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Land of Hope and Glory………what does 2002 hold for British fighters?
By David Payne
As we enter 2002, the British fight scene is typically bubbling with potential stars many of whom will run out of steam long before reaching the world stage, unless you count the cheap thrills spurious sanctioning bodies bestow in British arenas. I for one do not. However, here is a swift glance at some of the names that might just make a few noises before the Christmas Trees are back up.
But, before we navigate through the pretenders, let us reflect on the profile British fighters for whom 2002 will be laden with multi-million bouts and opportunities to capture undisputed crowns, former glories or much craved credibility, if such altruistic values still matter.
In a sport driven by the big men, in a year which could see us bid farewell to the dread locked giant, it seems somehow poetic to start by assessing the year ahead for the current WBA/IBF Heavyweight champion - which, of course, includes THAT fight.
Lennox Lewis - Heavyweight
It would be easy to wrap Lennox Lewis in well chosen platitudes, 'the greatest British Heavyweight of all time', '3 times undisputed champion' or perhaps 'the man who beat the man who beat the man..'. None of which truly capture the essence of the former Olympic Gold medallist. His weakness - causing two calamitous losses to mediocre heavyweights - as much as his skill will probably always define how Lewis is remembered.
But, in 2002, maybe, just maybe Lennox Lewis could finally get his dues. An April encounter with boxing's most infamous son, Mike Tyson, and a pre-arranged rematch will, despite the years that both of them carry, provide Lewis with the recognised opposition his American detractors demand.
Lewis has waited a long, long time for this fight and despite his advancing years and brittle whiskers we must assume his recent level of competition and activity offer him advantages that a distracted and rusty Mike Tyson will struggle to combat.
Tyson, of course, has the best punchers chance available but if he neglects Lewis right hand the way every bloody thirsty Tyson fanatic, and his curious status as 'the baddest man on the planet' ensures he has plenty, fail to, then Tyson could not only be profoundly out boxed but he could well and truly be knocked on his arse.
The chances of Lewis fighting beyond these encounters look slim despite protestations to the contrary, perhaps only a flimsy 'all-Canadian' fight with Kirk Johnson could tempt him into a third fight this year.
But, just in case I'm not the first on Lennox Lewis' post fight phone list, thanks for the honesty (mostly), great fights (Golota, Ruddock, Grant) and the unswerving loyalty to the Union Jack. Oh yes and knock Iron Mike out…please.
Joe Calzaghe - Super Middleweight
2001 felt like a good year for the power-punching southpaw, but this writer felt it was only the beginning of the decoding of the Welsh enigma. Still unbeaten, and indeed devastating in vaporising Mario Veit, Richie Woodhall and Will McIntrye last year, Joe Calzaghe finally has the chance to validate his own hollow claims to being amongst the P4P stars of the squared circle - thanks to a February encounter with tough Philadelphian Charles Brewer.
Inauspicious victories over Robin Reid and David Starie, injury plagued encounters with the likes of Ricky Thornberry have offered the world media plenty of ammunition to question his credibility, but boxing careers are often about momentum and the Calzaghe star is in the ascendancy.
A victory over Charles Brewer and perhaps the addition of another champion's scalp could make those who scoff at a Roy Jones Jnr. date mock a little less. Indeed, of the potential opponents for his royal highness - from Hopkins to the Cruiserweights - Calzaghe has, on paper, the speed, chin and one punch power to be a 'real' fight for the languid Light Heavy - but then fights were never won on paper. And of course Calzaghe fights on Showtime…now if they put it on the Lewis v Tyson undercard…
Prince Naseem Hamed - Featherweight
Former WBO champion (plus victories over virtually every other sanctioning bodies champion)
The leopard skin clad braggart is back, and I for one have missed him, sure Barrera had his number but Hamed's career is at a very definite crossroads, the high road sees him beat the Morales v Barrera victor - the low road see's him cheating on his roadwork and coming unstuck no matter how shrewdly chosen his comeback opponents are.
For those of us hear the gym whispers, the darker elements of big fight preparation have never sat comfortably with Hamed, whether he can muster the will and discipline to overcome this kind of folly with the distractions of affluence and a young family is difficult to contemplate. But there's no point going into training camp, if you don't actually train!
