By Clive Bernath: It pains me to say it but British boxing over the last year has reached an all time low. Whether we like it or not, boxing in the UK is still very much a minority sport despite Olympic super-heavyweight champion Audley Harrison making his debut on the BBC in front of millions of viewers.
Just the thought of the Gold medalist from the 2000 Sydney Games, plying his trade live on terrestrial television in front of millions of viewers should have been enough to kick start the sport in Britain again. But unfortunately the BBC’s total inability and amateurish approach has resulted in the sport’s progress being put back dramatically.
The main broadcaster of boxing in Britain Sky Sports, while admittedly being the savoir of British boxing over the last few years, has not faired much better. Since they began broadcasting boxing in 1989, the big stars have come and gone and rather unfortunately have stayed gone. 2001 has been a bad year for the noble art.
So who is to blame? Those of us involved in the sport on a daily basis fully understand the politics involved, and to some degree understand why the sport is in decline. Despite what our American counterparts think across the water, we do have some quality fighters but aside from Lennox Lewis and Naseem Hamed, they are just not getting a chance to prove it. Personally I blame the television companies. Over the years they have allowed various promoters to match their up and coming stars with anyone other than those with the remotest boxing ability. And of course that makes for dreadful fights and bad television. I myself now refuse to tune into certain boxing programmes because of the disgraceful way in which they try to fob off the honest paying public with sub standard material. And believe me I’m as much a staunch supporter of the noble art as anyone.
So just for my peace of mind, below is a list of match-ups I would like to see in 2002, both domestically and internationally. And you never know, we may just get to see one of them this year - if were lucky!
In the heavyweight division there is only one fight out there for revitalised world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis – ‘iron’ Mike Tyson. If all the latest hype is to be believed then the eagerly anticipated showdown between the two big guns of the division should happen in Las Vegas on April 6. But if the complicated web of political wrangles between all and sundry cannot be resolved How about Lewis getting it on with either one of the Klitschko brothers? Staying with the heavyweights, at the other end of the spectrum, 2002 should be the year our Audley finally gives us a true indication of just how serious he’s taking life in the professional ranks. Big Aud has reliably informed me that he wants at least five to seven fights this year, so at the very least that should include a final British title eliminator. How about Keith Long, Jacklord Jacobs or veteran Julius Francis? Audley, its over to you.
We must also not forget British & Commonwealth champion Danny Williams. It does look increasingly likely now that Danny will vacate both titles in favour of a crack at a world title. With the world’s greatest promoter in his corner, in the charismatic Don King, wouldn’t it be a fantastic year for the genuinely nice Mr. Williams if he could get a crack at WBA king John Ruiz.
At Cruiserweight, there are some potentially great match-ups there for WBO cruiserweight king Johnny Nelson. The Sheffield fighter once again flirted with the heavyweight division just before Christmas and even won the ‘world heavyweight title. Relax, I haven’t gone mad, with all due respect it was the WBU version and even Johnny knows he's’ no more a heavyweight champion than I am. No Johnny’s a cruiser, that’s for sure. And when he finally stops trying to goad the likes of Audley Harrison into the ring, with cheap publicity shots, he should take a look around his own division and look to unify the titles. Aside from Juan Carlo Gomez (WBC), The Sheffield Showman would start at least evens against IBF king Vasiliy Jirov or veteran WBA titleholder Virgil Hill. For whatever reason Nelson has never realised his true potential. Despite his negative boring style, he is a quality boxer and owes it to himself to meet the very best instead of defending against very mediocre opposition. No excuses the above fights can be made. Come on Johnny, your not getting any younger, prove you’re the great fighter that I think you are?
In the light-heavyweight division Sheffield’s WBC No.1 contender Clinton Woods is the fighter that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Of course I’d like to see him get it on with pound for pound king Roy Jones Jr but lets be honest that fight is far from made. Clinton cannot hang around waiting for Mr. Jones forever so how about getting it on with WBO king Dariusz Michalczewski, or even new WBA caretaker champion Bruno Girard?
