There is no doubt that professional boxing is enjoying a revival in the UK but sometimes it doesn’t help itself.
Last night, for example, Carl Frampton (a former world featherweight champion) – seeking to emulate the sold-out stadium successes of Anthony Joshua – successfully defended his WBO ‘interim’ title against Australian Luke Jackson in front of 25,000 spectators at the Windsor Park stadium in Belfast.
With Northern Ireland a bit of a hotbed for boxing and Frampton now at the veteran stage, it probably seemed a ‘what’s not to like?’ equation, especially after he put on a pretty ruthless display and his opponent was retired by his corner in the 9th round.
Although I was watching the promotion, which being shown free to air by BT Sport, on television, I didn’t stay up to watch Frampton’s bout (the main event) for two reasons.
Firstly, these days I tend to find fights at weights below welterweight (10 stone 7 pounds) – in which for the most part the participants don’t tend to punch heavily enough to knock their opponents out – a bit boring. I don’t mean to denigrate the science of the Noble Art unfairly but 10 to 12 rounds of pitter-patter exchanges, however dexterous the action, no longer really do it for me and I find my mind inevitably straying to picking up a newspaper or even flicking to other channels to see if there’s anything more entertaining or diverting.
Secondly, having watched three earlier uninspiring bouts – Northern Ireland’s former illustrious amateur pug Paddy Barnes’ ill-fated attempt to win the WBC world flyweight title from Cristofer Rosales, much-fancied welterweight (fellow Paddy) Lewis Crocker’s laboured six-round points snore-bore victory over William Warburton and Tyson Fury’s easy ten round points win over Francesco Pianeta – I’d decided on balance that my time would be better spent going to bed.
One of the essential truths about pro boxing – and this applies to promotions at any level of the game – is that it is all in the match-making.
I have mentioned this before, but choose your fighters carefully, pay them well and match them at about their own level or better and you’ll get determined participants who relish the challenge and give of their all.
Which (obviously) is what the punters want to see – viz. bouts involving people who are in some way putting their career paths on the line rather than just turning out for the cash plus the glorious anticipatory sense of not being able to predict the outcome in advance with any certainty.
Unfortunately last night’s Windsor Park event lacked that sense of pizzazz.
As far as I could tell, Frank Warren (Tyson Fury’s promoter) seemed to have a hand in proceedings though I am not necessarily suggesting that this in itself took us back to the ‘good old, bad old’ days of the 1970s and 1980s when UK boxing promotions were transparently manufactured to favour the promoter’s pet fighters.
For example, removing the facts that Paddy Barnes was a native of Northern Ireland and a pal of Carl Frampton from the equation, it is hard to fathom why he was fighting for a world title at the age of 31 in only his sixth professional fight.
Granted, he’d won two Commonwealth gold medals and a bronze at the Olympics but, despite all his bravura, he was always coming second best and was completely poleaxed (and then counted out) after a punch to the solar plexus in the fourth round by his slick and swift 23 year old opponent.
That he is very big and very awkward is about 70% of what he brings to the ring. He’s a passably capable boxer in a technical sense but deep down he doesn’t have a born fighter’s killer instinct or desire to go to war.
I watched his first comeback fight about three months ago live on television – frankly, to state that it was about one level above a farce is over-egging it. It was about as aggressive and meaningful a contest as an average training session in the gym from the heavyweight heydays of the 1980s where the main man was doing no more than shadow boxing and hitting the pads for twenty minutes and then posing for photographs with fans before going downtown for a Kentucky Fried Chicken lunch.
Last night’s outing was only marginally more impressive.
Fury had apparently shed another 18 pounds in the intervening period but the admittedly powerful-looking Pianeta – no doubt carefully hand-picked by Warren – was about as aggressive as a farm tractor coming towards you down a winding country lane. Fury, never under any pressure, won all ten rounds without breaking sweat largely because Pianeta rarely threw more than six punches (and landed with but one) in each stanza. Totally forgettable.
There was more action in the aftermath when, in a staged confrontation in the ring, Fury threatened – in a four-letter-word-laden outburst – to flatten Deontay Wilder, the 40 fight unbeaten US WBC world heavyweight champion who had flown over for the evening, when they meet (allegedly at some point in the next six months).
That said, it played out as more of a throwback to something out of Barnum & Bailey’s Circus than modern, 21st Century, boxing business fare.