Frontline Diary: Blue and Green should be seen
Chris Williamson on all the goings-on ringside as Tony Bellew wins and talks about his nerves and love for Everton. Meanwhile, Z-Cars, The Greatest Boxing Ringwalk Songs two-CD set and the Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill in Dallas are also the subject of discussion on a heady night in Liverpool.
It was a beautiful, bright May bank holiday on Merseyside when Tony Bellew lifted the WBC cruiserweight title at Goodison Park. Four and a half months later the skies turned grey. Bellew's beloved Everton battled to a draw at Manchester City. Liverpool Football Club prepared to host Manchester United on the Monday and Jamie Moore, a United supporter, made the trip to Liverpool for a Waterstones book signing of 'Mooresy', the biography written with author and BM contributor Paul Zanon.
Paul told BM that Moore was recognised often while walking around the city centre. Zanon is currently working on a biography of Martin Murray, with an agreement that Martin has the final say on when his story is considered finished.
Enjoying a late lunch in the city centre prior to the show, a waitress told our party that Bellew had dined in the restaurant the day before, immediately following the weigh in. "He was eating healthily," she said with a smile. "Steak and a pint of water. No dessert."
Under the stewardship of President Mauricio Sulaiman, the WBC has made positive strides of late - not least implementing a 'Clean Boxing Program (CBP)' anti-PEDs initiative - and currently appear the most competent of the 'world' sanctioning bodies.
In the land of the blind, however, the one eyed man is king and approving American BJ Flores as a title challenger reeks of cronyism. Flores was - rightly - nowhere near the WBC top 15 until a bout with Bellew was mooted and appeal made on the basis of a competitive challenge to WBA 'regular' (read: 'not') champion Beibut Shumenov and 'comeback' six round win against no-hoper Roberto Santos, who'd lost his last three bouts. Santos's previous bout had been staged at something called the 'Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill' in Dallas. I wish I was joking; I'm not sure whether to be angry or hungry.
A much more qualified challenger made an unlikely appearance tucked away shortly after 6pm. Latvian Mairis Briedis (now 21-0) is mandatory challenger in a complicated WBC pecking order and fought Middlesbrough's green but promising Simon Vallily. Vallily didn't appear overawed by a man who stopped Manuel Charr at heavyweight and TKO'd touted US-based Nigerian Olanrewaju Durodola at 200lbs.
The Brit gave a good account of himself in the first, in particular with a stiff jab, before Breidis established control in the second, a right hook on the bell almost dropping Vallily. Breidis wore a knowing smile as he teed off on the less experienced man in the third, an Eastern European enjoying this post-Brexit assignment.
The Latvian brought large pockets of support, cheering loudly as a body shot floored Vallily (now 9-1) and follow up right hook ended proceedings.
Rocky Fielding (23-1) entered to Matchroom favourite 'Sweet Caroline' and finished Hungarian Istvan Zeller (33-13) in the second. At time of writing Fielding was still waiting for a new expected arrival into his family and joking about another 'chippy' dinner.
Craig Glover is a good friend of Tony Bellew, even sharing a number of the same sponsors. Glover moved to 2-0 with a workmanlike 40-36 decision over Lithuanian Rolandas Cesna.
Birkenhead's Sean 'Masher' Dodd (12-2-1) defended his WBC international belt against Belgian Francesco Patera, who'd only previously lost to Luke Campbell conqueror Yvan Mendy. Dodd has his own interesting take on the famous 'Ali in Africa' chant 'Bomaye (kill him)', written phonetically on his gown as 'Boom by ay'.
Dodd sold less tickets for this bout than battles at the same arena with Scott Cardle and was marked up as early as the second round. By the third, the WBC badge on Patera's shorts started falling apart, which prompted a joke about it being a disqualification offence.
It didn't seem to help because after a classy effort during which he seemed to outfight Dodd, the visitor was judged to have lost a split decision. Prior to the decision announcement Sky's Head of boxing, Adam Smith gave promoter Eddie Hearn a look which said: "He's (Dodd) lost this". Moral of the story: sew those badges on good, folks.
In a battle of two Ryans, Belfast's unbeaten Burnett (now 15-0) came out on top winning a lively, clear decision to win the British Bantamweight title against Liverpool's Farrag (16-3).
Derry Mathews walked to the ring to the sound of 'Dignity' by Deacon Blue, and although thoroughly beaten in four exciting rounds by Luke Campbell for the Commonwealth title and fringe WBC lightweight strap, left with head held high. If this is the end for Mathews, it's a fitting way for him to bow out after a fine career during which he fought memorable battles with a domestic 'who's who' from featherweight to light-welterweight.
As for Campbell, who moves to 15-1, he marched into enemy territory and despite starting tentatively, showed a nastiness sometimes absent during his pro career. Neatly avoiding a telegraphed right hook honey punch from the local fighter, Campbell dropped Mathews with a beautiful left hook in the third. Brutal body shots in the fourth ended the argument and the 29 year old now has a number of attractive options.
