Another domestic rivalry looks to be in the offing after last weekend’s fights in Manchester, says JOHN WIGHT
Another domestic boxing rivalry with the potential for thrills and spills is on the horizon after both Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr impressed last weekend.
The Manchester Arena had been due to the host Frank Warren’s Dereck Chisora v Tyson Fury heavyweight clash but the cancellation gave the undercards a chance to shine in their respective bouts.
Saunders looked the complete article, fighting with his brain rather than his heart, on the way to stopping Italy’s hitherto undefeated Emanuele Blandamura in the eighth round to take the European middleweight title.
Bumped up from top undercard to the main event, it proved a worthy replacement to the ill-fated Chisora-Fury tie, as the Italian was no pushover and came to fight.
No matter, Saunders was too good in the end and took his unbeaten record to 19 wins from 19 contests, with his sights now set on clinching a world title sooner rather than later.
Since coming to prominence as a member of the stand-out 2008 British squad at the Beijing Olympics, Saunders has opted for the slow and steady approach to the pros, learning his craft under the wing of one the most experienced and wily trainers in the game — Jimmy Tibbs.
His ability to both box and mix it, combined with his considerable appetite for success, makes the 24-year-old proud member of the travelling community one of the most exciting British boxing prospects to emerge in recent years.
Meanwhile Eubank Jr overwhelmed the outmatched Croatian Ivan Jukic to score an impressive first round stoppage victory on the undercard.
This takes his record to 17 wins from 17 fights and brings a much-anticipated encounter with Saunders a step closer to reality.
Like Saunders, the 24-year-old Eubank Jr has been patient in his approach, refusing to rush a career that has the full backing and support of his famous father and veteran trainer Ronnie Davies.
In terms of style and demeanour, the young Eubank is a chip off the old block, strutting around the ring with the trademark confidence of his old man, who is a permanent fixture in his corner.
Helping matters along when it comes to building the rivalry between both fighters is the fact there is no love lost.
Saunders has made his contempt for his domestic rival known and Eubank Jr has done likewise, further triggering memories of his father when he was in his pomp as the most controversial and indomitable fighter to ever grace the ring.
The key thing is that both of these rising stars can fight and both are improving all the time. Though Saunders has faced the tougher opposition of the two, Eubank Jr has sparred with the best in the business, including Carl Froch in the run up to his rematch with George Groves back in May.
Froch, along with a host of other prominent fighters and trainers in the game, has lauded Eubank as a serious prospect.
Time and Saunders will soon tell us if they are right.
2014 Games an unguarded treat
It has been a treat watching the Glasgow Commonwealth Games this past week.
The platform it affords some of the world’s top amateur boxing talent is only eclipsed by the Olympics in terms of the profile it offers young men going for gold and glory, some of whom will be destined to go on to further honours, not forgetting riches, in the pros.
Scotland’s welterweight Josh Taylor is one to watch. I have personal knowledge of him, having been privileged to witness his development a few years back at the Lochend Boxing Club in Edinburgh under talented coach Terry McCormack.
Taylor was a member of Team GB at the London Olympics in 2012, though he failed to gain a medal on that occasion.
He has always possessed blistering handspeed but looks to have added power and ring-craft since I last saw him in the ring. This can only augur well as he prepares to step up into the paid ranks.
Overall, the best thing to happen to men’s amateur boxing in recent years has been the decision to dispense with headguards.
Ostensibly introduced to increase the safety of the fighters, they cause as many problems as they solve.
Firstly, they only offer protection against cuts and not the more dangerous concussive impact of punches, while limiting a fighter’s vision and head movement.
They also provide a fighter with a false sense of security, blunting in the process that all important instinct for self-preservation when it comes to defence.
Just as crucial is the way headguards depersonalise a fighter, diminishing the human factor that helps to forge a meaningful connection between young athletes whose dedication is deserving of every plaudit and the fans whose support the sport thrives on.
Chisora v Fury: Time for trainers to go easy?
Last weekend’s slated showdown between Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury was cancelled after the former was forced to pull out with a week to go following an injury to his hand in sparring.
Promoter Frank Warren, despite having been in the game over three decades, must have burned a few brain cells trying to deal with the fallout of such a crushing setback.
Thousands of fans who’d forked out for their tickets, hotels and travel arrangements in advance will have cursed the day they decided to, while the size of TV audience will no doubt also have taken a hit.
Injuries in boxing, of course, can and do occur. But recently there has been a worrying increase in the number of high-profile fights postponed close to fight night because of them.
It suggests that fighters may be engaging in harder sparring and training towards the end of their training camps than they once did.
Traditionally, the thinking was that sparring should taper off two weeks prior to a fight. Now it’s more common for hard sparring to continue all the way up to a week before.
Another aspect of a modern fighter’s prep that may be contributing to injuries is the advent of specialised strength and conditioning work.
The days of a fighter’s training consisting of road work, pad work, bag work and sparring are long gone. Now a top fighter will typically have three sessions in one day — mostly consisting of road work or sprints early in the morning, followed by time in the gym or sparring in the early afternoon and rounded off by a strength and conditioning session in the evening.
The increased stress on muscles and joints as a consequence, regardless of the advances in nutrition and supplements that have taken place over the years, inevitably increases the risk of injury.
Perhaps it’s time for trainers and fighters to adapt their preparation to minimise the risks.
The financial cost of postponement, after all, especially a high-profile fight, is no joke. More significantly is the loss of faith felt by the fans and how it might manifest when it come to ticket sales and pay-per-view buys for future fights.