Archive for June, 2012

By George Ogier

Kevin Mitchell

Yesterday saw confirmation of a fight that fans have been expecting for a while. On September 22nd Coatbridge’s Ricky Burns will defend his WBO lightweight title against Dagenham’s Kevin Mitchell in Glasgow.

There have been many dates mooted for this showdown, most notably on the undercard of David Haye v Dereck Chisora at Upton park on July 14th. Thankfully though a fight of this magnitude is getting the headline billing it deserves. As one writer pointed out yesterday it’s the most significant contest between two British fighters for a long time.

Unsurprisingly the contest has already split observers when it comes to the subject of the eventual winner. What has already surfaced though is a pleasing mutual respect between Mitchell and Burns with Kevin taking to Twitter to explain that the fight is just business.

Kevin Mitchell on Twitter

The predictions for September are already coming thick and fast and one thing is clear, this really is a pick ’em contest. Ricky Burns is finally getting the respect that his career deserves. He was written off before fights against Roman Martinez and Michael Katsidis. On both occasions he triumphed convincingly.

Kevin Mitchell on the other hand is more of an enigma. He is clearly in possession of a mighty talent but problems outside the ring have often derailed his career. You could make a convincing argument that with his ability Kevin Mitchell ought to be in Ricky Burns’ position of world champion.

Both men have recently overcome quality fighters in what many have called their defining performances. Burns beat Katsidis on a night when many thought he would simply get out muscled. Kevin Mitchell knocked out John Murray in a fight of the year contender last summer when again plenty thought the Mancunian would be too strong.

Ricky Burns

However, as impressive as those wins were neither victory puts that Burns and Mitchell at the very top of the boxing tree just yet. Repeated heavy losses mean that Michael Katsidis seems to be a shadow of his former self. John Murray has since proven to have the defensive nous of a fairground test-your-strength punch bag. Both Katsidis and Murray have bags of heart but neither tested Mitchell and Burns technically. September 22nd represents the toughest test yet for both boxers.

As it stands I would make Ricky Burns the favourite. He has fought at a higher level than Kevin Mitchell and has consistently proved the doubters wrong. Mitchell’s personal issues cannot be ignored in the lead up to this fight either. We saw how they affected him when he lost to Michael Katsidis in 2010. All signs are that Kevin is happy with life right now and this could prove problematic for Burns.

I genuinely believe that Kevin Mitchell is one of the most talented British boxers of his generation. If he trains right and remains focused then he can beat Burns, and by a surprising margin. That said, I claimed that Ricky had no chance against either Michael Katsidis or Roman Martinez and look how those fights turned out. I can’t wait!

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Floyd “Money” Mayweather

By George Ogier

In the absence of a thriving heavyweight scene boxing fans and the media alike are keen to anoint a weight class as the sport’s “glamour” division. The recent dominance of both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have led many to suggest that the 147lb stars of welterweight boxing are today’s kings but is that reputation deserved?

There can be little doubt that Mayweather and Pacquiao are the pre-eminent fighters of this generation. Both men have risen through the weights and now, more often than not fight around the 147lb mark. They are responsible for some of the biggest PPV figures of recent years and all this without ever facing each other. Does the mere existence of both men mean that the welterweight division is the most exciting?

The events of the past few weeks have served to turn the welterweight boxing on its head. Pacquiao lost a shocking decision to Tim Bradley, Randall Bailey knocked out Mike Jones and Josesito Lopez forced Victor Ortiz to quit on his stool with a broken jaw. Whatever you think of the judges from Pacquiao- Bradley, the division has been front and centre in terms of news coverage.

It is only really the depressing emergence of rampant PED use within the sport that has taken the shine off some enthralling fights of late. Suspicion still surrounds Julio Cesar Chavez Jr after his victory over Andy Lee. There have also been positive drug tests for the likes of Antonio Tarver, Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson.

