Damaged Goods and Forgotten Men?
By Olly Campbell: Following my piece yesterday on what British boxing has to offer the world in terms of its prospects and potential titlists in 2014, I thought it only fair to take a look at the flip side of the coin and focus on a few fighters who for one reason or another, appear to have fallen by the wayside slightly. I wanted to assess if its at all possible for these men to bounce back and somehow enter, or re-enter, the world title picture once again.
Many of the fighters I am to look at were once tipped as shining lights of the British fight game, and despite various set backs for all of them, I wanted to ask the questions; do they still have it? And, did they even have it in the first place?
My first subject is Liverpool’s 6′ 8″ heavyweight and Olympic bronze medallist David Price. Boxing fans on both sides of the Atlantic and in mainland Europe should be familiar with the woes that befell the Scouse giant in 2013.
Just 12 short months ago, Price was not just tipped as a star over here in the UK, but was also being tipped as a worldwide heavyweight contender who may just have had the talent to become the first realistic and talented challenger the brothers Klitschko had seen in a long, long time. A good jab and serious knockout power had many boxing insiders believing the world level ambitions of Price could quite easily become a reality. That is of course until the comparably inexperienced Price stepped between the ropes to face the wily old American veteran, Tony Thompson.
Let’s get it right here. Thompson was a good step up for Price. Considering Price’s domestic level blitzing against the likes of Audley Harrison, it was perhaps silly of us Brits to think he could steamroller a guy who had just three losses, two of which were to the great Wladimir Klitschko. In fact, Thompson’s last opponent before Price WAS Wladimir. It should have been more obvious that Thompson could hang with the big boys, but his age (41) was a deceiving factor. He could still fight like a man a decade younger.
Now, I’m not going to blindly defend David Price. He got caught, which happens in boxing, and after that 2nd round blowout, redemption seemed the only option. Credit must again be given to the American however for coming back here to fight the rematch. We thought Price was just unlucky, and when Thompson went down in round two it seemed that might be the case. And then lightning DID strike twice. A disaster for the Liverpudlian, who had now gone from future heavyweight king, to complete bum overnight. Everything from his chin, to his footwork to his stamina being called into question.
That kind of negative scrutiny can ruin a fighter psychologically, and after knee jerk switches of trainer, to a new promo deal with Sauerland, we shall see what damage has been done when Price steps through the ropes this coming Saturday in Germany. His opponent is an unremarkable fighter called Konstantin Aurich, who has a mediocre (19-7-2) record. This guy hasn’t boxed in over a year when he was destroyed inside a round by one time prospective David Haye opponent, Manuel Charr. He is an ex European champion who couldnt even win the lightly regarded prizefighter international series a couple of years back. The once hyped Odlanier Solis, who was beaten in a bizarre fight by Vitali Klitschko has also beaten him, by a 12 round UD.
Price simply HAS to come through this fight on Saturday if he is ever to resurrect his career. Dereck Chisora is managing it after a series of losses to Fury, Helenius, Vitali and David Haye. Price can do the same if new trainer Tommy Brooks can work on keeping that chin protected and help him with his conditioning. This fight is a first step, though cannot be taken lightly. If David fails on Saturday, I see no other real option than to quit, which will be a MASSIVE waste, in my opinion.
My next subject is without a doubt damaged goods. I have been criticized on here occasionally by folk (Americans) who accuse me of blindly supporting every British fighter going. I hope my assessment of the next gentleman goes some way to dispelling that myth. As I’ve stated before I get behind ANY fighter who impresses me regardless of their background. If they don’t impress me, I say so, Brits included. This next fighter, a Scouser like Price, was and is, often hyped by lots of British fans and certain sections of our boxing press. However I simply do not see it. His two world title challenges have both ended in failure and I’m not sure I’ve any faith in his constant promises of glory. On March the 15th, in something of a homecoming, he will be moving up in weight and making his cruiserweight debut. The man in question, is of course, Tony Bellew.
I’m not sure what Bellew thinks he can achieve by moving up. My cynical side says that like Cleverly, who is plotting a similar move, Bellew feels he is outclassed by the depth of talent that exists in the light heavyweight division. Let’s be realistic. The pair of them couldn’t hang with the top boys at 175. Cleverly, after a series of the softest defenses by a world champion in my recent memory, was obliterated by the huge punching Kovalev last August. Bellew was just recently blown out by the talented, but late blooming Adonis Stevenson. A nearly fifty year old Bernard Hopkins is more than capable of chinning both, so I guess I can understand this move up, however much it screams of cowardice. Cleverly still hasn’t got over Kovalev, as recent cruiserweight returns have been postponed, then cancelled, yet Bellew is set to face Valery Brudov (41-4) on the Liverpool Matchroom show.
