Cheeseman and the deal with the devil

Every fighter has a relationship with sacrifice. Offering something of their unseen tomorrow for the conspicuous glory of today. As a witness to the transaction, boxing fans marvel at the willingness of those inside the ring who make the exchange for our entertainment. Light-Middleweight Ted Cheeseman, who succumbed to the fists of the Troy Williamson and relinquished his British title last night, is a man that embraces this truth.

Not for the first time, the courageous former champion departed from the stage a little less than he’d entered it. The crowd and the audience at home staggered by the action Cheeseman and Williamson had provided in 10 gruelling rounds of thudding combat.

Cheeseman’s tumultuous encounter with Williamson evoked memories of those in whose footsteps they trod, Jamie Moore and Matt Macklin most prominent among them, and proved a fitting prelude to the night’s main attraction over in Las Vegas, where a fellow brother in arms willingly gave a piece of his future self in the pursuit of his own glory.

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Former British champion, David Price hangs them up

Imagine being the British Champion. The British Heavyweight champion at that. A Lonsdale belt draped over a shoulder, shimmering beneath the ring lights. A century of history on which to stand. David Price, the Liverpudlian giant, has stood and felt those sensations, held that famous belt as his own.

And he did so, in his hometown.

Only a few men have ever shared that feeling; Iron Hague, Tommy Farr, Woodcock, Cooper, Bugner and Lennox Lewis perhaps most famous among them. Frank Bruno never did. Price won the title, aged 29, by beating Sam Sexton in 2012. He defended the crown twice, beating Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton, before relinquishing the belt in late 2013 to pursue higher honours.

Those honours never did quite materialise for the self styled ‘big horrible heavyweight’. Momentum was lost on the alter of circumstance. Poor management, bad luck, injuries and the reality of a knockout defeat or two, which can happen when you’re boxing world level big men, or mediocre big men juiced to the brim for that matter, all contrived to deny him the breakthrough he so desperately craved.

He announced his retirement this week. Sanguine about his frustrations but characteristically honest about his reasons for choosing not to box on.

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Fury, Wilder and the third act

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”

Truman Capote, Novelist (1924-1984)

Trilogies, in an era when the first fight is all too often hard to make, are a rare spectacle. Particularly among heavyweights. The third of the series is typically only required to settle the argument as to who is the better fighter following shared outcomes in the opening bouts. Ali v Frazier, Bowe v Holyfield the most famous examples in the modern age, if the 1970s and 1990s still count as the modern age. Both pairings were notable for the equality of the protagonists and for the career best performances drawn from all four.

As the days and hours tick down to the third fight between Fury and Wilder, there should be, given this scarcity, the iconic nature of those illustrious predecessors and the tumultuous events of the first two encounters, more enthusiasm for the fixture than there is. Remarkably, considering the dramatics of those two fights, the mandate behind their third meeting is not driven by the appetite of fans or the quest for resolution as to who is the superior fighter, it is compelled only by contractual obligation and the stubbornness of Deontay Wilder.

Fury v Wilder III, until last week merely an irritating obstacle to greater prizes, is now upon us. As boxing’s various troubadours, fixers and mystics descend on Las Vegas, the memory of Joshua’s dethronement as fresh in their minds as the jet lag and neon lights will permit, the fight in prospect has become entirely more intriguing.

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Posturing, greed and the loss of Fury v Joshua

By Hector T. Morgan

Anthony Joshua’s humbling defeat to Oleksandr Usyk didn’t steal a unification bout from him, or his contemporary, Tyson Fury despite the persuasive narrative that it did. Boxing’s usual follies and the greed of one or both parties deprived the fans of the most enticing fight available several months ago. The two protagonists will one day look back wistfully to the moment, or moments, when they allowed the fight to slip away in the pursuit of an ever larger purse they will never have time to spend. Hipsters will point to the overdue Welterweight pairing of Errol Spence and Terence Crawford as the bout boxing actually needs the most, and there is merit in the argument, but heavyweights remain the premier attraction and the measure by which most eras are judged.

A fact that informs the greed that enveloped the potential fixture and permitted the contracted trilogy bout between Fury and Wilder to encroach and supersede the richest fight boxing could make.

And though fans may one day witness the two face each other, it will forever be diminished by the passage of time and the two defeats Joshua has now collected.

