The punchers threw punches, opponents ducked and stumbled, people were drawn to their feet, the crowd howled and cheered. Women, and a few men, were heard to gasp and scream as the action, dramatic and fast moving unfolded. Momentum shifted and in the end, as the lights came up, it was hard to determine an outright winner. Inside the ring, British fighters progressed their respective causes, new stories were begun and one or two names, loaded with nostalgia for those of my generation, echoed from Saturday nights of the past.
It was a heady mix, one without the prestige or brutality of the preceding weekend’s knockouts and with the sense of a fistic hors d’oeuvre for bigger nights yet to come. Despite this, there was much to enthral and the fights and their outcomes revealed plenty about the horizons of the combatants.
The thuggery in the stands persists, a symptom of boxing’s broadening reach perhaps, but certainly an unwanted ingredient in the cocktail of success, popularity and coverage now afforded the sport in the UK. Boxing, the sprawling, unregulated organism that it is, needs to act. Act in a way, sprawling, unregulated organisms are manifestly ill-equipped to.
Which is the worry. There has already been the inevitable fatality, a teenager lost his life in trouble at a show in Walsall two weeks ago, and boxing and the people who sustain it with their wages and interest, do not need any more. However, with the door flung open to casual fans and the enticement targeted toward football fans in particular, there is a growing tribalism surrounding certain fighters and if unrestrained or without the police and surveillance associated with football stadiums, we may not have seen the worst of it yet.
As in all things, the actual boxing required a degree of compromise for fight fans viewing from the sofa side of the ropes. Simultaneous shows, with the headline bouts scheduled for the same time slot, means something has to be sacrificed. There are those with a greater ability to consume fights in this type of scenario than I. For example, a message from Jane Couch on the night confirmed she was managing to watch both BoxNation and SkySports. Alternatively, there are also those who disconnect, like Graham Houston, and hide from the result of the second fight, the internet filling the role of the spoiler Brian Glover played so adroitly in the Likely Lads (ask your Dad), and watch it later, ‘as live’.
I’ve never managed either, nor been able to sustain interest in watching a fight I know the result of. The irony of this statement, considering the matchmaking on some undercards these days, isn’t lost on me by the way.
Of greatest interest to this observer was Tyrone Nurse’s Light-Welterweight fight with Jack Catterall for the historic British title. My interest, aside from the doggedness British title fights always extract from their combatants, is informed by the affection I held Nurse and his father Chris Aston in. A withering and passionate narrator on the boxing forums I inhabited before Twitter superseded them, Aston has developed and nurtured several fine fighters from Hobson and Hare a decade ago, to Gary Sykes and son Tyrone. If life has never drawn you to Chris his chat with Steve Lillis last Christmas captures much of the man and his achievements.
The fight was frustrating for those forgoing objectivity and succumbing to a Nurse bias. By choosing to fight at close quarters and bowing his head to Catterall’s, Nurse relinquished his height and reach advantages. It was hard to fathom the psychology behind this tactic and I hoped for a shift as every round began. Of the rounds I saw, from the third to the last, I had Catterall by a point but wouldn’t argue with Nurse by a point or the challenger by an additional one. A melting pot of mauling, technical inside work, both legal and otherwise, the fight frequently became attritional, messy and increasingly hard to score.
In the final analysis, Nurse lost his belt. Catterall’s loss of compass on his ‘body’ shots and the oversight of referee Steve Gray – who, coincidentally, has twice scored previous Nurse title fights 115-115 – potentially impacted Tyrone’s ability to extend his young brood too. I counted at least seven blows below his tasseled belt line, three warnings and not one point deduction. A close round scored the other way and a point off may have been enough for Nurse to keep his belt, and for keeps too, as a win would have been his third in a two year reign.
Like his father, Nurse is not a man for ifs, buts and maybes and acknowledged the result and the superiority of his younger opponent on the night. I suspect a rematch unlikely, but Nurse will be back to this level soon. Perhaps, with less desire to prove his toughness and a singular focus on winning the fight. And with a higher pitch to his voice.
Elsewhere Joe Joyce made a bold debut and secured a stoppage win over a gutsy, component Ian Lewison in the eighth round of ten. Notable for the ambition the match up represented, Lewison finished the fight with a fractured ankle, broken nose and jaw and one eye closed. Remarkable, given none of Joyce’s blows appeared to carry the explosiveness you’d anticipate of a 6’6″ Olympian weighing in at over 250 pounds.
I’ve written separately about this bout, and while critical live reflection, and recollection of the abject opposition his predecessors faced to ‘get the ball’ rolling, encouraged me to review his performance more favourably the next day.
Speaking of debuts and tough matchmaking, and if you forgive the tangent, a card in Bangkok saw 8 debutants lose at the weekend. The attitude there is obviously much different to our own, where prospects as decorated as Joyce are usually fed opponents of minimal competence, ambition and notice.
Respect to Joe, and begrudgingly David Haye, who is guiding his career, for the boldness. and Lewison for the gumption, if not posterior, he showed.
In closing, over the past few weeks as I’ve returned to writing about boxing I’ve found nostalgia an irresistible whisper and woven many of my personal recollections into the pieces you’ve read here. The weekend once more threw up reason to contemplate the passage of time, first with Nurse, who was but a teenager on boxing forums a decade or more ago where this all began for me, the second the return to action of Sakio Bika, a fighter who gave a peak Joe Calzaghe a headache in a similar period and lastly to read a young man called Tim Tszyu was fighting.
The son of Kostya. Where does the time go? Perhaps its time my matchmaking became more ambitious too.