Boxing is often such a vivid metaphor for life. Under the lights, refracted through the expectations and urges of the crowd, the ring is like a stage upon which tragedy, drama, mystery, comedy and even love can be played out. Destinies are redefined or destroyed, health can be lost – when two men fight in public, so much of what makes us human is put on display.
Saturday’s ‘Bad Blood’ show provided an anti-climactic finale which did little to awaken the sleepy, 1am audience (I suspect there was more to Dereck Chisora’s meek showing than meets the eye) but still plenty of lessons, for the boxers and for us. What did we learn?
Actions speak louder than words: Chris Eubank Jr may become the monster he and his father imagine one day, but he isn’t there yet. Yes, he was big-framed at the weight and had fast hands – unquestionably he had Saunders worried in the last third of the bout, but he did far too much lunging and missing. At times he was clumsy, even amateurish. Saunders bossed him completely behind the southpaw jab during the first five rounds and Chris Jr almost seemed to freeze. There was no fluidity in his boxing, little movement with the feet, as if big-night nerves had struck. That’s all fine, we shouldn’t be too critical – for a relative novice with limited amateur experience Eubank did well against a fighter with Saunders’ pedigree but we had been told, repeatedly, that this boy was the best thing since Sugar Ray Leonard.
In flashes he did look dangerous, but all the talk of waltzing through the Middleweight division and destroying Gennady Golovkin can now be officially dismissed as hot air. Eubank Sr has really piled on the treacle of late, probably to Junior’s detriment, saying in a recent interview with The Guardian that there is “a darkness in him (his son) that I cannot measure.” It’s poetic stuff, pretty on the ear, befitting a Lord of the Manor of Brighton who spontaneously recites Kipling, but before Chris Sr holds forth with such paternal pride again, we should see see how Junior fares against John Ryder, Adam Etches, Nick Blackwell or Gary O’Sullivan. The time for such vaunted talk while knocking over Eastern European part-timers is over.
Meat and potatoes are a better meal than caviar: Grizzled, gym-rat Ronnie Davies, true epitome of the old-school boxing trainer mostly played second fiddle to Chris Sr in the corner, but still produced a really lovely piece of between-rounds advice. After 7 or 8 sessions of their boy struggling to find his way and the elder Eubank posturing insufferably in the intervals in his sleeveless suit, proffering pretentious one-liners of no use to anyone, the BoxNation microphones picked Davies up bringing things back to basics. He took advantage of a quiet moment to lean through the ropes and rouse his young charge with a more fundamental approach. “You need to bash him up now Chris. Alright? You listening? Bash him up, yeah?” And then, after a short pause and a squirt of water in the face, “just get back out there and beat the fuck out of him.” The fighter actually seemed to heed the message, too. Legend.
A fur coat but no knickers? Then she ain’t a duchess. Boxing, like most things, is built on platform of basic skills. Footwork, defense and jab provide the structure on which everything else can be assembled. I can stand in my bedroom and throw impressive looking combinations at the mirror, but the art is to be able to do that in a competitive situation without leaving yourself open. Frank Buglioni is a great guy by all accounts. He has an incredible fan base, apparently selling nearly a thousand tickets on Saturday, but the harsh reality is that without radical improvement he simply does not have a future at the top end of the sport. Once again he was caught and caught repeatedly. And once again he survived because he had been very carefully matched with a light-punching, blown-up middleweight. Andrew Robinson showed plenty of guts, but was crude and slow – if Frank actually mixed it with a decent Super-Middle who could bang, you could bet your house on a highlight-reel knockout loss.
A man’s gotta know his limitations: Tyson Fury is actually showing signs of growing up. This is a man who in the past would get himself involved in needless brawls with smaller opponents like Joey Abell and Steve Cunningham rather than using natural advantages to win safely. He would often get tagged, hurt and even put down by much smaller men. Against a mysteriously muted Dereck Chisora, who must have been sick, or carrying an injury, he didn’t need to do that and managed to resist his pub car-park fighting instincts even with the boos of the late-night crowd in his ears. Sure the punters wanted more entertainment, but when you’re 6 foot 9, with an 85 inch reach and can poke your opponent around all night, why take the risk? You don’t hang your chin out against a man whose only chance is to swarm inside with hooks. Wladimir certainly doesn’t do that. Fury’s performance may not have been fan-pleasing but it was pretty much faultless. For Del Boy, who was never in the fight and seemed to have virtually given up by the middle of round two, a future as a gatekeeper beckons, possibly with a decent payday next year against Anthony Joshua.
A lovely fiddle’s useless if you’re too scared to play it. Bradley Skeete has all the tools to be a really superb Welterweight contender. He has the long physique of a young Tommy Hearns with nice, tight technique and a jab like a trombone. When he wants to, he can whack a bit too. But men in his weight class rarely get near him and perhaps this is his problem – he is so seldom hit clean that he has developed a risk- averse mentality. Against Frankie Gavin he once more retreated into his back-foot, poke-out-the-jab shell. A few times he threw the right and caught the Brummie with it, but was so concerned about over engaging he never gave himself enough of a chance. Gavin didn’t box to his best and Skeete really missed a trick – with a little more desire and aggression, he could well be sitting at home today as a double champion.
Perhaps the biggest lesson was for boxing as a whole though as like last week’s show in Liverpool, the main event was disappointing. Not every undercard bout was a cracker either but the Saunders v Eubank, Walsh v Sykes and Buglioni v Andrews fights all provided thrills – Gavin / Skeete was absorbing too, in a technical sense. In every single one of those contests home fighters or belt holders risked their livelihoods against men who came with a genuine chance of beating them. This is what fight fans need and sadly don’t get enough of. Yes, there were issues over the organisation of the night, in particular the way it overran, leaving groups of drunken fans staring at their shoes and hugging lamp-posts under the East London moonlight at the end, but based upon the UK’s last two big shows, Frank Warren is a lot closer to getting the formula right than Matchroom.
Final words this week go to my cousin, Robbie Turley, who has learnt the hard way never to take what you love for granted. He boxes a super-bantamweight British Title eliminator against Jamie Speight in Bristol on Friday. Robbie has been through a difficult period in the last couple of years, losing his license on a medical issue and having to battle for its reinstatement – life without boxing wasn’t easy for him and led to some dark times.
It’s now 3 and a half years since Robbie took Carl Frampton the distance in Cardiff and gave him all he could handle. With a touch more accuracy he may even have beaten him. He hinted at his true potential that night and I’ve always felt that more domestic titles (he’s the current Welsh and Celtic title holder) are within his grasp. If he is clever and fights to a plan, I’m sure he’s got the beating of Speight. He would then only be one step from picking up the Lonsdale belt – and showing everyone the lessons he has had to learn from Boxing’s bumpy ride.