Now with Emmanuel Steward dumped, Mayweather Snr uninterested and only the anonymous Oscar Suarez guiding the Prince it would be easy to write him off, and, as one of Tyson's greatest detractors, it would be hypocritical of me to glibly protest that Hamed can recapture the spirit and form of his youth…but the romantic in me is dreaming of it.
To me, Hamed needs to remember elusive defence, points scoring as well as power punching rather than punishment absorbing bravado win fights - Hamed is still quick and can punch but the dictum of planting his feet to enhance his natural power has exposed huge defensive flaws and surely needs discarding. Barrera capitalised on this, removing the myth and the bemusement factor that plagued many of Hamed previous victims, will he (Hamed) be the same fighter without at least one of those two assets? Manuel Calvo, the light hitting Spaniard will be the first to try.
Amongst these ifs, buts and maybes is one undeniable truth - it'll be fun.
Ricky Hatton - Light Welterweight
Ricky Hatton is very, very good. I just wanted to make that clear before assessing his year ahead, to some extent the self-proclaimed 'Hitman' has already arrived, but the hard-nosed hacks know he's yet to face a top twenty Light Welter. Sure, his rib snapping victory over ageing former champion Freddie Pendleton achieved what it was intended to - raise his awareness Stateside through a Showtime debut - but Pendleton's recent resume suggested shrewd opponent selection rather than a real achievement for Hatton.
However, to disregard Hatton as a carefully managed, resume builder would be misguided, so intoxicating are his crunching body shots and attacking menace. But the question of whom Hatton fights next is crucial, is he ready for a Tyszu showdown? - I believe he would blossom under the big lights - but experience suggests he needs a couple of calibre opponents, preferably fighters closer to their 20's rather than their 40's, before being pitched against the undisputed Aussie.
Despite the drip, drip learning curve, Hatton looks capable of destroying most of the 140lb top ten, fighters like Diaz, Ward and Camacho - I for one would love to see him tackle Ben Tackie…but if the green can be made Tyszu v Hatton at Maine Road in November is more plausible than it sounds.
I'd be surprised to see the affable mancunian risk such money laden fights with domestic rivals Eamonn Magee or Junior Witter, particularly the latter who this writer feels could, could just have Hatton's number…
With the sun setting on the career of Lennox Lewis (aah), the flame that never burned on Henry Akinwande's career extinguished by Oliver McCall's atomic right hand and Herbie Hide finishing in typical pose, i.e. face down, in his last fight, the search is on for the next significant big man from these shores. And with an introduction like that we have to start with much maligned Olympian Audley Harrison.
Audley Harrison - Heavyweight Olympic Super Heavyweight Champion
Our Audley, had arguably the most publicised professional debut since Peter Rademacher got sparked by Floyd Patterson way back when but the pressure, and some of it is self imposed, is on for the 30 year old giant to make anything other than PR noise in the paid ranks.
He should of course have been an anonymous figure on Bethnal Green under cards until at least next summer but his headliner status and heavy frame make him a target as soft as his mid-section for the cynical tabloids.
Finding suitable opponents, who will withstand the glare of the limelight on their spare tyres is proving difficult and may yet force Audley's team into a quantum leap in class to try and make the kind of impression his expensive contracts must be demanding. The Mark Potter's and Keith Long's of the game will be itching to be the first to expose the badly kept secret of Audley's crystal chin and lack of knockout power.
Call me gutless, but I can't pick what happens next but his presence does at least raise the profile of the sport, famously or infamously? The next year will offer many clues.
Danny Williams - Heavyweight British & Commonwealth Champion
The heavy punching Londoner has debuted stateside, and could be on the cusp of finally delivering on his undoubted promise, the acidic fitness regime of Jim McDonnell has certainly added focus and self belief to Williams' armoury.
Williams career, like many, is about momentum, and with friends in high places, Don King signed up the British Champion on his last visit to the UK, 2002 could yet see the previously anonymous Williams thrust into title fights as mediocre champions and contenders look for time marking fights.
