By George Ogier
Not long after I started Write Cross, David Bevan of the brilliant The Seventy Two website got in touch and asked if I would like to work together on a boxing piece. David had recently found himself getting in to boxing. He had a few questions he thought others might also be interested in finding the answers to. Hopefully during the course of this interview I manage to shed some light on various issues while at the same time giving people an insight into my opinions on boxing.
David Bevan: I had never really been that interested in boxing until David Haye’s fight with Nikolai Valuev. The sheer size of Valuev fascinated me and I was intrigued to see how such a gigantic man could possibly be knocked down by someone so much smaller. Was it a mismatch or did Valuev stand a chance of winning that fight?
Write Cross: I would imagine that the Haye v. Valuev fight was the first time a lot of people had taken much notice of professional boxing in the last few years. The lack of live boxing, or any boxing at all for that matter, on terrestrial television has meant that the sport has lost a lot of fans. What that fight did was propel it back in to the national consciousness because it had an angle almost beyond sport, a David and Goliath for the 21st century. History shows us that people are always drawn to the unusual and Valuev is certainly that.
The fight itself was not much of a surprise, either in the build up or the fight itself. Nikolai Valuev was the easiest route to a world title for David Haye who up until this point, despite making all the right noises, had not shown much of an appetite for a bout with either of the Ukrainian brothers. Haye was a much more technically proficient boxer than Valuev and despite the Russian’s size he didn’t throw particularly hurtful punches. Haye’s boasts about knocking Valuev out were made to sell the fight, they were never really part of the Londoner’s strategy. That said, the result was never a foregone conclusion. When there’s such a massive size difference anything is possible. Nikolai Valuev was almost 100lbs heavier than Haye at the weight in and he was almost 12 inches taller. It would have been like Haye fighting a bantamweight boxer. In those circumstances it is impossible to plan for every eventuality.
DB: What was the first fight that really gripped you? What was it that drew you in? Was it the build-up or simply the fight itself?
WC: The first fight I remember watching was Barry McGuigan v Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Rd in 1985. my Dad went to the fight and I was allowed to stay up and watch it. The first fight that truly gripped was Rocky Balboa v Ivan Drago. It may seem like a ridiculous claim to make but I know many people of my age or thereabouts got into boxing after watching the Rocky movies and I was no different. Watching the film now you realise it is just a huge piece of anti-Communist propaganda but at the time I watched it was plain old good versus evil and it got me hooked!
DB: The next fight I found myself drawn to was George Groves v James DeGale. I watched a few of the hype programmes on Sky before the fight and started to really want Groves to win. What are your opinions of the two and can DeGale recover from having lost that fight? Is Groves the better fighter?
WC; I am a huge James DeGale fan and I think he is massively talented. DeGale didn’t cover himself with glory in the run up to the Groves fight and I think his emotions got the better of him. It’s the same story in the fight itself. DeGale was relying on the red mist coming down on Groves and it never happened. DeGale has since captured the European crown and I think the sky is limit as far as his career is concerned. That said, I’m not entirely convinced that DeGale’s trainer, Jim McDonnell is the man to take James to the top. There was no plan B when the Groves fight didn’t pan out as expected and James is too talented to just rely on one strategy.
I think the trainer will also become an issue for George Groves in the future too. Adam Booth, (also David Haye’s trainer) appears to rely on a boxer’s natural ability and when a different approach is required there only seems to be one alternative, boxing off the back foot. Groves’ natural ability got him out of trouble against Kenny Anderson and the same ability took care of Paul Smith inside two rounds. I wonder if Booth actually has any real tactical nous beyond the defensive style. Groves and DeGale are both incredibly gifted fighters but if I had to pick the better boxer I’d say DeGale’s technical ability would shade it.
DB: The third fight out of five that I’ve been interested in so far was Haye v Klitschko. This seemed a damp squib – is that a fair assessment? Do you think Haye will make a comeback and was he ever on a level footing with either of the Klitschko brothers or were they always in a different class?
WC: David Haye was, and in all probability still is, the third best heavyweight in the world. I think he massively underestimated the abilities of Wladimir and I don’t think he’ll be the last to fall foul of that either. There’s only one way Haye will come back and that is to fight either of the brothers. I think he would find it easier against the older Vitali but he’s not going to ever knock either of them out as he has claimed. Haye’s biggest problem now is that nobody takes him seriously after the broken toe excuses. It was ill-judged on Haye’s part and has damaged his reputation, and to a degree his legacy. I’m not sure I’d say that Wladimir and Vitali are in a different class to David Haye I just think they’re too big. Haye was an exceptional cruiserweight and the brothers are exceptional heavyweights. As the saying goes, a good big ‘un will generally beat a good little ‘un.
DB: I’ve not seen Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather fight yet – are these the two you would recommend seeing most of all? Is Mayweather better? Will they ever fight each other?
