Make It Or Die Trying - The Frank Warren Story: BT Sport Film charts the life of legendary boxing promoter

Make It Or Die Trying - The Frank Warren Story, which is available to watch on the BT Sport app and, gives viewers an intimate insight into the man who changed the face of the sport.

By Tim Williams Published: 12 April 2021 - 1.25pm

Colourful barely does justice to the career of Frank Warren. From being shot in cold blood to taking a left hook from Mike Tyson, the legendary boxing promoter has seen it all.

Operating in a world predicated on machismo, Warren’s insatiable appetite for boxing and providing for those closest to him has seen him climb off the canvas to redefine the sport to which he has devoted his life.

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The ultimate survivor has promoted 338 world title fights with 148 world champions in the last 35 years and was inducted into the international boxing Hall of Fame in 2008, but he has no plans to retire.

He is currently managing and promoting nearly 100 fighters and represents some of the biggest names and brightest prospects. From Tyson Fury to Anthony Yarde and Daniel Dubois to Joe Joyce, the evergreen promoter remains at the very top of his game.

With contributions from Mike Tyson, Bob Arum, Frank Bruno as well as his friends and family, Make It Or Die Trying: The Frank Warren Story documents the remarkable life of one of the most powerful figures in boxing.

It is the story of how Warren became one of the biggest names in British sport, managing some of the most colourful figures in entertainment such as Mike Tyson, Frank Sinatra, Marco Antonio Barrera, Naseem Hamed and Joe Calzaghe.

Growing up in 1960s London was the perfect breeding ground for a bold ambitious youngster to learn the ropes of business, and Warren developed his shrewdness and street-smart during his formative years on an Islington council estate.

The number of world title fights Frank Warren has promoted

A storied career in promotion began in the unlicensed arm of the sport: white-collar boxing. His first show was the trilogy fight between Roy Shaw and his second cousin Lenny “The Guv’nor” McLean. Soon after he was granted a promotor’s license by the British Boxing Board of Control.

From unsanctioned events to the murky world of regulated boxing in the 1980s, Warren’s next task was to unseat Mickey Duff and the so-called cartel’s hold on the sport.

The Polish-born boxing manager was the heartbeat of a syndicate who viewed Warren as a threat to their monopoly and they tried to squeeze him out through iniquitous dealings, including booking all the dates and boxing venues.

“My job is to create the opportunities, guide them in the right direction, make the right fights at the right time and I love that journey”
- Frank Warren

The secret cartel were exposed and Warren stepped into the forefront of British boxing. He brought Joe Bugnor out of semi-retirement to face Winston Allen in 1982, securing a breakthrough TV deal to broadcast ‘Aussie Joe’s’ ferocious knockout.

Warren’s snakes and ladders career continued when he was shot in his chest outside the Broadway Theatre in Barking in November 1989 by an unknown assailant wearing a balaclava.

Terry Marsh, a boxer he once promoted, was the only suspect arrested, but he was later acquitted at the Old Bailey. No one else has ever been charged.

“I’ve always described it as a rollercoaster, because that’s exactly what is has been like but because of that you take the good with the bad and you treat every day the same,” says Warren’s partner Susan.

He returned to boxing promotion after the shooting put paid to his attempts to diversify, putting on a string of events etched in the annals of British sporting history, including Frank Bruno’s crowning moment against Oliver McCall at Wembley in 1995.

In the same year, he formed a partnership with American promoter Don King, viewed by many as the perfect blend of Warren’s acumen and King’s showmanship.

The agreement ended in acrimony short after when Warren agreed to hand over £7.2million to the flamboyant King after a contract dispute – a deal he considered cheap at the price as it allowed him to go back to doing what he did best.

“To be a promotor, to survive you have to understand you’re going to get blows that knock you down,” says Bob Arum. “But if you’re a real promotor you get up and you keep punching and Frank does that”

Shrewd management is what sets Warren apart from the rest, and his sterling work with the marketable Naseem Hamed was palpable when ‘Naz’ failed to achieve anything after he decided to promote himself.

“My job is to create the opportunities for them, guide them in the right direction, make the right fights at the right time and I love that journey,” he adds.

Yet another colourful chapter in Warren’s story was his tempestuous relationship with Mike Tyson. The Baddest Man on the Planet was in the UK in 2000, getting his career back on track against Julius Francis.

In a lavish tour of London in the week preceding the bout, Tyson splurged around £2million on jewellery on Bond Street on what he presumed was the Warren company account.

When he returned to Britain months later to face Lou Savarese and was asked to settle his debt, Warren got more than he bargained for.

“I hadn’t even got to saying anything then crack – he’s hit me with a left hook right on the chin, just out the blue” he recalls.

A self-made man, Warren got to the top through self-belief, resilience and intellectual acuity. His remarkable story has had countless ups and downs and still makes for compelling viewing.

He remains at the summit of a sport enjoying a resurgence in popularity, partly due to the stunning renaissance of Tyson Fury who Warren brought back from the brink.

There are few sporting lives as remarkable as Warren’s and the man who changed boxing has no plans to stop now.

Warren said: “I am delighted BT have decided to share my story. My 40 years in boxing have been nothing short of a rollercoaster but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I am thankful to everyone involved in the production and hope the fans, the very people that keep boxing alive, find it interesting and enjoy the film.”

Sally Brown, Executive Producer of BT Sport Films added: “While sports fans will be familiar with the fighters in Warren’s stable, the story that surrounds the promoter behind them makes for compelling viewing.

“Make It Or Die Trying: The Frank Warren Story will take viewers on a journey across decades of changing times in British boxing and give fans an intimate insight into the man behind some of the greatest British athletes in history and how, from humble beginnings, Warren rose to leave a legacy in his wake.”

“It’s a really colourful story and Daryl Goodrich, he’s one of the most creative documentary makers who I work with and he’s just made it so compelling. It’s almost like it’s a movie rather than a documentary, it just moves along really well, it’s gritty and gripping and fun.”