As a ringside witness to his demolition of Kiwi lump Kali Meehan, I can testify to the equalising power of his over hand right, but the trouble plodding Mark Potter caused him is as difficult to vanquish.
Elsewhere, John McDermott continues his steady progress, the youngster is still prevailing against domestic journeyman but could be ready for a British title shot by the end of the year - his physique could be best described as 'expansive' but with a little more aggression in his work he has possibilities, though the lack of knockout power will limit his horizons.
The loss of Danny Williams to Don King must have cut deep for Frank Warren, who had hoped to match him with fading former champion Tim Witherspoon for a WBU bauble, however he was swift to snap up Matthew Ellis and we can expect to start seeing him in meaningful, allegedly, fights this year.
To conclude, I hope you enjoyed Lewis while you had him - we waited a hundred years for an undisputed champion, since Ruby Bob Fitzsimmons was plying his trade - and we could wait as along again.
In the division that nobody wants, Britain fails to cherish the champion not even this sleepy weight class wants, Johnny Nelson, who at 34 and with 15 years pro experience is not a name for the future, and a recently won WBU Heavyweight crown, he subsequently abdicated, did little to add to his status.
With the prospect of a semi-lucrative rematch with British rival Carl Thompson evaporating with Thompson's defeat to American slugger Ezra Sellars - Nelson will continue to trawl the bargain basement of the 190lb division to add to his long reign as WBO Champion.
Of course the lack of unification fights is not the sole responsibility of the Winconbank fighter, this less than glamorous division offers little reward for such dangerous fights - and the chances of securing dates with 'named' fighters like James Toney and Michael Nunn at places like Derby are roughly comparable with Toney ever making middleweight again.
The charismatic Steve Spartacus, well he wears gladiator garb during his ring walk at least, will be knocking on Commonwealth champion Bruce Scott's door by the year end, the usual diet of Rob Stephenson's and Michael Pinnock's so far, but he has some management weight behind him now, so who knows.
The Light Heavyweights
Clinton Woods - Light Heavyweight WBC Mandatory Challenger
Clinton Who? That remains the likeable Yorkshireman's biggest problem, particularly stateside - Woods has been in the top ten of the 175lb division for the best part of two years, but has suffered from the withdrawal of a string of potential opponents that would deliver the kind of world renown he needs. Michael Nunn renegade seemingly on a monthly basis, before subsequently eaten himself into the Cruiserweight division.
However, an impressive win over rugged puncher Yawe Davis has cemented Woods' standing as Roy Jones Jnr. WBC mandatory challenger - but will HBO tolerate another low profile fight following Gonzales and the soon to lose Glen Kelly? Woods is always in good shape, and whilst not being an outstanding puncher or boxer he is a competent competitor but, like most of the division, languishes in the very long shadow of Mr. Jones.
Elsewhere, little Tony Oakey continues windmill his way through the domestic ranks, short in stature but big in heart, Oakey has already snatched the Commonwealth title in the past twelve months but his diminutive 5'8 frame will eventually prove a hindrance as much as an asset.
One fighter who debuted in 2001, is the rangy Andrew Lowe, tall, smooth, with good balance and poise it's too early to mark the 5-0 fighter down as a future star but I'll be keeping an eye on his progress (keep up with my weekly column for updates)
The Super Middleweights
Arguably, the United Kingdom's strongest division in the past decade with such luminaries as Eubank, Benn, Watson and Collins all contesting world titles, the 168lb class still boasts a handful of fighters who could potentially hold world crowns during 2002. And at least one of them may be genuine.
Glen Catley - Super Middleweight Former WBC Champion
Bristol's shaven headed brawler succeeded in capturing the title with a sensational knockout of arrogant German Markus Beyer in 2000 but subsequently lost and failed to recapture the belt. I believe Catley reached the summit of his career on that heady night in Frankfurt and his game but limited style would probably fail to secure victory against domestic rivals David Starie and Robin Reid.