Beyond the thrill of watching the enormous talents of Pacquiao and Mayweather there is a generation of more than capable talent at 147lb. Fans were treated to a Rocky-style storyline as Lopez met Ortiz on Saturday. Paulie Malignaggi fought in Ukraine and captured the WBA title. Here in Britain we have the mercurial Kell Brook and the very real prospect of Bolton’s Amir Khan moving up from light welterweight.

Therein lies the strength of the welterweight division. It isn’t so much about Pacquiao and Mayweather and more about what is bubbling just under the surface. Yes, everyone wants to dine at the top table in terms of fighting the two figureheads but the battle to get that honour is equally compelling.

The race to win a payday against Pacquiao and Mayweather provides great sporting drama. However, the inability of Floyd and Manny to actually fight rather than just snipe through the media is a problem. It has created a situation whereby there is little for other fighters to aim at in becoming the best. In many other weight classes there are universally accepted “top dogs”. To get to the title you have to beat the man who beat the man.

Andre Ward

Wladimir Klitschko is head and shoulders (and probably chest too) above all other heavyweights. Andre Ward has proven that he is the premier super middleweight fighter on the planet. Just below Ward you’ll be hard pushed to find anyone that doesn’t believe Sergio Martinez to currently be the world’s greatest middleweight.

At 147lbs there just isn’t that pinnacle, a summit of human endeavour. If you beat Floyd or Manny (fairly) then you are merely part of the alphabet soup of titles. It has become a twin peaks of achievement and like David Lynch’s masterpiece it can be hard keep track of what is happening.

Both Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are destined to be remembered as all time greats. Nonetheless, that undeniable fact should not mask an addition to both men’s legacies. By not meeting in the ring they are robbing a new generation of fighters the chance to call themselves the undisputed champion.

In terms of talent and sheer popularity the welterweight scene is the most exciting at the moment. However, individual contests do not shape the whole boxing story. Fans want to know who is the best, they want to see one man rise above all others to become champion. The 147lb scene is currently throwing up some fantastic contests. Sadly, the confusion at the top of a very congested pile is diluting many people’s enjoyment of a golden era.

By George Ogier

There are a number of people around the world who simply adore a conspiracy theory. Diana, Princess of Wales was murdered by the Royal Family. 9/11 was instigated by the CIA and the Ku Klux Klan were the money behind Marlboro tobacco (look! A hooded man on the packet!).

Boxing is a sport rife with the idea of plotting and scheming. Whilst many tales of underhand behaviour are undoubtedly true there as just as many which leave the sensible majority slightly baffled.

Saturday night’s contest between WBC middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Ireland’s Andy Lee has got the theorists frothing at the mouth once more. Within minutes of a Chavez Jr victory the knives were out for the Mexican.

Claims that the champion was “obviously juicing” and on the “magic beans” were quick to appear. At first it was easy to dismiss this as simple bitterness. Many of the accusations were coming from fans of Andy Lee. Nobody likes to see their hero defeated so the reaction was understandable, if a little predictable.

However, this is not the first time that an allegation of performance enhancing drug (PED) use has been levelled at Chavez Jr. The subject continues to rear its ugly head every time the Mexican fights. With the Lamont Peterson case fresh in everyone’s mind is there a point when we have to take the mud-slinging seriously?

Ever since Julio Cesar Chavez Jr failed a drug test in 2009 people have been understandably suspicious of him. In November of that year Chavez Jr beat Troy Rowland by unanimous decision. The result of the fight was changed to one of No Contest when it was discovered that Chavez Jr had traces of the diuretic Furosemide in his system.

Chavez Jr has reportedly faced weight cutting issues for a while now and diuretics can be used to illegally aid that process. However, as many people have pointed out, they can also be used as a masking agent for PEDs. Taking a drug to help with weight loss is more likely to damage the fighter using it than his opponent but if the diuretic is hiding more serious drug use then it becomes a more serious issue.

