The American Dream: A Recent History of Brits in America
By: Oliver McManus
Rocky Fielding has the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday night as he takes on Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at Madison Square Garden. Live on DAZN, in America, and Sky Sports, in the UK, the fight is a culmination of an unlikely few years for the Mersyside-man.
Since losing to Callum Smith, in November 2015, for the British and WBC ‘silver’ title, won five in a row – including a do-or-die ferocious scrap against John Ryder – before claiming the WBA ‘Regular’ 168lb title from Tyron Zeuge this July.
Zeuge, a respected champion, was out-worked and out-classed by Fielding before being stopped in the fifth round. Talk immediately after composed of all-British fights with Callum Smith, George Groves and, indeed, John Ryder all talked up. Out of the blue came the contest with Canelo and, despite the odds being against him, the Brit is ready to seize his moment.
With that in mind let’s take a trip down memory lane, by no means extensively, and revisit how some fellow countryman have fared, Stateside, in recent years.
Of course the immediate name that springs to mind is a certain Lennox Lewis, Britain’s greatest heavyweight, with 22 of his professional contests held in America. We are all aware of the Lewis’ ability so it would be a disservice for me to unpick it. Training for a while under Emmanuel Steward, the pair were together for 18 fights, he developed a world-feared at-range fight style.
The last undisputed heavyweight champion, Lewis won the WBC belt against Tony Tucker in 1993, reclaimed it in 1997 against Oliver McCall, before adding the WBA and IBF belts following his decision win against Evander Holyfield in 1999. Arguably his defining fight is THAT bout with Mike Tyson in which the pair contested a hot-headed encounter, Lennox winning in the 8th.
My personal favourite memory, from watching videos of him as a child, was his crushing knockout over Michael Grant. Grant had moved to 31 without defeat, and was widely tipped as the heavyweight to watch going into the new decade, whilst Lewis was making the first defence of his ‘undisputed’ tag.
By no means his most important conquest, it was the manner in which he put the American prospect in his place. Thunderously nonchalant, Lewis landed a chipped uppercut to send Grant flat on his back and that was that, the story was over.
It would be remiss of me to not mention Tyson Fury and his glorious performance against Deontay Wilder earlier this month – a performance that, in itself, defied odds – but there is unfinished business there so we shall revisit that as and when!
From the heady heights of Lennox Lewis, many have tried to forge a name in the bright lights of America with mixed results. James Degale is a fighter of talent beyond his achievements and, in 2015, he looked to make an impact over in the U.S having already capture the British and European titles on home soil.
Immediately jumping into a world title fight, for the vacant IBF super middleweight belt, the Agganis Arena, Boston, would see him face Andre Dirrell in a contest made harder than it should have been. To give DeGale his due, the 2008 Olympic Gold medallist showed an aggressive instinct that some would argue is missing from his present game.
Two subsequent defences – one in Canada – were comfortable before a step-up as he faced Badou Jack. That fight, January of last year, was an early barn-burner for 2017 that saw both men on the canvas with a majority draw the decision. The best fight of DeGale’s career and a real show of what might have been. Since then he has lost, regained and relinquished that very title with Caleb Truax being the crux of it all.
Still with Al Haymon, who recently announced a 15 show broadcast deal with ITV, DeGale looks set to face Chris Eubank Jr in London early next year and it’s debatable as to how his foray in America will be remembered. On paper it’s a good one – unbeaten with four world title fights – but we never saw the full ability of a man who had the world at his feet.
Amir Khan is another one of those names where you’re left scratching your head thinking, ‘hey, why didn’t you achieve more?’. From those darling days of Athens 2004 where a baby faced Khan brought home a silver medal to the constant tittle-tattle with Kell Brook, it’s been a chaotic ride for even the most casual observer.
23 fights as a professional, with a single loss up to that point, gave the WBA light-welterweight champion his first taste of the American lights. Travelling to New York to defend his title against Paulie Malignaggi, the Bolton-boy instantly immersed himself into American boxing psyche thanks to an 11th round TKO.
From this point on there would be mixed fortunes for Amir with fights against big names such as Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah, Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia being peppered by varied displays. Against Maidana and Judah it seemed as though Amir Khan was on a sure-fire path to Hollywood. In the latter fights it was a brutal come down to reality.
A sensational shellacking at the hands of Saul Alvarez, a truly jaw-shattering punch, appeared to draw the curtain on Khan’s career as a whole, let alone in America. Out of the ring for two years, a three year deal with Matchroom boxing came to fruition earlier this year and wins have came by way of Phil Lo Greco and Samuel Vargas.
Whilst the talk is ‘now or never’ for Kell Brook – as it has been for the best part of three, four years – it would no longer be a pertinent display of quality, moreover ‘who has deteriorated less?’. Out of those ashes came murmurs of an approach from Top Rank, offering three and five million dollars for fights with Danny Garcia and Terrence Crawford, respectively.
Saul slammed the door shut, so it seemed, but apparently it’s still ajar… watch this space!
More recent history of British fighters over in America is less than flattering, in terms of world title fights. If you believe in omens then consider this: every British boxer in a world title fight aired on DAZN has lost. Admittedly a very irrelevant statistic given the infancy of the platform but interesting nonetheless.
Those losses, by the way; Hannah Rankin vs Claressa Shields (UD10), James Tennyson vs Tevin Farmer (TKO5) and Callum Johnson vs Artur Beterbiev (KO4).
No-one disputes that this is a serious step up for our lad from Warrington but that’s precisely why no-one would begrudge him for taking this fight. For as much as Rocky Fielding has achieved, and he’s achieved a fair bit in this unforgiving sport of ours, he’s refused to bend to the wind.
But will he withstand a Mexican storm?