Boxing: No More Ugly Duckling, Witter Emerges

Witter3In preview I opted for the height, reach and thudding straight right hand of Vivian Harris, in retrospect I should never have found a way to doubt Junior Witter. True, there is little escaping the subdued nature of his victories against Colin Lynes, Andreas Kotelnik and latterly DeMarcus Corley and Arturo Morua, but Witter reengaged the viewing public with a sharper, more decisive performance and made a mockery of the suggestion he may already have peaked.

I’m trying hard not to become the clichéd hindsight hack and renage on all of the points I raised ahead of the clash, but I am delighted Witter found the fight-plan and timing to leave the former WBA champion a broken man as early as the fourth. Despite taking a handful of punishing rights in the process, Junior will be grateful Harris regrouped strongly in the fifth and sixth round as it served to legitimise his opponents credentials and the credibility of his own performance. Had the Guyanan, fighting out of New York, folded up as he came perilously close to doing following the two knockdowns in the fourth, more than a few would have questioned his motivation and hunger in the post fight analysis. A fighter’s reputation is an ever-changing commodity, solidified and liquidised in minutes.

Witter is arguably one of only of a handful of fighters who could have landed the final telling left hook. His instinctive ability to switch stance from orthodox to southpaw in the midst of exchange may be nothing new to students of the Ingle gym from which he was hewn, but it continues to befuddle a parade of opponents. Comparison with fellow graduates of Brendan Ingle’s idiosyncratic school like Naseem Hamed, Herol Graham, Ryan Rhodes and Johnny Nelson arguably present Witter as the most rounded to date. Too great a compliment? Perhaps.

Harris remains too erratic a performer to use as a definitive benchmark and I must be aware of the ease with which platitudes are offered in the honeymoon of good performance, but there is precious little contradiction to the evidence  of Witter’s power, speed, footwork, elusiveness and increasingly confident demeanour in his latest victory. Of course, to overlook the failings of his preceding performances versus Lynes and Kotelnik would be negligent, but Junior has the opportunity to go beyond the historic achievements of all his compatriots despite his 33 years. True, he’ll never be the crowd pleasing phenomenon Hamed was, but he could yet achieve more lasting credibility.

Witter has greater balance than Hamed demonstrated and is usually better placed to absorb shots as a result, he carries greater power than Bomber Graham and while sharing the potential for longevity demonstrated by Johnny Nelson he surpasses the former WBO champion’s willingness to engage and is a more emphatic finisher as a result. Perhaps, the lacklustre nature of his final European title defences can now be written off as the output of a fighter bored by the regional belts and over cooked in his wait for a second world title shot.

His post fight comments bore the confidence of a fighter finally comfortable with his place on the bigger boxing landscape and far more natural and likeable in delivery. These may seem incidental factors, but his personality in front of the camera is in important in his bid to win over the British public to which he’s always been an Ingle limerick few could fathom. Specifically, Witter suggested he could continue until he’s 50 and while said with tongue firmly in cheek, a glance at the length of gym-mate Nelson’s career suggest he will be a leading figure for some time yet. Rarely tagged, always in shape and not exposed to gym-wars thanks to the Ingle’s advocacy of ‘body-only’ sparring, Witter has time to reach out and grab the audience that has so far failed to understand or appreciate him.

Whether that audience will ever see him face his contemporary Ricky Hatton remains unlikely. But notably, Junior AND Ricky’s careers will be unfulfilled works if they do not meet.

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