With Bellew, we have seen unremarkable performances time and again that have never justified the hype pinned on him. Struggling to a draw in May 2013 to Isaac Chilemba says it all for me, even if he did grind out a decision two months later in the return. Getting floored twice in a commonwealth title bout against Ovil McKenzie in December 2010 should tell you all you need about Bellews “world class” even if, again, he found a way to win eventually. Any fighter who can only muster a close decision vs the likes of Bob Ajisafe doesnt deserve to have their name mentioned in the same breath as the words “world title”. We shall see what this cruiserweight campaign brings for both Bellew and Cleverly, though I shan’t hold my breath over either of them.
Also on the Liverpool Matchroom show is a fighter who slots more into the forgotten man way of thinking, as opposed to damaged goods. It’s the hugely talented but very frustrating Dagenham lightweight contender, Kevin Mitchell. I like Kevin Mitchell, I always have. I don’t know how familiar some of you American fans are with Kevin, but on his day, his fast, slick and powerful boxing skills ate something to behold. Three years ago, right before his unfortunate destruction at the hands of Aussie banger Michael Katsidis, I had Mitchell tipped as a future star. And I WAS NOT alone. It’s long been apparent Mitchell has the tools required. A good jab, speed, good power and an ability to box and move have been key to his professional success. His downfall however has long been his non-commitment to long training camps, time away from home and a taste for the sweet amber nectar. Mitchell likes a drink and he likes to have fun. Never was this more apparent in the Katsidis fight of 2010. Katsidis had trained like a Spartan warrior, and when he walked into Upton Park wearing his trademark gladiator helmet, I, along with thousands of other Brits, danced a nervous jig inside, because when I looked across at Kevin Mitchell, I simply didn’t see the fire.
And it was proven, Kevin destroyed inside 3 rounds. Like Price and Cleverly whom I’ve mentioned beforehand, such defeats can be psychologically devastating and are difficult to bounce back from, yet Mitchell has tried and had some level of success. I want him to come on strong in 2014 because it appears he has a new focus and is motivated once again to bully his way into world title contention. Last year, 2013, saw him notch up three good wins against European level opposition. Like the Katsidis fight, he wasn’t himself in his 2012 challenge for Ricky Burns WBO lightweight strap, in which Burns scored a rather rare TKO in 4 to silence the Dagenham fighter. This is where I get frustrated with Mitchell, because he is more than capable of being a world level fighter.
As is Mitchell’s opponent of July 2011, John Murray. That fight was THE British fight of the year for me, and a classic, ferocious contest of conflicting styles that more than backed up the old “styles make fights” cliche.
Again not many Americans will remember John Murray. He will be best known by them for his December 2011 clash with then unbeaten WBA lightweight champ Brandon Rios, a title the US fighter lost on the scales that sadly, Murray just fell short of winning. Another reason for him.being one of my forgotten men/damaged goods subjects. Murray has quality and his come forward, hook throwing, brawling style always impressed me. An unconventional fighter, it always struck me how he kept such a tight guard yet rarely utilized the jab. However, john and trainer Joe Gallagher seemed to make that work for them. It’s amazing how so many fighters like john Murray fall through the cracks, yet with his impressive 32-2 record, the hard as nails mancunian has decided its the right time to get back at it. After nearly 2 years out of the ring, Murray shook off some rust to score a win in November over Michael Escobar, clearly stating his intentions to get back on the horse in 2014, and make his name known in the boxing world to anyone who counts. I believe his British bulldog grit can get him.there. Let’s not mess about. John Murray is as tough as they come at lightweight. A spiteful pressure fighting body puncher, he could make life very difficult for all those who count in the division. If he were to work on his movement and jab a bit more he could be MASSIVE. Rios is tough an Murray absorbed it all. He is now a rested and rejuvenated fighter who I expect big, big things from now that he is back.
So, there you have it. My personal thoughts on a few fighters who haven’t had it easy lately. I hope that to my American critics who say I worship anything British in a pair of gloves, I’ve gone some way to showing that’s not ALWAYS the case. Like you Americans, I am proud of my country and the boxers we produce. It doesn’t mean I think they ALL deserve to have their asses kissed, especially if they don’t end up performing. We have some great talent here in the UK and as a British writer I simply seek to represent that. It’s true we don’t always get a fair shake on BN24. and I’m here to hopefully restore some balance!
As always, thanks for reading, and a bigger thanks to all who say nice things in the comments section and via my Facebook and email. I’m always also open to article suggestions, so if there is anything you feel I should be writing about, please let me know.
On Facebook, Olly Campbell, Olly.Campbell.666 or email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.