Continue reading “Posturing, greed and the loss of Fury v Joshua”

Usyk the Great uproots the Joshua tree

And so it was, the giant visited by defeat once more. Anthony Joshua lost for the second time and the collection of party garlands he’d hoped to parlay into an undisputed clash with Tyson Fury at some future point were passed to a new custodian. The fight proved revelatory for those trusting in the age old adage “a good big un beats a good little un.” and, further, revealed limitations in Joshua’s technical competence and confirmed Oleksandr Usyk’s unquestionable superiority.

As night follows day, the dissection of Joshua’s performance began before it had even ended. Sport in the spotlight insists all losers are finished, all conquered champions exposed. It is an incessant and usually unqualified scrutiny. True, problems have grown like weeds around and within Joshua’s performances; where once there was a youthful vigour and self belief, knots of indecision and timidity now prevail.

Joshua remains a dangerous heavyweight and there is scope still for improvement on the disappointment of Saturday,. Boxing fans must be wary of dismissing those who venture to fight their peers, and lose. He took his lumps and bumps, his defeat, with humility and grace.

They too, are admirable qualities.

Continue reading “Usyk the Great uproots the Joshua tree”

Joshua and the legends we chase

The notion boxing can ever be brought to heel, conform to the norms at work in other sports is a Camelot many still yearn for. Every fan, writer and concerned bystander would like boxing to pitch its best versus its best more frequently. Noble? Yes. Futile? Entirely. It is akin to trying to make a ruler from a snake. A Freudian analogy, given the snakes that rule the game.

There is no utopia, and the unwelcome truth, as it was for the Arthurian legend of Camelot, there never was.

A heavyweight contest between Anthony Joshua and the Ukrainian, Aleksander Usyk, being fought before a gathering of 60,000 of London’s most lubricated inhabitants represents an intriguing and important reality.

And while not the eternal fantasy of Tyson Fury v Joshua, it boasts the players and the stage to forge a new legend, possibly two.

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Saunders arrives at the moment of truth. Canelo on Cinco de Mayo

First published on January 29th 2021

British Super-Middleweight contender Billy Joe Saunders has landed a fight with boxing’s premier star, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, to coincide with Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebration of the nation’s victory over the invading French forces in 1862. It is a day now synonymous with boxing and, specifically, whoever is the nation’s biggest star in that calendar year, headlining a US based show.

Saunders’ challenge to Canelo will bring joy to those hipsters who revel in the possibility the Hatfield rascal will prove to be slippery Kryptonite to boxing’s newest and seemingly invincible Superman. For those to whom Saunders is merely a crass irritation, their joy will be found in the presumed evisceration of such a fanciful idea.

The fight offers the Mexican superstar an opportunity to substantiate his status as the division’s king. A crown he earned beating Callum Smith last year. Saunders holds the WBO belt. In truth, it is a decoration. Saunders won the vacated title by beating unheralded Shefat Isufi in May 2019. Two subsequent defences, both abject in their significance and the entertainment provided, added negligible kudos to his reign and the belt stubbornly remains little more than a curio.

Nevertheless, without it Saunders would probably not have landed the fight and be facing his moment of truth.

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Rampant Benn wrecks Vargas in 90 seconds.

The acceleration in Conor Benn’s progress as a fighter is, frankly, astonishing. Samuel Vargas is not Carmen Basilio, but he’s rugged, durable and still held aspiration. He was obliterated in 90 seconds by a 24-year old with the patter of a superstar and a magnetic persona to match.

Vargas protested the stoppage, Colombian’s from the North American circuit expect to box on unless they’re laid out flat, but a degree of compassion will serve him well in the long run. There was the sense Vargas let the enemy in through the front door and Benn ran rampantly through the opening. Right hands, uppercuts and left hooks. Vargas’ eyes looked to the lights, the end would have followed had Michael Alexander not intervened.

For Benn, as with all prospects, contenders, matchmaking is key. If left to the protagonist, it will be ambitious.

Continue reading “Rampant Benn wrecks Vargas in 90 seconds.”

Conor Benn, the gatekeeper and the history at his shoulder

On Saturday night a British Welterweight, Conor Benn, will face a Colombian out of Canada called Samuel Vargas. Sufficiently endowed with a past, a sliver of remaining future to sustain belief in his motivations and the keys to the top 20 in the division, Vargas is the perennial nearly man and now 31-years-old. He retains respect for the toughness he’s demonstrated in a 10-year career and for being competitive with those Benn aspires to meet. In this weekend’s contest he will be playing the part of the gatekeeper.

