Frontline diary: The Showcase

Chris Williamson
22/08/2018 12:39pm

Photos: Chris Roberts

Chris Williamson with his reports and reflections from ringside in Belfast as Frampton and Fury win, Barnes falls short, the bathroom gets overcrowded and Tyson Fury lifts the WBC belt before he has even fought for it...

image2In some ways the headline acts Carl Frampton and Tyson Fury were in such little danger of defeat last Saturday that Paddy Barnes’ audacious challenge for the WBC flyweight title served as a blunt reminder that the sport isn’t just a showcase of acclaim and glory. At its best it is high level and gruelling competition, something Barnes experienced for four exciting rounds until left helplessly winded by a pulverising right hand to the body inflicted by champion Cristofer Rosales.

Danny Vaughan - Barnes’ trainer and husband to Sandra, CEO of the MTK Global management company - had told BM a couple of hours earlier that his man was “very confident” of claiming the green belt worn by legendary little fighters including London’s own Charlie Magri. It wasn’t to be though and one hopes U.K. fans will have a chance to watch Rosales again if and when Andrew Selby - number one in the WBC ratings and holding a win over the Nicaraguan from May 2017- has his chance to challenge for the title. It’s a thrill to watch a real world title contested in the U.K., especially from one of the traditional weight classes.

Barnes’ gallant and somewhat gung-ho effort left himself open having taken one of the early rounds on my card with shorter hooks landing before those of the longer, skinnier man. It’s perhaps a lazy comparison but the lean Rosales at times exhibited something of the stylistic look of the greatest Nicaraguan and fellow 'thin man', Alexis Arguello. I made a note that Barnes appeared to be working very hard just to stay in the fight, an impression emphasised with a bloodied nose suffered in the third. Barnes’ brave challenge ended after the Nicaraguan landed a vicious quasi-uppercut to the Belfast man’s body. Victor Loughlin, the Scot who often serves at WBC sanctioned bouts in the UK, counted to ten over the crippled challenger just above BM’s position at ringside.

Along with Frampton, Fury and Barnes, the Windsor Park stadium was naturally a huge part of the story. The building is an atmospheric structure indeed, with the energy of fans who sang and danced even while the rain battered down creating a memorable experience. One local told me they’d flattened the old stadium to make way for the new one on exactly the same site which took two years to build, while the Irish press I spoke to were pleased with how well the stadium worked as a boxing venue.

On a scenic train journey from Dublin to Belfast it struck me how charming Irish accents can be even while swearing. Or as one boxing fan (John Bailey) tweeted dryly, “I think feck is in the Irish Peter and Jane early learning school books”. Rob Tebbutt of Boxing Social had been in town grinding out interviews since Tuesday, including with Deontay Wilder’s manager Shelley Finkel. Rob shook his head wistfully while recalling how dog-tired the jet-lagged Finkel had been and how he regretted taking time with a long chat prior to the cameras rolling. Tebbutt has tried his luck with Finkel in attempting to secure an interview with famed advisor and incredibly media shy Al Haymon.

Later, the Australian fall guy Luke Jackson appeared nervous and suddenly a long way from home once Simple Minds ‘Belfast Child’ signalled the entrance of Frampton, as though realisation of the full scope and reality of the challenge had suddenly dawned on his young but weathered features. Once under way, Frampton delivered a largely effective, sharp performance in front of the huge crowd. As early as the second round the Northern Irishman landed a lovely left hook followed by two crunching body shots and I noticed a painful, sad look on Jackson’s face as if to say: “ah, so that’s what true world-class feels like.”

As is often the case, the sight of his opponent's blood seemed to energise the visitor in the third and he’d earned Frampton’s respect by the end of the fourth when the two exchanged stiff straight rights followed by a more gentle touching of gloves. By the eighth, Jackson’s resistance was depleted and Frampton was putting real spite into his hooks. A vicious left to the body floored the Tasmanian, who willed himself up. Inevitably, the end came in the following round as the corner towel was mercifully thrown into the ring with Jackson under further heavy fire. Frampton now moves forward to fight IBF champion Josh Warrington.

Adjacent to the media centre was a single solitary bathroom for use by the press, police and in some cases boxers and their support teams. One policewoman waiting outside complained of how their bullet proof vests – a full three stones in weight apparently – played havoc with her back pain.

With Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury confirming their clash for the WBC heavyweight championship later in the year, it was a case of which heavyweight behemoth provided the biggest nod to ‘the Greatest’ as Fury performed some Muhammad Ali-like clowning in a neutral corner versus Pianeta, while Wilder later borrowed a line from the ‘Louisville lip’ telling Fury that if he even dreamed about beating him he “better wake up and apologise”. One wonders what kind of verbal jousting Ali would have used to put these two modern pugilists in their place.

A day after the Pianeta fight served as the 23rd anniversary of Mike Tyson’s 1995 comeback win versus Peter McNeeley. If the elder Tyson’s comeback is any gauge for Fury's comeback, then it is worth recalling that Mike looked rusty – no Iron pun intended - vs his second opponent in Buster Mathis Jr before challenging and beating Frank Bruno for the very same WBC heavyweight title the Gypsy King is now targeting.

Indeed with Wilder in his sights and following the Seferi semi-farce, for the most part Fury had his game face on here. After soaking up the energy of the crowd, Fury settled into what for my money was a very useful ten rounds. Although he didn’t look anything close to a destructive force, the former champ looked much better than during his first comeback win.

Although caught with a number of Pianeta’s left hands over the top, Fury showed some solid defensive movement. Fury really does know his way around a ring, with fighting seemingly as natural to him as singing did to those watching. In the sixth Fury closed in on Pianeta, landing uppercuts on the German-Italian at will, before manoeuvring neatly around to attack both sides of his body. I scribbled a note in the ninth that Fury could surely end the fight if he wished, but Fury’s first distance fight since Dusseldorf - although two rounds less than the championship distance - will have been immensely useful.

In football it’s long been considered bad luck to touch a trophy before the game to decide the winner plays out. I’m unsure if the tradition extends to boxing, but it was curious of Fury to hoist aloft Wilder’s WBC heavyweight title post-fight. Of course, it’s the only recognised world title Fury hasn’t held, with only Riddick Bowe holding all four belts at various times in the post-1989 WBO era, with the 'fourth' alphabet organisation taking a long time to be regarded with any credibility at heavyweight.

Fury, thoughtful and respectful to the history of heavyweight boxing, will know this, while he continues dancing very much to his own tune.