Boxing at its highest level has been a splintered, sordid, corrupt, confusing and generally deplorable state of affairs for a while now. So much so, there are times I feel like I can’t be bothered with it anymore. Watching all the American-influenced Sky build-up to a fight, knowing that uninformed fans are being misled, is infuriating, like watching a smooth-talking hustler do a magic trick with his right hand while he pickpockets onlookers with his left.
It is perhaps for this reason I avoided the promotional merry-go-round for this weekend’s all British super-bantamweight title clash. The press conferences, the interviews, the behind-the-scenes coverage of different kinds, all of it. I haven’t given it a single second of my time.
I’m not interested in Eddie Hearn telling me how many buys it can achieve, or Adam Smith squirming in his seat saying it’s a great night for British boxing. I don’t want to hear Barry McGuigan, even though he was a childhood hero of mine, waxing lyrical about his boy being the finest fighter of the modern age, or Joe Gallagher, with his hangdog features and gravelly intonation, extolling the virtues of the man he trains. I especially don’t wish to have a never-ending procession of ‘experts’ boring me with their factoids and opinions. It’s the same spiel every time.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter.
I’m still looking forward to the fight.
I have discussed this whole issue with boxing people. Most disagree with me and tell me that we are in a ‘hype’ business. That without the hoopla, there is no sport. The problem as far as I’m concerned is that too often the hoopla obscures the sport.
On Saturday night in Manchester, two of the best 122lb fighters in the world will get into the ring together. For me, that’s all that needs to be said. Of course neither man is the best in that weight division and the silhouette of ‘El Chacal’ looms above this unification like an omen of future reckoning, but that does not detract from the occasion. The winner will have the unquestioned status of Britain’s best and for now, a realistic position of no.2 in the world.
For a long time, Carl Frampton was considered a rock-solid favourite for this fight should it ever happen. Strong at the weight and a destructive puncher with both hands, since being given a stern ten-round test by Robbie Turley for the Celtic title in 2011, he has stopped eight of eleven opponents, including impressive TKO victories over Kiko Martinez in 2013 and Chris Avalos last year, both of whom could be bracketed as ‘world class’.
Quigg meanwhile, a tidy but perhaps unspectacular operator, won his WBA title through the modern maze of governing-body madness, initially being a WBA ‘interim’ champion before being upgraded to ‘regular’ without having to fight for the honour. In his first contest for this belt, he barely scraped a draw against Yoandras Salinas after a strangely muted first six rounds. This turned many against him and during the early stages of his reign he was unfairly pilloried by sections of the boxing community.
In much the same way, prior to this contest and no doubt at the behest of his promoters, he has now apparently been promoted to ‘Super’ champion, while the previous and rightful holder of that title, Guillermo Rigondeaux has been frozen out. This is boxing politics in the 21st century. It is disgraceful, but it has nothing to do with Scott Quigg, a dedicated and honest professional who has looked after all that he can look after – what happens between the ropes.
For a couple of years, the prevailing opinion remained that while Frampton was a real champion, Quigg was not and that sooner or later, once he began taking on better opponents he would be found out. Enter battle hardened Spaniard, Kiko Martinez in July last year who had fought Frampton on two previous occasions, providing him a stiff examination in their second bout in 2014. Unexpectedly, particularly after a tight first round, Quigg blew Martinez away in the second, putting him down twice before referee Terry O’Connor jumped in. There could be no argument from then – the man from Bury had removed all doubt as to his world class credentials.
On the same night, in a convention centre in Texas, Frampton faltered against an opponent most expected him to outgun. Alejandro Gonzalez Jr came into that fight with a meagre reputation and a questionable ranking, but the Mexican caught an unusually sluggish Frampton cold in the first, scoring two knockdowns. The Ulsterman held his nerve to retain his IBF title on points, but the comfortable margin flattered him. Had Gonzalez not been deducted two points for low blows it could well have been very tight indeed.
Suddenly public opinion shifted. Many who had previously dismissed his chances began talking Quigg up. Others had their previously rock-solid belief in Frampton shaken. Was Quigg lucky to dispose of Kiko so quickly, or at 27 is he growing into his strength? Was Frampton’s Texan trauma a blip or is he struggling under the weight of expectation? These are the questions on boxing’s lips.
That adds up to a world title fight which appears in many ways to be a genuine 50/50. Quigg’s fitness and single-mindedness make him a tough opponent for anyone. Frampton appears well equipped in every department, but if he displays the vulnerability he did last July, the Englishman will surely take advantage. It is a gambler’s nightmare – a fight in which any result seems possible.
For what it’s worth, I foresee a tight and competitive bout, fought at a frenetic pace and that will suit the man from Belfast. Quigg will be stubborn and unbreakable and have moments of success but will find himself outworked. Ultimately, at the end of twelve blistering rounds and roared on by his fanatical support, Frampton will take the belts on points.
But whoever emerges victorious on Saturday, it has to be hoped that they have the honour to allow the world’s true number one – Rigo – to challenge for the titles next time.
It really is a simple sport this, despite what governing bodies and broadcasters would have you believe. Boxing just needs the best to take on the best. Hype business or not, those kind of fights sell themselves.
My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
Please visit my non-boxing blog at https://markturleyblog.wordpress.com/