A major international football championship will take place later this year. Unless you avoid sports altogether, (in which case this probably isn’t the blog for you) you will almost certainly be aware that this summer sees the UEFA European Football Championship arrive in Ukraine and Poland. The two countries will play host to some of the continent’s finest football teams, and England.
Despite continually being perceived as disasters on the big stage the English media will no doubt start to trot out the usual reasons as to why this is England’s year. The piles of evidence to the contrary will, for the most part, be ignored and the overstatement will begin. This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon but is it only football that suffers from the rose-tinted English effect?
British boxing has been through a purple patch in the last few years. David Haye was dominating the cruiserweight division and then making good headway after stepping up to heavyweight. Amir Khan was finally getting over the Breidis Prescott embarrassment and going a long to way to fulfilling a chunk of the talent we saw in his amateur days. Then there was Carl Froch. Froch had beaten everybody put in front of him before he embarked on an odyssey that Homer may well have baulked at. The Super Six World Boxing Classic pitted Froch against the best super middleweights in the world, and he beat most of them. In fact before the final Froch was only beaten by Mikkel Kessler in a tight decision.
2011 changed that. All three men lost their world titles and Ricky Burns vacated his super featherweight title to move up to lightweight. No more British world champions until, what’s that haring out of the Cefn Forest? It’s only Nathan Cleverly and his WBO light heavyweight title. We’re saved! British boxing is still on the world title map! Or is it?
Whilst listening to the latest ESPN Heavy Hitting boxing podcast I was intrigued to hear their wish list for 2012. ESPN’s Joe Tessitore and Max Boxing’s Steve Kim were discussing the fights that should happen this year and the fights that they would like to see. I was interested to find out how the guys rated Britain’s finest and what they thought our boys could look forward to in the next twelve months.
After paying brief lip service to the Klitschko brothers in the heavyweights and dismissing the cruiserweights as an almost made up division we moved on to the light heavies. I looked forward to seeing what Kim and Tessitore envisaged for Nathan Cleverly’s future. Not much is the simple answer, Cleverly didn’t even get a mention. The two men discussed the fall-out from Chad Dawson’s bout with Bernard Hopkins and where it left Tavoris Cloud. The fourth man mentioned on the show in the mix for light heavyweight honours was Ukraine’s Ismayl Sillakh. Sillakh is a boxer with 17 professional fights on his record but he has never fought for a title of note.
Ismayl Sillakh is now a resident of southern California and has appeared on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. We shouldn’t be surprised then that its main commentator, one Joe Tessitore, sees Sillakh as a prospect. Indeed, Sillakh showed great ability in beating the much-fancied Cuban Yordanis Despaigne last year. However, it must be rather galling for Nathan Cleverly to not even be name checked.
My initial incredulity at Cleverly’s omission on the ESPN show eventually gave way to an understanding. Whilst writing a recent blog I completely forgot that Cleverly was a legitimate world title holder. Cleverly won the belt in less than auspicious circumstances against a third choice opponent. As a result he hasn’t attracted the fanfare that some of his contemporaries have received in similar situations. A first defence of the title was a domestic tear up as Cleverly took on long-time verbal sparring partner, Tony Bellew. There is no doubting that this was a fantastic match but was Bellew at a point in his career where he genuinely deserved a world title shot? Unlikely.
An upcoming bout with the unheard of, never mind unheralded Tommy Karpency has only served to bolster the feelings that Cleverly isn’t a “real” world champion. This is a bout designed to raise Cleverly’s profile in the US. The Welshman’s promoter, Frank Warren assured us that Karpency was a serious challenger. Karpency, Warren stated, had taken former Cleverly victim, Karo Murat the distance. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the man’s abilities. Is it any wonder the rest of the world won’t take Cleverly seriously?
There seems to be a habit forming in the UK of promoters setting up all-British contests that make financial sense rather than furthering a boxer’s career. Kell Brook’s upcoming fight with Matthew Hatton is a shining example of this. There can be no doubt that the fight will put thousands of bums on seats at the Sheffield Arena but what will it do for Brook’s career? Matthew Hatton is a durable European level fighter at best. If Brook’s promoter Eddie Hearn, and the boxing team at Sky Sports are to be believed then Kell is the real deal, already a world-class boxer. An interesting question is, how have the British media, in some quarters, come to the conclusion that Brook is world-class? Who has he beaten to prove this?
Recently I have heard claims that many British boxers are already at the “world” level of the sport. Kevin Mitchell, John Murray, again, Hatton and Brook. Even Ireland’s Paul McCloskey has been mentioned as a top-level fighter. What do these men have in common? They all fight on Sky Sports, the home of live hyperbole. All five boxers listed are incredibly talented individuals but none of them are at world level. Kevin Mitchell has shared the ring with one world star and was beaten easily. Mitchell may well blame training camp issues but the point stands, he wasn’t good enough. John Murray recently fought Brandon Rios in the US and was beaten badly. Matthew Hatton’s only outing for a world title saw him acclaimed on Sky for having avoided being knocked out, hardly stellar stuff. Kell Brook has yet to fight anyone of note and Paul McCloskey hid behind a poor stoppage to claim he would have kicked on and beaten Amir Khan when they met last year.
In my opinion there are perhaps three active “world class” fighters from the UK. Carl Froch proved during the Super Six contest that he belongs at boxing’s top table. Amir Khan, despite his recent tribulations still has much more to offer as a boxer and is technically very gifted. The third fighter that can claim to be among boxing’s elite is Ricky Burns. Burns may not have huge power but he keeps proving the doubters wrong and I think he can be a force in the lightweight division for a few years yet.
There are some very talented boxers produced in Britain and some of them will, I’m sure go on to fight for and win world titles. What we must be wary of is building fighters up to a point where they begin to believe the hype before having a chance to prove it. Few people will be more pleased than me if Kell Brook wins a world championship. However, unlike the people at Matchroom and Sky Sports I’d quite like Brook to prove his ability before anointing him as boxing’s next big thing.