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British boxing set fair for 2010

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Ben Dirs | 12:00 UK time, Monday, 4 January 2010

While 2009 will largely be remembered in British boxing circles as the year Joe Calzaghe hung them up and Ricky Hatton was smashed to smithereens by Manny Pacquiao, it was also a year of rebirth for the sport in this country.

Calzaghe's retirement in February left Carl Froch as Britain's only world champion, down from a peak of seven in 2007, but green shoots soon forced their way through what some doom-mongers were claiming was infertile soil.

In April, Froch mounted one of the great comebacks to beat Jermain Taylor, and while his first fight in the innovative super-middleweight Super Six tournament was a stinker, he lived to fight another day.

haye595.jpgDavid Haye defends his title against John Ruiz in 2010 - then for the Klitschkos

The Super Six, masterminded by American broadcaster Showtime, is a rare triumph of common sense and concord in boxing, the top men in the division fighting each other to decide who's best. So simple, fans can be forgiven for wondering why it doesn't happen more often.

Having squeaked past American Andre Dirrell, Nottingham's Froch now faces Denmark's Mikkel Kessler in Copenhagen in April. Kessler lost his WBA belt to former Olympic champion Andre Ward in November and a defeat to Froch would scupper his chances of advancing to the semi-finals. It's likely to get desperate, which means it could be a classic.

Amir Khan jumped to light-welterweight to wrest the WBA belt from Andry Kotelnik in July, although this win and his subsequent 76-second demolition of Dmitry Salita failed to silence the doubters, who won't shut up until the Bolton man beats a world-class operator who can bang.

Whatever your take on Khan, 2009 was certainly an improvement on 2008, which ended with his quite shocking defeat at the hands of unheralded Colombian Breidis Prescott. Mexican veteran Juan Manuel Marquez has been mentioned as a possible first opponent on American soil in 2010, although Hatton might have something to say about that.

Paulie Malignaggi, demolished by Hatton in Vegas in 2008, has emerged as a more likely opponent for Khan. Malignaggi ticks a lot of boxes. He is a former world champion, he is coming off an impressive-looking win, and he's American. But the most important box ticked is the one that has "couldn't break an egg" written next to it.

mitchell595.jpgKevin Mitchell oozed class in beating Breidis Prescott, suggesting he's ready for bigger things

As for Hatton, he says he has "the itch" again and admits Marquez is top of his wishlist. The news that The Hitman, now 31, wants one more "war" for the road will please some but leave many more wincing.

In November, David Haye did what he had to do in beating Russian brute Nikolay Valuev and claiming the WBA heavyweight belt. In so doing, he became the first Briton to own a portion of the heavyweight world title since Lennox Lewis in 2003.

Not everyone has taken to Haye, but no-one can deny the cocky Londoner has turned up the heat and got boxing's Blue Riband division bubbling again. Mandatory challenger John Ruiz looks tailor-made, and then it will be time to go Klitschko hunting.

Vitali looks like he fancies it most, which could be bad news for the Englishman, as the WBC title-holder is flintier than younger brother Wladimir, owner of the IBF and WBO straps. That said, the 39-year-old Vitali looked sluggish in beating Kevin Johnson earlier this month and could be appearing on Haye's radar at exactly the right time. Vitali or Wladimir, it will be fun. That's always the way with Haye.

Other Brits to manoeuvre themselves into world title contention in 2009 were Dagenham lightweight Kevin Mitchell, Leicester super-bantamweight Rendall Munroe and Sheffield's Ryan Rhodes (remember him?).

Munroe, 29, is a grafter, and not just because his day job is collecting bins. He fought three times in 2009, culminating in a nuggety defence of his European crown against Italy's Simone Maludrottu last month.

Munroe is now the mandatory challenger for WBC title-holder Toshiaki Nishioka, although he may have to travel to Japan to fight him.

Mitchell, 25, gave one of the most educated ring displays of 2009 in beating Prescott earlier this month. The former British and Commonwealth super-featherweight champion had garnered a reputation as an all-action scrapper, but his victory over the "Khanqueror" was something more cerebral.

Marquez is the current WBA lightweight champion but is likely to vacate, which would leave Australian hardman and WBA 'interim' champion Michael Katsidis blocking Mitchell's path to the title.

