The garden is looking rosy for British boxing right now, with a handful of leading lights in full bloom and a host of promising young bulbs beginning to pop their heads out of the soil and up into the sunshine. In a bid to set up what may be in store for 2010, let’s take a gander through the stables of Britain’s pre-eminent matchmakers.
Frank Warren (Frank Warren Promotions)
Warren has long been the big promotional kahuna on the domestic front, guiding the careers of British boxing luminaries such as Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and Nigel Benn. He is currently aligned with Sky TV.
The star: Amir Khan
This one’s tricky. Khan is reportedly a promotional free agent right now as he looks to relocate his career to the U.S., although he’s expressed a desire to continue working with Warren on a fight by fight basis. There may also be the small matter of a multi-fight pay-per-view contract with Sky TV to fulfil, one which began with the Breidis Prescott fight (Khan’s previous bouts had been shown on network television channel ITV, which helped to build his profile and swell his fan base).
If we surmise that Khan will stay loyal to Warren, at least in the near future, what then lies ahead for the”‘Bolton Flash?”
It seems likely that the next chapter of Khan’s career will take place across the Atlantic, with purse bids already having been called for him to face the dangerous puncher, Marcos Maidana. Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach does not appear overly keen on this route however and would prefer for Amir to give up his WBA light welterweight title rather than face the Argentinean. Roach’s idea is duly noted on Warren’s own website, which may be telling. Telling also is a snippet from Warren himself in which he passes comment on Marco Antonio Barrera’s appeals for a rematch, a prospect which is as repulsive as a mooted clash with Barrera’s great rival Erik Morales.
Interestingly, the site also features a poll asking fans to nominate Khan’s next opponent. The names which would appear to be in the frame are thus: Ricky Hatton, Yuri Romanov, Michael Katsidis, David Diaz and Erik Morales.
It’s intriguing and indeed strange to see the name of former European lightweight champ Romanov punted here. The Belarusian could only realistically be sold to a hometown audience, one more interested in seeing Khan fight than they were in witnessing a competitive contest and this may then be the desired option should he decide to have a farewell gimme in front of his Bolton brethren. Alternatively, a Romanov bout may facilitate a return to lightweight for Khan, which would help to explain away the relinquishing of his light welterweight title (should he choose to do so) and would also help set up fights with Kevin Mitchell, Michael Katsidis and long term target Juan Manuel Marquez.
Waiting in the wings: Kevin Mitchell
If Khan does fly the coup, then 2010 will see him replaced with the graduation of a new stable star. That man looks likely to be “Dagenham Destroyer” Kevin Mitchell, who arrived on the outskirts of world class last time out when he tamed Breidis Prescott in Newcastle on the Khan-Salita undercard
Mitchell is scheduled to fight in February on a bumper Warren bill at Wembley Arena, which may be a precursor to a huge summer date with Michael Katsidis in London. Mitchell himself also appeared keen to punt the name of domestic rival John Murray as a prospective opponent after dealing with Prescott, which for my money is the best British fight at any weight which can be made presently. Warren may on the other hand look to build a fight with Khan in the hope that he can supplant the want-away man from Bolton with Mitchell in the consciousness of British fight fans.
Just behind Mitchell in the pecking order are two unbeaten fighters being groomed for the very top, in Kell Brook and Nathan Cleverly. Brook, 20-0 (13) is a 23-year-old welterweight from the same gym which introduced the Wincobank style of fighting to the sport, one developed and paraded by the likes of Herol Graham, Naseem Hamed, Junior Witter and Johnny Nelson. Unlike that lot, Brook carries his hands a little higher, yet exhibits a reflex dependent method of landing sharp shots on his foes, leading to dramatic knockouts. Brook is the current British welterweight boss and last year snaffled the Boxing Writers Young Boxer of the Year Award, narrowly pipping Cleverly in the process.
