Posts Tagged ‘Sport’

By George Ogier

FloydWladSaturday night saw two genuinely modern greats of world boxing step into the ring, continents apart. Floyd Mayweather laced up the gloves for the 44th time as a professional whilst Wladimir Klitschko made his 63rd ring walk in the paid game.

The two men turned pro a little over a month apart after each winning medals at the 1996 Olympics and both have risen to the top of the sport. You could make a strong case that each man would have prospered in any era of boxing such are their gifts and yet people bend over backwards to disparage the achievements of Floyd and Wladimir.

You would struggle to find two more different sportsmen than Floyd Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko. One is a loud-mouthed braggart with a chequered past and a taste for the overtly flashy. The other is a more thoughtful, reasoned man whose life away from boxing only strays into the public domain as a result of having an actress girlfriend.

However, when it comes to fighting, Floyd and Wlad are matched in their love for the sport and their dominance over those who have tried to topple them from the pinnacle of it. In spite of such imperious careers there is queue a mile long waiting to tell us that Wlad’s an imposter or that Floyd is a runner.

The root of scorn for each man is borne out of a very different set of circumstances. The main point of frustration with Wladimir appears to be that his peers just aren’t very good. It is a perfectly valid point but hardly Klitschko’s fault.

If Wladimir had avoided big names and just coasted to easy title defences then I could understand the anger but the truth isn’t that simple. Wladimir and his brother Vitali are the two best heavyweights on the planet. The only man who might come close is David Haye and Wladimir put such a beating on the Londoner that it left no doubt as to the identity of the world’s best big man.

Klitschko’s next opponent will probably be the unbeaten Russian, Alexander Povetkin in a fight that has been long talked about. Before people rush to suggest that Wlad has been avoiding Povetkin it is worth remembering that the Russian’s camp have shown little appetite for this contest in the past. It took the promise of a huge payday to make the bout a reality.

There is no denying that this a weak era for heavyweights. The two best won’t fight each other – and rightly so – because they are brothers. The challengers are often out of shape or blown up cruiserweights. Let’s be clear though, Wladimir Klitschko would have been a top ten fighter in any era.

Wlad is very good technically and accusations of his being robotic are wide of the mark. He rarely has to deviate from the one-two style that has served him so well but when called upon to do so the Ukrainian has varied his approach. Klitschko is also in great shape and clearly looks after himself between fights. The history of heavyweight boxing is littered with fighters who have taken a relaxed approach to fitness.

Wlad4It is obviously difficult to compare eras but the fighters from golden ages of the past would be dwarfed by “Dr Steelhammer”. As one writer pointed out, Rocky Marciano wouldn’t have been a heavyweight today. Wlad has also fought “fast” guys and few, if any have made it past his ramrod jab.

Wladimir Klitschko’s record has more than its fair share of mediocre fighters but as they say, a boxer can only beat what is put in front of him. Wlad struggled early on at the elite level but he has ironed out those faults and should now be recognised as an all time great of heavyweight boxing. sixty people have lost to Klitschko and only nine of those opponents have seen the final bell. That is greatness in any era.

The anger directed at Floyd Mayweather is of an altogether different nature. The public don’t often respond well to ostentatious displays of wealth, even less so from a man convicted of domestic violence. Once again though, the off-kilter moral compass of some boxing fans renders that argument useless.

The other big shadow hanging over Floyd is that of Manny Pacquiao. It is hard to escape the feeling that Mayweather avoided the Filipino great when Manny was at his peak. The window of opportunity for that fight has now gone with it being announced that Pacquiao is to fight Brandon Rios later this year.

Pacquiao aside, Floyd Mayweather has achieved some special things in boxing. World titles in five different weight classes is no mean feat. Especially when you consider that Floyd has gone from super featherweight all the way up to light middleweight.

Mayweather has fought many greats of modern boxing, Corrales, Castillo, Hatton, De La Hoya, Mosley and Cotto. There are other names on Floyd’s record not mentioned there who will also end up in the hall of fame yet plenty behave as though Mayweather has spent a life ducking tough opponents.

In recent times there have been people queueing up to claim that Mayweather’s next opponent would be the one to break the spell. De La Hoya would be too big, Hatton would be too rough, Cotto too powerful. In the end they all went the same way.

FM1Even Floyd’s most recent conquered foe, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero said he’d have too much for Mayweather to handle. It is one thing to talk a big game but nobody has managed to live up to their pre fight promises against Floyd Mayweather.

