BBC BLOGS - Ben Dirs

Archives for May 2012

All hail super-human Froch

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Ben Dirs | 14:22 UK time, Sunday, 27 May 2012

Capital FM Arena, Nottingham

If anyone still harboured doubts Carl Froch was one of the greats of the British ring before Saturday night, those doubts will surely have been demolished by the same wrecking-ball the now three-time world champion used to dismantle a shell-shocked Lucian Bute in Nottingham.

"Maybe finally people will wake up to such a tremendous boxer," said Froch's trainer Rob McCracken, who is eternally irritated by the lack of respect afforded his charge. "He's a special fighter and just a normal, hard-working kid. Hopefully now he'll become a British boxing legend. It's long overdue."

McCracken may have hit upon the reason why Froch is so undervalued in his own country: being "normal" - Froch said he would celebrate his victory by laying some lino in a new bungalow he is renovating - does not sate the appetite of a public which apparently prefers its boxers to come with controversy. Unless you are so aggressively "normal" and down to earth that you are almost underground, as was the case with Ricky Hatton.

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Warrior Froch ready for war once more

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Ben Dirs | 09:25 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

Heard the one about the boxer who hit his own trainer over the head with a tripod and his rival who threatened to shoot him? Instead of a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville, they landed a fight outdoors in a ball-park.

God knows boxing needs a few good news stories right now. So thank God for Carl Froch, the boxer who almost always delivers. So much so, he should consider changing his nickname from 'The Cobra' to 'The Postman'.

It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention Scouse heavyweight hope David Price, the 6ft 8in Adonis with the manner of a jovial publican whose progress since striking bronze at the Beijing Olympics and surgical dismissal of Sam Sexton last weekend suggests he might be the real deal. But Price is the future, whereas Froch is the here and now. But for how long?

No boxer likes to hear the end might be nigh - as Muhammad Ali once said to broadcaster Howard Cosell, Cosell having suggested Ali was past it: "I asked your wife, and she told me you're not the same man you were two years ago." But Canada's Lucian Bute will ask more taxing questions of Froch in Nottingham on Saturday than the most sceptical journalist can muster.

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Way of the Tiger

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Ben Dirs | 17:23 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

If the thought of sharing the same square of Leicester soil as the Tigers team of the mid-to-late 1990s chills you to your boots - think Martin Johnson, Dean Richards, Neil Back and more jagged edges than a breakers yard - then spare a thought for those condemned to share the same Welford Road changing room.

"I was just 18 when I made my first-team debut," recalls Leicester legend Lewis Moody. "When I walked in, all my heroes were there. 'Deano' stood up and I thought he was going to welcome me to the club. 'Lad', he said, pointing through the door, 'the youth team changing room is down the other end of the corridor.'"

It is a revealing snapshot of the forbidding, clannish culture that has made Leicester the most enduring English team of the professional era and carried them to an eighth successive Premiership final, against Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.

"It might sound to outsiders like a horrible place to be, but it draws you closer as a team," says former Tigers lock Ben Kay. "It's not the most comfortable environment to be in. But if you're driven by success, it's exactly where you want to be."

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Haye v Chisora: Boxing madder than ever

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Ben Dirs | 07:15 UK time, Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Those who condemn the bout between David Haye and Dereck Chisora presumably condemn the bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Or perhaps not. More likely they eulogise over "The Rumble In The Jungle", a multi-million dollar fight orchestrated by a man who once kicked another man to death and which took place in Zaire, a poverty-stricken African country run by a maniacal despot who publicly executed dissenters in a stadium that doubled as a dungeon.

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Can snooker afford to lose Ronnie?

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Ben Dirs | 22:27 UK time, Monday, 7 May 2012

The Crucible

The genius of Ronnie O'Sullivan is not what he can do with a snooker cue, a table and some balls. The genius of Ronnie O'Sullivan is his alchemist's knack of turning the cerebral into the visceral, while managing not to sacrifice any of the purity of a sport he plays as well as anyone has ever done.

People who do not watch snooker watch O'Sullivan, who claimed his fourth world title with victory over Ali Carter in Sheffield on Monday. Just as people who did not like tennis watched John McEnroe or people who did not like golf watched Seve Ballesteros. O'Sullivan is one of their breed.

People might smirk when seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry says his great rival is "like a rock star playing snooker", but the comparison holds true: O'Sullivan, like a rock star - and unlike most of his fellow snooker pros - has an emotional attachment with the fans. He elicits feelings of delight and pathos; of shock and awe. He demands a response in this most buttoned-up of games.

But the real joy of O'Sullivan comes from watching a man wrestling with an extravagant talent and all the mental turmoil that spawns. "He didn't lose the plot at all," said Neil Robertson after being beaten by O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals, with more than a hint of surprise. For his part, O'Sullivan said it had been a case of managing to temper his lofty, often unattainable, expectations.

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Was Stephen Hendry the greatest of them all?

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Ben Dirs | 10:15 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2012

It is said that professional sportspeople die twice: first when their career ends and again when they draw their last breath. As with real life, the end of a sportsperson's career is less likely to be sudden than more of a drawn-out affair.

For Stephen Hendry, his unedifying defeat by Stephen Maguire at the Crucible on Tuesday was the last stirrings of a sporting career in terminal decline. By Hendry's own admission, he had been descending the "slow, slippery slope" for the best part of 10 years.

Even when he was making his 11th career 147 against Stuart Bingham last week and savaging defending champion John Higgins in the second round, Hendry, the perfectionist's perfectionist, knew he was nowhere near to being back to his best. "Did I really play that well?" he said. "I don't think so."

Different sports allow their legends to age with different levels of dignity. When a footballer's legs go, they have no option but to quit. When a tennis player burns out, they either quit or they fast disappear from the rankings. But the non-athletic nature of snooker means its legends invariably play on: stalking past glories, their often agonising death throes on display for all to witness.

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Anatomy of a Crucible decider

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Ben Dirs | 08:38 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ali Carter sweeps back into the theatre first, striding purposefully to his seat: having won the previous three frames, the underdog is riding a wave of momentum. Ten seconds later, the curtain parts and Judd Trump appears: pallid and ghostly against the black material, like a silhouette in reverse.

Many sportspeople have stories pertaining to that final 'look': "He was already gone," they tell you, "you could see it in his eyes." They don't tell you about the times they thought an opponent had gone and those empty eyes had lied.

But there is definitely something in the pre-deciding-frame handshake: Carter, looking officious, holding Trump's gaze a moment longer than necessary; Trump breaking the spell before seeking succour in some water.

"I never really felt good out there and he was more mentally ready," said Trump, last year's runner-up and this year's pre-tournament favourite. "I've played this game a lot of years," said Carter, "so I just felt that when it really mattered, at 12-12, it was going to turn for me."

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