With the WBC route somewhat blocked by various mandatories, diamond belts (I know) and rematch clauses, Boxing Monthly asked promoter Eddie Hearn if a bout with WBO champion Terry Flanagan is an option. Hearn confirmed the fight is something they will consider, particularly if it can be made in Hull.
During the closing moments of Campbell vs Mathews, a couple of burly security men attempted to move Mrs Bellew and her friend, who were seated in between the TV media and print/ digital sections. Bellew would later tell me he's scared of no-one except maybe his wife, and, of course, Mrs Bellew won this argument, too.
As we waited for the main event there was talk of whether the mooted Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko bout would happen. Editor of Instantboxing.com Gary Mushrow proposed a fascinating if far-fetched conspiracy theory involving the IBO, referring to the Bellew v Flores programme as proof: "when did you ever see the IBO mentioned in a Matchroom programme?"
Talking of the official programme, there's an incredible full page advert for 'The Greatest Boxing Ringwalk Songs' two CD set. It reads like a spoof, and this being a Matchroom programme, AJ's friend and collaborator Stormzy is naturally featured ('Shut Up'). The CD can only have been compiled by true boxing people, since they spell 'Dereck Chisora' properly, a true hardcore/ casual differentiator.
For more, see www.greatestboxingringwalksongs.com. It's amazing.
Gareth A. Davies of the Telegraph was keen to meet deadlines so the inclusion of a 'floater' bout before the main event resulted in some colourful language. Gareth was also unhappy about the absence of tables for press. As always in Liverpool there was a glamorous crowd out and about.
As his friend and title challenger prepared for his ringwalk, David Haye smiled broadly as James Brown 'I Got You (I Feel Good)' boomed out. Haye is no stranger to soul/ funk, having copied Larry Holmes' ringwalk music, 'Ain't no Stoppin' Us Now' by McFadden & Whitehead.
The 'Z-Cars' theme Bellew uses is synonymous with Everton Football Club, having played at matches since the early 1960s. In 2001, a bright spark at the club changed the music to the theme from '2001 : A Space Odyssey'. See what they did there? It's an understatement to suggest this move was controversial and the old tune was swiftly reinstated. As Bellew stood ready to enter, the bass of rapper Black Rob 'Whoa!' vibrated as a montage of Bellew knockdowns reflected from the screen above the ring. Black Rob morphed into 'Z-Cars' and the champion emerged.
As on the title winning night, Bellew sported 'JFT96' on his shorts in tribute to Hillsborough victims and this time also wore a T-shirt which read 'RIP Mike Towell' in memory of the young Scot who lost his life on 30 September following a bout with Dale Evans.
The challenger started well and won the opener with sharp left-right combinations as he circled to his right. It wasn't long before Bellew (now 28-2-1) took control, flooring Flores three times in the second as the crowd cheered wildly. Under WBC rules, of course there is no automatic three knockdown rule. Flores at least went down fighting in the third, although his stubborn resistance in the form of a left right combination felt like a last hurrah. So it proved, as Bellew hurt Flores (now 32-3-1) with a hard body shot and finished with a powerful left hook, flooring the American for the full count.
There are varied opinions about the WWE style theatrics which followed. The eyes of Kugan Cassius and James Helder from IFL lit up as Bellew focussed his attention on David Haye.
Once the dust settled, David and old friend Carl Froch laughed together about the set-to.
Sky Sports' Adam Smith wore a wide, slightly detached smile of a school prefect who'd witnessed the class bully threaten one of the cool kids.
Deep into the night, at the post-fight press conference, I asked Bellew how the pressure of defending his belt compared to winning it at Goodison Park.
"I was a little bit nervous tonight," replied Bellew. "Nowhere near as much as at Goodison. Listen, my arse fell out my pants at Goodison mate," he laughed. "When I was in that dressing room with 20 minutes to go before that fight, I have never in my whole life been shitting it so much. I'm scared of no one. Maybe the missus a little bit, but I'm scared of no man.
"For the last twenty minutes before the ringwalk I listened to the Everton fans singing my name and singing Everton songs. I stand on those stands and sing the songs with them. I go nuts when we score. I can't explain to you mate, the feelings," he added as he touched his heart.
Bellew and Everton chairman Bill Kenwright share a genuine friendship, with Tony wearing the logo of one of Kenwright's famous theatre productions on his T shirt, fittingly named 'Blood Brothers'.
"The Chairman actually texted me last night and said 'I want to do it again!' and I told him 'I can't!' Listen, I can't go through that pressure again!" Bellew revealed.
Hearn went on to confirm that a 4 March date is locked in as a Sky PPV as Bellew shook his head and mocked the promoter for bringing a beer with him: "He's got a bottle of Carsberg at the presser!"
Hearn, quick as always with a smart response replied: "If Carlsberg did pay-per-view fights..." to a mixture of groans and tired laughter.
As a former Liverpool FC sponsor, on a night belonging to a proud Evertonian, Carlsberg is strictly off-limits, especially for pay-per-view jokes.