Rule Britannia? Part 2
By Adam Godfrey – Just over a year ago (April 25th, to be exact) I wrote an article exalting the contribution of Great Britain to the crop of recognised World Champions at the time. Britain boasted thirteen belt holders, the most of any country in the world. Anthony Joshua had just beaten Charles Martin to claim the IBF title. Tyson Fury was 5 months into being a unified Heavyweight Champion, and Carl Frampton was a month away from stamping his authority on the featherweight division by besting Leo Santa Cruzin what would become a fight of the year candidate (at the time he was the WBA and IBF Super-Bantamweight Champion having beaten fellow Brit Scott Quigg in February 2016, although he would later be stripped of the former belt when he spurned the opportunity to fight P4P fighter Guillermo Rigondeux, instead choosing to move up in weight).
Since those heady days, it is fair to say that that the fortunes of British fighters have been a mixed bag. While Anthony Joshua has risen to the very top of the Boxing echelons and is now one of its very few cross-over stars, some of the other high-profile names I wrote about have seen their fortunes falter. Both Tyson Fury and Carl Frampton are now ex-Champions, the former losing his titles out of the ring due to personal issues, the latter having lost a re-match against the man he previously won his title from.
As of the time of writing this article, Britain has eight World Champions, not counting the Ring title which Tyson Fury still claims or the WBA Light-Heavyweight title held by Nathan Cleverley; it would be frivolous to count Fury’s title in Britain’s favour while he holds no alphabet titles in his possession, and Cleverley’s belt is superseded by the ‘Super’ WBA belt held by Andre Ward. There is also Jamie McDonnell’s WBA Super-bantamweight out there, but his too is a regular belt and sits in the shadow of the ‘Super’ title owned by Zhanat Zhakiyanov.
Of the remaining Champions, Anthony Joshua naturally leads the charge, followed by Billy Joe Saunders, James DeGale, George Groves, Terry Flanagan, Lee Selby, Ryan Burnett (who has, quite literally, just relieved Lee Haskins of his IBF Bantamweight title) and Khalid Yafai.
As well as Fury and Frampton, Great Britain has seen Kell Brook, Anthony Crolla and Liam Smith lose their titles, to leave the United States at the nation with the most World Champions at 12, the status of the those two nations almost exactly equal and opposite compared to a year ago. Mexico is currently one behind Great Britain with seven World Champions. The position of the current top two World Champion producing countries may have swapped, but both still remain the envy of all the other major Boxing countries in the world, bar Mexico.
What are the prospects for those who have lost their belts?
Tyson Fury-Still pounds and pounds of weight away from being fighting fit, Fury is, regardless, a man who should not be discounted for long. Although he has expressed a desire to return to the ring in 2017, he is still without a Boxing license and it remains to be seen whether this aim is an overly optimistic one. However, if he can stay away from the vices that let to him being stripped of his hard-won titles, he should be back in 2018 and will immediately enter the mix. With Anthony Joshua running out of credible opponents (as things stand, only Wladamir Klitchko and Deontay Wilder are considered by anybody who is anybody as serious challenges to the IBF Champion) it would be fascinating to see Fury attempt to really reignite his career against Joshua, perhaps two or three fights into a comeback. The promotion would be absolutely enormous in the UK and would appeal to both casual fans and the more knowledgably connoisseur, such is the markedly different style of the two, and even more so should Fury manage to impress during his tune-ups. Boxing owes Fury nothing; his downfall is completely of his own making, and yet it is difficult to deny the appeal of having him counted back amongst the ranks at the top of the Heavyweight division.
Carl Frampton: Frampton lost his rematch with Leo Santa Cruz this year, and in my opinion the Mexican’s win over his Northern Irish opponent was slightly more convincing than vice versa. But few doubt Frampton’s skill and pedigree, and the trilogy fight between the two is one of the very best matchups out there. They will inevitably meet again, and no outcome should come as a surprise. I give the edge slightly to Santa Cruz, mostly because he has the momentum of his recent win behind him. But really, this is as near a 50/50 fight as it gets, and it’ll be a pleasure to watch two such massive credits to the sport go at it for a third time.
Anthony Crolla: Unfortunately for Crolla, he was beaten by Venezuelan Jorge Linares not long after my Part 1, and earlier this year lost virtually every round of their rematch. Crolla is arguably an example of a man who has made the very best of his perhaps limited talent, which should garner significant respect in and of itself; many more talented men have retired from the sport having never reached their potential, which is something that can never be said of the former WBA Lightweight champion. However, his time at the top is probably over, and he’ll likely retire before too long as a man very content with hisachievements.