WC: Mayweather and Pacquiao are two of the outstanding talents of this, or any generation. Both will go down as all time greats but as far as watching great Manny performances live I think the boat might have sailed on that one. Pac Man fought twice in 2011 and whilst he won both fights he didn’t exactly look great doing it. I am of the opinion that his destruction of Oscar De La Hoya was the last great performance from the Filipino. The Mayweather fight should have happened after that but Floyd didn’t want it then, possibly due to a fear of losing. It is interesting now that Mayweather’s camp are the ones making a noise about the fight. Recent Pacquiao showings have probably tipped the scales in Floyd’s favour should they meet but Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum seems reluctant to get involved.
I would always recommend watching Floyd in the ring. He is the most talented boxer I’ve seen fight in my lifetime and his defensive skills mean that his career will probably last longer. I see so many boxers try to emulate Mayweather’s defensive style, James DeGale for one, but only one man does it so well.
DB: Next up for me was Amir Khan v Lamont Peterson – I kept thinking during this fight that I wouldn’t have been able to tell who the favourite was if I hadn’t known it was Khan. If anything, I’d have guessed it was Peterson. Was this just an off-night for Khan? Can he recover to prove himself or did this simply show he isn’t the real deal?
WC: Amir Khan overlooked Peterson and paid in spades. Lamont Peterson was a mandatory defence and Khan had been making noises that this would be his last bout at light welterweight before moving up to welterweight. I think Khan and his team just thought they needed to show up to get the win. Like David Haye before him Amir Khan has really let himself down with his behaviour over the result of the fight. I scored the fight whilst watching and without the two point deduction I had Khan wining by a point. This wasn’t the robbery that him and his team are claiming. It’s a real shame because Khan’s reputation was only just recovering from the PR battering it took when Amir left Sky for Primetime over a Pay-Per-View row, now he’s back to square one. Khan is a phenomenal technical boxer but since getting knocked out by Breidis Prescott he’s insisted on trying to show the world that he’s a tough guy. As a result he’s been drawn into needless wars against both Marcos Maidana and now Peterson. The reality is that Khan had the skills to beat both men comfortably and he got drawn into their fights. Khan could easily become a world champion again but it needs to be based on his boxing skills rather than his brawling ones.
DB: Most recently, I watched Carl Froch v Andre Ward. I will assume that Froch is on the way out now and focus my questions on Ward – to me, this was the most impressive display of all the fights I’ve listed – would you agree with that assessment? Can he be the new superstar of world boxing? Could Froch have done anything to stop him or is Ward just too good?
WC: Carl Froch is far from finished, he just lost to a better man and plenty will lose to Ward in the next few years. Carl will move on from this and in all likelihood, like Amir Khan, become a world champion again. As for Andre Ward I truly believe that he is something special, he has a real problem though. As talented as he is I don’t think Ward will ever be big box office. He’s not the sort of boxer that will be in wars and he’s not the sort of boxer that will knock an opponent cold with one shot. Ward really is one for the purists. His style is very similar to Mayweather’s and it took Mayweather years to be accepted by boxing fans. Even now people don’t like watching him fight because of the perceived lack of excitement. I like Andre Ward and think that he his outrageously gifted but time will tell if he goes on to be a true superstar of the sport.
DB: Lastly, what are your thoughts on boxing coverage in the media? What do you think of Steve Bunce and Kevin Mitchell in particular? Are there any other boxing writers in the press I should keep an eye out for. One of the best interviews I’ve ever read was Donald McRae’s interview with David Haye ahead of the Klitschko fight. It was brilliantly constructed and gave a real sense of the occasion ahead and what it meant for Haye’s career and legacy. Are there any others I should read?
I really enjoy the work of both Steve Bunce and Kevin Mitchell. Bunce has almost become a figurehead for the sport’s media and Mitchell, along with Donald McRae writes some of the most compelling boxing pieces available in the newspapers today. In general I think papers are slightly hamstrung when it comes to boxing coverage. There are many that would argue boxing has become a minority sport and as a result it is only the huge fights that get mainstream coverage these days. The silver lining of that particular cloud though is the fact that in Britain we have the two best boxing magazines in the world, Boxing News and Boxing Monthly. Both publications are superbly put together and very rarely do you find either pandering to boxer’s ego as you might find on certain TV shows. They aren’t affiliated to specific promoters and are as good a guide to the sport as you’ll find.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the sport then boxing is brilliantly covered by many great books. Personal favourites of mine include McIlvanney On Boxing, a collection of Hugh McIlvanney’s newspaper reports previewing and reviewing big fights over the years. I also love Four Kings by George Kimball. It records the battles between four of the greatest boxers of all time, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran. There really is something for everyone as far as boxing coverage in the media goes and the more you get in to the sport the more you’ll discover things that you enjoy.
A huge thanks goes to David Bevan for his ideas and interest in getting this piece written. You can visit David’s site here and follow him on Twitter @the72football. You can also follow Write Cross, (@WriteCross) and me, George Ogier, (@george_ogier).