However, Mitchell has expressed an interest in fighting British champion John Murray, and that's a fight that would seem to make perfect sense. Manchester's Murray, like Mitchell, has long been linked with a match against Khan, and a Murray-Mitchell contest could double as a de facto eliminator for Khan's crown, while also being a quality domestic contest in its own right.

Rhodes, 33, first fought for a world title back in 1997, but his brutal seven-round victory over Salford's Jamie Moore in October, which saw him claim the European light-middleweight crown, could lead to a second shot.

British welterweight champion Kell Brook defended his title twice in 2009 and his promoter Frank Warren may decide he's ready for bigger things should he get past Chorley's Michael Jennings in February.

Brook, the 2009 young boxer of the year, looks the real deal, and it's a toss-up as to whether he or stable-mate Nathan Cleverly, the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion, will fight for world honours first.

Deserted by Calzaghe and Hatton, undone by some reckless matchmaking in the case of Khan, Warren looked vulnerable this time last year. But his new gaggle are coming along nicely, and one or two of them are starting to take on a golden hue. British boxing, Warren will reflect as the new year rolls round, is doing just fine.


  • Comment number 1.

    It goes without saying that it has been a good year on paper but I think it has also been a very frustrating year what with alot of cancellations etc, ala (Hayes back, Kotelniks tooth etc).

  • Comment number 2.

    Great Blog Ben,

    Especially liked the part where that Malignaggi ticks the "couldnt break an egg" box.

    I rate Khan and support any British fighter no matter their History or background, but he needs to fight a world level fighter who can punch before he runs his mouth!

  • Comment number 3.

    "Deserted by Calzaghe and Hatton, undone by some reckless matchmaking in the case of Khan, Warren looked vulnerable this time last year. But his new gaggle are coming along nicely, and one or two of them are starting to take on a golden hue. British boxing, Warren will reflect as the new year rolls round, is doing just fine."


    Good article Ben, barring the last paragraph which i've quoted above.

    The boxers you mentioned who left Warren have gone onto much bigger things, would Frank have let them that far off the leash? I doubt it. For him, it's all about the biggest reward for the least amount of risk. Calzaghe spent too long fighting patsies for (at the time the lightly regarded) WBO belt, to the point that people will always question his resume. Hatton had big Vegas fights galore against the two #1 P4P fighters at the time (and others against quality opposition).

    As you rightly point out, Malignaggi couldn't break an egg (going even further, couldn't break an egg whilst wielding an axe). But Malignaggi got destroyed by Hatton, then lost (controversially) then beat Diaz - a guy who didn't look the same fighter at 140 than he did at 135. Maidana has just out-smoked Ortiz and he's the mandatory, why not fight him? Khan and Warren can't bang on about Salita being his mandatory. Then duck the very next guy in line simply because, god forbid, he can seriously bang.

    Kell Brook is the one i want to see really have a go at it this year, the same almost of Cleverly. Unfortunately we'll see them shuffled into a world title shot and then have to put up with sub-par opponenets there-in.

    Fighters like Calzaghe, Haye, Hatton etc who are off the Warren leash have done far more for British Boxing than any of the current stable will unfortunately. Getting fighters to 20-0 is great, but i for one am a bit sick and tired at then watching them get protectd to 35-0 without taking risks simply for the sake of ££££££££££s.

  • Comment number 4.

    coxy0001 - Hello mate, and thanks for your comment. Not sure what your point is about my final paragraph. I simply stated that Calzaghe and Hatton left him, and that left him looking vulnerable. Indeed, Hatton did go onto some big things after leaving him, as did Calzaghe. But then I didn't say they didn't.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree that boxing in the UK is in extremely good health at the moment. However, this is of no thanks to the BBC. Their lack of support for the sport is nothing short of disgraceful. With backing from the BBC, the sport could be huge in the UK.

  • Comment number 6.

    Having been a boxing fan for some 40 odd years, and having been lucky enough to have been around to watch some of the modern greats, Ali, Holmes, Leonard, Duran, Hagler, Hearns, Tyson, Pryor etc, it's not often that I get really impressed by a new face, however Andre Ward's performance in the Super Six was amazing. Total class! Andre could go on to be one of those rare fighters that catch the publics imagination and draw the crows back to the sport.