For fans of a certain age Conor Benn continues to be a touch stone for memories of a youth long since passed. His swagger, his instinctive, spiky words transport many viewers back to the halcyon days of the early 1990s. Specifically, the time of Conor’s father, Nigel, and his nemesis Chris Eubank, their mutual rival Michael Watson and the five battles they shared between 1989 and 1993. All of which are seared into the consciousness of those of us who witnessed them.

This is the legacy Conor Benn carries. It opens doors but it cannot sustain him. Against Vargas, Benn will continue his quest to establish a place of his own in the Welterweight landscape. One rich in opportunity and decorated by some of the sport’s most gifted fighters.

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Sadness and truth as Herring ensures familiar end to Frampton’s career

There was a theme of sadness running through the final chapter of Carl Frampton’s outstanding career as a professional fighter this weekend. In part because of the apparent inevitability of the defeat to Jamel Herring, and in part because his story drew to a close far from home, far from the fans he loved and the family he yearns for.

Dubai, the crudely affluent capital of UAE, was an ill-fitting suit for a man who has flown highest in the traditional boxing heartlands of Belfast, Las Vegas, and Brooklyn. The location, missing the accoutrements of the historic stages and bigger broadcasters Frampton has boxed on, added to the sense of lament for a prime long since passed and the glorious nights of his twenties. A two-weight champion, with victories over Leo Santa Cruz and Nonito Donaire, Frampton eked a great deal from that fleeting peak and while the Autumn of his career has been unfulfilling, he departs in tact and with enormous respect from those he encountered.

It isn’t the ending Frampton hoped for, or perhaps deserved, but with the unrelenting tick of a fighter’s career, he hadn’t the time to wait for a post-pandemic normality to resume. Money he had, time he did not.

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Time waits for no man, can weight add time for Frampton?

Carl Frampton, a 34 year old former champion at Super-Bantamwright and Featherweight, will attempt to win a portion of the world title at his third weight this weekend when he tackles Jamel Herring for the American’s WBO 130 pound belt. History presents little precedent for the challenge.

Fighters at the smaller weights don’t tend to prevail chasing their youth. Reflex, punch output and speed are necessary qualities simply to compete in the lands beneath, perhaps, Welterweight, where single shot power, fight ending power tends to be rare. There are exceptions, one of boxing’s biggest superstars, Naoya Inoue, has been cracking heads from Flyweight to Bantamweight in the last few years and there were others before him, but the fights are usually won and lost with technique, busyness and the cumulation of punches.

As the old boxing adage suggests, ’34 is old for a Featherweight”.

That is the truism Frampton must dispel if he is to succeed.

Continue reading “Time waits for no man, can weight add time for Frampton?”

The life and times of Henry Cooper

This article first appeared on BritishVintageBoxing.com

Two minutes into the opening round of Henry Cooper’s first fight with Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, the proud Englishman snorts hard and draws deeply, he is beyond Clay’s reach and permits himself a momentary pause. He knows he has started strongly. His eyes narrow, focussed on the American quarry before him, his nostrils flaring wide as he sucks air from the cool London night. His pale chest heaves.

Thin black leather shoes mold tight to his feet, glistening like wet paint. They slide and sweep, hop and reset to the doctrine of boxing, those strangest of dance steps. Cooper’s body is taut, narrow and sinewy, his gloves small and almost cuff less. Thinning hair is cropped short, pointing skyward, exaggerating the urgency of his actions. Battleship grey eyes glare from the shadows of a chiselled brow above. A wedge of protruding bone that juts forward, straining skin and tissue. It is a genetic anomaly that has betrayed him before and would again, in countless wars as yet unfought.

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Whyte shatters Povetkin in 4

Dillian Whyte is a chaotic amalgam of power, tactics and old fashioned toughness. His 4th round knockout of veteran Alexander Povetkin restores the baubles to his mantlepiece and positions him back among the.top 5 heavyweights. There remain flaws and they will persist until the end. Whenever that may come.

