26.02.04 – By Ben Carey: Wanted. Two warriors to top the bill to replace postponed main event. Applicants must be willing to entertain crowd from start to finish. Blood, guts and all-out action essential.
Step forward Hereford’s Darren “Dazzo” Williams and Birkenhead’s Jamie McKeever, two fearless sluggers whereby the phrase “backward step” is not in their vocabularies. The pair’s clash for the British featherweight title takes centre stage at Bridgend Recreation Centre, Wales on Saturday night following local hero Jason Cook’s decision to withdraw from his scheduled IBO lightweight title defence against Kevin Bennett after being sidelined with the flu.
Williams and McKeever, originally slated to duke it out in the chief support, will conveniently fill the void in what ironically looks a more finely balanced championship showdown.
Traditionalists will be delighted to see two crowd-pleasing professionals contesting the cherished Lonsdale belt as they look to grab a share of the limelight in a division that sees the world class Scott Harrison and Michael Brodie usually stealing the headlines.
In Howard Winstone, Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis and Barry McGuigan, some of Britain’s finest ever boxers have held the domestic featherweight title. And, though Williams and McKeever will never reach the dizzy heights of the aforementioned trio, securing the British 9 stone crown means just as much to these fighters in 2004 as it did in by gone years when championships were earned instead of handed out as is the norm these days.
Saturday’s battle between current British featherweight king Williams and former champion McKeever could develop into the proverbial barn-burner. Williams won the British title with a 115-114 decision against defending champion Roy Rutherford from Coventry in a keenly fought encounter at Belfast’s King’s Hall in November. McKeever had previously lost to Rutherford in May, slipping to a 117-112 points defeat.
At face value you could be forgiven for making Williams favourite to retain, but the champion from Hereford should be under no illusions that this fight will be anything like a walk in the park. Whichever way you look at it, Williams vs McKeever is a genuine 50-50 matchup.
Dazzo’s points victory against Roy Rutherford was greeted with widespread boos throughout the Kings Hall as the majority of ringsiders believed that the deposed champion had done enough to keep his title. In the aftermath, a bitterly disappointed Rutherford called for the introduction of three judges in British title fights. But while some felt referee Paul Thomas’s 115-114 ruling in Williams’ favour was controversial, this reporter was in agreement with the official. Whilst Rutherford at times provided the better quality, Williams’ aggression was effective enough to pinch rounds in which Roy seemed to take his foot off the pedal.
In a nip-and-tuck affair neither man was able to establish any supremacy for a sustained period which made the scoring of many rounds open to interpretation. Despite being devoid of noteworthy incidents, this was an absorbing contest between two evenly matched foes. Rutherford seemed briefly troubled on more than one occasion by Williams’ slashing blows.
But when the action developed into a close quarters struggle Rutherford seemed to have the edge, a succession of hooks and uppercuts in particular shook Williams in round 6. For all Roy’s class though Dazzo never allowed himself to be subdued for long, gamely gritting his teeth and firing back with solid one-punch blows that caught the eye. Just as he had done against Stephen Chinnock in a British title eliminator in May, a dogged Williams dug deep to snatch the win by the narrowest of margins.
As with Rutherford, Williams got the nod over the then undefeated Chinnock by just one point, 96-95, in an action-packed fight. Dazzo floored Chinnock with a body shot at the end of the sixth round but was forced to endure a count himself in the seventh. Williams is no stranger to the canvas. Perhaps surprisingly, he remained upright for the entire 36 minutes against Rutherford thus breaking an unwanted sequence of experiencing successive knockdowns sustained in previous contests. In 2002, Dazzo’s career took a major downward spiral after he suffered back-to-back losses to John Mackay (l pts6) and a shocking 2nd round exit at the hands of journeyman Carl Allen in the very Maesteg ring that he will entertain McKeever.
To his great credit, Dazzo re-dedicated himself to the sport and has subsequently reeled off four wins on the bounce culminating in his shock British title victory thus improving his ledger to 9-2 (3). Having turned his career around Williams will not be willing to relinquish his title without an argument. In preparation for his first British title defence the champion will have completed more than 70 rounds at his Bargoed, South Wales, gym under the watchful eye of his trainer, former world featherweight champion Steve Robinson. If that isn’t enough, Williams will be running up and down the Welsh mountains to ensure he is in supreme condition. Stamina for the Hereford man shouldn’t be a problem then.