  • Comment number 7.

    Unfortunately the BBC has thrown all its cash at Formula One, so I can't see them doing much for boxing in the near future.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ben, I dont follow much Boxing outside the ring but watch most of the fights on PPV that are 'bigged up' by the media, and I was looking forward to Mayweather vs Pacquiao this year. Is there any chance that the fight will still go ahead, or has the court case scuppered any chance of that super fight? If so, who will Pacquaio fight next and will it be a fight worth watching?

  • Comment number 9.

    TheKirkbyKid makes a good point.

    The BBC in general dont really go out of their way to cover boxing or support it much. Sky is better in terms of coverage but still not really ready to give its full backing to it.

    Probably the biggest coverage any fight got in Britain this year was the "David v Goliath" freakshow. Haye did a good job selling fight and pretending he was going to try and make it exciting when in reality he was going to play hide and seek. The media bought into it and in the whole furore nobody seemed to remember that Valuev (whilst huge) was a very poor fighter and the media were especially reluctant to point this out - very little mention of his defeats and questionable victories over finished guys like Ruiz and Holyfield.

    Meanwhile I agree with you Ben that formats like Super offer so much more by way of excitement and quality for the boxing fans yet unfortuantely its coverage in Britain has gone largely under the radar despite having a home fighter present which is disappoining and rather bemusing as I think the general public would find it much more accessible a concept than delving into the complicated world of boxing mandatories and politics. I would much rather see structures like supersix implemented once a boxer has gone past his development stage as I think it could really help bypass many o boxings current problems. During the last golden age of boxing in Britain when guys like Benn, Watson, Collins, Eubank etc were fighting the sport was healthy as each of these fighters were squaring off. Now we are told guys like Amir Khan despite world champions need to be carefully nurtured. This seems somewhat contradictory to me. If you are a world champion charging ppv and need to be carefully nurtured then something is badly wrong.

  • Comment number 10.


    Just saying that i feel British boxers are held back by a certain promoter already mentioned. There seems to be pre-prepared routes for the likes of Khan, then when he gets in with some unknown randomer who smokes him it's called poor matchmaking. The same was said about Ortiz v Maidana, but these guys are past the 20 fight mark and it's about time they were exposed to something other than blown-up fighters moving up for a payday. Sadly, the likes of Brook, Cleverly, add in all the Olympians and the rest of Warren's current crop look to be heading down the same road as JC & Hatton who were protected for too long.

    Frank is the master of guiding careers, just saying that this current crop of British fighters could be something special... Following the theme of your article i think they could all do without getting to 25-0 having not been exposed to a degree. The paying public are sick and tired of Khan fighting patsies (and that shows up in his poor PPV figures), sadly the rest of his fighters could go the same way which will just end up somewhat disillusioning us fans further. Yeah British boxing is set fair, but it could be a fair bit better with some more exposure to higher levels when they're ready... which takes too long.

    One kid you've gotta watch out for is this lad from Haye's promotional company, George Groves. Kid looks pretty special

  • Comment number 11.

    Frank is the master of guiding careers, just saying that this current crop of British fighters could be something special... Following the theme of your article i think they could all do without getting to 25-0 having not been exposed to a degree. The paying public are sick and tired of Khan fighting patsies (and that shows up in his poor PPV figures), sadly the rest of his fighters could go the same way which will just end up somewhat disillusioning us fans further. Yeah British boxing is set fair, but it could be a fair bit better with some more exposure to higher levels when they're ready... which takes too long.

    The problem is that Warrens route generally involves fighters getting better publicity and is much safer.

