01.06.04 – By Elliot Worsell: On Wednesday night in Nottingham, commonwealth titleholder Carl ‘The Cobra’ Froch 12-0 (9 KO’s) must banish the disappointment of a void clash with British champion Tony Dodson, and focus fully on a potential banana skin affair with an unknown southpaw jetting in all the way from Canada. The 26 year old, who defeated proud Ghanaian Charles Adamu over 12 rounds last time out to claim the coveted title, has been urged vehemently by those around him to turn his attentions away from the Dodson disappointment, and focus on this possibly demanding threat posed in front of him – in only the first defence of his newly acquired title.
Opposing him on Wednesday night will be the unheralded Mark ‘Machine Gun’ Woolnough, a 23-year-old stylist who brings to the fight a consummate 14-3-1 (4 KO’s) slate. For Woolnough, the current possessor of the noteworthy Canadian super middleweight title, this commonwealth title tilt against Froch is a dream come true, and he’s not about to let up in the face of expected adversity.
“Even though the fight’s at short notice, you can’t pass a chance like this up.” Said the unassuming lefty. “I had a fight scheduled on the 12th of June, so when I got the call asking if I’d like to fight for the commonwealth belt, I jumped at the chance. I was in training to do eight rounds, and even though against Froch I’ll be doing 12, I have been very busy recently, and don’t see stamina being an issue.”
Woolnough, like most boxers dotted around the commonwealth, has had to do his fair share of road service. Born in Britain, transferred to Canada aged 11, and now performing his ring apprenticeship in the money spinning casinos and smoky small halls of the United States. Still a youngster at 23, Woolnough has learnt his trade the hard way, and is adamant that nothing will faze him on June 2nd.
“I’m going to England to do a job. I know how good I am, and what I can do, and if I perform to the best of my ability then I believe I will have the beating of Froch. His hometown fans won’t worry me at all. I’ve boxed in quite a few different destinations already as a pro, and going back to England will be a good experience for me. I still have some family and friends living in England, and they’ll all be coming down to support me, so it should be a great show.”
Indeed Woolnough, as previously mentioned, will be no stranger to the British Isles. He grew up here as a young child, and interestingly, his father Kevin was a notable amateur with the famed Repton Boys Club. Kevin will be in Woolnough’s corner come fight night, alongside trainer Richard LeStage, and LeStage is appreciative of what his charge is up against. However, he is also filled with hope due to Woolnough’s recent purple patch of 7 wins on the bounce, and his fighter’s ever improving nature.
“We realise Carl Froch is a very good fighter. He was an accomplished amateur, who is unbeaten as a pro. You have to respect that. We’ve read a few bits about him, here and there, and we’ve looked into his win over Charles Adamu for the commonwealth belt. That was a good win, and it showed he could take a shot well. However, it also showed that he can be hit, and is always there to be hit.”
“Mark’s not going to go in there and hide. He has a granite chin, a big heart, and is a very tricky operator. We’ve always believed in the kid’s ability, and now he has the chance to go out there and show what he can do.”
Last time out Woolnough picked up a nip and tuck majority decision over rugged American Jose Spearman, a man who had previously gone the full 12 rounds with respected IBO titleholder Brian Magee in Ireland. With only 4 stoppages from 14 victories and a knack of going the distance, one would assume that the emphasis is firmly on brain over brawn for the elusive Canadian. Reports from the US, where Mark has predominantly based himself throughout his career, have him down as the slippery sort, with a solid jaw, compact range of skills and a fight-dictating jab. The fact that Woolnough is a right-handed fighter boxing out of the portside stance, may have something to do with his ‘jab-happy’ style.
“I’m right handed, but am totally comfortable fighting as a southpaw. I use the jab a lot, and enjoy making my opponents miss and become confused.” Woolnough remarked.
“I didn’t start boxing until I was 16, because up until that point I was into kickboxing. But once I moved over to boxing there was no going back, and I was desperate to make a name for myself.”
On Wednesday night he’ll be given that chance. The opportunity to follow in the footsteps of countrymen Eric Lucas and Syd Vanderpool and etch his name into the upper echelons of the increasingly competitive 168 lb division. And that, he assures everyone, will be his natural home for the time being, despite fluctuating between super middleweight and light heavyweight.
“I’m a natural super middleweight, no doubt about it. I’ve been up at light heavy a few times but that’s only to either get fights, or because my opponents have weighed in a lot bigger than I expected, and I tried to match them. At 23 I’m still maturing, but don’t worry, super middleweight won’t be a problem.” Woolnough claimed.
“It’s been a help fighting at light heavyweight.” LeStage added. “Mark’s been in there banging with big light heavyweights out in the States, and then when he comes down to his natural weight for big fights, like the one against Spearman, the punches don’t have much of an effect on him. He’s toughened up a great deal from being in with some light heavyweights.”
Although Froch, in front of his buoyant home fans, will start as a resounding favourite, there are still enough intangibles floating around the periphery of this fight to make it interesting. For example, what if Froch, devastated by the withdrawal of original opponent Tony Dodson, leaves the desire and needle he had prepared for the Scouser, in the locker room on Wednesday? What if this southpaw in front of him, with a reputation of being quite elusive and difficult to pin down, gets under his skin and poses some testing puzzles for him to answer?
At 23 years of age, there’s no doubting the ambition and drive Woolnough will be carrying into this fight, irrespective of the notice he has had for it. He’s a proud fighter, who has had to make many sacrifices already to harbour his boxing ambitions. Setting up shop in the USA for example, purely because the demand for boxing in his native homeland is all but extinct.
You’d also do well to remember the last unheralded Canadian southpaw who came over to these shores and derailed one of our more recognised stars. A certain Steve Molitor, from Toronto, came of age in September 2002 against Nicky Booth, befuddling and out-pointing the exciting bantamweight scrapper over 12 dominant rounds of commonwealth title action. On Wednesday night, in front of thousands of hometown fans, there’ll be another young Canadian southpaw looking to wreak similar havoc on a much-fancied Nottingham hero.