Robin Reid - Super Middleweight WBF Champion & Former WBC Champion & Olympic medallist
Robin Reid, the highly marketable Liverpudlian, has continued to operate in the parallel world of the WBF and whilst he muses on his disputed loss to Joe Calzaghe in 2000, the clock is ticking for the 30 year old. A frequent lead undercard fighter on Audley Harrison's Roadshow his exposure is better than most, the terrestrial coverage should be a positive force but the super fit Reid needs to find competition in the WBC/WBA/IBF's top ten in 2002 if he is to make the best of his Olympic pedigree.
Brian Magee - Super Middleweight IBO Super Middleweight Champion
Elsewhere, young Brian Magee 14-0, is beginning to find his feet beyond domestic level and the young Irishman is certainly not hanging around, the peripheral IBO belt at 21 is distinct progress as is the first round knockout of veteran Ramon Britez to win it, composed and controlled the Belfast southpaw certainly represents Britain's future in the division.
David Starie - Super Middleweight British & Commonwealth Champion
David Starie, who fought a stinker in dragging Calzaghe to points a couple of years ago, has slowly been rebuilding his tarnished reputation and his record now boasts a credible KO3 of Bruno Godoy and stoppages against four domestic rivals since then.
Awkward and quick - Starie is world ranked and the Suffolk man is talking the talk as we move into 2002, I cannot see Calzaghe offering the olive branch after he made the Welshman look terrible but Sven Ottke, recently victorious over Anthony Mundine to extend his long reign as IBF champion, would be a viable route to a title. At 34 years old light hitting Ottke could just be ripe for the taking.
Howard Eastman - Middleweight World ranked contender
The eccentric Battersea Bomber finally got the title shot last year against eminently beatable former champion William Joppy, Eastman started slowly, unsurprisingly considering the quantum leap in opposition and status of the fight. A late knockdown illustrated Eastman's quality and another shot will surely see the British man holding a belt, hopefully he will succeed where previous challengers like Tony Sibson failed.
As part of the Don King stable, whatever that means, he has the politics behind him and he must be pleased he didn't take the orchestrated shot at 154lb WBO glory - 2002 will be a big year for Eastman…one way or another. Bubbling under, former WBO Int. Champion Ryan Rhodes still has age on his side, at 25 Rhodes needs to add focus and a defined career path to his obvious talent, he has speed and is fleet of foot in the best Brendan Ingle style but has little substance on his recent resume. A proposed clash with Light Middleweight hot shot Takaloo has been postponed but it's a fight in which he has chances, though you will not catch this writer backing against a Jim McDonnell trained fighter.
Elsewhere Hartlepool middleweight Ian Cooper caused a mild stir when he comfortably out fought Irishman Jim Rock at Bethnal Green, 8-0 Cooper is a strong and rugged fighter with a few skills as well, whether he ever progresses beyond the fairly dormant British scene is contentious but he's the man in form currently.
The Light Middleweights
As someone much more famous than me said ' You never had it so good', and one look at the light middleweight division in the UK right now and you'd be hard pressed to argue. Containing no fewer than six fighters of genuine world class potential the 154lb division offers a host of mouth-watering encounters, sadly few are likely to be made.
Richard Williams - Light Middleweight IBO Champion
The languid, self proclaimed 'Secret' turned in a career best performance to stop rugged Aussie Shannan Taylor late last year, a victory slightly tarnished by the subsequent publicising of Taylor's debilitating narcotics problem.
However, there is no questioning his talent - composed with excellent punch selection, Williams has recovered from a mystery virus, which curtailed his development, to arguably reign as the top British Light Middleweight. Taylor, although up from Welterweight, landed full blooded shots as he enjoyed early success but the manner in which Williams absorbed these and subsequently demolished his opponent was testimony to both his defensive and offensive aptitude.
The only factor not in Williams' favour is his age, although low on mileage, his 30 years mean the career clock is ticking.
Wayne Alexander - Light Middleweight Former WBO Challenger & EBU No. 1 Contender
Headhunter. I can't think of a better description for the spectacularly entertaining Alexander, surprised by recent foe, Joe Townsley, Alexander swiftly recovered from the an embarrassing knockdown by landing huge power shots, one of which threatened to separate Townsley from his nose as well as his senses.
