With nothing doing over the weekend, I decided I would quit staring out over the barren international wasteland and instead turn my gaze inward and onto the British fight scene. With the domestic season winding down, it felt like a good time to cast an eye over my current top 20 British fighters to see what’s in store for them as we edge into the second half of 2010.
1. David Haye
Bermondsey, Heavyweight (24-1, 22 KOs)
Firstly, has anyone seen him? Haye’s vacation after thumping the bejesus out of John Ruiz must have been a good one as he hasn’t been spotted since, although there are whispers that he’s been padding his pension on the UK’s lucrative after dinner circuit. Reportedly locked into a different type of dialogue with “the Klitschkos,” Britain’s red tops have instead been talking up a jolly boy’s outing with Audley Harrison, one which the editors of both Boxing Monthly and Boxing News seem at ease with despite the derision it has attracted from plenty of other quarters.
Wladimir’s camp has declared that Haye was offered the deal he so publicly craved: an autumn date with a 50-50 purse split and without, crucially, any future options being requested by K2 Promotions. Despite scotching this approach, Haye has failed to explain his reasoning and has frustrated fans with his Scarlet Pimpernel impersonation. In the meantime the Russian Alexander Povetkin has nipped in to take his place at the big table and will face the champ in September. In light of a recent public challenge to Haye via video viral, one which featured a leering Wlad goading “The Hayemaker” for “bitching out” of fights and after the Ukrainian subsequently called the WBA titlist “a pussy” in the trade press, Haye’s silence has battered his credibility.
There does, however, appear to be a chance for Haye to make good on his promise of a Klitschko brawl next up, after HBO Sport’s head honcho Ross Greenburg announced that the network is opting out of the heavyweight division completely unless a fight between Haye and older brother Vitali or the Pole, Tomasz Adamek can be made. I have a hunch we may see the latter.
If it’s Harrison who gets the nod, though, then Haye’s bank balance will swell in direct proportion to how small his reputation will shrivel. His next move will also be crucial in terms of staying ahead of his compatriots on lists such as these, with the man below him in particular making a great case for an abdication.
2. Carl Froch
Nottingham, Super Middleweight (26-1, 20 KOs)
Has a British fighter ever committed to a more demanding schedule than “The Cobra?” Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler have all been accommodated in succession and next up, he saunters away from the frying pan and straight into Arthur Abraham, a potential donnybrook where victory for the Brit would guarantee another toughie, possibly against Andre Ward. Ouch. Nigel Benn never contemplated such a programme, nor did Chris Eubank and certainly not Joe Calzaghe — yet the Nottingham man lags woefully behind his predecessors in terms of support, popularity and most importantly of all, visibility.
Whilst Sky and HBO fawn all over Haye and even TERRESTRIAL channels battle it out to feature Amir Khan, Froch is left to perform on obscure PPV provider Primetime. Mick Hennessy’s lack of a television deal has hurt his entire stable, none more so than Carl, whose patience with the promoter snapped recently when it was revealed that an agreement to drag Abraham over onto home turf (bearing in mind how pivotal home advantage has been in the Super Six tournament thus far) was a verbal one only. That’s ridiculously naïve, if we’re being kind, and completely negligent if we’re not, and it makes Froch’s task against the Armenian puncher that shade more difficult. As it stands, only a devastating and one-sided loss would bring his placing into question.
3. Amir Khan
Bolton, Junior Welterweight (23-1, 17 KOs)
Khan is living The American Dream right now after setting sail for the States, where he now takes tactical instruction from Freddie Roach and training tips from Alex Ariza. Khan’s improvement under the men behind boxing’s current messiah Manny Pacquiao was there for all to see in his last bout, as he pounded Paulie Malignaggi to defeat in eleven rounds, although his next step is unclear.
Post-Malignaggi, Richard Schaefer floated the idea at a recent U.K. presser of Amir taking a summer bout against lightweights John Murray or Joel Casamayor; however, neither came to pass and the Bolton speed merchant may now have to wait until December to secure a domestic pay-per-view date. Golden Boy looks to have settled on the winner of the upcoming Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz rematch as the man they want in the opposing corner.
Despite being super talented, Khan’s penchant for favouring fights with lightweights over more rigorous tests against the likes of Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander and Marcos Maidana has not gone unnoticed. Whilst I understand the prudence being shown after a remarkable rebuilding programme, Khan hasn’t a hope of usurping the men above him here until he steps up to the mark.
4. Junior Witter
Bradford, Junior Welterweight (37-3-2, 22 KOs)
Witter’s place is hanging by a thread as he approaches a full year away from the ring. The former WBC junior welter titlist has dropped two from his last three, against the current dynamic duo at 140 lbs (if one assumes that Pacquiao is now a welterweight). Timothy Bradley humbled him in Nottingham in ’08, flooring him en route to a split decision victory, whilst Devon Alexander forced him to quit on his stool after “The Hitter” wrecked his left hand in a bout he was comfortably losing.
