Frontline diary: Glasgow catches Monster fever
Photos: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Chris Williamson is awed by Naoya Inoue and absorbed by Josh Taylor and Ivan Baranchyk from ringside in Glasgow at a World Boxing Super Series semi-final double bill...
Shortly before midnight last Saturday in Glasgow, while Tommy Philbin fought the final bout of what was a breathless night, the press room at the SSE Hydro Arena was standing room only as we awaited the arrival of the new IBF bantamweight champion, Naoya Inoue.
The Japanese press had taken literally every seat in the room, with the rest of us, including Tom Gray of The Ring – who had arrived with the magazine's own beautiful world championship belt - jostling for position. The WBSS media chap told BM that over 50 members of Japanese press had made the trip to Scotland, some of whom hadn’t even been credentialed. If there was any question that this Japanese man weighing a little more than eight stones is a phenomenon both inside and outside of the ring, those of us lucky enough to witness him in action at the Hydro were left in no doubt.
The thud that Inoue’s punches make sound like those of fighting men several weight classes heavier. I made a note after the first round that his left hook - which had whistled marginally short of its target on a handful of occasions - already looked ominous. So it proved in the second as a dynamite left-hook exploded on Emmanuel Rodríguez’s jaw, leaving him prostrate on the canvas.
Most fighters will react to scoring a headshot knockdown by following up with more of the same. Not Inoue (18-0), whose body attack is so dangerous that he utilises it even when his opponent's jaw is at its most vulnerable. A vicious, spiteful body attack floored the IBF champion once again, with the merciful referee Michael Alexander waving the massacre off shortly after a final, third knockdown. This was yet another in a run of stunning, sensational performances from Inoue.
BM contributor Andrew Harrison and I had met for a quick pre-fight drink at the Horseshoe Bar, a beautiful old pub on Drury street. As two Northerners, a price-point of well under £3 a pint hit the spot and before long we began talking with a couple of seasoned sports fans, one of whom was a dead ringer for former undisputed lightweight champ, Ken Buchanan. Earlier, I’d noticed that only a half-page of Saturday’s Scotland Times was allocated to a preview of Josh Taylor’s challenge to IBF super-lightweight champ Ivan Baranchyk and our new friends seemed barely aware of arguably the most significant Scottish boxing match of the decade.
Under normal circumstances, what we’d witnessed during Inoue vs Rodriguez would overshadow anything which followed, but the Scots – and it should be said, the visiting Japanese – made an almighty noise as the second WBSS semi-final approached.
Although less dramatic than its lighter equivalent, Baranchyk vs Taylor was absolutely absorbing all the way through, featuring several moments of high drama. Taylor (now 15-0) started the match boxing superbly, although one always had the impression that the skilled Scot could not and would not resist a dangerous tear-up. The champion looked ragged in comparison but began matching Taylor’s output to the body and started to land his own spiteful little short uppercuts.
The fifth round in particular was a barn-burner with both men seemingly hurt badly. Soon after, in the sixth, a superbly executed right-hook deposited Baranchyk (now 19-1) on the canvas and the Hydro erupted in joy. That the LA-based Russian-born boxer recovered from a further knockdown which resulted from a lovely Taylor combination speaks volumes for his grit and resolve. There was no quit on display whatsoever and the champion bounced back well in the final stretch of the fight. Finally a breathless fight was over and a new champion announced. It was a wonderful fight staged in a quite incredible atmosphere.
One name which evokes either rage or affection with little in between hardcore boxing fans that frequented boxing forums in the pre-twitter age is that of ‘Spud’ Woollatt, who once wielded his banning powers as a moderator on the boxrec forum as calmly and even-handedly as Daenerys Targaryen has in the lampooned final season of 'Game of Thrones'.
The now more relaxed Woollatt was working the security at the event and no doubt relishes the role he plays in the game he loves.
As a (slightly) reformed nerd, I paid a visit to the Forbidden Planet comics and fantasy book shop on Buchanan street in the heart of Glasgow city centre. In the manga section one set of volumes caught my eye as particularly appropriate on big fight weekend. ‘Monster’ by Naoki Urasawa introduces its story with the line: “Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. ”With the run that the Japanese ‘Monster’ is on, one thing that does appears certain is an early finish when the the bantamweight KO-machine is in town.