Before the month is out Alexander will have secured the European belt, expected to beat Italian Paolo Pizzamiglio, the Croydon banger under the Sports Network banner, is already using names like Vargas and DeLaHoya to gain column inches - his brave short notice crack at then WBO Champion Harry Simon suggests they would be intriguing encounters...but surely fantasy?
Takaloo - Light Middleweight WBU Champion
He knocked out Anthony Farnell. That's Takaloo in a sound-byte, but his Jim McDonnell induced self- belief and newly discovered power making him a dark horse in the world scene, inevitably he believes he's already beyond the domestic fights the British public are craving.
However, his postponed but forthcoming encounter with slippery underachiever Ryan Rhodes will provide further evidence of how much road Takaloo has to travel. Personally, I don't believe he's the pick of the division but with that uppercut he has some more victories, and perhaps an upset in him yet.
Steve Roberts - Light Middleweight WBF Champion
Only in Britain could we claim two world champions when neither has faced a top ten light middleweight but with sanctioning bodies as diverse as the IBO, WBF, WBU, IBC and newest of all IBL throwing paper crowns around it's a surprise there is only two!
Of course Roberts, like the rest, knows this and will hopefully be looking to extend himself beyond the C-list stars he's encountered too date, although his last yo-yo outing, in which he lost his canvas virginity to obscure American Ron Weaver, may induced a return to the cautious style which asphyxiated his early career.
It will be a shame if it does.
Bubbling under are two fighters of contrasting profiles, but to me they have two very different futures, until he ran into Takaloo's exhilarating uppercut, Farnell was supposed to be on a methodical march toward genuine world honours. A training fanatic and with approaching 30 fights before his 23 birthday he had a vociferous appetite for progress.
However, he always struck me as a one dimensional brawler, who lacked late round lungs and any real spark in his punches, indeed journeyman Sergio Acuna illustrated the limitations of the 'Terminator' long before Takaloo. Since his crushing defeat, he's reinvented himself under Billy Graham's tutelage and, of course, has age on his side but the whispers that he leaves his snap in the gym remain strong and I for one don't see him beating many of his domestic counterparts.
More of a prospect is little known two-fisted puncher Gary 'The Rocket' Lockett 15-0, who recently dispatched African born pretender Chris Nembhard with some mallet fisted punching. His movement in the ring is excellent and he seems a level headed and well guided prospect, still only 25, I believe Lockett could beat Farnell and possibly Takaloo and Roberts right now but I'm sure those fights wont be easy to make.
I'm not the first to highlight his talent…and I wont be the last.
Adrian Stone - welterweight/light middle Former IBO Light Middleweight Champion
In another era, led by terrestrial television, I believe the swarming style of Adrian Stone would have made him a household name by now - but we are not and neither is he. Stone, as we all know was schooled in the tougher gyms and rings of the US, despite his Bristol roots, but ironically it was a return to British shores that brought his most conspicuous performances.
Snatching the IBO bauble from ill prepared former Olympian Michael Carruth, Stone enjoyed an unbeaten run as the IBO 154lb champion, before being plucked from obscurity to face Sugar Shane Mosley for the Welterweight title.
Whether Stone needs to wrap the hands again, following his rewarding but futile shot at Mosley remains to be seen but he has an entertaining style and would be a hard nights work for most fighters from Welterweight, his preferred division, to the Light Middles.
Jawaid Khaliq - Welterweight IBO Champion
'2 Sleeq' lost his ugly duckling tag last year and produced some excellent performances, with his tall, rangy and deceptively powerful style. Khaliq gave veteran Willy Wise fits when winning his peripheral IBO crown and sitting at ringside it was a pleasure to watch the poise and counterpunching of the ticket selling Khaliq.
He made a nonsense of his novice status, fighting southpaw to protect a cut and still outscoring the slippery Wise, since then he has defended his crown and whilst preferred opponent Harry Dhami's star has fallen following defeat to Neil Sinclair - Khaliq may yet get himself a payday at world level. I certainly hope so.
Elsewhere, youngster Magic Matthew Hatton continues his development in the shadow of his famous brother, he seems to lack some of Ricky's tenacity and menace but it's unfair to judge him against his fully developed sibling.