Cleverly has been hailed as “the next Joe Calzaghe” which belies his fighting style completely and has everything to do with the fact that he’s good and he’s Welsh. Tall for the weight at 6’ 3 ½”, the man from the valleys is a handy all rounder with a tally of 18-0 (8). Cleverly, who is currently studying mathematics at University, is scheduled to face Antonio Brancalion for the European light heavyweight title before winter is out and has assumed a decent ranking with the IBF, a title currently held by Tavoris Cloud. Warren may feel that Cleverly needs further development before going in with the likes of Cloud, and a more realistic target, therefore, could be the WBO title — which will presumably be declared vacant, after holder Juergen Braehmer was reportedly jailed for 16 months on Tuesday.
The hot prospect: Frankie Gavin
Gavin is the former 2007 world amateur champion who controversially missed the ‘08 Olympics after failing to make weight. Don’t let this persuade you that there’s a motivation problem there though. Gavin’s exit from Beijing had more to do with poor team organisation and the fact that he’d genuinely outgrown his division. The crushing disappointment he endured after missing the cut may end up working for him, by giving him the motivational edge he needs to excel in the pros.
Gavin is a cultured southpaw from Birmingham who fights out of Anthony Farnell’s Manchester gym alongside fellow prospects Tony Bellew, Ronnie Heffron and Steven Bell. Despite showing a tendency to mark up in contests, Gavin has a composure and an assurance about him in the ring which marks out the very best fighters. Currently 5-0 (5), Gavin is gifted enough to be fast tracked by Warren and will look to clamber up the domestic ratings this year, one which begins with a match against a top-30 sort domestically in Peter McDonagh on Warren’s stacked Wembley bill.
Aside from Gavin, Warren has an array of exciting talent in his ranks which includes the likes of James DeGale, Billy Joe Saunders, Stephen Smith and the aforementioned Bellew and Heffron.
Beijing gold medallist DeGale in particular can make huge inroads this year, in a hot domestic weight class which includes rival prospects George Groves and Tony Jeffries. “Bomber” Bellew should also make headway. Currently 12-0 (8), this light heavyweight puncher is part of a resurgent Liverpool fight scene populated by the Smith brothers and Tony Quigley among others. Warren may look to build a Bellew-Cleverly bout down the line; however, short term, a local derby match between Bellew and Courtney Fry would seem a sensible option.
The heavyweight: Sam Sexton
If David Haye had managed to defy biology for a few more years, Sexton would be the highest rated heavy we had. Presently 13-1, the limited slugger from Norfolk is coming off a brace of victories over the tough Martin Rogan, the first a highly controversial result. When you take into account that three of Sexton’s wins were 3-round decision victories in one of Barry Hearns’ Prizefighter tournaments and that his sole loss came by stoppage at the hands of Derek Chisora, it’s unlikely Sexton will trouble anyone above British level.
Sexton is scheduled to face what appears to be a shot Danny Williams in February whilst on the same bill, Chisora battles another veteran, former world title challenger Matt Skelton.
Mick Hennessy (Hennessy Sports)
Hennessy is the relative new kid on the promotional block, yet after steadily building an impressive stable of fighters over recent years, he stands as a major player in the UK. Hennessy is currently aligned with ITV, a network channel whose future in the sport looks uncertain.
The star: Carl Froch
There’s not a lot of supposition here as Froch is very nicely tied up with Showtime’s Super Six tournament for the remainder of the year in fights against Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham. A win against the Dane in Copenhagen will in all likelihood see his safe passage to the semi-finals of the competition with a stoppage victory guaranteeing it.
Hennessey will look to blood young talent on Froch’s undercards, which bodes well for both his and their future prospects.
Waiting in the wings: John Murray
Murray confirmed his position as Britain’s best lightweight in October by regaining the domestic title he’d previously lost on the scales when he stopped veteran Jon Thaxton. After Kevin Mitchell’s recent invasion of 135 lbs however, he faces stiff opposition for top dog status.
