By Derek Bonnett: SecondsOut’s readers hardly need a historical or geographical introduction to the United Kingdom, but since a few of my fellow Americans may be reading, I’ll give a little more background to correct the common misconceptions that prevail among the less informed. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , located in Western Europe, recently made a referendum to exit the Europe Union after a 51.9% majority supported the much publicized "Brexit". The United Kingdom is a Constitutional Monarchy with a Parliamentary system of governance. Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State in the United Kingdom, but not the Head of Government as U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin famously misconstrued publicly. That distinction belongs to the Prime Minister, whose title likely further confused Palin before she and Presidential running mate John McCain failed in their bid to Barack Obama.
Often dismissed solely as the Land of Bad Food and Poor Dental Hygiene, the United Kingdom is so much more. For one, the comedic influence of the British is nearly on par with the nation’s literary contributions, which is why I can make such a statement and not be booed out of the room. My American disposition is surely enough to accomplish that! From John Cleese to Billy Connelly to Ricky Gervais, the Brits have produced comedic legends loved and mimicked the world over. Beyond William Shakespeare and John Donne, there is an expansive cultural network within Great Britain which can hardly be taken in with just a visit or two. On my first venture to England, I had the pleasure of attending the 2003 Wimbledon tennis tournament, which was as impressive for it’s all encompassing international audience as it was for the organization’s ability to sustain a queue of longer than ten people deep without fisticuffs breaking out. Ah, fisticuffs, along with tennis, football, and rugby, boxing is among the most beloved sports in the land. After all, the Queensbury Rules, the outlined general code of conduct for a boxing match, were named after John Douglass, the Ninth Marquess of Queensbury. These provided the basis for modern boxing. Rarely without at least notable presence in the sport, the United Kingdom, comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is currently amid a Golden Era for boxing. With thirteen world champions at present, more than any other nation, the UK is a boxing force to be reckoned with. Eleven of the seventeen boxing divisions have British representation at the champion-level.
Arguably the most complicated Each Nation’s Best subject yet, the following are the four boxers from the United Kingdom whom can only be described as the best of the best and the real "heavyweights" charged with continuing the current Golden Age for British boxing.
4.) Jamie McDonnell, 29-2-1 (13), is a two-time bantamweight champion with a lanky 5’ 10" frame capable of adding pounds easily to claim success at higher weights. The Doncaster, Yorkshire native rebounded from two early losses as a prospect to defeat capable opposition in Stephane Jamoye, Nick Otieno, and Stuart Hall to rise to contender status. McDonnell fights well on the outside, attacking with long range hooks from the left and straighter shots from the right. McDonnell can take a punch, which adds to his excitement level as the champ is not impossible to miss. McDonnell’s biggest wins have been what many would call at least moderate upsets Luis Ceja and Tomoki Kameda twice. The Kameda bouts were action-packed affairs that saw McDonnell rising from the canvas to win the first and then making adjustments to win more comfortably the second time around. With five defenses booked under his current reign, McDonnell may be at the end of his tenure as a 118 pounder. The Doncaster fighter received a very generous nod in his last outing against the superbly capable former world champion Liborio Solis. McDonnell, 30, was slow and could not get his punches off, which could suggest a move to 122 would help his conditioning. With deep talent emerging in the super bantamweight division, McDonnell would fit right in.
3.) Kell Brook, 36-1-0 (25), known as "The Special One", has been a notable fixture in the welterweight division since 2010. Brook built his foundation as a contender against Michael Jennings, Lovemore N’Dou, and Rafal Jackiewicz before testing deeper waters against Matthew Hatton and Carson Jones. Brook cut his teeth in the first Jones fight and improved on the performance by stopping the American a year later in 2013. However, it was Brook’s stoppage of Ricky Hatton conqueror Vyacheslav Senchenko that spawned believers outside of the UK. Brook’s strong, two-fisted attack presents a formidable offense highlighted by an excellent right hand. Since winning his welterweight title from Shawn Porter in a 2014 bout Brook controlled from start to finish regardless of the official scores, his list of challengers have not been able to mount a serious threat. All three, Ionut Dan Ion, Frankie Gavin, and Kevin Bizier, were contenders outside of most people’s top ten at the time and disposed of well inside of the distance. However, Brook garnered much attention for his willingness to leap over the junior middleweight division to challenge middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin without so much as a tune-up fight. Despite the losing effort, the Sheffield native showed class and provided "Triple G" with more than one uncomfortable moment. Unexpectedly to some, Brook quickly vowed to return to the welterweight division even though he seems to carry the extra weight well. Hopefully, once Brook fully recovers from a fractured eye socket, the fans will see him in with Manny Pacquiao or Errol Spence Jr. The Spence fight seems the most likely big fight for Brook and one many see him as the underdog in spite of his championship status. It’s a fight worth seeing and the winner surely moves on to greater opportunities.