One of Robert Guerrero’s main bugbears ahead of the fight appeared to be Floyd’s entourage. Guerrero referred to them as mere cheerleaders, there to chant Mayweather’s mantra of “Hard work. Dedication”. Guerrero misses the point. That chant is not just something repeated offhand. Few people in boxing train harder than Floyd. There’s a reason he makes great fighters look silly and it isn’t simply natural talent.

I understand the nature of people’s attitudes towards Floyd Mayweather. He can be unpleasant at times and the talk of wealth grates a little after a while. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that Mayweather is one of the greatest fighters to ever set foot in a ring. You might not like the man but he has done more than enough to earn your respect.

Boxing is one of the few sports where those involved have their achievements measured by those they beat rather than the achievements themselves. In a sport where the best don’t always fight the best that is a fair judgement. However, fans should avoid letting that taint their perspective of two strikingly different but equally remarkable athletes. Floyd and Wladimir won’t be around forever, I suggest we make the most of them while they are.

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A latecomer to the pros

A latecomer to the pros

By George Ogier 

On Saturday night in Sheffield one of British amateur boxing’s most famous names takes what could be his last swing at professional success. The former Olympic champion Audley Harrison faces American puncher Deontay Wilder on the undercard of Amir Khan’s fight with Julio Diaz.

Plenty of column inches and internet forums have been devoted to the subject of Harrison’s failure to convert successfully to the pro game. In the city that is the home of GB amateur boxing it really is Audley’s final opportunity to make a dent in the rankings of the paid world.

Another boxer who is no stranger to Sheffield and the GB set up is London 2012’s boxing team captain Thomas Stalker. After failing to win a medal in the summer games Stalker took the decision to hang up the head guard and sign with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom team. However, three fights into his professional journey and many are starting to question whether Stalker has what it takes to fulfil his ambition and become a world champion.

Tom Stalker came to boxing late, only entering a gym at the age of 18. In spite of these tardy beginnings Stalker became one of the most successful amateur fighters this country has ever seen. ABA, European and Commonwealth titles were added to his CV as the Liverpudlian chased the big one, gold at a home Olympic games.

Stalker went into the Olympics as the AIBA ranked no. 1 light welterweight in the world. Controversy dogged Tom’s time at London 2012 with him being on both ends of disputed decisions. Some people felt that Stalker had been the benefactor of some generous judging in his round of 16 contest against Manoj Kumar. Conversely Stalker’s fans were furious when in the resulting quarter-final it was decided that Tom had lost a close fight to Mongolia’s Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg.

The disappointment of London 2012 gave Stalker little appetite to put in another four years of preparation for Rio 2016. The opportunity to turn pro was there and cashing in on fame generated by the games was too big an offer to turn down.

In the past, decorated amateurs have turned professional in a blaze of publicity but for Tom Stalker the switch has been reasonably low-key. In an interesting twist Stalker made his professional debut at York Hall, fighting just before Audley Harrison’s recent Prizefighter triumph.

That night Stalker’s fans turned a corner of East London into a Liverpudlian enclave, all for just twelve minutes of action. Support will not be hard to come by for the popular Stalker but as a flat performance progressed the crowd matched it with a deflated atmosphere.

Stalker’s less-than-stellar showing against Kristian Laight was understandable. A first professional fight in front of a raucous crowd would make even the hardiest of souls nervous. The general feeling was that “The Captain” would improve, he just needed rounds.

Team Captain

Team Captain

Since that night in Bethnal Green Stalker has fought twice more in a short space of time. Points decision victories over Andrew Harris and Gyorgy Mizsei Jr have kept the former amateur busy but there is now a rumble of discontent from some fans over Stalker’s potential as a pro.

I watched Tom Stalker’s debut at York Hall from ringside and to be frank it was rather underwhelming. More worrying though is the fact that he doesn’t appear to have learnt anything from that experience. In Harris he faced a three fight novice with no wins and yet Harris was able to draw one round.

Mizsei Jr had lost a third of his fights against Eastern Europeans who would struggle to be recognised in their own homes and yet at times he made Stalker look silly. It is worth remembering that Tom himself is also a three fight professional novice. However, with the amateur pedigree that Stalker possesses his technical ability should be way beyond what we have seen so far.

Are we being too critical of Tom Stalker? Steve Bunce wrote recently in Boxing Monthly “It is not the job of Robert McCracken, his team and the GB funding system to prepare boxers for the professional business.” This is undoubtedly true and whilst there is often a chasm between the two codes many of the skills are clearly transferable.

One of the most disturbing things about Stalker’s time as a paid fighter is how easy he has been to hit. On Saturday it felt like every time Tom tried to move inside Mizsei Jr’s guard he was getting clipped. It all feels like it’s a bit rushed and perhaps that is at the root of the problem.

