Frontline diary: Blessing in disguise?
Hughie Fury's challenge for Joseph Parker's WBO heavyweight title ended in a points defeat on Saturday night. Chris Williamson brings us his ringside reflections from Manchester...
Prior to a dramatic effort against Tony Bellew and having blown away two less-than-elite level opponents, writer Ian Probert likened David Haye's boxing comeback to a toy he owned as a child. The toy described was passed off to a young Probert as a legitimate ‘Action Man’, but alas upon closer inspection didn’t quite live up to the billing. Probert refers to this youthful disappointment as his ‘Almost-but-not-quite-an-action-man’.
When leaving the Manchester Arena late on Saturday I felt some empathy for young Probert. The programme boldly billed this event as a contest for 'The World Heavyweight Championship'. Of course, the use of the singular is important here; as Boxing Monthly’s online preview reminded us, the WBO version of the heavyweight crown has historically been viewed as a poor relation which made this lofty claim seem as inflated as if Paul Gallagher - Liam and Noel's less well-known sibling - had begun busking around Manchester while referring to himself as ‘Oasis’.
In status Parker vs Fury was, in reality, closer to a crossroads match between two unbeaten young contenders, similar perhaps to an event twenty years ago when Parker’s New Zealand heavyweight predecessor David Tua announced his arrival on the world scene by almost decapitating fellow-unbeaten John Ruiz on HBO’s ‘Night of the Young Heavyweights’. Yes, even John Ruiz was young, once.
As, of course, was Jake LaMotta, who died earlier this month after a long and healthy life. Boxing is a sport reassuringly respectful of its past and the ten bells of respect in Manchester to celebrate the life of legendary former world middleweight champion was very well observed.
There had been almost comically manufactured bad-blood between Peter McDonagh and Shayne Singleton before their bout, with McDonagh shoving Singleton before the latter appeared ready to fight without pay and while wearing underpants. McDonagh looked to deserve the 96-94 win he was awarded and friends John and Tyson Fury celebrated in the ring with him. The sour feeling continued post-fight unfortunately and Singleton could be overheard swearing angrily when McDonagh offered an embrace.
It was a pleasure to talk with former IBF cruiserweight champion Glenn McCrory, who returned to the media arena after leaving Sky Sports. McCrory recalled the days he spent sparring with Mike Tyson while Iron Mike was at his championship peak, an introduction arranged by James 'Quick' Tillis, who Glenn speaks very fondly of. Tillis was, of course, the man who broke 'Kid Dynamite's' KO streak all the way back in 1986. McCrory says he and Tyson were "just kids" back then who would play Space Invaders together. Tyson would literally knock a new sparring partner out each day.
Jimmy Kelly registered a seventh straight win since an unsuccessful WBO 11 stone challenge against Liam Smith which most believe came too early for him. It’s hard to gauge Kelly’s progression against opposition like Stiliyan Kostov, who had lost all eight rounds to Brian Rose a year ago. Kostov was down for a count of nine in the first round and did well to last as long as he did. A body attack from Kelly saw him dropped twice in the fourth round before the referee waved it off. Kelly won a fringe WBO title which is likely to see him now world ranked by that body.
Josh Wale and Don Broadhurst put on a spirited, exciting clash for the former's British bantamweight title until a superb right hand from Wale put Broadhurst down and out in the eleventh round. This was a proper trade fight and it was lovely to see both so respectful of each other afterwards.
I'd met a couple of writers earlier in the day [note to Ed: just a shandy...], one of whom strongly tipped Matty Fagan to upset Joe Murray at 8/1 odds. Fagan brought loud support from Ellesmere Port, who chanted "you fat bastard", presumably at a fleshy Murray. For those of us weighing significantly more than ten stone, this was both amusing and upsetting. A sharp and busy Fagan looked very unlucky to come away the 96-93 loser to me.
There was frenzied speculation on social media about ticket sales, but by the time the main event came around much of the lower tiers were full. It was a decent crowd, albeit smaller than one would normally expect for a heavyweight title fight. Frans Botha, the former heavyweight contender who Parker pulverised in just his sixth fight back in 2013, took his seat early on.
Of course, Botha briefly won a 'world' heavyweight championship himself back in 1995 until stripped of the IBF title after testing positive for steroids. I was reminded of a story the author Bob Mee once told me that Botha's promoter Don King had allegedly protested to authorities – with a straight face and outraged demeanour - that "'roids ain't no strippin’ offence".
Twenty-two years on and the main event here was a huge disappointment as a spectacle. Parker fought as crudely as he did aggressively. Fury was almost the polar opposite: nimble and beautifully balanced, but negative. The fight only occasionally caught fire, such as in the third when both landed more weighty punches; a round where Fury switched stances and was warned by referee Marcus McDonnell that his right-handed jab - deemed a backhand - was landing illegally.
The fourth would present further adversity for Fury when he was cut as Parker bulled himself close - an injury which McDonnell confirmed was caused by an accidental head clash.
The sixth was a Fury round as the young Brit cracked the champion with a well-executed right hook and later a right uppercut as Parker manoeuvred in to close the distance. It was a dreadful contest and by the tenth round - one I made Fury the winner of on the basis of a reinvigorated orthodox jab - I marked Fury a couple of points ahead. The champion finished the stronger - probably landing the best punch of the fight with a jolting right hook in the final round - to make it a draw on my card.
A majority decision for the champion - 118-110 on two cards - seemed ludicrously wide but the fight was extremely hard to score and the contrary nature of the boxers' styles naturally means a judge favouring one method over another may lead to a lop-sided perspective. As Tyson Fury loudly and aggressively berated Robert Smith of the British Boxing Board of Control - surely an unwise move given his own situation - the champion was keen to leave the fray and swept away from a request from BBC Radio for an interview.
There was a large security presence keeping some media and well-wishers out of the small room where the champion provided his post-fight thoughts. Parker was noticeably frustrated with his performance, but considered the aggression he showed enough to retain the belt. "He ran [for] the whole 12 rounds," Parker growled, before adding, "I wanted to get the knockout”.
Trainer Kevin Barry continued this theme: "I thought it was a close fight, but you can’t win going backwards for 12 rounds," he said.
David Higgins of Parker's promoter Duco sees unlimited possibilities now free of mandated shackles. Higgins pointed to opportunities afforded by a partnership with Bob Arum in the US and hinted at the possibility of a fight in Japan, before thanking the British Boxing Board of Control for their fairness.
As Parker and team were finishing up, a scene indicative of Tyson Fury's true nature unfolded as the giant lineal champ opened the door and congratulated the man who picked up one of his vacated alphabet titles, before inviting him for a drink. Tyson really is a people person and for all his troubles is loved by many who come in contact with him.
One BM reader reminded us on social media how the WBO heavyweight title has seen some excellent matches over the years. Indeed it has – Mercer vs Morrison and Moorer vs Cooper among them – but Parker vs Fury will not join that club. Indeed, the lack of exposure some of us bemoaned beforehand for this forgettable match may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for what remains two promising young careers.