By Daniel Cann
Well the four eagerly anticipated contests that took place on Saturday at the Echo Arena proved to be a mixed mag. The fights ranged from the mundane, to the dramatic and to the unexpectedly bizarre. Credit must go once again to promoter Frank Warren for providing fight fans with such a quality line-up.
First up local favourite Tony Bellew failed to live up to his ‘Bomber’ nickname but managed to post a wide, convincing unanimous point’s win over Ovill McKenzie. There were no knockdowns or fireworks this time. Often rematches fail to live up to the excitement of the first as was the case here. Both men were perhaps all too aware of the power each possessed and although not exciting for the fans Bellew did what he had to do in getting the win. He emerged unscathed and is now the British and Commonwealth champion and that is all that matters.
Sometimes a boxer is better served by using safety first tactics as unnecessary wars may provide the punter with thrills, but have a nasty habit of curtailing promising careers. A win is a win they say and hopefully Bellew can still be in the frame for a world title tilt against the WBO world light heavyweight title held by Welsh boxer, Nathan Cleverly later this year.
Birmingham welterweight Frankie Gavin did as was expected by successfully defending his WBO Intercontinental title against Driffield’s Curtis Woodhouse but got a lot more resistance than he bargained for. Despite losing on a split point’s decision (scores were 117 – 112 and 116 -113 in favour of Gavin with the third judge scoring for Woodhouse 115 – 114) Woodhouse can hold his head high.
The contest was more absorbing than thrilling but it was great to see the unfancied former footballer pushing the 25 year old prospect Gavin all the way. The needle that had existed throughout the build-up to the bout was still evident during the preliminary introductions.
Woodhouse managed to get through repeatedly with a sharp looking left jab as favourite Gavin struggled to get a grip on the contest. As the fight wore on Gavin managed to unleash the kind of combinations that he has become renowned for but Woodhouse gamely soaked these up and came back defiantly for more.
In the tenth round an old injury from Gavin’s pro debut over two years ago opened up again as he was cut on the bridge of his nose (reminding me of the horrific similar injury that Colin Jones suffered from in his losing challenge to Donald ‘The Cobra’ Curry way back in 1985).
The injury never became a serious factor and Gavin stormed back cutting Woodhouse under his left eye in the last round. It was surprising to hear the last bell especially after all the bad blood and predictions of a knockout from both fighters but it was perhaps a fitting conclusion to a decent contest.
Gavin can move on to bigger things but will need to tighten up a bit first. Woodhouse suffered his third loss from eighteen starts but showed he is a bona fide contender albeit at British level. He surpassed expectation so it was a victory of sorts.
Next up was the fascinating match between defending WBO world super featherweight champion Coatbridge’s Ricky Burns against the former champion Dagenham’s Nicky Cook.
Despite needing two visits to the scales to make the weight Cook was in fantastic condition having trained at altitude in Tenerife and promised to ‘bring it’ to Burns. Everyone braced themselves for an expected vintage clash of a stylist versus a pressure fighter.
Sadly we were all denied this under bizarre circumstances. After just six seconds of the first bell an innocuous looking body shot from Burns landed and Cook complained of an injured lower back. The Dagenham man bravely soldiered on getting off the floor only to go down again from no punch, clearly in distress.
Referee Phil Edwards dispensed with the count and Cook managed to get to his feet only to be floored soon afterwards with another body shot. Cook’s face was contorted in pain and the referee waved it off just as the towel came in from Cook’s corner. The fight had only lasted 93 seconds.
It later emerged that Cook had suffered with a prolapsed disc and had to be stretchered out of the ring back to the changing rooms. It was a desperately sad end to his challenge and must have been frustrating and heartbreaking for the proud professional who has served his dues in the toughest of sports.
Cook has had recurring back problems throughout his career and it now looks like curtains for any world title aspirations which is a great shame.
For champion Burns it was a bittersweet victory. He was relieved to have won so quickly and easily but frustrated at being denied the opportunity to show off his skills in an expected tough battle.
Burns can now look forward to a bout with stripped IBF champion South Africa’s Mzonke Fana for the ‘Ring Magazine’ belt later this year.
Finally the eagerly awaited and frequently postponed contest between lightweight rivals John Murray and Kevin Mitchell took place in a blistering and exciting bout.
In contender for ‘fight of the year’ Mitchell needed all his guile and sharpness to survive and weather Murray’s frenetic assault in the first four rounds. Mitchell ‘walked the walk’ as they say as he clearly prepared properly this time unlike against Michael Katsidis in his challenge for the world title in May 2010. He had to absorb plenty of solid shots from the Mancunian hard man and managed to counter back well.
As Murray bore in hell-bent on destroying his Dagenham foe he was getting picked off by hooks and uppercuts. The accumulation of these punches gradually slowed his two-fisted assault down (much like Michael Watson against Nigel Benn in their middleweight contest in1989).
One thing was very clear: Mitchell’s left uppercut had more snap and accuracy than Murray’s which was a surprise for most spectators least of all Murray himself! Many of Mitchell’s shots had rocked Murray as they traded and the power looked with Mitchell.
The fifth round saw Murray coming on again and he took the round on sheer workrate alone, although he was still taking punches to land his own.
The sixth swung back in Mitchell’s favour as he was back on his toes boxing and moving. Notably Murray’s earlier scintillating pace had dropped and he was reduced to boxing in spurts.
The seventh round saw the ever widening gulf in class becoming more apparent as Murray was marking up quite badly, his right eye was nearly swollen to a slit and his left was looking distinctly puffy also. He was badly staggered by a right hand – left uppercut combination and only the bell saved him from a knockdown. The writing was now on the wall.
Mitchell pounced on Murray early in the eighth and despite taking a decent left he floored Murray with a peach of a left hook. Murray boldly got to his feet only to get scorched by another combination from Mitchell and at that point the referee jumped in and stopped it.
This was a particularly vindicating and sweet victory for Mitchell who after a painful break-up with his girlfriend prior to his title loss to Katsidis followed by a six month drinking binge proved he still had it and was a force at world level. Many wondered (myself included) whether he could get back his old focus and hunger for the game. With one scintillating performance he has shown that he has.
Mitchell said afterwards he would like a rematch with Katsidis and that remains an intriguing possibility. I have no doubt that his fans back in Essex would love to see him avenge the only loss on his impressive 32 – 1 (24 inside) record. Hopefully Frank Warren can set that one up.
For Murray it is a case of licking his wounds, watching the tape of this fight and coming back. He did everything that was asked of him and gave a brave spirited performance. He has nothing to feel ashamed of and has undeniable talent.
Both Amir Khan and now Kevin Mitchell have proved that you can come back from defeat and Murray will be no different. Boxing is not about perfect records, rather it is a test of character and how you cope with adversity and the young Manchester boxer is certainly equal to that task.
It was fantastic to see a bill where rivals were pitted against each other and given a platform to showcase their talents, even if it was with mixed results. Bring on the next one!