The days of yore when I am my pals used to visit the Albert Hall, York Hall and sundry other traditional boxing venues (in the heyday of Tony Sibson, Dave ‘Boy’ Green and the great John L. Gardner) in order to watch the pantomime bills of Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire and Frank Warren have long gone, but last evening – in a rare event but as a refuge from normal Saturday night telly – I shelled out £16.95 in order to view Anthony Joshua’s defence of the IBF World Heavyweight title against his Tex-Mex challenger Eric Molina.
No sooner had the main event been brought to its expected conclusion at two minutes and two seconds into the third round than Eddie Hearn, Barry’s son, now the front man for Matchroom Promotions, had stepped into the ring and – following a cursory interview with the victor – had introduced Wladimir Klitschov to the assembled crowd and announced that Klitschov and Joshua would meet in a bout on 29th April next year at Wembley Stadium.
Business done, one might say.
The ‘fight’, as it might loosely have been termed given its low-key and uncompetitive nature, was an inevitable anti-climax. For all the interviews, TV build-up programmes and ‘weigh in’ publicity that they’d been able to generate during the previous fortnight, Molina walked to the ring with the quiet and resigned air of a condemned man who had already made his peace with God (he was wearing an enormous beaded cross around his neck) and, once the bell went, demonstrated about as much aggression as a bowl of blancmange.
To be fair to him, although I don’t think he’d intentionally come to lie down and collect the money, he might as well have done on this evidence. Reassuringly, perhaps, it’s a case of plus ça change for some things in boxing …
Part of the attraction for making my investment had been the apparent quality of the bill even though, for domestic reasons (family meal and being out-ranked as regards control of the TV zapper which meant that our early evening entertainment was necessarily dominated by enforced watching of parts of Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor), I only caught snatches of now-moved-up-from-super-bantamweight Scott Quigg’s impressive nine-round knockout of Mexico’s Jose Cayetona to win the WBA featherweight title and Irish legendary female boxer Katie Taylor’s second pro bout, a six-two-minute rounds points victory over Brasilian Viviene Obenauf (now operating out of Switzerland with a previous to this record of 9 wins in 10 bouts).
The best bout of the evening for sheer excitement was – as anticipated but in the event as it turned out unexpectedly and thrillingly – that between heavyweight bruisers Dillian Whyte, the man who beat Anthony Joshua in the amateur game but lost in an explosive recent title fight with him (but not before stunning the champion in round two) and veteran wild man Dereck ‘Del Boy’ Chisora.
There had been the drama earlier in the week when Chisora copped a £25,000 fine from the British Board of Boxing Control for losing his rag under Whyte’s provocation in a press conference and chucking a table at his opponent and entourage.
The bout, which immediately preceded Joshua’s with Molina, was just the kind of tear-up that we boxing fans love.
The word was that Chisora, whose relationship with Spartan living and common sense has historically always been tenuous, had got himself into some sort of shape by living thousands of miles from temptation in Russia.
Meanwhile Dillian Whyte – one of those street-wise fellows who lives on the edge and delights in being obnoxious – was favourite to win a contest that had every chance of kicking off in the auditorium before either fighter had even got as far as the ring.
As it happens, though the seething hatred between the two was self-evident, they both remained restrained before the first bell and went to work cagily. Something that was expected to last two rounds max and end in fireworks, one way or the other, became something much more absorbing.
By round four of the twelve – fighting in fits and bursts – both men had just about shot their bolts and it had become about how much each of them had left in the tank and which of them ‘wanted it the most’.
The result was compelling.
There are three categories of heavyweight. Firstly, athletes like Joshua; secondly, pumped up light-heavies such as David Haye; and thirdly, ponderous ‘seriously big boys’ who can absorb – and give out – heavy punishment.
Whyte and Chisora both hail from the third of these.
For the final eight rounds it seemed as if at any moment one or the other was going to be pole-axed by a round-house swing of enormous power and intent. It wasn’t readily possible to hazard a guess as to which. Back and forth swung the advantage – sometimes Whyte seemed to be boxing clever and about to jab Chisora’s head off to win by a mile or else blow him away with his heavy artillery. At other times, having taken severe punishment without ever flinching, Chisora ‘woke up’ and put Whyte under pressure, catching him with huge haymakers (telegraphed from about three miles away but, as far as Whyte was concerned, apparently unavoidable nonetheless). On several occasions, Whyte seemed all at sea, off-balance and at any moment about to sink to the canvas never to regain his feet.
By round nine, both were completely ‘spent’. Somehow they loaded up to bang away through the last two and a half rounds as if their lives depended upon it, before then one would back off against the ropes and the other, just as relieved that hostilities had been temporarily suspended, would then fail to move in.
The action in the last round was hectic. When they weren’t on the ropes, holding each other up, they were swinging like they’d spent six hours in the same bar, just met and and instantly fallen out big time.
At the end the Sky commentators had it desperately close, either to Whyte or Chisora. I had Chisora ahead by one round going into the last and, feeling that Whyte had just shaded the final three minutes, genuinely feeling that a draw would be a fair result.
In the end it went on a split decision to Whyte.
I couldn’t seriously argue with that. But I’ll tell you something. For what had been widely expected to be short and explosive – and possibly controversial, not in a good way – it was by some margin the best fight of the night.