Until Alex Arthur starts beating world-class fighters instead of simply being trained by them his tenure as WBO Super-Featherweight champion will never be widely regarded as anything other than opportunistic. It isn’t that Arthur is without ability, nor I suspect, is it because the Edinburgh man fears the division’s elite contenders, but with the long-shadows of Jim Watt and Ken Buchanan falling across his achievements, he will need to beat someone like Joan Guzman or Juan Manuel Marquez to be taken seriously alongside his predecessors.
If you thought Newcastle United’s policy on changing coaches was something new, a look to Arthur’s years as a professional fighter would show an equal eagerness to switch trainers. Harrison, Roach and McCullough are the three most high-profile custodians of the precarious post but it feels like their have been half a dozen more.
His fight with Nicky Cook is symbolic of the feeling of anti-climax his much touted career has generated, certainly with this observer. As one of Sky Sports heavily promoted young prospects back when they were closely aligned with all things Sports Network – which just shows, what goes around comes around – Arthur was widely implanted in the psyche of boxing fans. A tumultuous defeat to a rampant and unrepentant Michael Gomez remains the most important fight on his resume, a strange thing to conclude? Well ask any boxing aficionado to name an opponent Arthur has faced and I’d venture, without exception, they would say the mercurial Mancunian who dumped Arthur in 5 breathtaking rounds in 2003.
“But I’m a world-champion!” Arthur might argue. With all due respect Alex you were awarded the belt because the champion vacated, and though you did win the interim belt prior to that, only in these fractured times could you claim to be anything other than a top-10 contender. 4 belts, with some of those 4 sanctioning bodies willing to suspend common sense to anoint interim and super champions not to mention ‘champions in recess’, demeans the value of the strap and makes a mockery of those that use it to proclaim themselves as a “world-champion”.
Whatever acronym you place after your name; IBF, WBC, WBA or IKEA, you have to beat a champion or a procession of legitimate contenders to become a world-champion. In Nicky Cook, Arthur faces a tough, strong opponent but one without any championship history at the weight and one failed attempt at the WBO Featherweight strap on his resume. A gatekeeper to respect he isn’t.
It isn’t going to elevate Arthur beyond his current B-class status whatever the result. Boxrec.com rank him #6, the IBO #3, BoxingNews #7 and the Ring #6. Arthur needs a wily veteran like Marco Antonio Barrera or a young banger like Edwin Valero to validate his otherwise spurious claim to be a world-champion.
Of course, he wouldn’t be the first fighter to be awarded a world-title belt and then be ousted, Ken Norton and Lovemore N’Dou are two examples that spring to mind, and Arthur does at least distinguish himself from N’Dou having beaten Stephen Foster, barely, late last year in a second ‘Interim World-title fight’.
Wayne McCullough, Arthur’s current trainer – though I haven’t checked today, is insistent Arthur has the ability to become a three-weight champion and perhaps it is because fans have seen flashes of the same talent that they grow frustrated at Arthur’s level of opponent. With no disrespect to either Foster, who gave a game effort against a weight drained Arthur, or Cook who is a gritty professional and will afford stiff resistance to Arthur this Saturday neither of these British foes are legitimate top-10 contenders at 130 pounds.
Arthur, McCullough and guiding hand Frank Warren must all be as acutely aware of this as the fans are. For the record, if Arthur has squeezed himself sensibly down to 9st 4lb he should outlast Cook and have the greater hand-speed and selection of punches to potentially stop the Essex man late.
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