British heavyweight scene is wide open

By Clive Bernath:
Danny Williams’ somewhat disappointing performance in stopping Australian Bob Mirovic in the fourth round and Julius Francis’ seventh round stoppage loss to European heavyweight champion Sinan Samil Sam, last weekend, looks to have narrowed the gap among Britain’s top half dozen heavyweights.

Williams, by his own admission looked awful before stepping up a gear to impressively stop Australian Champion Mirovic while Francis, though never looking like he was going to spring an upset against Sam, seemed to fair far better against the undefeated Turk than Williams did two months previously.

When Francis quit due to an eye injury against Danny Williams in July, 2001, the 38 year-old’s career seemed to be all but over in the top domestic flight. But a sixth round knockout of the previously unbeaten Dane Steffen Nielsen in September, 2002 pushed him straight back into contention, resulting in a crack at the European crown against Sam.

With Michael Sprott now in the best form of his career following wins over Michael Holden and Mark Potter, Herbie Hide back on the scene and Audley Harrison pushing for domestic dominance, there could potentially be some decent even money clashes over the next six to 12 months. The former WBC heavyweight titleholder Frank Bruno reportedly talking of making a comeback will also add some added interest, though maybe not for the good of the sport.

Four months ago, Danny Williams appeared to be streets ahead of the pack and looking to join Lennox Lewis on the genuine world stage. But the sixth round loss to Samil Sam in a European title challenge on February 8 and the Mirovic result, has severely dented his stock.

It now appears that there is not a great deal at all between the top six domestic heavyweights. Below is a short brief on the six. You make up your own mind?

1/ Danny Williams: As I said Danny, by his own admission was very disappointing in his last two fights. There has always been a question mark over his mental preparation for fights. This has never been more evident than in his last two contest. Ok, he finished Mirovic off as well anyone but does that last 30 seconds compensate for his uninspiring performance in the previous three rounds? There has always been a question mark over Danny’s ability to reach the next level maybe the last two performances has given us the answer.

2/ Herbie Hide: The two time WBO heavyweight champion returned to the ring earlier this month with a seventh round stoppage win over Kettering Journeyman Derek McCafferty. Herbie showed us nothing against McCafferty that we did not know already. He has fast hands, nimble footwork and is still as vocal as ever. Herbie claims to be a rejuvenated fighter since basing himself in Las Vegas, under new trainers and former world champions Mike McCallum and Eddie Mustapha Muhammad. Of course he has ability but what I can’t get out of my mind is the way in which he falls apart so easily when hit by the really big heavyweights. Remember Vitali Klitschko and Joseph Chingangu? And though the record books say he stopped McCafferty, those of us that were at ringside know Hide threw everything at him but could not budge the solid Scottish fighter. The bout was stopped with just over a round to go because Hide was so dominant.

3/Michael Sprott: Of the six, Michael is the man in obvious form. Since being stopped in seven by Danny Williams in February 2002, Sprott has won six on the spin including impressive wins over top domestic level opponents Pele Reid (rsf 7), Michael Holden (rsf 4) and Mark Potter (rsf 3). on this form Sprott would be favoured to give Danny Williams a much tougher argument next time should they meet. It also has to be said that Sprott took the British title fight against Williams at less than two weeks notice. Don’t write Sprott off against any of the top domestic fighters.

4/ Julius Francis: Though he is 38, Francis still has one or two decent fights at domestic level left in him, he has proved that. Last weekend he was stopped in seven by Sinan Samil Sam but by no means disgraced himself. It was revealed after the fight that Francis had cracked a rib in a car accident two weeks previously and could not spar. Maybe that explains why he went down so easily from two body shots? Nevertheless that fight proved he can still compete at a decent level and could still provide meaningful opposition for any of the six mentioned.

5/ Keith Long: the 34 year-old from Brockley really raised his game against Danny Williams for the British title in September 2002 but still lost on points. He has fought just once since, a one round blow out of Doncaster journeyman Alvin ‘Slick’ Miller. Not the most talented of fighters but has a huge heart and applies relentless pressure. Keith may not start out as much of favourite against any of the mentioned fighters but you can never rule him out.

6/ Audley Harrison: The Olympic champion has not shown us too much yet in winning his first 10 fights. In fact he has looked a little shaky at times, especially in his first five fights. But he has settled down now and is developing. With all the aforementioned five we know what they are capable of. But Audley is still improving and until he meets an acceptable British title level fighter we will not know what he is capable of. Six months ago he seemed light years away from Danny Williams and even Julius Francis but the gap is closing all the time.

Maybe Pele Reid should also be included in the six as he holds a knockout win over Herbie Hide conqueror Joseph Chingangu in his last fight. The Zambian knocked out Reid in two rounds in September 2001 but was flattened by Reid in October 2002.

Then there is Matt Skelton. Whilst not at the same level as any of the aforementioned, having had just five fights, all wins. But he has stopped Jacklord Jacobs. Admittedly the talented Kingston fighter was well out of shape but Skelton is heavy handed and at the age of 32, will have to be brought on quickly.

Judging by recent performances, there does not seem to be much distance between any of them, or so I believe!

What do you think? Who do you think is the best of the six and why? Please email editor Clive Bernath at in no more than fifty words, accompanied by your full name and where you live.
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