A straight right hand landed flush (in the 4th), Povetkin stumbled back, eyes trailing right, his back landed against the ropes, the elastic effect propelled the 41-year-old back toward the maelstrom. Whyte was waiting, punches continued.A left hook that started on the Spanish mainland before arriving to detonate on Povetkin’s right cheek proved to be the finisher.

Povetkin rose, unconvincingly, a towel of surrender fluttered into centre ring as Victor Loughlin waved off the fight.

Whyte continues. Povetkin, surely, does not.

Continue reading “Whyte shatters Povetkin in 4”

Cheeseman stops Metcalf in old school war

The scrap between Ted Cheeseman and J.J. Metcalf for the British Light-Middleweight title was fought in Gibraltar. It was screened, for this writer, in high definition on a 42 inch television via the internet. It would have been equally at home had it been available on a Bakelite wireless only or fought at the Mile End Arena in the 1950s.

Two hard men, bent noses, flinty eyes sunken beneath prominent brows. One entered the ring with a ruby welt beneath his eye the other started seeping claret from his nose in the second. Cheeseman wore the white shorts, Metcalf, son of Shea Neary, a throwback fighter himself, wore the black. Just like the days of old.

A vacant British belt, the oldest in the sport, though the division is only of the modern era, the prize for the victor. The gold, the Union Jack coloured ribbon, the history, the tradition. A crown worn by Herol, Jamie Moore, Maurice Hope. It was all there.

Both had stories and both were willing to sacrifice the quality of their tomorrows for the glory of the night.

Continue reading “Cheeseman stops Metcalf in old school war”

Dillian Whyte v Alexander Povetkin Rematch, The Big Fight Weekend Podcast Preview

Always a pleasure to talk to TJ Rives and to guest alongside Marquis Johns and BoxingScene’s Manouk Akopyan as the team discuss the weekend’s biggest fixtures. From Whyte and Povetkin in closest focus, along with some notes on Fabio Wardley and Campbell Hatton.

The link is included below, the Big Fight Weekend podcast has been running for two or more years and is frequently decorated by the great and good of the boxing world, guests have included Sergio Mora, Keith Idec and Winky Wright in recent weeks.

An enjoyable mix of voices. Subscribe via your usual outlets.

Continue reading “Dillian Whyte v Alexander Povetkin Rematch, The Big Fight Weekend Podcast Preview”

David Adeleye wins in heavyweight farce, calls for Nathan Gorman next

Boxing absorbs punishment better than Oscar Bonavena. Thankfully. Most of the blows are self-inflicted. Home to the peculiar and the perverse, the notorious and nefarious, boxing has long been plagued by the foretelling of its demise. Editorials have sermonised about the end of boxing, predicting the various rocks ready to hole the ailing liner beneath the surface since the beginning of time.

And yet, by many measures, boxing is in ruder health than at any time since the time of the Four Kings. The US may lack the attractions of old, but Canelo, Joshua and co are resurrecting stadium size audiences, new platforms plead for boxing’s attention and new markets are opening up to the boxing circus.

A new variation on this customary self-harm is permitting a debuting professional, from a background in White Collar boxing, to fight against a decorated Amateur who is 20 pounds heavier and boxing his 5th fight.

That happened tonight in the UK, when David Preston was sanctioned to box David Adeleye.

Continue reading “David Adeleye wins in heavyweight farce, calls for Nathan Gorman next”

Povetkin, a nomad from another decade, rides again

Welterweights, lightweights, feathers, they’re all better technically, quicker, busier. But it’s impossible not to be drawn by the old dreadnoughts, the big bruisers, the heavyweights. This weekend fight fans can indulge the oldest of their pugilistic persuasions, as Russian veteran Alexander Povetkin offers Dillian Whyte a second opportunity to add his rusting hull to his resume.

Both men will hope to parlay a victory into a world title shot, the first for Whyte, the 27th for Povetkin. I exaggerate of course but there is a feeling of the perennial about the heavy-handed 41 year old. Briefly, he excited those searching in the detritus of the 1990s for a successor to the thrown abdicated by Iron Mike. For a moment or two it was a hefty clubber from New Zealand with a Don King do and then it was Povetkin.

Neither fulfilled the destructive promise of their youth. Tua grew ripe on the vine waiting for his mandated shot at Lennox and Povetkin, having first turned down a shot at Wladimir under the tutelage of Teddy Atlas, then slowed, thickened, like an over cooked borscht, and by the time he decided to say yes he wasn’t the threat he would have been when fresher and quicker.