    You only have to look at guys like Froch scrapping it out against the best and desperately looking to get some kind of exposure to see why many upcoming boxers would prefer to go with Warrens blueprint.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think the point people are missing is that Frank Warren is ultimately an excellent promoter in developing domestic fighters into really classy operators; when it comes to moving them on, he's had less success. However, you only have to look at the struggles Froch had to secure even European level bouts to see quite how good Warren really is: as Froch himself says, he couldn't get a bout with the European super middleweight champion at the time despite being a mandatory. Much of this rests at the door of Mick Hennessey, who could not secure good television deals (ITV4 was a flop) for his fighters. Even now, despite being an established world champion and a damn exciting fighter, Froch can't get a deal with Sky and is fighting on Primetime. You only have to look at the exposure Warren gets for his fighters to see why people join his stable so readily: Degale, Saunders and Gavin have all been on TV numerous times in their short careers so far. (By the way, this isn't a pop at Mick Hennessey, who's done extremely well at getting Tyson Fury out there, although Fury pretty much promotes himself).

    To the main point of the article, I think British boxing is heading towards a really strong decade. The established stars, Froch, Haye and Khan, are guys that I feel are going to be very strong in their respective divisions. Froch has such incredible confidence in his own abilities together with a warrior mentality that I believe may just see him through this Super 6 tournament. Ultimately, he's got to hope that he can avoid Dirrell and Ward (guys with good hand speed will always cause him serious problems) and I think he'll win it. Haye shocks the world and beats Vitali next year on account of being about three times as quick as wooden legs himself. Khan, who knows? If his chin holds up, he's sensational. If it doesn't, oh dear.

    The prospects that have emerged over the last couple of years are hugely talented: Cleverly could already be competing for a world title in what is no longer a particularly strong division; Brook is unfortunate that he's in one of the deepest divisions in boxing at the moment, however he's enormously talented. Here's to hoping that Mitchell, Murray, Macklin and Munroe can push on to the world title scene and really make a splash.

  • Comment number 13.

    Frank Warren i think is planning to have the mandatory and fight Maidana.

    Britian have a number of fighters on the fringes of world titles that you didnt mention.

    Paul Mccloskley who is a light- welterweight is someone who in an easier division would already be world champion.

    Barker and Macklin who hold the commonwealth and european titles respectively are heading for middleweight title shots which are very winnable fights for either of them.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is all well and good, but why won't the Beeb get back into boxing? See Carl Froch's comments:

  • Comment number 15.

    A fight to watch out for next month will be Norwich's Sam Sexton vs Danny Williams for the British heavyweight title. It could be the springboard Sexton needs after two wins (the second far more convincing) against Martin Rogan for the Commonwealth title. He's getting better with every fight. Also keep an eye out for the Walsh brothers from Cromer. They are a real livewire trio and are bangers. By the way they are all managed by Warren...

  • Comment number 16.

    Danny could get badly hurt in that fight. I don't think it'll go past the first round.

  • Comment number 17.

    I've got a funny feeling Danny is going to shock us all and knock Sexton out... He shouldn't, but then again he shouldn't have beaten Mark Potter with only one arm...

  • Comment number 18.

    Does anybody else think that, whilst its good to see the best fight each other, the format of the super six is flawed? I have a bad feeling that it could descend into madness during or immediately after the next round of fights. Taylor is surely only one beating away from retirement, someone is bound to get injured at some stage, and the losers could just bail. I think an eight man knock-out competition is a better idea.

    Maybe I am just being pessimistic.

  • Comment number 19.

    I still find it quite funny that people refer to David Haye as the 'cocky Londoner'. He wasn't that cocky before he went into the super heavyweight division. He was a nice chap who knows words of more than 2 syllables. It is just a shame that people that are coming to his career late will think that the cocky front he has adopted is what he is actually really like when we all know its just to get a packed O2 (and other venues) for his fights, keeping the promoters happy and making himself more cash in the process. Haye is quality and if he can get some more fights before the Klitschko's I don't see why we can't have a united heavyweight champion (really, sorry Lennox) from Britain again in the next 2 years. I don't think we will ever see again David Haye punching himself out like he did in his one career loss against Carl Thompson and the best thing about him is that he really does learn from his fights, and prepares well, unlike I have to say Ricky Hatton who should call it a day. Just depends whether his ego can take becoming the new Barry McGuigan and being better known for his (future) commentary career rather than really beating the best in the world apart from Kosta Tzu. A lot of British fans have spent a lot of money on the last 2 pay per view Hatton fights and I am not sure if they want to spend (read waste) their money again on someone that looks unprepared in terms of correct sparring partners or has any different game plan from previously.