Williams seems certain to be pushed to the limit though by the relentless McKeever who is determined to take his old belt back. The Birkenhead fighter, 15-4-1 (4), has not fought since losing his title to Roy Rutherford 9 months ago in which he was floored by a body shot in round 3. Jamie gamely made it to his feet and attempted to pursue a lost cause but to no avail as Rutherford out-boxed him to comfortably run out a 117-112 winner. It later emerged that McKeever was handicapped after injuring his left hand in the opening round.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, McKeever explained: “I never did myself or my supporters any real justice when I boxed Rutherford at Everton Park last year. The injury in the opening round left me to largely fight with one hand for 11 rounds so in that I probably did well to go the distance and keep it pretty close.
“If I was 100 per cent though I know I would have beaten him convincingly and the same goes for Williams too. I know I can out-box him, I know I can out-fight him and I’m a lot stronger than him so I am totally confident of returning from Wales with the title.”
At his best McKeever can be punch perfect. After inflicting the first pro defeat upon
Tony Mullholland in a contentious points win in a thrilling bloodbath for the Central Area title in September 2002, he totally dominated his bitter Merseyside rival in their rematch 11 months later to claim the vacant British featherweight title stopping Mullholland in the sixth. The 24-year-old delivered a performance of impressive maturity that night and looked one of the most improved operators in Britain. Now he will have to prove himself again.
If McKeever is to bounce back it is absolutely essential that his brittle left hand passes the thorough examination of what promises to be a bruising championship tussle. Evidence is worryingly inconclusive, however. After visiting a specialist in London following the Rutherford loss, McKeever learned that he has sustained chronic joint damage that will require an operation. With him being assured that there is no threat of long term damage, McKeever has elected to delay going under the knife which would see him sidelined from competition for at least 6 months in preference for getting back to where he feels he belongs. In doing so he has taken an enormous gamble.
McKeever must surely have been questioning the wisdom of his decision when he was forced to pull-out of his planned ring return on the undercard of Michael Brodie vs Injin Chi in October after his hand went again in sparring. By his own admission, it was even hurting him to shadow box. After taking time out, McKeever is now satisfied that the rest has done his injury the world of good. Now able to punch properly again, Jamie has assured reporters that he has been hitting the pads with 16oz gloves without feeling any pain at all.
This is just as well. McKeever’s most effective weapons are the jab and left hook. When stripped of both he is rendered ineffectual. Although he may not be suffering with his hands, one wonders how much his 9-month absence from the ring will hurt his timing against Williams who was kept busy in 2003 with four outings.
Tossing a coin seems a sensible option when attempting to pick a winner between these two. Saturday’s encounter will be an intense struggle which should provide some thrills and spills along the way. Both men can be vulnerable under fire. Williams’ numerous trips to the canvas have cast question marks over his punch resistance but in his defence he has emerged a winner in the biggest fights of his career against Chinnock and Rutherford.
Similarly, McKeever looks susceptible downstairs. In March 2001, he suffered a third round stoppage defeat to current Commonwealth super-feather champion Craig Docherty after being felled by a body shot. This was highlighted again when Roy Rutherford dropped him with a body shot in the same round only for McKeever to make it to his feet. Despite their obvious weaknesses, Williams and McKeever boast just seven stoppages between them in 31 fights.
Standing 5ft8, former ABA champion Williams will enjoy a 2 inch height advantage over his opponent. Despite his fondness for a tear-up, Dazzo did some effective work from the outside against Rutherford. He may will choose to adopt a similar strategy then. The marauding McKeever though will look to slip Williams’ jab and punish the champion on the inside and unlike Rutherford he is unlikely to afford Dazzo a moment’s respite.
Although Williams has only boxed 11 times as a professional compared with McKeever’s 20, at 29-years-old he is 5 years older with arguably more miles on the clock than the challenger. If McKeever’s left hand can last 12 rounds and he can reproduce something like the form he displayed in his rematch with Tony Mullholland, he is favoured to outpoint Williams in what has the makings a highly entertaining dustup.