainment: we hire singers and groups to provide live music, we spend a lot of money for the lights and we have a big dome on top of the arena which creates a unique atmosphere. Right now, our biggest stars are WBA heavyweight champion Nicolay Valuev, WBC super middleweight champion Markus Beyer and IBF middleweight champion Arthur Abraham.;
Are they very popular?
Most Germans know them, but they are not as popular as soccer champions. In fact, major corporations don’t hire boxers to advertise their products. I never understood why. I would like to try to change this situation.;;
What’s your job at Sauerland Event?
I’m the Sports Director, the matchmaker and also choose new fighters. I receive at least three phone calls every week about promising boxers. If I don’t know them, I give a lot of importance to the knowledge of the person who calls me. Recently, a friend of mine called me to talk about an Italian heavyweight who lives in Gelsenkirchen: Francesco Pianeta. I told him: Let Francesco come to Berlin, I will reimburse him the train ticket and pay the hotel for two weeks. I went to the gym every day to see Francesco training and understood that he is talented. Also, he was born on October 8, 1984 in Cosenza (in the Calabria region). Being just 21 years old, he has a lot of time to learn the job. So, I offered him a contract to become a full-time boxer and he accepted. Since then, Francesco fought three pro fights and won them all by KO. Next May 20, he will fight again in Rome. To make him improve, we put him with famed trainer Manfred Wolke.;
You used the expression “full-time boxer.” What did you mean?
In Germany, most boxers have a job from Monday to Friday and fight on the side to make extra money. At Sauerland Event, it’s just the opposite. We would never offer a contract to somebody who doesn’t dedicate all his energy to boxing. Being a former boxer myself, I understand when a guy has the right attitude. Between 1986 and 1991, I had 102 amateur bouts in the light welterweight division. After I hung up the gloves, I decided to stay in the business and worked as coach, judge and referee. By the way, I don’t like what amateur boxing has become. When I boxed, there were at least 2,000 people in the arenas. Today, you see just the families of the fighters. That’s because nobody likes 2 minute rounds and the scoring system. Using the machines gives an excuse to the judges who can complain that the computer didn’t work. As a matter of fact, the judges say this every time there is an unfair verdict.;
Unfair verdicts are a problem of professional boxing too. In fact, most people say that a foreign fighter will never get a decision in Germany.
Judges are human beings and can make mistakes. At least in professional boxing they take full responsibility for what they do. When a foreign fighter wins, the German fans cheer in approval. German people are real sportsman and want to see the best man come out on top. In fact, when a boxer wins without merit he gets booed.;;;;;;;;;
In Italy, the national title is snubbed by fighters. Is it the same here?
Yes, it is. Our boxers don’t fight for the national title because we get them a licence in Austria. We had problems with the two German boxing boards and don’t work with them anymore. This situation doesn’t affect the popularity of our fighters. I always say that nobody cares that Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher drives for an Italian team (Ferrari), the German people are proud of him because he is the best in his business. It’s the same in boxing. If a German fighter becomes world champion, he has the entire country rooting for him.;;;
In Germany, there’s also something called the international title. What’s that?
This title is considered important only by small promoters. Anybody who gets a German licence can fight for the international title. The TV networks don’t sponsor a show whose main event is a fight for this belt. The national title, instead, is for the fighters who were born and live here and who have German citizenship. As I said before, our boxers don’t care about the national belt. They are skilled enough to go after the world title.;
Before, you mentioned the two German boxing boards. Don’t you have a state commission?
No, we don’t. In Germany, boxing is a private enterprise. If me and you reach an agreement, we can start our own boxing federation.
What fighters contributed to making boxing popular in Germany?
In the last 16 years, three boxers played a major role in turning boxing into a major sport:;
1) IBF light heavyweight champion Henry Maske was the first big star. Between 1990 and 1996, he compiled a record of 30 wins (11 KOs) and just 1 loss (to Virgil Hill, by split decision).
2) German heavyweight champion Axel Schultz who fought from 1990 to 1999 and built a record of 26 wins (11 KOs), 4 losses, 1 draw and 1 no-contest.
3) IBF/WBA super middleweight champion Sven Ottke. Between 1997 and 2004, he fought 34 matches and won them all (6 KOs).