A Resurgence of British Boxing

13.06.05 - By Neil Goodman: The British boxing scene for too long sunk into doldrums. First the boxing careers of household names came to end i.e. Eubank, Benn and Bruno. Next it was the turn of the terrestrial television channels to a take more and more of a back seat, in terms of screening the noble art. More recently the crowd pullers and crowd pleasers, Naz and Lennox Lewis, retired from the sport (one officially, one not).

Both Prince Naseem and Lennox Lewis were easily identifiable figures, who were universally recognised as world class boxers. Each of these boxers travelled to America, beating their American counterparts and the interest levels were therefore extremely high.)

Of course the question still remains; why did television executives and the general public lose interest in boxing? The decline was by no means sudden; the general downward trend had been steady for a great number of years. At the end of day television, whether we like it or not, will always play a massive part in giving us each access and exposure to sports and their respective participants. Once boxing was gradually removed from the minds eye the attention shifted, particularly to football and other mainstream sports.

Well I am glad to say that a perceivable wind of change seems to be blowing in favour of boxing in the UK and even the good ship ‘Sports Network’ maybe making a comeback to terrestrial television.

So, what are reasons for this gradual resurgence? The answer is simple; good quality boxers! The following list is a reasonably objective list of the top five fighters from this side of the pond, who are making waves and proving themselves at the top level (in no discernible order):

Johnny Nelson, WBO Cruiserweight Champion

Johnny would not be everyone’s first choice of great boxers, even in the UK, but he is still very credible start to the list. A professional boxer for nearly 20 years, but after losing his first 3 fights, who could ever have imagined Nelson would still be riding high and rapidly heading towards a collision with one of the divisions young guns; Enzo Maccarinelli.

A late bloomer, Johnny first came to prominence by contradicting his ‘Entertainer’ title. Johnny, not to put to finer point on it, stank the joint out drawing to Carlos DeLeon in his first world title fight back in 1990. This would not be Nelson’s only world title disappointment, but he continued to gain respect by travelling anywhere and fighting anyone (heavies as well as cruisers).

During his already long career in the ring, his list of victims is impressive; Jimmy Thunder, Arthur Weathers, Dennis Andries, Crawford Ashley and Ezra Sellers. These are just some of the prominent names on his resume and maybe there are still some to be added to this list.

To conclude, Nelson has now been WBO Champ for over six years; he has made numerous defences and like a fine wine seems to be getting better with age. Watch out Enzo; you have got your work cut out with this old timer!

Clinton Woods, WBC Light-Heavyweight Champion

Another late bloomer, Woods now 33, became a world champion at the fourth time asking. In May 2005 Woods seized, what was probably his last chance, to win the vacant WBC belt in beating Rico Hoye.

In recent months everything seems to have come together for Clinton, having fallen short against Roy Jones (no shame there) and Glenncoffe Johnson. Always a good technician, Woods now seems to have bolstered up his offence and against Hoye the defence was certainly in working order. A strong Light-Heavyweight, with increased confidence and a good Team behind him, many boxers will find Clinton a hard man to depose.

Woods has numerous options in terms of possible fights and with the prestigious WBC belt in his possession he is truly a marked man. A rematch with Johnson is distinct possibility, whilst Joe Calzaghe would jump at the chance of moving up in weight. In recent weeks there have also been murmurings about a possible rematch with Roy Jones Jnr. If this fight were to come off Clinton has every reason to feel confident about reversing at least of one the defeats on his slate.

Joe Calzaghe, WBO Super Middleweight Champion

The welsh dragon, that is Joe Calzaghe, has now scorched and burnt (to varying degrees) 16 title challengers. Joe has been a world champion for 8 years, in which time he has turned back the likes of Reid, Woodhall, Sheika, Brewer and most notably Bryon Mitchell.

