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Frank Warren’s Night of Champions Preview: Cleverly, Chisora, Mitchell, Gavin, DeGale and Walsh brothers fly flag for Britain

Frankie Gavin, James DeGale, Kevin Mitchell boxing photo and news imageBy Alan Dawson: Saturday evening provides British boxing fans with their biggest domestic night of the year. After one of the headline acts provided more ducking than a Whack-a-mole machine that donned the defensive-nous of shoulder-roll happy Floyd Mayweather, promoter Frank Warren worked steadily to bring in adequate replacements. The omission of British Welterweight champion and current number one-ranked Brit Kell Brook will be lamented, yet the coup of hosting Nathan Cleverly’s European shot against Antonio Brancalion should be applauded.

Nathan Cleverly 18-0(8) v Antonio Brancalion 32-7-2(7)

Light Heavyweight

British & Commonwealth title holder Nathan Cleverly, a fidgety low-guarded boxer who spots a good punch and was recently inducted into the Ring’s top ten list of Light-Heavyweights, is embarking on the old-school route to World level. He aims to add the vacant European title to his collection of belts, yet standing in his way is Antonio Brancalion. Cleverly dominated recent opponent Courtney Fry in the early stages, but eased off the gas before an eighth round stoppage. Considered to be Britain’s brightest prospect, Cleverly will be keen to instil a lasting impression on the Wembley masses as, after tonight, he will likely lay low in order to best maintain the 2:2 he has been forecast in Mathematics at Cardiff University. With home-nation advantage (the fight was originally scheduled in Italy in January) a greater frame and a shot selection that brags more power than the visitor from the peninsula, Cleverly could well conclude the career of Brancalion. The Italian, after all, was downed inside a minute and a half when challenging for the same title last year; against German southpaw and former WBO victor; Jurgen Braehmer.

Derek Chisora 11-0(6) v Carl Baker 9-4(6)

Heavyweight

A British title eliminator, this bout pits Carl Baker, who decked, decisioned and outclassed Danny Williams in Prizefighter late last year, with Derek ‘Del Boy’ Chisora, best known for his canny impression of Nosferatu. Chisora was primarily due to box Matt Skelton but Del pulled out so he could face British champ Williams. The latter, though, pulled out because of a virus. Williams himself was initially down to face Sexton who, between them and despite their credentials, would not put in as good a bout as Chisora and Baker are capable of. If fans were asked whether they’d prefer to see an already waning Williams and the slap-like punching of Sexton in what would retrospectively go down as an embarrassing flirtation, or a dangerous up-and-comer whose past tactics have been as dodgy as Del Boy’s gear in Only Fools and Horses going toe-to-toe with a Fridge who decked Danny, they’d surely elect the latter. Chisora is one to watch. An exciting prospect unafraid of whomever Frank Warren sticks him in the ring with. Whether that was, as initially pencilled in, against Skelton, or as speculated; Michael Sprott, Brit champ Danny Williams, or now; Carl Baker. Chisora’s an ambitious boxer… he’s already called out recent Goliath-slayer David Haye, but such a fix-up – as ambitiously dreamed up as it is – will be infinitely harder should he fail to preserve his undefeated tag on Saturday evening.

Kevin Mitchell 30-0(22) v Ignacio Mendoza 27-5-2(18)

Lightweight

Mitchell, the number one WBO Lightweight contender makes the first defence of his WBO Intercontinental belt, but this challenge was likely regarded as a tune-up to get rounds in prior to his intended world shot in the summer. Mitchell convincingly decisioned Breidis Prescott in a win that elevated him further on the global scene. Tactically sound, Mitchell abandoned his usual forthright fighting style in order to accommodate the awkward stature of Prescott. Mitchell picked his opponent off while showing sound evasive discipline. The undefeated Eastender has a view to taking on Michael Katsidis, who is as unyielding as he is endearing, for the Australian’s WBO lightweight interim crown. Mitchell fights his second Colombian in succession in Mendoza, who has lost on British canvas in the past. The 26-year-old was defeated inside the eighth when tussling with John Murray, whose face ended up looking like it had been hung up as the speed-bag in the gym on discount day. Murray still claimed the victory (a clash of heads the catalyst for a mountainous swelling on the forehead of Mendoza). Mitchell possesses the skill-set to ease past Mendoza at a canter, who – a Russian sojourn aside – has been largely reserved to fighting in Spain since his loss to Murray.