2.) James DeGale, 23-1-0 (14), has quietly climbed my Pound for Pound ladder, residing just inside the top fifteen fighters in the world today. Since losing a closely contested match with George Groves in 2011, "Chunky" has won the most important bouts of his career. His return to title contention was forged with victories over veteran opposition including Fulgencio Zuniga and Sebastien Demers. DeGale then disposed of fellow prospects Gevorg Khatchikian and Brandon Gonzales. The Gonzales win was particularly impressive as DeGale showed extra power with both hooks and displayed a killer instinct to appease fans. A total dismantling the of the once promising Marco Antonio Periban courtesy of a straight left followed, preparing DeGale for the biggest wins of his career. DeGale of Hammersmith, London captured his first world title after dropping Andre Dirrell twice in round two before outworking the American in one of the best fights of 2015. In his first defense, DeGale had an almost equally entering scrap with former champion Lucian Bute, who then drew with Badou Jack. DeGale will now meet Jack in the second week of the New Year. The unification bout should be hotly contested and will produce a universally recognized super middleweight champion. DeGale impressive run hit a speed bump in April as he looked only so-so against tough veteran Rogelio Medina. The lackluster experience should help refocus DeGale and remind him of how his hard work has paid off in his biggest challenges. Quite the gym rat, DeGale, 30, should be in best form come January.
1.) Carl Frampton, 23-0-0 (14), arguably leads the 2016 Fighter of the Year race over such candidates as Vasyl Lomachenko, Terrence Crawford, and, dark-horse, Joe Smith Jr. Frampton, a top twelve Pound for Pound talent or higher, scored his two greatest victories in high competitive match-ups against Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz. Frampton, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, went the distance in both affairs and now eyes a rematch with Santa Cruz in late January. Quigg has also followed Frampton up in weight, so the potential for them to meet again is also great. Frampton’s climb was not out of the blue though. He built up his resume in 2012 with solid wins over Raul Hirales and Steve Molitor before taking on tough Spaniard Kiko Martinez. Frampton prevailed in a memorable war which saw Frampton standing his ground in the pocket against a tough banger while punishing the body and head. Frampton blasted former world champion Hugo Cazares in two rounds and then won a rematch over Martinez on points to claim his first world title. A dissection of Chris Avalos followed as Frampton battered his challenger along the ropes with right hands for a fifth round stoppage. Frampton, 29, showed grit in his next outing, rising from the canvas twice in the first round to win a decision over the late Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. The shots which dropped Frampton were well-timed, but not particularly powerful and may have caused concern leading into the Quigg and Santa Cruz bouts. The performance, likely an off-night, fell at the right time as Frampton peaked when it mattered most. Frampton will be the favorite going into his rematch with Santa Cruz, but the risk is still high. Should Frampton repeat his victory over Santa Cruz, he would meet Lee Selby in a perfect world.
This final list was reviewed in draft countless times. There will be plenty of room for debate among the diehard British fans, who may favor the still growing potential of Anthony Joshua to land him among the top four. After Joshua handles Wladimir Klitschko, which I readily expect him to, I think the debate gets settled a bit more. However, both Lee Selby and Terry Flanagan received ample consideration; truthfully, Flanagan made the cut on an earlier draft. Tony Bellew is fighting in top form right now as well. Lee Haskins, unfairly overlooked by many, has also produced some of his greatest wins to date in recent time. Fast rising Khalid Yafai, Callum Smith, and Luke Campbell should be a greater part of the future and building upon this momentous time in British boxing.
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December 20, 2016