PEDs were on the agenda once again when Chavez Jr faced Marco Antonio Rubio in February this year. Rubio claimed that Chavez Jr had avoided a post fight urine test and had left the venue before the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation (TDLR) had been able to speak to him.

The truth of that matter is slightly different. The WBC, who sanctioned that fight demand pre and post fight drug tests on all title fights. However, in some instances they are prepared to follow the processes set out by the local governing bodies. In all there were eighteen fighters on the Chavez Jr/Rubio card. Only two were drug tested and that didn’t include Chavez Jr or the complaining Rubio.

The issue of drug testing and Chavez Jr has come to light once more in the wake of the victory against Andy Lee. HBO’s Jim Lampley stated that Chavez Jr had failed to take a urine test before the contest on Saturday. This coupled with the victor saying he was suffering from leg cramps (a supposed side-effect of PED use) during the fight got the rumour mill turning again.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael contacted TDLR for confirmation of this and was told, “both fighters, Chavez and Lee, submitted urine samples before the bout. Their samples have been sent to the lab and the results will be looked at when we get them”.

I wondered if the accusations spread beyond the teams and fans of Chavez Jr’s beaten opponents. I asked boxing writers Ray Markarian and Michael Woods if they set much store by the allegations. Markarian said, “I’ve heard the rumours but I don’t know. You can’t destroy someone’s credibility without proof”. Woods was a little more succinct, “I need some steak with the smoke. Gimme some evidence”.

Therein lies the crux of the matter, proof. Beyond the failed drug test in 2009 there is nothing to go on. Spurious claims of missed urine tests and sore legs aside, what else is there? Beaten fighters have their pride to deal with. Many fans and pundits have hugely underestimated Chavez Jr. The fact that he is now seen by many as a genuine talent makes plenty of people look daft. It is easy to devalue the champion’s success by claiming foul play.

Chavez Jr’s promoter Bob Arum has stated that his fighter will face the recognised best middleweight in the world, Sergio Martinez in September. It is a fight long in the making and one that will be a huge box office draw. Win or lose, perhaps that fight will finally see Chavez getting the respect that some think he deserves.

By George Ogier

Rendall Munroe during his post fight interview.

Saturday’s much-anticipated super bantamweight clash between Scott Quigg and Rendall Munroe ended in bloody disappointment after an accidental clash of heads. The fight was ruled a technical draw and we’re back where we started in terms of defining the division.

Much had been made of the battle to decide Britain’s premier 122lb fighter. Munroe, the experienced campaigner faced off against one of the new generation in Quigg. Despite Quigg’s British title it was Munroe that sat atop of the domestic rankings going into this bout.

Rendall Munroe had regarded his opponent with little more than casual disdain in the run up to Saturday’s contest. Munroe felt, with some justification that he was the forgotten man of British boxing. Scott Quigg on the other hand was keen to cement his place as a genuine rising star.

A virtually partisan crowd at Manchester’s Velodrome met Munroe’s ring walk with apparent indifference. Predictably, the arrival of Bury boxer Quigg resulted in a slightly more vocal welcome. Strangely this fight wasn’t for Quigg’s British belt. Instead the two men were competing for the distinctly uninspiring interim WBA world super bantamweight title.

The fight itself was a genuine pick ’em affair. Fans and experts alike were split when it came to deciding the favourite before the first bell. Unsurprisingly, when the first bell sounded it was seasoned campaigner Munroe who settled into an early rhythm.

Scott Quigg’s game plan was to make Munroe miss with his attacks and then capitalise on that inaccuracy with counters. This had a limited success in the first stanza and Munroe bossed Quigg around the ring, catching him with some sharp, clipping shots.

Quigg’s strategy was much more effective in the second round. The British champion visibly grew in confidence and at times he had Munroe chasing shadows. At the same time Quigg was finding his own range and landing eye-catching shots himself.