If he beats Whyte again, he may get one more shot. And with his power, some natural, some acquired, one shot could be enough.

That’s the heavyweight appeal.

Continue reading “Povetkin, a nomad from another decade, rides again”

Saturday night at the fights; Okolie, Ortiz and two crazy guys called Lopez

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better

Richard Hooker, English theologian, 1554-1600

It would be easy to be cynical about the Lawrence Okolie story. Too much of Saturday night television has leant on the ‘journey’ of whoever the wannabe singing or dancing hopeful was that particular weekend. The tears, the back story, the setbacks, the dead grandma. It can become repetitive and contrived. But as Eddie Hearn demanded in post fight interview, following the Londoner’s exemplary victory over Krzysztof Glowacki to win the WBO title, Okolie’s tale merits retelling.

The fat kid in McDonalds, a perfectly respectable career for many let it also be said, inspired by heroes Usain Bolt and Anthony Joshua to chase something bigger, something more. Boxing, as it so often does, provided the vehicle for the revolution Okolie wanted. No barrier to entry in boxing you see. Show up, and someone will teach you, will care.

He began. And while last night represented a huge step in his career, winning a quarter of the world title, it was the first step eight years ago that required the most gumption.

Okolie wasn’t the only winner on an entertaining evening of boxing as the action swung from London to Texas.

Continue reading “Saturday night at the fights; Okolie, Ortiz and two crazy guys called Lopez”

In the name of the father. Cosme Rivera Jnr. steps up this weekend

As I trawl through the upcoming fight schedule, as has been my habit this past twenty years, looking for an angle, a name, a story, I realised I have borne witness to the arc of a thousand careers. Watched young, fresh-faced fighters climb from the foot of the bill, to their personal mountain top, however modest it may prove, and then succumb to the inevitable descent. Back to the darkness and all too frequent anonymity that waits beyond the glare of the lights. Old, tired and damaged.

On one low-key card in Mexico on Friday night (12th March), I was intrigued to note the name of Cosme Rivera. A 19-year-old professional with an embryonic 3-0 record it turns out. The name doesn’t hold the same resonance as Benn or Hatton or Tsyzu, all of whom have sons who now punch for pay, but for this writer, it brought back to mind a rugged and capable Welterweight of the same name who once came to England to box James Hare.

Cosme Senior.

Continue reading “In the name of the father. Cosme Rivera Jnr. steps up this weekend”

Undisputed Heavyweight Championship clash close to becoming reality

By Hector T. Morgan

Fantasy fights have long been a source of debate among boxing fans. Cross generational contests divide followers; Ali and Tyson, Mayweather and Leonard, the idea never ages, the passions evoked never cool. In the modern era, a time of fewer fights between the sport’s great and good, boxing fans are often left with only the fantasy debate to decide who is the best between two fighters who co-exist. Politics, money, broadcast platforms, sanctioning bodies, fear, they all play their role in keeping the best prize fighters apart.

The news Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, the best two heavyweights active today, are on the brink of signing to box each other this summer is, therefore, a subject of both excitement and cynicism among those same boxing fans. Excitement about the contest, the all too uncommon clarity it will provide for the heavyweight division duels with the enduring suspicion that fate or politics will intervene once more.

It is a tantalising fight, but dare we believe?

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Avanesyan has his triumph, Kelly’s loss needn’t be a disaster. If fans rally to his side

One may learn wisdom even from one’s enemies

Aristophanes, Greek Satirist, 445-385BC

It’s traditional to muse on the events of the night before on a Sunday morning. Where once it was the haze of a hangover and wondering what may have been said and done beneath the influence of alcohol, Sundays are now more typically dominated by the injustices and frustrations evoked by Saturday night boxing. In a world of the cynical and sarcastic, of the negative and voyeuristic, being motivated to write by failure, by schadenfreude is a widespread malaise.

Important then, to write when a show has produced entertainment, drama and delivered a large dose of the thunder fight fans all crave. We must, collectively, counteract the all to familiar narratives. For if we don’t, if there is no buzz to compensate fighters and promoters for taking the risk of evenly matched fights, then they will defer to the tried and trusted safety first modus operandi that plagues the sport in the modern day. Their hangover will not be worth the entertainment they share.

