So the tumult that was 2014 has finally coughed its last. Social Media has been choked with earnest, inebriated folk proclaiming resolutions and declaring that 2015 will be ‘their year’. It’s always a funny time, the beginning of January, as over indulgence leads to insane optimism before everyone goes back to work and the crushingly inevitable reality hangover kicks in. The truth is this: (apologies in advance to anyone still in the holiday frame of mind) in most ways 2015 will be much like 2014, which in turn wasn’t particularly different to 2013, and so on…
Nonetheless, with little action scheduled for the next few weeks, the boxing community has a rare opportunity to reflect, look forward and upward. I’m not always a huge fan of year reviews and wish-lists – it’s the boxing writer’s obvious fall-back option at this time of year, but must admit to having a disturbing dream a few nights ago in which Frank Bruno arrived at my front door, gloved up in his Aladdin outfit. He stood there, enormous, screwing his face into a snarl and waving his jab at me, saying “I’m the genie of the lamp, know what I mean? Ha ha ha.” I awoke panicking and tried to forget the whole thing, putting the entire sorry episode down to watching a panto with my daughter, then a BoxNation retrospective before bed, inadvisedly accompanied by a lump of 3 week-old Stilton and some of the paint-stripper my Uncle Mike passes off as Brandy. It proved a difficult image to shake however and did make me wonder – if I really had a visit from a supernatural retired heavyweight offering me three wishes, what would I opt for?
In UK boxing terms, 2014 was as solid a period as they come. The Froch v Groves rematch really pierced the national consciousness in a way not seen since the days of Benn and Eubank. British welterweights Amir Khan and Kell Brook placed themselves firmly in the upper echelons of that esteemed division. Paul Butler had a cracking year at bantam / super fly. Carl Frampton achieved his destiny. James Degale resurrected himself from the slow death of fighting endless final eliminators in shopping centres. Anthony Joshua ruthlessly crushed a series of no-hopers, looking vicious and impressive despite the opposition. It was truly joyous to see Irish middleweight Andy Lee prove a lot of people wrong while Billy-Joe Saunders snaps hungrily at his heels. Even lovable, uncoordinated oaf Tyson Fury began to look potentially capable of being Heavyweight Champion. In short, there was plenty to cheer for.
On the flip side, Dereck Chisora, Matthew Macklin and Brian Rose all saw their claims to world class credentials in their respective divisions greatly diminished. Ricky Burns continued his worryingly swift slide towards gatekeeper status. George Groves’ stock fell considerably. In the space of a couple of years David Price has gone from champ-in-waiting to chinny sick-note while Scott Quigg is still officially a ‘world champion’ but needs some credible opposition sharpish. Notwithstanding any of that, for me the Cleverly / Bellew pay-per-view fiasco was probably the year’s only real low point.
So what would I wish for in 2015? Let me see…
- A Journeyman prizefighter competition: This is a subject very dear to my heart. Last year I spent several months driving around the country meeting guys who make a living by fighting in the away corner, often on short-notice to bring on the next generation of boxers and advance the ring education of young prospects. Without them, there would be no boxing, its as simple as that, yet you will never find a more genuine and humble bunch of characters. There are many people, even people in and around the game, who don’t really understand why fighters with heavy losing records exist and what their role entails. Journeymen often get a torrid time from the mainstream media. (I’ve tried to put that right myself recently but there is still work to do). Giving them a prizefighter-style tournament, with a fat pay-cheque for the winner, would be a way for the sport to show its appreciation to those who keep it ticking over. Matchroom and Sky have rejected the idea in the past, so assuming a change of heart will not be forthcoming from the Hearns, it would be nice if one of the other promoters would step up. Held around welter or light welter I could name a full line-up without drawing breath: Matt Seawright, Kristian Laight, Jason Nesbitt, Sid Razak, William Warburton, Jason Nesbitt, Bheki Moyo, Andrew Patterson. There are several guys like Johnny Greaves and Daniel Thorpe, who have retired in the last few years, who would also be keen to come back and participate. It would be the most money any of them would have earned in a night and would be an opportunity to give them a little taste of the limelight. I know there are a couple of guys working behind the scenes to try to make it happen and I’ll be supporting them every step of the way.
- Froch retire, please. I don’t want to offend his many fans so lets make one thing clear – he’s been an absolute legend. Is his record better than Calzaghe’s? Why is he a bit of a nob in front of the cameras? How would he have done against Benn or Eubank? These are debates that will run and run, but regardless of your personal views, Carl Froch has been an immense figure in British boxing for at least the last six years. Having said that, I strongly feel he needs to walk away now. If there’s one lesson recent boxing history teaches us, it’s that top-level fighters whose main attribute is an iron chin do not fare well in retirement. Ask the family of Jerry Quarry. The Cobra has been on an incredible run, but the fights with Pascal, Kessler and Taylor saw him take a pounding and the fearful shellacking he endured in the first Groves bout before ref Howard Foster jumped in could well have left lasting damage. We don’t often like to focus on this too much in our sport, but the uncomfortable truth is that there are many guys who have retired at 35 or so, seemingly in full health, then started to exhibit symptoms of neurological damage 5 or 10 years later. Froch appears ok now, but I really fear for him. He is 37 and has been leading with his face against the world’s top super-middles since 2008. He’s made his money and got nothing else to prove. Why take unnecessary chances with long term health? Walk away Carl, you’ve more than done your bit.
- Heavyweight excitement. To be fair, Wlad Klitschko’s 5 round destruction of Kubrat Pulev in November was probably his most exciting performance for a decade, but as much admiration as I have for the robotic Ukrainian’s achievements I am pig sick of watching him jab-and-grab his way to wins over much smaller men. Finally we have two contenders closing in who can match his physical attributes in 6ft 9 Tyson Fury and 6ft 6½ Deontay Wilder. I’m not the American’s biggest fan, his record has more padding than a tranny’s girdle and his legs just don’t seem to match his body – as if some sort of Frankenstein laboratory took a huge set of delts and pecs and mounted them precariously on a couple of pipe cleaners, but at least both he and gypsy behemoth Fury have the necessary reach and stature to put Klitschko off his usual game. I’m not particularly convinced either would beat him, although as Wladimir nears 40, we can expect his performance levels to drop, but at least he won’t be able to manhandle them as he has been doing the Kiwi taxi drivers, Italian butchers and blown-up cruiserweights he has dominated of late. The Heavyweight title could actually become interesting again – and that really would be something new for 2015.