  • Comment number 20.

    Gerrardswhiskers, I will pay to watch Ricky Hatton every day of the week. In the meantime, I completely agree with your sentiments on David Haye.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am amazed once again Darren Barker gets overlooked in these reviews of the last year and looking forward to 2010. He is a class act and his style is very close to Joe Calzaghe's, tight defence great head movement, super confident, fast hands and a good chin. He has an excellent chance of going all the way.

    Also his return from the tragic loss of his brother makes the story even move amazing.

    Unlike the Frank Warren camp of phony champions like Amir 'glass chin' Kahn he is however going to have to do it the hard way as he is with Hennessy Sports and ITV... and not have hand-picked jokers like Dmitriy Salita and a washed up Antonio Barrera put in front of him..

    Roll on 2010 and the year of Dazzling Darren Barker..

  • Comment number 22.

    Frank Warren has one person's interests at heart, and that is Frank Warren's. It was no surpise to me to see both Ricky and Joe go their separate ways to secure their big money, legacy-defining fights.

    Warren is good at getting fighters a shot at a world title, perhaps when they aren't good enough or ready for the shot. My advice to young fighters - get in with Frank for as long as he can serve your needs (ie getting a shot at a title) then, if you have any ambition to go on to greatness, get shot of him once it becomes clear he is standing in your way for his own benefit.

  • Comment number 23.

    An interesting article. However, you might also have mentioned Herbie Hide who I thought was due to contest the WBC Cruiserweight title in 2010. I have read that it may be the first instance of any boxer winning another title at a smaller, rather than a heavier weight? This would be a remarkable achievement for British boxing if it happened.

  • Comment number 24.


    I am reading into it that you like Froch, have doubts about Khan and have a soft spot for Haye.

    I think these three fighters have a lot to offer this year. For me Freddie has really done wonders with Khan and I think he is ready to put in some big performances. LWW is not that strong a division and I can see Khan having a decent reign.

    I whole heartedly agree that the Super 6 is fantastic and I am looking forward to Round 2 with anticipation.

    I note you have got the word "cerebral" into the article again. Is it your equivalent of Arnold's "I'll be back"

  • Comment number 25.

    David Haye is very clever and knows that if he defeats the Klitschko's and becomes undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, everyone will respect him. A bit like Joe Calzaghe had his doubters but as soon as he retired undefeated, beating Hopkins, Kessler and Jones in the process, he automatically became a British Boxing Legend. Difference is Haye is doing it in the ultimate division against two long standing champions that everybody in the world wants to see challenged. Haye could be huge and easily bigger than Hatton and Calzaghe if he beats both Klitschko brothers, which I believe he will.

    The only other fighter who could have been mega in my lifetime was Naseem Hamed who had the ability, mouth, and universal appeal, but unfortunately was lacking in the biggest department of all, heart. Haye has proved since the Carl Thompson fight that he definitely doesn't lack heart and his ability and mouth has also been proven, all he has to do is dethrone the two special K's, providing his chin holds up!

    As for Amir Khan, the WBA have forced a purse bid for a fight against Maidana. If Khan backs out and opts for Malignaggi, he could not have made a more bigger statement where his priorities lie, and good luck to him, he should make a lot of money.

  • Comment number 26.

    Carl Froch really is terrible! He lost the fight to Dirrell, landing very few shots and lungeing in with terrible clumsyness. He was outboxed by Taylor before that albeit impressive knockout. Calzaghe would have destroyed him, no problem.
    As for Khan, he has been guided with eagle-eyed precision to the World Title, facing non-entities such as Kotelnik and Salita. Throw him in with JM Marquez or Vasquez and he will be punished, as we know that chin isn't exactly made of granite!
    The people to really look out for are Haye, Mitchell and Cleverly, on the British side of things, and Khan isn't going to be getting in any 'classics' any time soon...

  • Comment number 27.

    The problem with British boxing is the fans who don't get behind their own country's fighters.....such as some of those posting above.

