To Hull and back and back and back again. Can Campbell upstage youthful Garcia?

And it’s never really happened to me (it’s happy hour again)

Don’t believe it, oh no

‘Cause it’s never really happened to me (it’s happy hour again)

The Housemartins, Happy Hour (1986)

Headlining this weekend’s Dallas card, boxing’s opening gambit of the New Year, will be British lightweight Luke Campbell versus the unbeaten Ryan Garcia. Campbell will be attempting to win a world title, if we include interim, at the third time of asking. His first two bids, against the exceptional Jorge Linares in 2017 and Vassily Lomachenko in 2019, ended in creditable defeats, the former, narrowly.

Those represented contests against two of boxing’s most ennobled competitors. Fights in which Campbell played the role of the young challenger despite being of contemporary age to both. His fresh face belying his then 30 something years. On Saturday he can no longer hide from the passage of time and if he is to triumph and win the interim WBC title almost 9 years on from his Olympic Gold, he will do so as an ageing contender to the 22-year-old Garcia’s ‘turn’ as the youthful up and comer.

As a son of Kingston-upon-Hull, a place of originality and acute deprivation, he is inherently imbued with the stoicism and spirit to try.

Continue reading “To Hull and back and back and back again. Can Campbell upstage youthful Garcia?”

Canelo leans on Ali and the busyness of old

In fact, you get the face you deserve by the time you’re forty, and one of the keys to looking and feeling younger is being active.

Joan Collins, Actress, 1933-

Saul Alvarez boxed on December 12th. He unified belts and, in all but name, conquered the Super-Middleweight division in the process. He achieved this by beating a disappointing, and disappointed, Callum Smith over 12 rounds. In February, he is lined up for a soft defence of the WBC belt against Turkish slugger Avni Yildrim, before turning his attention to a unification bout with Billy Joe Saunders in May.

Yildrim was flattened by Chris Eubank three years ago. He is a top 20 guy, if his mother was compiling the ratings. A peripheral contender at best, and one who lost his last fight in February 2019. Yes, your maths is correct, he will have been inactive for two years come fight night.

A few have clutched their pearls at the notion of the Mexican superstar facing such an unheralded opponent. There is little to substantiate Yildrim’s legitimacy.

But Yildrim isn’t the key element of the sequence. Neither is the enigmatic Saunders.

Continue reading “Canelo leans on Ali and the busyness of old”

Boxing’s dysfunction is its curse and its salvation

Perhaps it is of little surprise, given its inherent dysfunctionality, that professional boxing, particularly those fighters and promoters operating above the commercial water line, has navigated a path through this most dysfunctional of years.

From drive in car park shows, to behind close doors events and smatterings of fans across larger venues, boxing has adapted. Innovated in order to survive. Amateur boxing and those events beneath the gaze of the television cameras have suffered much more harshly in the bleak economics of a global pandemic.

As in all things, it’s the ‘little guy’ who suffers the most.

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Canelo disarms and dismantles Smith. An education in pressure

There is no pressure at the top. The pressure is being second or third.

Jose Mourinho, Football Coach, 1963-

Many words and phrases enter into boxing’s lexicon. Some pass, like ‘drug cheat’, others linger, hold, like Henry Akinwande, and are as misunderstood as the heavyweight octopus too. Others feel contrived and crash against our senses like finger nails on a chalk board; “downloading data” one unpopular example, “purse split” another. Often these new terms describe something old, something eternal, but the descriptive refreshes and repackages the classic, adds a veneer designed to appeal to a younger audience and infer wisdom in the speaker.

Beneath this modernism, or bullshit as we used to call it, remains the skill, the truth, the meaning. In Saul Alvarez’s performance last night, dismantling a world class fighter six inches taller and with a barge pole reach, the flame haired Mexican added a 2020 definition to the often misunderstood ‘educated pressure’.