Last night’s show, in which the favoured Pretty Boy Josh Kelly was stopped by a 32-year-old Armenian who lives in Newark, David Avernysan, and the loquacious Albanian Florian Marku had to get off the floor to beat Ryan Charlton, there was everything that was good about the fight game.

Please be upstanding for the participants and the matchmaker who compiled such an evenly matched card. There was so much to enjoy.

Continue reading “Avanesyan has his triumph, Kelly’s loss needn’t be a disaster. If fans rally to his side”

Honeyghan destroys Bumphus. 34 years on, the memories remain

Much time has passed since last I was ringside for a boxing match. A break exacerbated by the pandemic of course. The joy of people watching, a pastime inherited sitting besides a Grandad waiting “near the Spinner” in Doncaster for a Grandma browsing in Marks’, is sweetly fed in a press seat. From those middle-age men assigned to chaperone ring card girls, to the fighter’s moll, tightly wrapped for later, the polo shirt security blinking into the darkness beyond the apron, to the men in silk pyjama jackets, bent noses all, a stray towel flung on their shoulder, boxing employs a diverse troupe of characters.

One of the most glorious attendees at any London event is the former Welterweight champion, Lloyd Honeyghan. The Ragamuffin Man is a man of sartorial individualism. From the fur coat, the spats, to the ‘Chicago’ trilby, to the cane with a leaping cat, his presence is felt the moment he enters a room. Any room. He was once afforded the front row seat directly in ahead of me at a fight card I’ve long since forgotten. Or to rephrase, I was sat behind him. That seems more respectful. Star struck, I failed to speak.

The aura to which I was prisoner that night, began 34 years ago.

Continue reading “Honeyghan destroys Bumphus. 34 years on, the memories remain”

‘Bronco’ Lara throws Warrington from the Featherweight saddle

It is hard to know where to start a fight report on Josh Warrington’s contest with unheralded Mexican, Mauricio Lara. The 22-year-old, who catapults himself from anonymity and small purses to the world scene with the victory, remains the same boxer he was on Friday. He is still slow, with wide punches, ponderous feet and a propensity to mark up. But he has, whatever circumstances prove to have been in play, battered the best Featherweight in the world and knocked him out in spectacular fashion.

Congratulations to him for taking the fight and grabbing the chance. Almost everything else about the night felt wrong.

Continue reading “‘Bronco’ Lara throws Warrington from the Featherweight saddle”

Benn, Bruno and Nicky Booth, and the lost boys of 2001

Back in 2001, British boxing had meandered into a strange, uncharted hinterland. An odyssey of greed and short-termism in the preceding five years reducing it to a role in the margins, a sporting outcast. Neglected, eroded and far removed from the roaring crowds of the preceding decades. The resurgence of stadium fights had faded to black, dissolving in to the night like the thousands who shuffled, stumbled and strode from the crumbling castles of Wembley and Loftus Road.

Images still lingered in the collective memory. Plumes of warm breath and cigarette smoke drifting on the midnight breeze, the last slurred rendition of ‘Bruno, Bruno’ absorbed by the rattle of taxis and tube trains beneath. In the crowd’s wake, plastic glasses and torn betting slips, the debris of a night, were swept from the aisles. The headaches and penitence of a thousand tomorrows still to unfold for the departing revellers and the fighters they came to see.

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Revisited: Quirino Garcia, the elephant and the castle.

We have no time to stand and stare. And stare as long as sheep or cows. No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

W.H. Davies, poet, ‘Leisure’

Parking had been difficult, as was finding the venue itself, and as a result, I was late for the show. It was long since dark and the city still intimidated me despite my tailored attempt to project self-assurance and belonging. I broke into a jog between the pools of street light on my way to the Elephant and Castle Leisure Centre, London. It was late March, 2002. A cool night, I missed the entrance. Twice. No fluorescent signs, no limousines. Just a door, in the shadows, almost turning away from the glare of potential passers by negotiating crossings, blurting horns and the choke of car fumes.

Boxing inhabited a different world twenty years ago. One of Leisure Centres and bootlegged world titles. Smaller. Seedier. And virtually unrecognisable from the gigantic events we now enjoy.

Continue reading “Revisited: Quirino Garcia, the elephant and the castle.”

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?”

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.

Continue reading “Boxing’s dysfunction is its curse and its salvation”

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”

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”

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”

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