Two of British boxing’s longest serving fighters will clash tonight for the European Light-Middleweight title, a bout which doubles as an eliminator for the WBC world title belt, or at worst a qualifier to face Julio Cesar Chavez Junior in a final eliminator for a crown held by slippery Sergio Martinez. It will also offer an opportunity for both fighters to finally step out of the shadow contemporaries Ricky Hatton and Prince Naseem Hamed threw across their respective careers and prove the old boxing truism, that styles make fights.
Though maturity softens the starkness of their contrast, Light-Middleweight contenders Jamie Moore and Ryan Rhodes remain polar opposites both stylistically and in terms of the trajectory of their long careers. Rhodes was the flash, youthful “Spice Boy” who ran to the British title in record time in the trail left by gym-mate Prince Naseem. He ultimately failed in his first world-title shot aged just 21. Spending the ensuing decade trying to climb to those peaks again, changing trainer, promoter and weight-class without ever recapturing the magic of his youth. The flame looked close to extinguished in 2002 when scrambled by the unheralded Lee Blundell, but a resurgence at domestic level has brought substance to his autumn years and a welcome WBC ranking.
Moore meanwhile, worked diligently over the same ten years to carve out the type of world-title chance afforded Rhodes so readily. Injury intervened, the odd surprising loss, though one DQ and an injury-induced stoppage to Ossie Duran unfairly soil his 32-3 ledger, but the entertainment factor never waned and but for the omnipresent Ricky Hatton in the north-west he may have been projected higher, earlier. Not that Moore is Hatton lite, but there are certainly parallels in their aggressive, compact style and he poses a threat to the body too but its hard not to wonder why Moore didn’t quite capture the imagination as Hatton did. But Moore kept winning, kept entertaining the boxing diehards and ultimately rose to the top of the domestic scene and reigned for years, too many years many thought as his twenties gave way to his thirties. Had the chance gone? Would Moore be a new entrant to the ‘British fighters never to win a world crown’, a notion which seemed ludicrous given the proliferation of sanctioning bodies the BBBofC had been willing to embrace during his years as a professional?
Well despite his progress, he remains, seemingly interminably, at least two victories from his goal. But a trio of Rhodes, Chavez and Martinez is not insurmountable providing Moore can retain form and fitness and Frank Maloney can cajole the WBC at the appropriate moments.
The fight looks a sure fire thriller, Moore has looked every inch the world-class fighter and though the brevity of his 2006 victory over Matt Macklin grows in the wake of Macklin’s own European title success, fights like that one can shave the edge of a fighter. Thunderous victories over veteran Europeans Piccirillo and Dzhuman dispel that notion and it hard to legitimise the suggestion Moore’s peak may have already passed despite his style and 31 years. There is still time for those who’ve tried to get Moore’s name heard above the media fascination with Hatton and Khan up in the North West to be rewarded.
Rhodes’ own surge began with a telling performance in defeat to Gary Lockett, which reignited some self-belief in the Sheffield man and he has looked composed and solid in victories over Coyle, Woolcombe and Vuma interspersed with some time-filling journeyman opponents. All three are beneath the level of Piccirillo who Moore destroyed. Both Rhodes and Moore can punch, though neither is a one punch knockout man. The consensus suggests Moore wins late or on clear points because he is the busier fighter, has the tighter defence and in the battle of wills, which will arguably be key, he has the flintier resolve. It does Rhodes a slight disservice, he’s a seasoned professional, light on hard miles and with an awkward southpaw style, and of the two he probably has the edge in one punch power.
But despite reservations I tend to agree with the consensus, the suspicion Rhodes may have self-doubt and accept his role as the nearly man if the going gets tough in the later rounds is hard to shake. Moore just looks the tougher nut to crack and destined, of the two, to get that shot at Chavez or Martinez. No new clues from today’s weigh in either. I’ll stick with the Moore late stoppage, perhaps between 9 and 10.
Sky Sports televise at 10pm. Don’t be late.