If you didn’t know what it meant, nodded bewildered on hearing the term used without appreciating what it looked like, how it could be distinguished from any other type of ‘pressure’, then last night was a definitive exemplar.

Continue reading “Canelo disarms and dismantles Smith. An education in pressure”

Golovkin destroys I.B.F’all Guy

‘Cause I’m the unknown stuntman

Who made Eastwood look so fine

Lee Majors, Unknown Stuntman, 1984

Kamil Szeremata performed admirably last night. He got up. He got up again. He hung tough. He didn’t deviate from the mandatory script. The one he tried not to read. The lines he had were simple enough to learn, they’d been spoken before by others like him across a thousand shows in a hundred countries.

Remain in character. Be obscure. Stay still. Hit your cue. But, crucially, get knocked out.

Continue reading “Golovkin destroys I.B.F’all Guy”

Boxing’s invisible giant, Callum Smith, stands on the shoulders of his brothers

The road is long,

With many a winding turn

The Hollies, 1969

At world level, Liverpudlian Callum Smith is the last man standing from his remarkable family of fighting brothers. Liam boxes on, with a desire to return to the title stage, but brothers Stephen and Paul are now retired and Callum is, as perhaps he has always been, the most luminous hope among the tightly knit siblings. His boxing life is his own, but there is an inescapable sense that Saturday represents the crescendo, the final masterpiece, of their collective careers.

Can Callum deploy all of their accrued wisdom against the toughest foe boxing has to offer him? Can he do the unthinkable, go further than those three brothers he has watched from ringside, consoled and celebrated with, and win the big one? Reach further than Golovkin, Mayweather and an ageing Kovalev could and knock Saul Alvarez out?

As his trainer Joe Gallagher mooted this week, he may need to in order to win.

Continue reading “Boxing’s invisible giant, Callum Smith, stands on the shoulders of his brothers”

Golovkin, the middleweight protagonist, aims to turn back time

 Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”

Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future

I frequently comment on the foolishness of boxers returning in their forties or the folly of those who box on toward them. Still pursuant of glory and paydays long beyond their grasp. And yet, exceptions prod at the apparent certainty. Tug on the sentimental thread we all have swaying beneath our sleeve.

To ignore such pangs requires of us a dismissal of an ageing hero, one who gave so much, one trying to resist the inevitable tide we all swim against. The romance in our soul, for boxing is a maelstrom of cruelty, cynicism and the poetic, too often indulges the whimsy.

Gennedy Golovkin is one such warrior we wish to excuse. The hope that he can defy the passage of time, inactivity and the conspicuous injustice of his draw (and defeat) to Saul Alvarez to enthrall us again, pummel one more contender, find a pathway back to his nemesis, Canelo, and triumph, is irresistible, if entirely deluded.

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Hughie Fury; a peculiar attraction

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down

John Aubrey, Folklorist and biographer, 1626-1697

There is little contained within the professional career of heavyweight Hughie Fury that isn’t enveloped by the unconventional. From entering the paid ranks as a man-child at 18, to the debilitation of a profound skin condition, a backdated suspension for an anomalous sample in 2015 and matchmaking that saw him box Joseph Parker, Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin before his 25th birthday.

Defeats in those three contests prevents lofty expectations of his ultimate ceiling but should be contextualised by his youth and the fact all three were lost on the judges scorecards and particularly in his challenge to the then WBO title holder Joseph Parker, very competitively. The boldness of the fixture list isn’t matched by Fury’s dynamism in the contests alas. It is on the alter of entertainment that the cruelest sermons on his merits are dispensed.

But in the bipolarity of Fury’s aggressive matchmaking but cautionary style, his famous surname and relative obscurity and the enduring sense that there is one great triumph yet to be had, this observer is infected with a desire to see him box. However niche that pursuit remains.

Continue reading “Hughie Fury; a peculiar attraction”

Joshua lays out Pulev but doubt lingers

Anthony Joshua is a fine heavyweight. He looks beautiful. Has an encyclopaedic knowledge of motivational couplets and more sponsors than a school skipping challenge. He has a redemption story of sorts. He’s connected. Made.