Most observers had the fight all square as the third round began. However, what was shaping up to be a promising fight came to an abrupt end. What at first seemed to be a fairly innocuous clash of heads soon showed itself to be much worse.

Rendall Munroe’s right eyebrow was split almost completely and the ringside doctor had no hesitation in waving the fight off. An understandably angry Munroe turned the air blue with a string of expletives but there wasn’t any malice towards Quigg. As Munroe said himself after the fight, that’s boxing.

As disappointed as we all are at the outcome the safety of any fighters must be paramount in the minds of authorities. Sadly, not everyone in the arena was of the same opinion and trouble flared up in the crowd as the fight was called off. As a result there were reports of ambulance services being called to attend to some crowd members.

All in all it was a rather unedifying end to a fight which had promised so much. There was a talk of a rematch immediately after the bout but TV money may be a stumbling block. This promotion was the last in Ricky Hatton’s deal with Sky Sports. Hatton Promotions have yet to announce a deal with an alternative broadcaster so we will have to wait and see what the future holds for both Scott Quigg and Rendall Munroe.

Neighbourly Dispute

By George Ogier

Yesterday saw another round of a media circus encompassing the impending David Haye v. Dereck Chisora fight at Upton Park in July. What did we learn from the latest press conference? In all honesty, very little.

Once again the two men were separated by a metal fence. This time thought it was slightly shorter than the one used when they fight was initially announced. As a result we were left with a bizarre situation in which Haye and Chisora peered at each other over the top like two fractious neighbours disputing boundary lines.

The event itself was hosted by BoxNation commentator, John Rawling. Rawling started by saying that the event would be donating a sizeable sum of money to the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins.

On the face of it this is a noble gesture. However, the cynics amongst us might consider it a shrewd PR move as well. If the BBBofC gets its wish and the fight is cancelled then Frank Warren will be able to claim that the Board is seriously harming a charity’s finances.

With little more than a month until fight night ticket sales appear to be brisk. Warren claimed that upwards of 30,000 tickets have already been sold. Whether or not the announced undercard increases these sales remains to be seen.

The WBA heavyweight clash between Alexander Povetkin and Hasim Rahman was confirmed. I can only imagine that the winner of that fight will face the winner of Haye and Chisora. Also confirmed were appearances for Matthew Hall, Liam Walsh and most intriguingly of all, former amateur star Frankie Gavin.

Despite not making the cut for the 2008 Olympics due to weight issues Frankie Gavin turned pro in the same explosion of publicity that caught the likes of James DeGale and Billy Joe Saunders. Since then though it’s been a catalogue of problems for the former amateur world champion.

Frankie Gavin

Gavin won his amateur title at lightweight and has since had trouble with the scales. This seems to have continued with his Upton Park fight being made at a catch weight of 148lbs. It is beginning to look as though Gavin is running out of chances to make it as a professional fighter. Far and away the most talented boxer of that generation it would be a shame if Gavin didn’t make that successful switch to the paid ranks.

As for the main protagonists there was an inescapable feeling of having seen it all before. Dereck Chisora was his usual louche self while David Haye predicted himself into a corner once more.

On the face of it there is no way that these two men should be in the centre of media frenzy. Dereck Chisora is an exhibitionist who might actually do better as a fighter if he was ignored. David Haye clearly tries to portray himself as suave, sophisticated and witty. He merely comes across like a painfully dull broken record.

The usual platitudes were trotted out by both fighters. Haye claimed he was going to knock Chisora out and that the last thing Dereck would see is the lights above the ring and the referee counting to ten. David says this an awful lot in the lead up to fights but he hasn’t actually knocked anyone out since Alexander Gurov in 2005.

Haye obviously likes to think he selling a fight by making these grandiose claims. Ironically this is the one fight that needs no extra publicity whatsoever. News channels are still showing footage of events in Munich and newspapers are following the story in ways boxing hasn’t seen for years.