Tom Stalker is almost 29 years old and 95% of his boxing experience has been centred around the amateur sport. The cliché of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a well-worn one but it’s well-worn for a reason. Can Stalker learn the skills he needs to be a success in the pros? There is a feeling that the likeable Scouser may well have left it too late.

There is a counter argument that age is no barrier success. It was a mantra espoused by George Foreman as he made his comeback in the late 1980s. However Foreman was already an experienced professional and the only issue he really had was one of ring rust (and perhaps diet rust).

Stalker needs to learn and learn fast. However, the two or three years it might normally take a novice to get to domestic title level isn’t really an option here. The problem is that during Stalker’s three fights so far we have learnt that he isn’t going to slip naturally into this change of career.

In his desire to please the fans with eye-catching performances it seems like Stalker is forgetting the fundamentals that served him so well in the world of head guards and vests. It isn’t just fight to fight that Tom is forgetting these rules, it is during contests too. On Saturday Stalker’s trainer was becoming frustrated with the Liverpudlian’s seeming inability to stick to the game plan.

Another difficulty is Stalker’s apparent lack of power. You could forgive him for eating a punch or two if he was getting inside to land a knockout blow but that simply isn’t the case. Tom appears to be chasing a shot that will never come. At 28 it will be difficult to add a power game to Stalker’s armoury so he needs to box smart, something that seems like a distant dream at times.

Nobody can begrudge Tom Stalker’s desire to box in an Olympics held in his own country. Especially not when he was the world ranked no. 1 in his weight class and the team captain. Sacrifices had to be made by every fighter on the GB squad and Stalker was no difference. However, the sacrifice Stalker made to appear at those games might just be the dream of professional success.

By Martin ‘The Brain’ Potter @theboxingbrain

AHDHThe tripod throwin’, trash talkin’, toe breakin’, thunderous punchin’ typhoon – otherwise known as David ‘Hayemaker’ Haye – is, seemingly, set to return to boxing this summer. And I, for one, am delighted.

Although not the best heavyweight (that honour belongs to his conqueror Wladimir Klitschko) or the biggest, David Haye is the most intriguing, charismatic big man out there; he is also the one British fighter, in any weight class, still capable of bringing casual fans to the table. Whilst world (and former world) champions Froch, Khan and Burns have struggled at times to fill indoor arenas, connect with fans or secure quality TV and mainstream press coverage (although, thankfully and rightly, Froch now seems to have broken through), Haye can sell out football stadiums in non-title bouts and provide copious amounts of copy for hungry hacks.

David’s detractors (Haye-ters?!) will point to his crass antics and arrogant attitude. Severed heads on t-shirts and broken bottles were not particularly endearing to the general public. But the truth is that they served their purpose, made Haye (and others) a lot of money and put boxing back in the spotlight. Boxing – more than any other sport – has always had, and needs, pantomime villains, good guys and bad guys. For straight-laced Klitschko, the flip side is ‘wild’ Haye, for respectful Pacquiao we have arrogant showman Mayweather; opposing characters, as well as opposing fighting styles are what draws fans to the fight game.

The other thing – the most important thing – that excites me about Haye’s comeback is the fact that the boy can fight. Has he actually proved it at heavyweight? Well, he has KO’d every heavyweight opponent he has faced bar two. One of these men was over seven feet tall (to former cruiserweight Hayes six feet, three inches) and an undefeated world champion – Haye won on points and shook him to his boots in the process. The other was the best heavyweight on the planet, whom Haye lost on points to. Yes Haye was disappointing in that bout and yes his excuses were a little lame (as was he, big broken toe an’ all), but he still pushed Klitschko harder than many others have in recent years – despite a huge size disadvantage.

Haye held three belts at cruiserweight, was a world amateur silver medallist and held the WBA heavyweight title. He has proven pedigree at the very top-level. Also he is not old for a heavyweight and is certainly not shop-worn, having had fewer than thirty fights. In my opinion Haye has the tools to beat any heavyweight out there; speed, power, athleticism and ability – a rare combination in the current climate.

The biggest issue will be Haye himself and how much he really wants it. One fight a year and a few TV appearances do not a truly great heavyweight make. Haye will do himself and his abilities a disservice if he doesn’t make a serious run, and some serious cash, through the current crop of heavyweights – just imagine the hype surrounding a Tyson Fury stadium fight.

The Hayemaker is ‘bad’ in some people’s eyes, he is good for British boxing in others. Ultimately though, whether you like him or hate him, you will watch David Haye. And if we all watch David Haye, well, that can only be good for boxing.

In his second piece for Write Cross, the excellent Callum Rudge wonders why it is that Carl Froch continues to divide opinion so much amongst British boxing fans. 