Frankie Gavin 5-0(5) v Peter McDonagh 14-15(2)

Lightweight

While the British press seem to hold James DeGale in a higher regard out of the UK prospects (no doubt fuelled by his eager trap that spits verbal at any rolling camera) it is Frankie Gavin who is rightfully deemed the more dynamic due to becoming England’s first ever World amateur champion (in 2007). Standing in his way, though, is stubborn Irishman Peter McDonagh. In what is arguably the finest pairing of the bill by Frank Warren, the Connemara Kid – discounting his dubious record – has proven in past performances that he can go to the final bell. He even survived ten when in the ring with British champion Lenny Daws last year. Refusing to kiss the deck, he’s frustratingly hard to floor, yet Fun-Time should coast to a points victory with a touch of labour. McDonagh will provide a further test for Gavin, who is unaware what it feels like not to teekayo his opponent. Currently mentored by former world welterweight champ John H Stracey, who won his title after showing great heart against Jose Napoles in 1975, Gavin will be continuously soaking up new knowledge. The most important of which is the amount of work that is required of him: “As an amateur, you can cut corners but not when you are a professional,” Stracey said recently to the Mirror. “He [Gavin] said to me, ‘I love being pro but I didn’t realise how hard it is’.”

James Degale 5-0(3) v Matthew Barr 14-5

Super-Middleweight

“I was brought up with Arsenal,” James ‘Chunky’ DeGale recently told the Arsenal Matchday Programme. “My mates and my brothers all supported the Gunners… watching Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell playing up front in the ‘90s. Arsenal are the best team in the world,” he said. “I’m an Olympic gold medallist, together we could be the perfect couple. My style of boxing is a bit like the way Arsenal play: sexy, smooth and entertaining with the skills to pay the bills.” Arsenal, though, are fluctuating at the head of the Premier League. Dismissed from the race for the crown after a heavy loss to Chelsea at the end of 2009, the Gunners minimised the 11-point deficit and stole pole-position in the division in January, only to fall eight points behind their London rivals after another loss last weekend. DeGale will be hoping to avoid such inconsistency. While Arsenal can sweep aside inferior teams, they have come unstuck against the country’s bigger dogs. DeGale is yet to reach a similar height domestically. According to December rankings in Britain, Matthew Barr is ranked just three places adrift of DeGale, who occupied 9th spot. DeGale confidently asserts that his power and speed will be too much for Barr: “I’ve got a feeling this is going to be my best performance to date,” he said to Sky Sports. Barr can stand-up to DeGale’s onslaught, but will likely fall before the distance. Prepare yourself for an entertaining quip or two once he’s done with Barr; his post-fight interview will no doubt contain some Malignaggi motor-mouth magic.

Rest of card

The hyper, ferocious and popular Walsh brothers (who will entertain their ‘Farmy Army’ 400-strong legion brought down from Norfolk), Kevin Mitchell’s younger brother Vinny, Jamie Cox, and a debut from George Michael Carmen conclude the undercard. Michael Walsh 6-0(6) takes on 2004 Iraqi Olympian Najah Ali 3-0(1) for six rounds at Super Bantamweight. Najah will hopefully give Michael a greater test than Kakha Toklikishvili, who did the referee’s job for him by holding his hand up and giving up when he saw Walsh come at him like a bull at a gate in October. Liam Walsh 6-0(5) laces-up with Sid Razak 4-40(1) at Lightweight level, and even though the latter holds a record that appears pitiful, he has only once been stopped. Ryan Walsh 8-0(3), meanwhile, clashes with Ian Bailey 5-3(0) at Featherweight. Vinny Mitchell 11-0(2) boxes Jon Baguley 8-17-1(4). Michael Frontin provides the opposition for Jamie Cox, while rookie Carmen and Mark Seawright will exchange blows.

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