I am looking forward to the fight as much as anyone but I’d happily see both men kept in isolation until July 14th. It has nothing to do with the possibility of pre fight trouble and everything to do with the fact that we’ve heard this all somewhere before.

Rendall Munroe

By George Ogier

In the aftermath of the Manny Pacquiao versus Tim Bradley fight boxing apparently died for the umpteenth time. For those who aren’t prepared to poke the sport’s bloated corpse with a stick just yet there is a huge weekend of boxing coming up.

Over in Texas Ireland’s Andy Lee will take on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr for the Mexican’s WBC middleweight title. A little closer to home at Manchester’s Velodrome there are two great fights in store.

Sheffield’s Ryan Rhodes will take on the undefeated Sergey Rabchenko for the vacant EBU light middleweight title. However, it’s the top of the bill clash between Rendall Munroe and Scott Quigg which has garnered the most media attention in the UK and rightly so.

The fight itself will be for the frustratingly irrelevant Interim WBA world super bantamweight title. More importantly it will decide who is the best 122lb boxer in Britain. Scott Quigg is currently the British champion but it is former world title challenger Munroe who is still regarded as the UK’s best in the division.

The domestic super bantamweight scene is one of the most thriving weight classes in the country. Beyond Quigg and Munroe there is Belfast’s Carl Frampton and the emerging Kid Galahad from Sheffield.

Much of the media spotlight of late has been focussed on the ongoing war of words between Quigg and Frampton. As a result Rendall Munroe clearly feels like the forgotten man and he views Saturday as the time to put this right.

“They’re [Quigg/Frampton] the up and coming prospects. People think I’m dead in the dark, I’m getting old. It ain’t happening, I’m a young man still. Right about now I’m looking at bigger thing, I’m interested in winning world titles”.

Munroe has a point. Ever since losing his world title challenge to Toshiaki Nishioka in Japan in 2010 Rendall has had a very low profile. Managerial changes and one or two mediocre performances have meant that Munroe has drifted from the boxing public’s consciousness.

Obviously there are can be outside influences that affect a fighter’s career. Nonetheless Munroe must take responsibility for some of his career stagnation. Struggling to look good against a previously poor Ryuta Miyagi will not endear you to many people. Rendall Munroe is still rightfully Britain’s number one but it is up to him to reinforce that position.

Scott Quigg

In Scott Quigg, Munroe faces a man almost ten years his junior. With a relentless, come forward style Quigg is unlikely to give Munroe a moment’s peace on Saturday. Whilst Quigg will be keen to put pressure on his opponent it is worth remembering the lessons doled out during his last fight.

Quigg was put down by a Jamie Arthur counter punch when the two met in February. That came just as Quigg had begun to turn the screw on Arthur. While Rendall Munroe is far from the polished and slick speed merchant he has claimed in the past, he is fast enough to punish Quigg’s mistakes.

The knock down against Arthur has posed another question too. Will Scott Quigg eventually fall into a trap that has snared many of his gym mates recently? Quigg is trained by Joe Gallagher and a disturbing pattern is emerging amongst Gallagher’s most talented boxers in the last 18 months.

Gallagher trains his charges to fight in a high pressure, come forward style but opposing coaches appear to have found the antidote to such tactics. John Murray, Paul Smith and perhaps most surprisingly of all Anthony Crolla have all been stopped or knocked out by more technical boxers recently.

Murray was beaten by Kevin Mitchell in many people’s fight of 2011. Smith was knocked out by George Groves in under 2 rounds and Crolla lost his British lightweight title to Derry Matthews. On each occasion the Gallagher fighter has been far too easy to hit. Against someone like Munroe who has fought at world level this could be a huge problem for Quigg.

I have never been much of Rendall Munroe fan. I gave him enormous credit for winning the European title against Kiko Martinez in 2008 but he’s never been a fighter I’ve particularly enjoyed watching. Rendall’s bullish nature ahead of this bout hasn’t boosted my estimation of him either.