Liam Smith: Along with brothers Stephen, Paul and Callum, Liam Smith has carved a decent career out of Boxing for himself. He captured the vacant WBO Junior Middleweight title in 2015 before relinquishing it after three defenses to superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in September last year. Unfortunately for Liam, he was never expected to pose a significant challenge to the Mexican, and many suspect that there was a good reason he was picked as the opponent for his significantly more famous foe over the other Junior Middleweights of the time. He lost handily, as expected, to Alvarez, and rather fluffed his next opportunity to claim a title when he missed weight the night before his fight for the interim WBO title against fellow Liam, Welshman Liam Williams. He won the fight after it was stopped due to cuts to his opponents, although the scorecards showed that he was behind by a point on all three at the time.Similarly, to Crolla, his time as a strap-holder may be over, but at the age of 28 there is still plenty of time for Smith to prove the doubters wrong and perhaps provide a shock or two in the future.
Kell Brook: Although Brook’s career took an unfortunate amount of time to really bloom, perhaps not helped by the shadow of Amir Khan lingering over him, it finally took off when he beat bulldozer Shawn Porter to claim the IBF Welterweight title in 2015. That blooming was pruned at the blade of a thug and his knife;Brook was stabbed in the leg and arm during a holiday in Tenerife shortly after his title win. Brook considered the possibility of retiring. Instead, he recovered from his serious injury and eased his way back in with easy defenses against Jo-Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. That’s wherethe word ‘easy’ left the vocabulary of Kell Brook for good. He agreed to step in against Kazakh beast Gennady Golovkin after Eubank Jr seemed to lose his nerve at the last minute, and made a good account of himself despite being stopped in the sixth round, a broken eye socket the reward for his efforts (as well as a healthy dose of well-deserved respect, of course). Again, retirement seemed an option. Not for a man with Brook’s cojones. Instead he opted to honor his IBF mandatory and stepped right back into the lion’s den against American knock-out artist Errol Spence Jr. Yet again history repeated itself; Brook accounted for himself well against his slightly favored challenger until injury reared its ugly head again (all credit to Spence for being the bearer of bad news, by the way) and he had the other eye socket broken, and was stopped soon after. Brook’s future yet again hangs in the balance, and it’ll be several weeks before he can see (no pun intended) the woods for the trees. Should he fight on, expect to see Brook either cash out against Amir Khan in a British Super-fight, or try his hand at the Junior Middleweight division with the aim of becoming a two-weight Champion. That division is particularly stacked with talent thanks to the likes of Jermell Charlo, Demitrus Andrade and Erislandy Lara, but nevertheless constitutes Brook’s most likely route back to a world title. Time will tell.
So where are the next generation of British Champions coming from? Let’s first have a look at some Britain’s best prospects, just for fun:
Callum Smith-One of the four professional Smith brothers in the sport, at 27 Callum is the youngest of the clan, and will be taking part in his first World title fight in September of this year against experienced former Champion Andre Dirrell. This will be a tough fight for Smith, but a winnable won.
Chris Eubank Jr-Without doubt one of the most entertaining fighters around today, it is his questionable temperament and decision making that has stopped him achieving his enormous potential thus far. Not helped by the ever-presence of his eccentric father and mentor, legendary Middleweight dominator Chris Eubank Senior, Junior managed to emerge from his fight with Australian Renold Quinlan with the lightly regarded IBO Super-Middleweight title holding up his shorts, which he’ll defend against veteran Arthur Abraham in July. It is unlikely that the vast experience and power of the challenger will see him to victory against Junior, but it is nevertheless refreshing to see him up the quality of his opponent, and a victory over the Armenian-German will vastly improve Eubank’s CV and stand him in good stead for an eventual rematch with long term rival and fellow Brit Billy Joe Saunders.
Anthony Yarde-Although still a very green professional, Yarde is clearly a phenomenal athlete, and already has the confidence and will to succeed that is essential to eventually becoming a world champion. He certainly has the physique, the power and the speed. Still a solid year or two until he really enters the equation in the Light-Heavyweight division, he is nevertheless a man to keep tabs on, and I expect his career to be a fun one. Gained exposure by fighting on the Brook v Spence undercard.
Daniel Dubois-A hulk of a heavyweight, Dubois was expected to be one of Britain’s main hopes at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Instead, the Londoner elected to turn professional at the tender age of 20, and has amassed a perfect 3-0 record with three knockouts. He also gained good exposure on the undercard of the Brook v Spence bout, and will have his career nursed by Frank Warren with the intention of one day challenging current IBF Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua, with whom he has sparred.
With Anthony Joshua currently running amok, and ably propped up by a healthy batch of both current and potentially future World Champions, Britain’s status in Boxing is very secure. The American’s currently, and deservedly, dominate, with the Brits marginally ahead of the Mexicans (another proud Boxing nation). This time next year the three nations may well have swapped places again, although I suspect there will be less of a swing than over the last fifteen months between parts one and two of my glances at British Boxing. Pugilism of course is a very individual-centred sport, and far be it for me to gloat along patriotic lines, but…yeah.
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