By Callum Rudge

“I haven’t had the recognition I deserve,You can go back to anybody’s career — Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, David Haye, Amir Khan, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Naseem Hamed. My record is better than all of theirs”

Carl Froch

The above quote is from an interview that Carl Froch the 3 time ‘World’ Champion gave to the Evening Standard, published on the 10th July. It’s quite hard to disagree with Carl, his run of fights from 2008 vs. Jean Pascal up to Lucian Bute in May of this year has been very impressive. He hasn’t ducked anybody, but to say he hasn’t the recognition he deserves is untrue. In the build up to each Carl Froch fight pundits and fans alike are queuing up to say that Froch’s run of opponents is unparalleled. Whether it’s on Sky’s magazine show Ringside or in any of the Boxing Magazines, he gets as much praise as anyone. He has been very unlucky with TV companies; after Mick Hennesssy’s deal with ITV ended he was stuck in TV purgatory on subscription channel Primetime. Now with his move to Matchroom and Sky he’s getting more exposure but he’s still clearly not happy.

I don’t know anything about guitars, or guitar based music but I was scrolling through Amazon’s bestselling albums list and one name kept popping up, David Gray. When I clicked on his name I saw a list of albums with one 5 star review after another but I couldn’t for the life of me name one of his songs. I then asked round the office to see if anyone knew what David Gray’s big record was and I only got one answer and when I mentioned the list of 5 star albums the response I got was “Really?”. The Monday after Amir Khan’s shock KO defeat to Danny Garcia a colleague walked in and started talking about it, this lady is a Grandmother and she knows as much about Boxing as I do about guitars but she knew Amir Khan’s name and that he had lost. Carl Froch is the David Gray of Boxing, he is respected by Boxing fans due to a run of high quality fights but his work is largely unknown by the general public. So what has stopped Boxing’s David Gray becoming Robbie Williams?.

Chris Eubank (Senior) was and still is a character; the monocle, the lisp, the flip over the ropes and the pose he would do as his name was being announced got people talking. It made some people want to see him lose, hence the popularity of Nigel Benn who was the complete opposite.. Prince Naseem was very similar to Eubank. Ricky Hatton was the 2 weight world champion who would have a ‘S**t Shirt Party” at his local pub after every fight. People know David Haye as the big punching, loud mouth kid from Bermondsey who slayed the 7 foot Russian Goliath plus he has the respect of boxing fans for Unifying the Cruiserweight division, if anything else. And then we get to Joe Calzaghe.

“I’ve been a big Joe Calzaghe fan over the years but have not been impressed by the way he doesn’t want to fight me”. I think he should fight me really. He has had a couple of really soft voluntary defences rather than fighting me and I’ve got the hump with him over it. Okay, Kessler is a good fight, but he says he wants only big fights now and fighting me would be just that. There would be huge interest in Britain for it”

The quote above was a typical Carl Froch quote from 2007, it was published just before Calzaghe was about to fight future Froch conqueror Mikkel Kessler for the Undisputed World Super Middleweight Championship live on ITV. A week after this fight Carl was scheduled to face a washed up Robin Reid on Sky Sports for the British Title. As a boxing fan I read that and thought “cheeky $#%!, he’s beaten no-one of note and is telling the man at 12 stone that he’s “got the hump” with him”. There was also the scene captured by ITV cameras in the build up to Carl’s fight with Jean Pascal where he phoned Calzaghe on camera and asked him for a fight, to which Joe replied that if the money was right it could happen. I believe Joe said that knowing that Carl wasn’t a money draw and that despite Carl’s views, the fight wouldn’t generate “huge interest”. Joe was already well past him and wasn’t looking back.

Floyd “Money” Mayweather

I think comments like this one and the one at the start of the article have put a lot of boxing fans off him. We still admire his achievements but wish he would show some sense before opening his mouth. I also think that Carl, unlike the fighters he mentions, has failed to capture the public’s imagination because nothing makes him stand out from the crowd. He doesn’t wear a 3-piece suit and drive a lorry or flip over the top rope into the ring. He looks normal, talks normal and acts normal. He’s neither the good guy nor the bad guy so the general public aren’t emotionally invested enough to look out for his fights. Floyd Mayweather, as well as being an exceptional fighter promotes himself as the bad guy and for that reason is the highest paid athlete in the world. Top-level sport, just like music is show business and normal people aren’t on the front pages of the papers.

Just ask David Gray.

You can follow boxing and Tottenham Hotspur fan Callum on Twitter here. If you would like to write for Write Cross you can get in touch by emailing writecross12@gmail.com.