However, having seen ancient Brian Coleman offer him problems (Coleman strangely retired following his best round), I suspect the Matthew will never eclipse the achievements of Ricky - but like I said it's unfair to compare them.
Obviously, to the mainstream press this division IS Ricky Hatton, but to discount his two leading domestic rivals, Junior Witter, Eamonn Magee and indeed young James Hare who is also causing a stir is a little short sighted. To me Witter is the pick of the rest, and as mentioned, has a style that could trouble his esteemed rival.
A switch hitter with knockout power is never going to be a preferred opponent, but when you have a Billy Schwer type propensity to cut, the angles Witter creates are distinctly unattractive. I hope Witter secures a meaningful fight in 2002, his talent and power punching deserves it.
Hatton's stable mate Eamonn Magee may be the opponent of choice if the fight does the numbers, but Magee strikes me in much the same way as Farnell does, something's missing and whilst its difficult to quantify what, the flaw exists.
Elsewhere, I hope Stephen Smith and Wayne Rigby enjoy their status as 'world' champions I don't foresee real belts in their year ahead.
Bobby Vanzie - Lightweight British Champion
The Viper, who I had the pleasure of interviewing ahead of his KO1 destruction of Anthony Maynard, has perhaps his defining year ahead, a European Belt is available following the Italian Stefano Zoff's abdication - former Billy Schwer victim, Sandro Casamonica is the likely opponent.
Vanzie, still bitter over his points loss to James Armah for his treasured Commonwealth crown, will be looking to force manager Tommy Gilmour to deliver on his promises of European and ultimately genuine world title shots.
In a division that lacks a dominant force, Vanzie could just manoeuvre himself into those kinds of meaningful fights, crucial, if he is to fulfil his ambitions in the self imposed two year time limit.
Elsewhere, stringy Welshman Bradley Pryce, a product of the super tough Enzo Calzaghe regime could emerge as a bright jewel amongst his British counterparts, already the WBO Int Champion, whatever that means, Pryce's variety of shots and awkward 'hands down' style makes for entertaining viewing and with the addition of experience he could prove to be a contender by this time next year. But he definitely still has learning to do; thankfully under the watchful eye of Enzo Calzaghe his feet will remain firmly rooted.
Longer in the tooth is WBU Champion, Colin Dunne for whom 2001 was almost a complete washout; three non-competitive opponents and a struggle to find a broadcasting partner ensure that 2002 can not be any less productive.
Of course a rematch with Billy Schwer looks to have been buried with Schwer's career, as does the chance to avenge his only loss to veteran Michael Ayers, both of whom were pushed toward retirement by Argentinean Pablo Sarmiento. I suspect another four or five Mexican road sweepers for the scouse Dynamo.
The Super Featherweights Michael Gomez - Super Featherweight With his destruction of the only other up and coming 130lb British fighter, Craig Doherty, Michael Gomez must now look overseas as he attempts to rebuild following his surprise derailing at the hands of Hungarian, Lazlo Bognar. Where Gomez can aspire to is difficult to assess, domestic competition is non-existent and to be exposed by Bognar, a fighter 7 fight featherweight novice Alex Arthur demolished, will be difficult to forget or forgive. The Featherweights
For so long Prince Naseem Hamed cast a shadow as long as his winning streak, but the winning streak has gone and the shadow softened. From the darkness have stepped two Scots who represent the future of the British featherweight division, oh yes….and Michael Brodie too.
Scot Harrison - Featherweight British & Commonwealth Champion
Scot Harrison is already close to world level and is expected to be ringside for the Juan Pablo Chacon WBO fight next week. Although, with Harrison's taste for former champions, Patterson, Johnson and Robinson all vanquished, perhaps undercard debutante Johnny Tapia could be next on the list - the Americans would certainly sit up and take notice if he did.
Harrison is the most compact and composed operator I've seen in years, all his work is neat, he has accurate and prudent shot selection and text book defence - tools that have disposed of a long list of former champions, of course whether he can do it to a prime contender is 2002's question.
It's important to remember he's only a 17 fight novice such is his level headedness, I haven't seen enough of Chacon to pass judgement on his chances, but Manuel Medina's ascension to another 126lb title means there is at least one champion who's number I believe Harrison would have.