Murray, a marauding pressure fighter from Manchester, is trained by Phil Martin disciple Joe Gallagher and boasts impressive numbers of 28-0 (16). With a European title crack in the works against Anthony Mezaache, Murray will look to continue his rise through the lightweight ranks and like Mitchell, he’ll be eyeing up bouts with Michael Katsidis and Amir Khan later this year. A Mitchell-Murray contest would be the most exciting domestic match-up in recent memory and a fight which could not fail to entertain.
Another Hennessy fighter looking to make waves in 2010 is middleweight Darren Barker. “Dazzling” Darren is 21-0 (14) and currently holds the British and Commonwealth titles at 160lbs. Barker, a classy sharpshooter from Barnet, almost quit boxing in 2006 after the death of his brother and fellow boxer Gary. It was trainer Tony Sims who persuaded Barker to return to the ring and as he now approaches his prime at the age of 27, the big fight he craves above all others is a match with European champion and Ring Magazine fifth ranked middleweight, Matthew Macklin.
The streaking Macklin may have other ideas however with a European title defence slated for April which reportedly will serve also as a WBO title eliminator.
The hot prospect: Tyson Fury
Most fight fans will have initially been attracted by the name. It’s a hell of a ring moniker by anyone’s standards. However, look a little closer and you’ll find that Fury is a charismatic 6 foot 7 heavyweight braggart who holds a record of 9 wins with 7 KO’s. Fury has been a pro since December 2008 and in that brief spell has managed to earn a top ten domestic ranking (he sits at number eight in Boxing News’ ratings) which includes a hotly contested victory over John McDermott.
Fury performed poorly in the McDermott fight and was deemed fortunate by many to be awarded the decision. This close call pre-empted a switch in trainers, initially to Robert McCracken and then when that didn’t work out, to Pat Barret, relocating in the process to Manchester’s famous Collyhurst gym.
Currently sidelined with a hand injury, 2010 should feature a rematch with McDermott, after which he will have his pick of attractive domestic fights with men such as Sam Sexton, Martin Rogan, Audley Harrison and Derek Chisora. There’s a long way to go, however — even in today’s much maligned heavyweight division — before Fury can make the step up to genuine world class (if such a thing still exists north of 200 lbs). Fury has some tools and the right mentality; however, his conditioning and punching power require improvement. At only 21 years old, time is on Fury’s side.
I could also have mentioned Romford lightweight Bobby “Boogaloo” Ward in this section (which would have meant the next category wasn’t scuppered); however, after only four fights away from the limelight, it’s tough to gauge the man already saddled with the title “last British fighter to beat Amir Khan.” I like the look of Ward though.
The heavyweight: Tyson Fury
Frank Maloney (FTM Promotions)
Maloney is probably best known for his alliance with Lennox Lewis, building the young giant all the way from novice stage to heavyweight champion of the world. Maloney is aligned with Sky TV.
The star: Rendall Munroe
I like to refer to Munroe as Roy Jones-extra lite. The fighting bin man (or refuse collector in the States) from Leicester has a look of Roy about him and has obviously been influenced by the great man. Unlike Jones, however, Munroe carries very little pop in his punches and has only 8 knockouts from 20 wins (against one defeat).
Rendall currently holds Commonwealth and European super bantam titles, yet may relinquish these in order to take a crack up at world level with a mooted WBC eliminator against Victor Terrazas in the pipeline. If successful, Munroe could face WBC champ Toshiaki Nishioka (rated fifth by Ring Magazine — Munroe, incidentally, currently ranks tenth) before year end. Munroe’s fans, who turn up dressed in garbage man garb, would turn out en masse for the conclusion to this real-life Cinderella story.