He also has a pinging jab, a thudding right hand that arrives smartly and with intent and a notable uppercut too. When moved to, when permitting his youthful vigour to prevail against the growing indoctrination of caution, he is brutal, aggressive and entertaining. Dangerous.

It is within the battle between those two ideologies; to fight or to box, to be street fighter or statesman, that the problems begin.

Continue reading “Joshua lays out Pulev but doubt lingers”

Joshua tackles the patient giant

In the three years since the Anthony Joshua and Kubrat Pulev fight was first scheduled, the Bulgarian contender has grown risk averse, as investors and stockbrokers might call it.

At 39 years of age, with his stock as high as it needed to be to secure the shot at Joshua, he remained only sufficiently active to preserve his lofty rating with the governing bodies.

Evidence as to Pulev’s remaining ambition, condition and punch resistance is therefore undermined by the quality of his opposition. He’s been winning, but only against tier 3 and 4 big men.

For all the qualification, it remains an intriguing contest.

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Spence outworks Danny Garcia in Dallas

On Saturday night, in his home town, Errol Spence Jnr. defended the WBC belt and in the process confirmed his status as one of the best two Welterweights in the world. His rehabilitation from the injuries accrued in a car crash in 2019 appears complete and in beating leading contender Danny Garcia, he returned in tougher company than he could have been excused after a long lay off.

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Saunders stays outside the velvet rope

Saunders is still unbeaten. Murray is still 38 years old. The sense of frustration stole the breath from the arena. Belief ebbed. Dwindled. The tiredness of the narrative slowed the clock, clouded to a fog the air beneath the lights. A spectacle without spectators. A fight without a fight. A world title in name alone. No more than a hollow promise. A ticket-stub for a gala ball you can’t attend.

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Usyk, the smiling assassin, targets Fury and Joshua

By T. R. Lewison

A Halloween night victory over heavyweight gate keeper Dereck Chisora substantiated Ukranian Oleksandr Usyk’s claim to a place in the division’s top 10. Many observers remain confident Usyk can depose the belt holders above him despite greater than expected problems overcoming the veteran Brit. 2020 has been a frustrating one for Usyk. In his career this far, he has been eager to progress and boasts an appetite for challenges and a willingness to say “Yes”, too few of his contemporaries can match.

The kudos accrued in beating Chazz Witherspoon and Chisora represent a below par annual return for Usyk. Having carved through the entire Cruiserweight division in sixteen bouts to become undisputed king, he has become accustomed to faster progress. Within a complex heavyweight title picture, he may need to develop the virtue of patience in 2021 too. At 33 years old, 34 in January, despite the division traditionally extending a fighter’s prime a little longer, Usyk may prove to be past his own peak when his opportunity finally arrives.

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Boxing embraces the ‘two headed snake’ of nostalgia and celebrity

“‘Remember when’, is the lowest form of conversation”

Anthony Soprano (James Gandolfini), The Sopranos Season 6

The news Felix Sturm, once a credible middleweight, will fight again this month, aged 41 and a full four years after his final bout, albeit successfully for a title at the time, comes as no great surprise. Just another unnecessary swansong from a chorus line of by-gone prizefighters who can’t quite let go.

It is a timeless fable for grizzled pugs. From Jack Johnson to Sugar Ray, Tommy Farr to Smokin’ Joe, fighters have always returned, financially or emotionally motivated far beyond the reach of their prime. And for those that don’t, the comeback is never far from their mind, or the lips of an inquisitor. Whether champion or chump, intact or broken, there is always one more fight. As another old heavyweight out of Philadelphia, himself no stranger to punching for pay in his fifties, lamented to his confidant, Paulie; “There is still some stuff in the basement.”

Continue reading “Boxing embraces the ‘two headed snake’ of nostalgia and celebrity”

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