Comedian Ricky Gervais is known more for his hard-hitting gags than his punches – but there was a time when he was forced to rely on those rather than his razor-sharp mind.
A year after starting his hit BBC show The Office in 2001, the comedian signed up to make his boxing debut for The Fight, another BBC creation that pitted celebrities against each other at name of the charity.
He would face businessman Grant Bovey, the husband of TV presenter Anthea Turner, in a three-round, 90-second bout, with the winner set to take home £ 5,000 for a charity of his choosing.
While the benefit to charities has been widely hailed, the show has drawn criticism from some of the sport’s biggest names.
One of them was legendary promoter Frank Warren, who admitted he was “fucked” with the BBC for funding the unlicensed match between Gervais and Bovey, which was to be the first fight broadcast. as part of the series in December. 29, 2002.
“One thing I don’t want to be seen as a killjoy – I know they’re doing this for charity,” Warren said. “But there are certain ways to go about it. What I’m unhappy with is that it’s unlicensed boxing.
“It’s a very dangerous sport and it needs to be properly regulated. You can’t just go to the gym for six weeks and think you’re a boxer. It takes a lot of time and a lot of dedication.
“The brain doesn’t distinguish whether it’s hit by a pro or an amateur. If, God forbid, something’s wrong, people won’t say ban The Office or whatever Grant Bovey does. , they will call for a boxing ban. “
He added: “I’m surprised the BBC got involved in this. I’m also pissed off at the BBC – I wish they would spend their money on proper boxing.”
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The British Boxing Board of Control was also quite unhappy with the charity fight and wrote to then-BBC Managing Director Greg Dyke urging him to drop the planned show.
The BBBoC argued it would make “a farce of noble art,” adding that Gervais and Bovey – both 41 at the time – were too old to be safe.
Regardless, the program continued and it was later revealed that Gervais even fought his comedic colleague Bob Mortimer as he trained for the big fight.
Lisa Clark, who has worked with the famous comedian on a regular basis as part of a double act with Vic Reeves, said in 2019 that the training fight was “brilliant”, adding: “Bob gave a black eye to Ricky. “
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Despite this, Gervais took the victory over Bovey on fight night – and then admitted it was a lot harder than he thought.
With his nose bloodied from the fight, Gervais said: “I wouldn’t recommend getting in the ring and punching someone in the face. I always knew it was a very, very difficult match that requires a lot more time. “skill and dedication than I have. Up close you see things you never imagined.
More than five million people logged in to watch the fight, but other fights planned as part of a series were later dropped as the BBC finally bowed to pressure from boxing authorities.