Five years on from an unfulfilling prime Croydon’s Wayne Alexander, once one of Britain’s outstanding crop of 154-pounders and a former European champion, surely reached the end of his international career following a knockout defeat to the unheralded French journeyman Serge Vigne last month.
The defeat, in isolation, caused little more than a whimper of surprise given Alexander’s combustible cocktail of knockout power and vulnerability, but the loss coupled with Richard Williams knockout defeat to Howard Eastman for the vacant British Middleweight title, once again, forced fans to lament the lost class of 2001.
If only Alexander, Williams and contemporaries Steve Roberts, Anthony Farnell, Takaloo and Gary Lockett had seized the opportunity their simultaneous emergence offered.
Their collective failure to capitalize is, of course, not entirely the fault of the fighters themselves, if at all. Circumstances of the time, notably the existence of only one television network with a commitment to the sport and the reluctance of managers and promoters to make matches that would illuminate screens but endanger unbeaten records both huge factors.
2007 is meant to be a different time in British boxing and the divergent paths pursued by the Light-Middleweight class back in 2001 exemplified the asphyxiating effect of the sanctioning bodies now all but expelled from British shores. In their “pomp,” Britain supposedly boasted three “world-champions,” a European champion, a Commonwealth champion and an Inter-Continental champion amongst its light middleweight ranks. Considering none of those mentioned had fought and beaten a contender of note nor, largely, one another, the legitimacy of their claim to a portion of the world title, or even contendership, proved shallower than the faith demonstrated by their respective promoters.
It is unlikely, though we will never truly know, whether any of those fighters could have competed successfully in the upper echelons, considering the likes of Wright, Oscar, Trinidad and Vargas topped the division and Mosley, Forrest and Margarito cast long shadows from Welterweight, but all would have improved from meeting one another, on both fistic and fiscal fronts. In a way, it was the presence of such international luminaries that made the failure to make domestic round robin matches all the more frustrating. Only Takaloo versus Anthony Farnell was ever made and the intensity of the occasion a palpable example of what British crowds had missed since the height of mess’s Benn, Eubank and Watson rivalry. It may have been brief, but Takaloo’s knockout of Farnell in front of a passionate MEN crowd, the one Farnell helped build for Ricky Hatton, proved a high point in the boxing year.
Sadly, despite the interest and electricity it generated the knockout defeat of the favorite and local hero appeared to further polarise the domestic division and confirmed their promoter’s suspicions; pitching their “champion” (read “cash cow”), in with a fellow domestic rival was an unnecessary risk. After all, SKY appeared willing to purport that the type of WBF defences Steve Roberts made were world-class fare and that every bi-monthly episode merely a pretext to challenging Winky Wright or Oscar De La Hoya. A suggestion fueled either by an unflinching willingness to mislead or a naivety bordering on criminal negligence.
The readiness of the BBBofC and SKY to embrace these spurious baubles always struck me as obtuse; after all, only boxing fans tuned into fights in the darker recesses of Satellite television and they couldn’t be bought with an acronym. So if the belt meant nothing to those tuning in, why believe that without a belt a fight held no interest? Already marginalised by the move to Satellite, and it’s then partial penetration of the British television market, the WBF, WBU, IBA, IBC, IBO, IBU and to a lesser extent their senior bedfellow the WBO served to frustrate diehards and create a knowledge barrier to casual fans. Simply put, the belts acted solely to camouflage a promoter’s no-risk strategy. To those uninitiated in the politics and hierarchy of sanctioning bodies, how do you quantify the significance of the fight you’re watching? By hiding behind these worthless trinkets British boxing took the figurative “short money” and essentially walked away from casual fans.
Now five years later, and back on terrestrial television, boxing is once again reaching out for their attention. Viewing figures show sporadic success; Amir Khan’s transition from amateur to professional attracts significant audiences, Calzaghe arrived in the public conscience with his victory over Jeff Lacy and the blue-collar brawl between Clinton Woods and Glen Johnson reminded those lost since the days of McGuigan and Bruno that the sport still had value and interest.
With shoots of interest emerging the next step is to discover a rivalry to which casual fans can gravitate, recapturing the brutality and pantomime of the Eubank and Benn era. Too late for the light-middleweight class of 2001, Roberts retired, Alexander shattered, Takaloo back to welterweight, Williams 35 and a middleweight, Farnell now training fighters after a health scare and Lockett treading water at 160 pounds. Frank Warren, ITV’s exclusive promoter, had hoped to deliver Hatton to the network, and presumably a clash with Junior Witter but found himself jilted at the alter.
But all is not lost.
At 200 lbs. British boxing has two top 10, maybe even top 5, contenders willing to face each other and not “sometime in the future” or “after their next fight,” but now – right now. David Haye (WBC #1) and Enzo Maccarinelli (WBO Champion) both want the fight, both management teams proclaim unswerving faith in their man to knockout the other, the rival networks – Haye is with Sky, Maccarinelli on ITV – are prepared to flex to make the fight happen and purses have been debated and agreed.
Yet, despite the importance of the fight at this pivotal time in the sport’s history something has gone wrong. The reason for the collapse all but lost in claim and counterclaim of which I lack the energy or time to unravel – there will always be an excuse it seems and it will always be “the other guy’s fault.” Maccarinelli vs. Haye is the one domestic fight the British fans crave more than any other – okay, Hatton vs. Witter aside – and its collapse the latest and arguably biggest example of self-harm the sport has inflicted thus far.
The proposed date of April 7th, as lead support to the Joe Calzaghe vs. Peter Manfredo Jr. exhibition bout – arranged to introduce Calzaghe to an American audience – is an HBO date and would provide both fighters with exposure they’ll need to work hard to garner for themselves despite their undoubted potential.
Fans, the real lifeblood of the sport, can only hope that the publicised discussions represent a mere iceberg tip to the fuller negotiations that will ultimately deliver the fight.
They’ll not allow themselves to believe that of course, they’ve seen it all before.