No one has been more patient than Welsh WBO super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe. He too is in very real danger of not fulfilling his true potential. Since out-pointing a faded Chris Eubank to win the vacant title in 1997, the Newbridge southpaw has defended nine times, mostly against average opposition. Personally, I’d like to see 2002 as the year Joe gets his defining fight. Joe’s the best 168lbs fighter on the planet, he too deserves to find out just how good he is. Like Nelson and Woods, Calzaghe has blown away all domestic opposition, and after destroying American Charles Brewer in February, Joe owes it to himself more than anything else to lean on his promoter big time, to try and force the likes of Roy Jones to the tables. Failing that, a clash with one of the three other major titleholders is surely an option.
At middleweight, Howard Eastman came very close to claiming the WBA caretaker crown against William Joppy in November. One can’t help but think that if he had had a warm-up fight first against a world class operator he would now be the champion. Nevertheless, whats done is done, he too like Williams is now with Don King. A rematch with Joppy is a possibility but the fight I’d like to see the immensely talented Mr Eastman in with is undisputed champion Bernard Hopkins. And if either of those fall through how about moving up to super-middle for a clash with Calzaghe? Now theres a good fight.
There are some really mouth watering domestic match-ups at junior-middleweight to be made in 2001. Unfortunately boxing politics in Britain being the way they are, the fights the public demand are doomed not to happen. British champion Wayne Alexander may just have the edge over IBO and Commonwealth champion Richard Williams. But no one knows for certain who would prevail. Lets get it on! We must also not forget our two other ‘world’ champions, Steve Roberts (WBF) and Takaloo (WBU). Forget the tin pot name tags, this too is an intriguing battle. All four have established themselves at title level but add unbeaten new kids on the block Gary Lockett and Michael Jones to the party and 2002 can be very exciting at 154lbs. Manchester’s Anthony Farnell would also be happy to gate crash the title picture.
At welterweight, the future for Adrian Stone is still uncertain, having been systematically destroyed by the excellent American Shane Mosley six months ago. So for the moment we’ll leave him out. There is however another cracking fight to wet the appetite at 10st 7lbs –British titleholder Neil Sinclair against Nottingham’s IBO king Jawaid Khaliq. The big punching Belfast brawler against the granite chinned Khaliq would be a mini classic and a certain winner with the armchair fan.
The obvious fight at junior-welterweight is WBU king Ricky Hatton vs Commonwealth champ Eamonn Magee. That fight could happen early 2002 and would go a long way to answering a few questions regarding the awesome body puncher from Manchester. If Hatton prevails, then further tests against either Micky Ward, Ben Tackie or Oktay Urkal may just convince real boxing fans The Hitman’s for real.
The lightweight division at present is a teeny bit thing on the ground at the moment with the recent defeat of Michael Ayers. The obvious pairing here would be British champion Bobby Vanzie squaring off against WBU king Colin Dunne.
As with the lightweights, the super-featherweight division is experiencing a dearth in talent at present. One pairing that does look good, though is British champion Michael Gomez defending against undefeated Scot Alex Arthur. Arthur is relatively inexperienced but after a few good wins, could set up a clash with the popular Mancunian towards the end of the year.
The big question in the featherweight division is, will we see the return of Naz in 2002? Only he knows the answer to that. Lets assume he does come back. On the domestic scene, both Scott Harrison’s and Michael Brodie’s promoters have made big noises, in trying to entice Naz into battle. With all due respect, though, neither has earned the right to share the same ring with Naz, and even a below par Hamed would start a firm favourite. Brodie vs Harrison is a far more evenly balanced contest.
Down at super-bantamweight Brian Carr, the Commonwealth champion has been nominated to meet Crawley’s Michael Alldis for the vacant British title.
At bantamweight Johnny Armour is never in a dull fight and a clash with either the undefeated Noel Wilders or British and Commonwealth king Nicky Booth is a fight I’d like to see. Nicky’s brother Jason is also a British and Commonwealth champion but in the flyweight division. The natural match-up at 8st would feature Booth in with either WBU champ Peter Culshaw or former undefeated European and IBO champion Damaen Kelly.
So there we are, some very interesting fights to be made. It’s not rocket science. Just a few of these fights would restore some much needed interest in our sport. British boxing fans are among the most knowledgeable in the world and they know they have been short changed over the years. Viewing figures over the years prove boxing can be a very popular sport, a few genuine scraps would, I feel bring the punters flooding back.
If there are any domestic match-ups that you think I have missed or just want to have your say on the above story, please email assistant editor Clive Bernath at email: clivetumcoclivetumcohotmail.com State your name and where you come from and we will print some of the best reply’s.