    People love Hatton even though he put on a hugely embarassing performance against Pacquiao. Yet Khan, who got mashed against Prescott, actually worked hard to improve himself and come back stronger only for some to slate him (probably because of his race). Some british sports fans even wanted Valuev to knock out Haye in their championship fight which was despicable. Even some of our own boxers, Mcguigan and the lesser known guys tried to make out that Haye should have lost - what fight were they watching?

    I don't particularly like Froch, as he's nowhere near Calzaghe's class, but I get behind him because he's english and he should get respect for beating everyone who's been put in front of him.

    Problem with Britain is that people love losers - Eddie the Eagle, Frank Bruno and Tim Henman. This was echoed by this years SPOTY award which gave the trophy to someone Ryan Giggs due to appearances rather than someone who actually won something and deserved the trophy like Button or Cavendish.

    It's about time we woke up as a nation and starting supporting our successful sports men and women.

    (Haye, Mitchell, Khan, Degale, Cleverly and Gavin to have a fantastic 2010).

    P.S great post by gerrardswhiskers above

  • Comment number 28.

    Good blog as always Ben. The thing that most interests me about it (and I'm afraid this is a bit of an I-told-you-so message) is that a short while back you wrote a very pessimistic piece about the state of British boxing and where it wss headed. I remember writing a message at the time saying so. I also said that new in talent boxing (and other sports) is like a conveyor belt at times. Sometimes the conveyor belt is full and you have a seemingly endless array of good talent coming off it, and sometimes it runs a little empty. I tried to make the point at the time that it was just a quiet time for the conveyor belt and that there was no need to be pessimistic as things would change. I (and you) are old enough to have witnessed those quiet times before, and over the years the health of boxing has fluctuated between having an embarassment of riches, to times when people were worried about the future. I never worry because I've seen it all before. And we're heading for better times, believe me. Having World Champions in Haye, Khan, Froch, et al is the inspiration that boxing needs for the youngsters to follow in their footsteps. It's like momentum, sometimes momentum is lost by not having any champions at all, but things change. All it takes is 1 to set it off.

    It is nice to see you writing in a more positive manner, with a more positive outlook on British boxing. I for one never worry about the health of the sport, as it is ingrained into the British social fabric, and therefor will always stand a fighting chance (excuse the pun) of attracting new talent.

    I'm sorry for the I-told-you-so, but I did tell you so!

    Keep up the good blogs. Whether pessimistic, or optimistic, they are always a good read.

  • Comment number 29.

    p.s "I also said that new in talent boxing" - should have read, "I also said that new talent in boxing".

    I shouldnt type so late at night!

  • Comment number 30.

    Hello all. Sorry for not getting back to you earlier, been skiing. True, Matthew Macklin and Herbie Hide could also be in line for world title tilts in 2010, which makes the whole scene look even rosier.

    Riggadon - Not sure when I wrote my negative blog about the state of British boxing, don't recall it to be honest, but then I sometimes don't recall what I had for breakfast. I think British boxing's been in a pretty healthy state for a number of years now, it's American boxing that's the worry. Pacquiao v Mayweather would have helped...

  • Comment number 31.

    I think Liverpool is also having a great time of it at the moment (when it comes to boxing). The city has a fabulous new arena that seems to have been made for boxing. We have fighters such as Paul Smith, Tony Dodson and Tony Quigley fighting each other for domestic titles. We also have up-and-comers David Price and Tony Bellew. Bellew in particular looks like an exciting fighter.

    Ben - I would like to ask you a question directly. I commented a few days ago that I thought it was awful that the BBC didn't show boxing on their schedules. Do you have any insider knowledge as to whether this will change in the near future. It really is a shame that the sport isn't backed by the national broadcaster. I have contacted the BBC in the past on this point, but to be honest, the answers I have received back have been nonsensical.

  • Comment number 32.

    The Kirby Kid makes a valid point. However the major fights both domestically and globally wont be shown on the BBC it will be PPV. Theres just too much money to be made for promoters and fighters. Dont think the Beeb can afford it.

    I believe that 2010 looks ok. Boxing at the moment is much better than what it was about 6-7 years ago when Lennox left. Carl Froch for however much i respect him and will always support him. His skills set just isn't up to the world class level that hes fighting at. The guy can box but is just lacking that little bit of class thats needed. Haye is a lad while Amir Kahn has a massive future.


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