Increasingly, I’m losing my nerve when I watch boxing. Maybe it’s fatherhood, maybe its the persuasive refrain of those linking concussion to mental health issues in later life, maybe its just a phase. The weekend was punctuated and illuminated by knockouts and in some instances preceded by a number of blows beyond those usually required to invite a referee to intervene.
Aside from my own, hopefully temporary, philosophical dilemma, several fighters leapt forward in their careers and entertained fans via the short route on cards from The Flash Grand Ballrooms of Manilla to the Hotel Metropole in Mbuji-Mayi. The latter is in Ghana for those of you, like me, not worldly travelled.
The first sign I was growing gun-shy as a spectator, to use boxing parlance, was in the bout a few weeks ago between Ohara Davies and the over-matched Tom Farrell. A fight which drew fans and professionals to comment on both Farrell’s bravery and the unnecessary blows he absorbed with no prospect of victory. On Friday night, in a more even but equally vicious contest, Sheffield middleweights Sam Sheedy and Liam Cameron extended my misgivings through eight rousing, and at times, uncomfortably brutal rounds for the Commonwealth title.
As the crowning fight of Dennis Hobson’s debut promotion on FreeSports TV, yes, you read correctly, sport, for free, on the telly, it proved a pulsating and raucous contest. Thankfully, both men appeared to leave the ring in one piece, if, perhaps, less than the sum of the parts they began with.
Sheedy was on the floor numerous times, and in the thrall of some of the combinations that put him there he appeared sufficiently disorientated and defenceless to be saved from his own instinct. An instinct Sheedy would later summarise, in his broad Sheffield brogue, for the benefit of the interviewer and the awaiting public; “if you get put darn, you’ve just go’t ger up. Am not staying darn, you’d ave to ‘kill me. You’ve just go’t ger up.”
A commendable and necessary psyche for those looking to succeed, whether success is financial security, titles or triumph over demons within, but dangerously prophetic in a sport which asks more of its protagonists than any other. It is this bravado, this bravery in the heat of battle that demands of referees an objective, cool and compassionate judgement. The gap between defeat and permanent damage is measured, often with the benefit of hindsight, in fractions of seconds. Fighters need protection, from each other, but mostly, from themselves.
Like anyone, referees are human too. Prone to error. Prone to influence. Prone to misjudgement. Momentary inertia. All human frailties that befall referees in the same way they do Accountants or Dental Hygienists. The difference in boxing of course, is the stakes.
On Saturday I enjoyed the exemplary production of the World Boxing Super Series on ITV4 Box Office once again. George Groves defended his WBA Super-Middleweight belt, by punching a huge hole in the defences of Jamie Cox to land a right uppercut to the body. It was a devastating punch, one that stole the brave challenger’s wind, will and maybe part of his soul too in the 4th round of what had been, until that point, a pulsating encounter. Groves had struggled to off-set Cox’s aggression and hand speed in close quarter encounters but always boxed with the self-confidence of someone who knew his natural advantages of size, weight and punch-power would tell eventually.
The nature of Groves’ victory encouraged those impressed by Chris Eubank Junior last week to wonder how the WBA Champion will counter his exceptional hand-speed and combination punching and whether Eubank has the necessary durability in a genuine Super-Middleweight fire fight. There was fuel for both fires, and, come January – the venue is still to be confirmed, the fight may well be front page news such is their ability and public recognition. It will be intriguing to see which of these promotional mavericks ‘has the crowd’ when the ring walk music begins.
Beneath George Groves on the bill was John Ryder’s contender match-up with highly ranked Dane Patrick Nielsen over 10 rounds. Fresh off a narrow points loss to Rocky Fielding for the British Super-Middleweight title Ryder pitched up to tackle the WBA #2 contender at 168 pounds. Nielsen was essentially an unused substitute for the main event and should be grateful for the status. Ryder carved through him like a bacon sandwich through a hangover and Nielsen was twice so detached from his senses he dropped his hands, head and remained bolt upright as Ryder landed further concussive blows.
Heaven knows what George Groves may have done had Nielsen stepped from the shadows in the event of an injury to Cox.
Ryder’s short hooks on the inside were powerful enough, expertly delivered and left the Dane dazed and embarrassed until, during his second trance, Ryder landed an uppercut which forced him to the canvas. Referee Bob Williams, an excellent third man, hesitated when action was needed, only momentarily, but it enabled Ryder to secure the more eye-catching stoppage and left Nielsen exposed for two seconds longer than necessary.
In a sport of minuscule margins, two seconds, can be a lifetime. Or see the loss of one.
The battered and bruised forms of Sheedy and Nielsen will hopefully take long rests before punching in. I, for one, would struggle to witness their hands lowered and their unprotected chins wobbled again were they back too soon and still slowed by the weight of last weekend’s blows.
Game pair though.
Perhaps a topic for next week’s summary may be the changing face of boxing crowds and the regularity with which fist fights and other anti-social behaviour at prize fights has begun to occur. From the bottle which arced through the air to land mid-ring at the news Ronnie Clark had lost a points decision last November, to the fist fights of the weekend, and those I saw at the Billy Joe Saunders card last month, it is clear security and the speed of response to such misdemeanours needs to improve.
From my view point I could see clearly the chief culprits in two of the events noted above and can further confirm neither were apprehended or suffered any sanction for their behaviour.
Now the weekend brings a fatality, a small hall show in Walsall sees a knife used to take a life. It shouldn’t have got this far. The evidence of the changing face of boxing crowds has been there for a while and whilst security at some events is more rigorous than ever because of the problems in wider society, the demographic has shifted and boxing has failed to respond.
There is enough risk between the ropes, there shouldn’t be risk attached to watching fights.