A mooted comeback at welterweight was put on ice after the Bradford man crocked himself playing football, although rumours persist. He currently holds a number 13 ranking with the WBC at the higher weight, yet at 36 and after a career spanning 13 years and 42 bouts (three defeats, two draws), time is not on his side. A fight with EBU champ Matthew Hatton (brother of Ricky) would no doubt do decent business.
5. Matthew Macklin
Birmingham, Middleweight (26-2 18 KOs)
Macklin is presently ranked as the number six contender to middleweight king Sergio Martinez by Ring magazine, yet he’s elected to take care of a little business domestically before he makes his charge towards world honours. In what looks to be the best match-up of an absolutely stacked Frank Warren card in September, Macklin has his eyes on the unbeaten European titlist “Dazzling” Darren Barker.
There’s long-running beef between the pair which should add to the ingredients and make for a fascinating bout, one which will see Macklin looking to regain the Euro belt he never lost in the ring. After suffering a cut in sparring, Macklin chose to relinquish the title rather than resting on his laurels, which then allowed Barker to snaffle it with a win over Frenchman Affif Belghecham in what turned out to be a far tougher bout than expected. A win for Macklin would consolidate his ranking with the four major alphabet organisations; however, with men like Martinez, Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik patrolling the division summit, he faces a tough task to get into the world title mix. Tapping into new markets through his Irish parentage could prove a shrewd move in this regard.
6. Kevin Mitchell
Dagenham, Lightweight (31-1, 23 KOs)
Mitchell slipped a place after his crushing defeat to Aussie war machine Michael Katsidis in May. After being given a five-star build up by promoter Frank Warren, only to reveal post fight that he hadn’t trained correctly for his big coming out party, he can expect tough times ahead if he is to figure as highly in his sponsor’s affections as once he did.
7. Rendall Munroe
Leicester, Junior Featherweight (21-1, 9 KOs)
Munroe is on the cusp of a world title fight at junior featherweight, holding as he does the mandatory challenger’s slot to WBC titlist Toshiaki Nishioka. Promoter Frank Maloney is bartering hard to bring the clash over to the U.K. and to Munroe’s hometown of Leicester (fans are currently petitioning for it to be held at Leicester City’s football ground).
The boxing bin man was recently named European boxer of the year for the second successive term and victory over Victor Terrazas in April rocketed him up to number six in Ring mag’s rankings. An improbable title win would advance him a few spots on this list and his working class hero story would be complete.
8. Ryan Rhodes
Sheffield, Junior Middleweight (44-4 30 KOs)
Rhodes has resurrected his career and is revelling in his current role of European belt holder. His upcoming September defence against Lukas Konecny may act as a prelude to a WBC title bout, with the name of Antonio Margarito currently in the frame.
At 33, Rhodes appears to be improving with each fight and with Frank Warren showing an interest in him (Warren beat off competition from Hatton Promotions to stage the Konencny fight) a fairytale end to a tumultuous career may yet come to pass.
9. John Murray
Manchester, Lightweight (29-0, 17 KOs)
The woes which have befallen Mick Hennessy of late have perhaps hit John Murray hardest. The man hailed as the heir apparent to Ricky Hatton contemplated a life away from the sport prior to the biggest win of his career over Jon Thaxton back in October, due to his inability to land regular work. Since then, he’s only been out of the garage once with a swashbuckling win over the brave beyond belief Gary Buckland.
A brief dalliance with Amir Khan predictably ended in disappointment, although rumours linking him to Michael Katsidis remain on life support. True to form, he may have to settle for a less glamorous mandatory European assignment against Andriy Kudriavtsev in August with the fight likely to take place in Marbella of all places. His contract with Hennessy expires in October. Murray’s next move could be crucial.
10. Nathan Cleverly
Caerphilly, Light Heavyweight (19-0, 9 KOs)
Cleverly had been forced to juggle his fledgling career in the pro ranks alongside a second life as a student as he studied towards a degree in mathematics. With his mortar board finally secured and the books now shelved, he will look to go full throttle and kick on in September. He appears to have targeted the WBO route to world honours and faces a title eliminator against the unbeaten Karo Murat.
Oddly, both men rate above the man they’re aiming to eventually knock off (Juergen Braehmer) in Ring magazine’s 175-pound rankings. With the threat of a prison sentence hanging over Braehmer, the idea here is that the winner of the Cleverly-Murat encounter could well find themselves becoming a titlist by default (which was the same plan ahead of Kevin Mitchell’s recent crack at Michael Katsidis). A victory, nonetheless, would announce his arrival onto the world scene and allow him to bound up this list.
11. Jason Booth
Nottingham, Junior Featherweight (35-5, 15 KOs)
Booth was all set for a world title crack at Steve Molitor later this month; however, a stress fracture suffered by the IBF title holder in training has pushed the bout back until September. That fight will be crucial to Booth’s future. A loss may call time on his career whilst a win, well, then all bets are off.
12. Kell Brook
Sheffield, Welterweight (21-0, 14 KOs)
Kell (real name Ezekiel) will look to put recent troubles behind him by asserting domestic dominance over his main rival Michael Jennings next up. In yet another WBO title eliminator involving Warren fighters, Brook will hope that an exciting win will allow him to move onto the world scene.
