If you were watching this past Saturday’s Matchroom Boxing offering on DAZN, you might have noticed something a little unusual. Although the crowd was engaged in the main event between Danny Jacobs and John Ryder, two top-level super middleweights, they were significantly more enthusiastic for the fight that directly preceded it.
The co-feature, so to speak, between novice heavyweight Johnny Fisher and journeyman Gabriel Enguema, had the fans in Alexandra Palace in London in a frenzy, alternating between singing in unison and the constant hum of anticipation that lets you know an audience is living and dying with every moment. The venue was loud enough and the anxiety in the room high enough that lead commentator Mike Costello was either forced or compelled to raise the octave of his delivery as one does when moments feel big. As far as action in boxing matches go, the proceedings were relatively modest. Fisher won a competitive fight in which he was clearly better in most rounds, just as fights for prospects at the stage of career he is in often go.
But Fisher is not your ordinary 5-0 prospect. Not because the 22-year old is a can’t-miss blue chip prospect talent-wise, or a surefire future heavyweight champion. Last year, he admitted as such, telling Sky Sports “my limit might be British, English, or European title.” Fisher reportedly had just ten amateur fights, nine of which ended by knockout, but spent most of his formative athletic years on a rugby pitch. He certainly has physical gifts. Fisher has natural strength and athletic ability, and it’s difficult to tell whether a fighter five fights into their career might fight for a world title one day, but having major promotional backing helps. Rather, Fisher is uncommonly popular for a fighter in the beginning stages of their career—perhaps unprecedentedly so.
Fisher and his father John Sr. personally sold 2,000 tickets for Saturday’s event, and told reporters that they “could have sold 4,000.” Judging by the sound of the crowd, there were no doubt additional fans in attendance who might not have bought directly from the Fishers but were there for the same reason as those who had. It wasn’t a fluke either—for his last fight on October 31 in 2021, he sold 1400 tickets to fans who watched him knock out Alvaro Terrero in two rounds.
“It’s just the most incredible story,” said promoter Eddie Hearn prior to the Enguema fight. “This doesn’t exist in boxing.”
Prospects selling a decent number of tickets is not totally unheard of, and as any promoter will tell you, local favorites are vital to the success of almost every live event. Much of this is because of the structure of televised boxing, which is that it is a global sport staged as a live event in local markets. This means that the bulk of the audience that might want to be physically in attendance can’t be, but also that high level fights, such as Jacobs-Ryder, aren’t always enough to sell on their own merits. This is one of the reasons why even the largest promoters in the world often partner with local promoters on live events, to tap in to the local market on a day-to-day basis, but also to find undercard fighters who can combine to turn the turnstiles.
However, Fisher is a one-man economic boost. If the Fishers’ estimate that they could have sold 4000 tickets is true, that would equal roughly 40% of the entire capacity of the venue on Saturday could have been there for Fisher specifically, on the undercard of a fighter in Jacobs who had headlined major pay-per-views in the past.
What sets Fisher’s fanbase apart from other prospects’, but also most other fighters in general, is its tribalism. Fisher’s fans, known as the Romford Bull Army, behave like die-hard football fans, decked out in matching merchandise, waving flags and scarves. On Saturday, many of them took part in a pub crawl from Romford to London. It began at The Drill in Romford at noon, headed to Hamilton Hall in London, had a singalong of “There’s Only One Johnny Fisher” as they passed through Wood Green Tube Station before arriving at Alexandra Palace.