Waiting in the wings: Jason Booth
Munroe’s good pal Booth is in the midst of a wholly unlikely career renaissance. A former alcoholic, the Nottingham man is perhaps one of the most talented of Britain’s fighters, an old fashioned technician who is on a good run at present, one he hopes will result in a European title challenge at super bantamweight. Time is short for the 32-year-old, yet anything is still possible with the way he’s performing at present.
One possible opponent for Booth is British bantamweight champ Ian “Dapa” Napa with the pair locked at 1-1 against each other. Elsewhere, Salford’s menacing Jamie Moore will be looking to bounce back up at middleweight and a return against Matthew Macklin would provide fireworks (their first epic encounter, won by Moore, was a domestic classic).
The hot prospect: George Groves
Maloney lost one of his brightest young stars in 2009 with the tragic death of super middleweight Darren Sutherland. Another promising super middleweight, George Groves, agreed to a promotional deal with Maloney after the collapse of Setanta Sports in ’09 (Groves continues to be managed by Hayemaker Promotions). Alongside Frankie Gavin, Groves appears to be the future of British boxing.
The young man from Hammersmith in London was a standout amateur, where he notched a victory over James DeGale, a rivalry both men are keen to reignite in the paid ranks. Groves has a record of 7-0 (5) yet has skills beyond his years with top notch power and a good ring IQ. Tough sparring against the likes of Carl Froch, Ryan Rhodes and Giacobbe Fragomeni should aid his progress.
Other prospects in the Maloney fold include Olympians Tony Jeffries and David Price along with Travis Dickinson and Gary Sykes. Olympic bronze medallist Jeffries is gathering a decent following yet is moving more slowly than the likes of DeGale and Groves.
The heavyweight: John McDermott
McDermott’s defeat to Tyson Fury so enraged Maloney, he suffered a ringside heart attack. The result may have adversely affected McDermott also, with his trainer leaving him recently due to a perceived lack of motivation. “Big Bad” John is no world beater, yet should prove tough enough opposition again for Fury when they meet again.
Maloney has a gaggle of green heavyweights at present including David Price, Larry Olubamiwo, Tom Dallas and Dave Ferguson. Of that lot, Price should go furthest yet has a lot of work to do from what I’ve seen so far. A grudge match with Tyson Fury could do decent business further down the road.
Elsewhere, the demise of TV station Setanta (the self styled “home of boxing” in the UK) in 2009 spelt bad news for Hayemaker Promotions. Without a television deal, many fighters within the Hayemaker stable found their careers stalling somewhat which caused some, including David Price, to jump ship.
One of these fighters, European light middle champ Ryan Rhodes (there’s some confusion who currently promotes Ryan) finished the year with a fine win over Jamie Moore. Rhodes will look to defend his Euro title early in the year before planning an assault on a world title of some nature. Despite a high ranking with the WBC, I’d be surprised if he went after Sergio Martinez and may instead put his cross-hair on someone like Yuri Foreman.
Britain’s biggest star, David Haye, has a mandatory date with John Ruiz to navigate, a fight which may take place on home soil. The rest of his plans for 2010 look unclear at present. Frank Warren alleged recently that Haye ended up signing over options to German promotional firm Sauerland in order to secure the Valuev fight. If that is true, it would appear that they hold the key to his upcoming schedule.
Britain’s former biggest star, Ricky Hatton, is plotting a summer return at welterweight where he may face Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto or Amir Khan. Now in the winter of his boxing career, one can only wish for a happy ending to the Hatton story and hope that it isn’t punctuated with the type of left hand he tasted last time he ventured under the ring lights.
Finally, Frank Warren will look to develop his Merseyside revival by pitting former Contenderstar Paul Smith against local rival Tony Dodson in March with Tony Quigley, another Liverpudlian, likely to rematch the victor. Other names who could make some noise this annum are light welterweight Paul McCloskey (20-0), featherweight Joe Murray (5-0) and super featherweight Nicky Cook (29-2).
Andrew Harrison also writes for his own blog, Safe Side of the Ropes.