Depending on belt politics, Brook may face a vacant title fight against unbeaten Philadelphian Mike Jones, which would certainly test his credentials.
13. Darren Barker
Barnet, Middleweight (22-0, 14 KOs)
Barker almost walked away from the sport after the tragic death of his younger brother Gary in 2006. Gary was a junior Olympic champion and the more talented of the two siblings, yet a car crash ended his life tragically at just 19 years of age and drove big brother Darren to drink himself out of boxing.
Ten months later, with help from his trainer Tony Sims, Barker returned and has since taken British, Commonwealth and European honours. He now gets a long awaited crack at domestic rival Matthew Macklin. A win for the Barnet sharpshooter would put him into world title reckoning and with his obvious star quality, could make him an overnight sensation in the U.K.
14. Paul McCloskey
Londonderry, Junior Welterweight (21-0, 11 KOs)
McCloskey covets a fight with Amir Khan but after his recent slog against Italian Giuseppe Lauri, he looks to be a million miles away from landing that big fish. An accomplished amateur, the Dungiven southpaw has excellent punch anticipation and despite fighting with his head up at times, is usually difficult to nail clean.
The buzz he has created in his native Northern Ireland may have led to him exchanging recklessly with Lauri in a performance which looked to have shown his limitations. The EBU has also ordered a rematch after McCloskey splattered the Italian when he offered out his left glove as an apology for hitting on the break. Another subpar performance in that one would see the Euro champ drop significantly on this list.
15. Jamie McDonnell
Doncaster, Bantamweight (15-2-1, 7 KO’s)
McDonnell has had a whirlwind year, one which has seen him snatch British, European and Commonwealth titles at bantamweight and push himself somewhere close to a top-20 world rating. The Doncaster lad has a look of “The Merthyr Matchstick” Johnny Owen about him and after dropping a couple of razor thin decisions early in his career (to good men in Lee Haskins and Chris Edwards) he has blossomed into a quality operator.
After dethroning British and Commonwealth boss Ian Napa in January, McDonnell went one better by mugging Jerome Arnould for the vacant Euro belt on the Frenchman’s patch. Jamie made light work of Italian Rodrigo Bracco on Friday evening and will look to continue his title tenure with a defence against the Belgian, Carmelo Ballone.
16. Paul Smith
Liverpool, Super Middleweight (29-1, 15 KOs)
Smith finds himself at the forefront of a resurgent Liverpool fight scene after a brace of turf war wins over Tony Quigley and Tony Dodson for the British title. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, though. Smith would appear to be the man who has been targeted for James DeGale’s first crack at a meaningful title whilst George Groves would also like to get his claws into him sooner rather than later.
With a proposed clash against Brian Magee in the recycling bin, Smith may be well advised to take the young lions on now as they’re only going to get better. Other than that, a Quigley re-run may sell well in Liverpool.
17. Michael Jennings
Chorley, Welterweight (36-2, 17 KO’s)
“The Chorley Lurcher” will finally meet domestic rival Kell Brook in September after the clash was pencilled in on three previous occasions, only for it to fall through each time. The match-up doubles as a WBO title eliminator; however, the winner is unlikely to meet the current holder (a certain Filipino monster) but will be poised to snap up the belt should it be discarded.
Jennings will start as the underdog against Brook but his smooth and busy boxing style may prove a perfect antidote to the Sheffield fighter’s Wincobank technique.
18. Ricky Burns
Bellshill, Junior Lightweight (28-2, 7 KO’s)
Burns faces the fight of his life in September, a WBO title challenge to the talented Puerto Rican belt holder, Roman Martinez in Glasgow. The trip is unlikely to bother “Rocky” overly if his last trip to the U.K. was anything to go by. In March last year, he journeyed to Manchester to dethrone Nicky Cook in four rounds on the Amir Khan-Marco Antonio Barrera undercard.
Martinez has vowed to knock Burns out, rather than allow his fate to be decided by judging in hostile territory. Burns, a feather-fisted out-and-out boxer has a monumental task in front of him.
19. Craig McEwan
Edinburgh, Middleweight (18-0, 10 KO’s)
McEwan is the third man on the list with links to Freddie Roach and his thriving Californian sweatshop. A 2002 Commonwealth Games medallist, McEwan exchanged Edinburgh for Hollywood after turning over to the pros and has quickly motored to 18 wins under Roach’s guidance and Golden Boy’s promotional umbrella.
The Scot is set to headline against Danny Perez on TeleFutura’s July 23rd card in Temecula after original bill topper Sergio Mora flipped off J.C. Candelo in favour of a bout with Shane Mosley.
20. George Groves
Hammersmith, Super Middleweight (9-0, 7 KO’s)
Groves is still a prospect, but what a prospect. Despite having been dropped by Carl Froch in sparring, “Saint” George’s confidence knows no bounds. After dismantling Charles Adamu for the Commonwealth title in his previous bout, he finally gets to make his U.S. debut on the Marquez-Diaz card later this month.
Andrew Harrison also writes for his own blog, Safe Side Of The Ropes.