Michael Brodie - Featherweight Former WBC Super-Bantamweight Challenger
2001 was a very fine year for Michael Brodie, who deserved it following the horrendous robbery he endured against William Jorrin for the vacant 122lb WBC title, Jorrin has virtually made a career of stealing decisions. Moving up to Featherweight has paid dividends and his skills have suddenly been matched by knockout power, making Brodie a formidable opponent and don't be surprised if he's figuring on world top tens by the end of the year. The brightest starlet beneath these two is Alex Arthur, the prodigious talent has already secured the notable European scalp of Lazlo Bognar, and the way in which he destroyed the well-travelled Hungarian was impressive. If his management team move him as imaginatively and shrewdly as training partner Scot Harrison was, we could see a few more 'profile' victims pinned to the notable talent's resume by year end.
Noel Wilders - Bantamweight IBO Bantamweight
Rumours of a fight with WBC Champion, Veeraphol Nakhonluang, appear to have been just that, rumours, but these are the kind of fights the Castleford southpaw needs to aspire to if he is to progress beyond his current IBO bauble. Although any such leap will be much above his current level of domestic workman like Chris Emmanuelle and Francis Ampofo.
Amongst the other 118lb fighters only ageing ticket seller Johnny Armour and young, game but limited Nicky Booth are worthy of mention - Armour's destruction at the hands of Carlos Navarro a while back and Booth loss to Juan Sanjuanelo evidence of their respective horizons. Although Booth was impressive in beating fellow prospect Jim Betts last time out.
Damaen Kelly - Flyweight Former IBO Champion
Under the direction of Frank Maloney, Kelly has contested a host of British, Commonwealth and European belts - stripped of his IBO belt for failing to defend it in 2001 it wouldn't be hard to predict his return to that kind of level.
However, for a fighter of his calibre he needs to be busy in 2002 if he is deliver on his early career promise, whether a match up for Peter Culshaw's peripheral Flyweight WBU belt can be made is difficult to foresee but then Culshaw isn't overwhelmed by options and may be prepared to offer Kelly a lukewarm 'world title' chance. And so that's it, not definitive but certainly a comprehensive review of the year ahead for the British fight scene but any appraisal of the future isn't complete without a glance in retrospect and the sentimental side of me demands I pay tribute to those British fighters who are unlikely to be stepping through the ropes this year…
In 2001, we witnessed the final curtain on a number of careers and the end of the road for a number of British fighters at world level.
Michael Ayers, Billy Schwer, Richie Woodhall, Steve Robinson, Carl Thompson and Crawford Ashley are just some of the notable fighters who appear to be entering the winter of their golden careers.
Ayers and Schwer both found awkward Pablo Sarmiento too much for their battle weary bodies, ending their hopes of fighting one another in anything approaching meaningful combat - my thanks to them both, but particularly Luton's likeable Billy Schwer who failed in brave bids for titles against fighters as capable as Stevie Johnston in his illustrious career.
Richie Woodhall, the former WBC Champion, seems to have made the graceful move to media world full time, an orthodox stand up boxer, Richie was a firm fan favourite and fought at genuine world level against the likes of Calzaghe, Beyer, Catley, Nardiello, Holmes and Silvio Branco for a number of years.
Carl Thompson vicious up and downer with Ezra Sellars looked to have drawn the curtain on his career and his quest for a rematch with rival Johnny Nelson, although winning his previous encounter with fellow veteran, Uriah Grant, he looked vulnerable to heavy shots and should, in my opinion, retire sooner rather than later.
Staying in the Cruiserweights Crawford Ashley also failed again to recapture his youth and a title belt and looks set to call time on his roller-coaster career, as should tough former WBO Featherweight champion Steve Robinson who was blitzed by the young blood of Scott Harrison, it will be shame if the proud Welshman continues into small hall opponent obscurity.
My thanks to them all for some terrific fights, who will forget Ayers v Rigby, Schwer v Dunne, Thompson v Eubank or Robinson v Hamed? I certainly won't…keep up with the UK Fight Scene in my weekly column to see how these and others are progressing.
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