Calzaghe is not without his detractors, it is certainly possible to raise an eyebrow at points wins over Jimenez and Salem. At the same time the challenges of Pudwill and McIntyre were questionable to say the least. Calzaghe has a fine line to tread though; trying to stay active, whilst remaining marketable and of course attempting to stay injury free while waiting for the ‘big one’ (fight) to arrive.

Many may also question Calzaghe’s desire to fight the leading contenders in the division. I, personally, am not sure this is a valid criticism; Joe has travelled to Denmark, Germany and Scotland to fight just waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. Of course it takes two to tango and not many Super Middleweights would relish the prospect of tackling the Newbridge southpaw, who had a formidable work rate and a KO ratio just shy of 80 percent.

The time is right now for a big summer showdown in Cardiff, against the man who got up off the canvas against Mitchell, to knock him out in the very same round. So who fancies the job?

Matt Skelton, British and Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion

No list of the top five fighters would be complete without the inclusion of at least one heavyweight. After all it is the heavyweights who create the most excitement amongst the uneducated. By rights this slot should have gone to Audley Harrison; who recently returned to the ring with a seventh round stoppage of Robert Davis after twelve months of inactivity. Harrison, Olympic Super-Heavyweight gold medallist, is certainly not without skill and promised the public a British title fight in his first five outings.

Murphy’s Law has had a part of play, but Harrison so far has fallen someway short of the expectations laid on his broad shoulders.

Skelton on the other hand initially promised very little, but so far has generated an enormous amount of small hall excitement. Unbeaten in 15 starts and with 14 KO’s to his name, Skelton is starting to raise the question; ‘Just how far can this guy go?’

On the face of it, wins over Francis, Sprott and Moli indicate the sky could possibly be the limit. In truth the victims thus far have been someway short of top ten or contender material, but the manner of the victories does give rise to considerable enthusiasm. To cut a long story short the world does not have long to wait before the true potential of the Bedford bruiser is uncovered.

Skelton is all set to go head-to-head against Danny Williams in July. Should Skelton win this fight and win impressively, no-one can then tell me that Skelton would not stand a good chance of beating the current WBA Heavyweight Champion!

Ricky Hatton, Light-Welterweight Champion

An obvious choice for inclusion, but there was simply no-way the Hitman was not going to make it into this list. Which ever way you want to cut it, the stats and facts are there for all to see; 39-0 (28 KO’s).

What else is there so say about the devout Man City fan, which has not already been said? Hatton is the leading light for British boxing and has been for sometime now. Even those in UK who are not particularly interested in the ‘Sweet Science’, have now heard of the ferocious body puncher.

Whilst Ricky might not one for enjoying the sights around the world, apart from maybe the bars in Spain, he has provided a great deal of excitement beating the likes of Vince Phillips, Ben Tackie, Ray Olivera, Eamonn Magee and of course Kostya Tszyu.

Many in the boxing fraternity, predominantly outside of the UK, have sighted a biased referee and questionable tactics leading to the win over Tszyu. Having now seen the fight again, all I can say is that it was a remarkably hard and close fought contest. Both boxers seemed content to fight in close and sought to work their hands free rather than clinch; there was far to much rabbit punching (on the part of both combatants) but it never was going to be a ballet dance!

The future is now at its brightest ever for Hatton and the challengers which be queuing up to fight the man, who beat THE MAN.

So there we go; that is my take on the current top five British fighters. This list is however not representative of the depth of talent in British boxing. There are other fighters not listed who could still make an impact on the world scene in the next twelve to eighteen months, notably; Scott Harrison, Carl Froch, Junior Witter and Howard Eastman.

If the mercurial talent and athletic ability of David Haye can be harnessed, then he also could leap straight into top class. The ring education of Haye is however fraught with danger! Pitch him against lower level opponents and he blows them away, pitch him in too high…well, we have already seen what happens!

One final word must go to Amir Khan, making his professional debut in July. Good luck and I hope your professional achievements equal and surpass those of your amateur career.

Article posted on 13.06.2005

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