The British leg of the Boxing Marathon: Skelton vs Sprott, Khan vs Limond

14.07.07 – By Andy Olsen: Fight fans in Britain can enjoy as much as 9 hours worth of fight action on our screens tonight. Stateside main events, Gatti-Gomez and Margarito-Williams, are both to be shown on Sky Sports. Before this however, there is a decent enough card shown on ITV, emanating from the brand new O2 Arena in London. Later than I’d planned, I thought I’d offer a brief preview. The Sports Network promotion begins on ITV4 at 8PM our time.

Amir Kahn tops the bill, aiming to relieve Willie Limond of his Commonwealth lightweight crown. There is also a heavyweight contest between Michael Sprott and Matt Skelton, with a potentially huge opportunity going to the winner. In addition to this, Nicky Cook gets his long awaited shot at the WBO featherweight title..

The qualities of Kahn’s performances have been somewhat compromised, by the standard of opponent he has been put in there with. Indeed, the claim is not without substance. June’s boxing monthly included comments from British lightweight Jonathon Thaxton. He was discussing the career of Prince Naseem Hamed. He pointed out that in Hamed’s 12th fight he went up against Vincenzo Belcastro for the European crown. In what was seen beforehand as somewhat of a gamble, Hamed won easily. This is in stark contrast to Kahn, a fighter who is enjoying pretty much the same hype as Hamed did. His 12th fight was a third round win over Steffy Bull, the Doncaster trailhorse who had been persuaded to come out of retirement. Perhaps this is a touch unfair; Hamed was clearly an exceptional talent from a very early age. Yet people who have observed Kahn’s’ career feel he needs to be tested against opponents of a better quality.

Tonight’s adversary, Willie Limond represents a step up in class for the 20 year old prospect. Limond won the title in his last outing, versus Ghana’s Kypapko Allotey. Limond has a respectable 28-1 record, and has added motivation going into this contest. British press featured Limond’s comments that a win over Kahn would enable him to go full-time as a professional, without the commitments that his part-time joinery job entail. Limond’s only blemish occurred relatively early in his career, with an eighth round stoppage loss against the world-rated fellow Scot Alex Arthur in a challenge for the British super-featherweight crown.

Limon is seen as a stylish, classy boxer. He has looked good in recent outings, and could well outbox Kahn on occasions tonight. Yet his lack of power could well be an issue. Only eight stoppage wins, versus modest opposition, in his 29 fight career attest to this. It is therefore doubtful that he will be able to severely punish any mistakes his comparatively inexperienced opponent makes. As a result, Kahn may throw a lot more caution to the wind, than he usually would, at times in the contest. The bookies agree with this, offering Kahn as a 16/1 on favourite for the bout. These odds seem to be justified, as the chances are Kahn will have that little bit too much in every department for Limond tonight. Limond may get the chance to become the champion again, as it appears likely Kahn is going to go onto higher honours than the title he will probably win tonight, I would imagine by late stoppage or wide decision.

A world title shot awaits the winner of the Heavyweight showdown between Michael Sprott and Matt Skelton. This is the claim that the shows promoter Frank Warren has made, in the build up to this contest. Skelton’s Commonwealth heavyweight title is on the line.

The momentum for this contest is probably with the champion. In addition to a fine win over prospect Rene Deittwieller in Germany, Sprott brutally knocked out Audley Harrison last time out. The shot at Skelton’s crown, which was previously earmarked for Audley, instead became an opportunity for the Reading native. His 30-10 record is a very deceiving one indeed. Over the past couple of years, Sprott fell into the opponent categories. Short notice fights versus prospects, away territory and hometown decisions have all been factors to his less than appealing stats.
Skelton meanwhile, has had to endure a spell of inactivity. The 40 year old (though some claim he may be older) had to pull out of the planned defence versus Harrison in December, with a hand injury. As a result, he has been out of the ring since his title win, versus Danny Williams last July. The win, albeit over a grossly overweight champion, showed that Skelton indeed had decent boxing ability. The first fight, and indeed a lot of Skelton’s’ earlier performances, had degenerated into messy brawls. The judges weren’t impressed with this in the first Williams contest, and it contributed to him being handed his first, and indeed only, loss in his 21 fight career.

Sprott has overcome the odds once, and it certainly isn’t out of the question that he does it again. Yet I feel Skelton may be able to dictate the fight, moving in on the inside and then getting out of harms way, like he did in the second fight with Williams. As with Audley, one mistake could lead to catastrophic. Yet I see Skelton prevailing late, in a contest which could well be an exciting one.

Few in the trade can begrudge Nicky Cook the opportunity he is getting tonight. He takes on the somewhat unknown quantity of America’s Steve Luevano, for the vacant WBO Featherweight title. Cook was of course scheduled to fight then champ Scott Harrison for the crown in December. However the Cambersang fighter’s much publicised personal issues led to him pulling out at two days notice, getting stripped of the belt in the process.

Cook has the chance to make up for the disappointment, yet he may find the going hard. The southpaw Luevano is, by all accounts, a tricky customer. His 31-1 record (14 early wins) is somewhat devoid of recognisable names, so it is very hard to determine how this one is going to pan out. The bookies agree with this analogy, making it somewhat of a “pick ‘em” affair.
The Bob arum promoted American sounds fairly confident. In the build up to tonight’s show, have shown a feature on Luevano. He has respect for Cook, but claims to have too much in terms of know-how for the 27-0. I have a sneaky feeling he could be right here. Whilst having no problem expressing the hope I’m wrong, I predict a Luevano UD without a great deal of certainty.

I know this was meant to be just a preview of tonight’s card, but I would like to give a quick mention to events which occurred at the Barnsley Metrodome last night. Carl Johansson was outclassed by Leva Kirakosyan, whilst bidding to wrest the European Super-featherweight crown from the Armenian. Johansson was in trouble from the early stages, and was floored four times en route to a brutal knockout. The Armenian deserves a great deal of credit for his performance (and for not celebrating until he found out Johansson was OK). Yet Johansson does too. His heart and guts in persevering deserves our respect. I’d like to express the hope that he is Ok, and that the setback is only a brief one. In the event that he gets to read this, I wish him well.