Frank Warren grew up in a rough section of London, the son of a bookmaker.
As rough as the gambling game could be, Warren managed to find an even more difficult professional calling.
When Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler meet on Saturday in a WBA-WBC-WBO super middleweight unification bout before at least 50,000 fans in Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Warren will have ascended to the top of his profession as a boxing promoter.
Think of the biggest stars in boxing in the last 15 years and chances are Warren has promoted a number of them.
It was Warren who built Naseem Hamed into one of the game's most beloved – as well as hated – figures in the late 1990s. Warren is largely responsible for Ricky Hatton's enormous popularity and fan base and he's turned Calzaghe into a license to print money in the U.K.
It's been a long way to the top for a guy who got his start in the business essentially promoting bar brawls.
Warren, 55, got his start as a promoter in 1975 when putting on ToughMan contests in the U.K, promoting his cousin, Lenny McLean.
McLean was one of the most feared men in the U.K. at the time and had a huge reputation as a street fighter.
The established boxing promoters of the time in the U.K., Micky Duff, Jarvis Astaire and Tommy Lawless, had exclusive deals with the major venues in London, so Warren was frozen out.
He had to promote at carnivals, in circus tents and in tiny hotel ballrooms.
And while it may not have been the most glorious start to a business, Warren learned something that most promoters not named Don King or Bob Arum have never learned: How to sell tickets.
It's not easy selling tickets and there are many who are regarded as successful promoters who barely even attempt to do so.
But Warren was a creative genius who managed to find ways to fill rooms with over-imbibed men frothing at the mouth to see a real fight.
"To me, Frank is one of the three best promoters in the game, along with Bob and Don," said his close friend, former Showtime boxing executive Jay Larkin. "Most promoters, they go out and find a site deal, they get their guarantee from TV and they sit back and wait until the press conference.
"Frank goes out and hustles and takes risks. He's an old school promoter. He builds fighters. He makes you as a fan feel like you have to go out to his event. He sells tickets."
Never was he more successful at that than when he was building the career of Hamed, the power-punching featherweight who became one of the biggest draws in the business.
He began his career promoted by Barry Hearn and was attracting no attention.
"I looked at him and I realized he could have an impact upon people with the kind of personality he had and with the ability he possessed," Warren said. "He wasn't being promoted the right way. I made the decision to promote him to kids."
Warren focused his efforts on getting Hamed into magazines that were popular with early teen-aged boys in the U.K.
There were photographs and stories about this son of Yemeni immigrants who hit so hard and had such a quirky personality in every young teen magazine in the U.S.
"The kids told their parents they had to see him and that brought the parents out and we could then get them, too," Warren said. "He was one of those guys we pushed that either you loved him or you hated him. If you loved him, you knew about the punching power and you wanted to see him knock someone cold.
"If you hated him, you always kind of felt that the next fight could be the one where he finally got his."
Warren's career wasn't all rosy, though, and he nearly got his a few times. In 1989, he was shot in London. One of his former fighters, ex-IBF junior welterweight champion Terry Marsh, was accused of the shooting. Marsh was eventually acquitted of attempted murder and no one was ever convicted for the crime.
Warren, whose best break came when he was late to the airport and missed the Pan Am plane that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, also had a notorious run-in with ex-heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Warren promoted Tyson for two bouts in the U.K.
Tyson was on his best behavior for the first, against Julius Francis in 2000 in Lancashire. For the second, against Lou Savarese in Scotland, Tyson was, to use Warren's words, different. The ex-champion purchased several thousand pounds of jewelry and expected Warren to pick up the tab. Warren, not surprisingly, declined.
Tyson didn't take it well.
Warren won't say what occurred, but he attended the fight that night with a bloody red eye and a lot of makeup on his face. There were reports that Tyson attempted to toss him out of a window.
"Mike and I came to an agreement and it's confidential," Warren said. "But Mike is a professional victim. He's a cunning, crafty guy. He opens up and you hear him speak and he makes you want to help him. But he isn't who you see. He's a very manipulative guy."
Warren, though, is pugnacious enough that he wouldn't give in. He's the kind of guy, Larkin said, who will fight fiercely when he has to and who is reminiscent of King with his ability to work long hours.
The Calzaghe-Kessler fight may be the one that ultimately lands Warren into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Few have ever done it as well as the bookmaker's son from Islington.
"If there were 100 Frank Warrens, this sport would be 100 times better," Larkin said. "He's as good as there is. When you see him work, you're watching a legend."
- Frank Warren
- Joe Calzaghe
- Naseem Hamed