In fairness to Munroe he was the best super bantamweight in Europe by a distance for two years. Although he hasn’t covered himself in glory since the Nishioka fight I have a feeling Rendall will be too wily for Quigg on Saturday. I expect Munroe to win comfortably on points and prove he is still the best in Britain.

By George Ogier

David Beckham, Oscar De La Hoya, Anna Kournikova. All three have made vast amounts of money from a mixture of sporting prowess and looks good enough to have graced magazine covers the world over.

Kournikova made the sort of money that most tennis stars can only dream of. All this in spite of never winning a major tournament. Sport and beauty go hand in hand and it isn’t always the former that gets you noticed first.

De La Hoya was famous for drawing huge female audiences to his fights. The Golden Boy was fortunate enough to have the ability to match his Telenovela looks and is a shoe-in for boxing’s hall of fame. However, there are boxers with only a sliver of Oscar’s gifts in the ring who have carved out a name for themselves based more on their looks.

Gary Stretch

British fighter Gary Stretch is a prime example of this. Stretch won twenty-three of twenty-five professional contests. He was the British light-middleweight champion and even fought Chris Eubank for his middleweight world title. The bout was billed as Beauty v. The Beast and although Stretch lost that fight it was a nice addition to his CV.

Now Gary Stretch is more famous as an actor than he ever was as a fighter. Roles in the superb Dead Man’s Shoes and the not-so-superb Alexander are just two more career highlights. In addition to this Gary was modelling for the likes of Calvin Klein and Versace. It’s safe to say that Stretch is more famous for his face than his fists.

It’s almost two decades since Gary Stretch last appeared in a boxing ring. Last weekend saw the latest episode in the career of a fighter that might one day rival Stretch in the poster-boy stakes. After only five paid fights the British boxing scene is already unavoidably aware of Enfield’s Frank Buglioni.

A talented amateur, for a while Buglioni harboured hopes of fighting for Great Britain at London 2012 but after being cut from a preliminary squad the 23 year-old Londoner made the decision to turn pro.

Signed to Frank Warren’s promotional company, Buglioni has  had five of his professional bouts televised. On each of these occasions, one thing has stood out beyond even Frank’s raw talent. His fans.

One of the biggest issues for young fighters making their way in the paid ranks is audiences. Unless a boxer has had a high-profile amateur background selling tickets is as big a part of their life as training. A decent prospect is judged on their ability to put bums on seats at their fights as well as on boxing talent. Any young tyro with a following will catch a promoter’s eye.

Even in Buglioni’s amateur days he always had vociferous backing and this has transferred to his professional career. Hordes of baying identikit young men seem to make up the majority of “Team Buglioni”. It resembles a casting for The Only Way is Essex at times, chinos and side partings as far as the eye can see. And the best part? Boxing is all the better for it.

Frank Buglioni

With all the political machinations at the elite level of sport recently many have claimed boxing is dying. In Frank Buglioni the sport is alive and kicking. A well-spoken, affable and polite young man, he can clearly box and will only get better under the tutelage of legendary father and son team, Jimmy and Mark Tibbs.

Buglioni’s fan are loyal and will follow their dashing and handsome young leader wherever he might go. It’s not necessarily a regional thing either. His fans come from all over London and unlike say, Tony Jeffries selling tickets in Sunderland, Buglioni’s army follow the man rather than the city. The Enfield talent has a long way to go in building a fan base to rival Britain’s favourite boxing son, Ricky Hatton but it’s a fantastic start.

Buglioni’s last outing was on Friday night in a tough points decision over Jody Meikle at York Hall. The former amateur star won every round but couldn’t stop his seasoned opponent and got caught by some silly shots. However, it is worth reiterating the point that this was only Frank’s fifth pro fight. The timing and defence will improve and allied to some reasonably heavy hands Buglioni is a true star in the making.