Frontline Diary: Liverpool’s Echo Arena to Manchester city centre
Controversy reared its head before a punch was thrown on Matchroom’s Liverpool Echo Arena bill. News that Tony Bellew and Martin Murray 'Had failed to make weight' filtered through to Twitter on the Thursday, which led to a few claims that the organisation should be called 'Fatroom' following Paul Smith’s failure to make the agreed catchweight limit for his fight against Andre Ward.
The news turned out to be anything but, Bellew’s fight was set for 14st 8lbs to accommodate Ivica Bacurin, who came in as a late sub, and Murray’s fight with George Beroshvili was made for 12st 5lbs, just above the super-middleweight limit that he now intends to campaign at.
A majority of off-TV and some undercard fights are set for a mutually agreed weight, rather than the divisional limits, so it came as no real surprise when the weights came in. The only real surprise was that so many fans were enraged and infuriated by the 'failure' to make weight. It was a pre-fight phoney storm of controversy.
Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding headlined in the night’s most evenly match bouts, on paper at least, when meeting Brian Vera and Christopher Rebrasse. The biggest challenge of the night landed at the feet of the Sky Sports make-up artist who was handed the job of covering up Paul Smith’s black eyes, the result of the broken nose he suffered against Ward.
Speaking of which, super-featherweight contender Stephen Smith (22-1, 12 KOs) travelled to Oakland for his brother’s Mission: Impossible. The 29-year-old boxer had words of praise for Ward yet did not feel the same level of awe he felt when watching Floyd Mayweather in the flesh.
“Watching him on the night wasn’t overly impressive,” he said. “He’s very hard to beat, but a lot of it is one-twos. In round seven, he threw a left uppercut and you think: ‘Wow, that’s good’, but he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary - he’s just very good at what he does. That last round was sickening to watch, I was glad the towel went in. Paul’s home safe, they’ve a new baby on the way so he’s going to enjoy his life a bit now.
“Boxing’s a tough sport. People don’t know how lonely a place it is when things aren’t going your way and you are there in Ward’s backyard with him landing shots left, right and centre in the end. It must have been the loneliest place in the world, but Paul took them and is a tough lad - and I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother.
“I’ve been to Vegas to watch Mayweather and you leave thinking: ‘Wow, how does he make it look that easy?’ - he’s special. I grew up watching Sugar Ray Leonard, who is my hero to this day, but Ward didn’t make me feel that - maybe because he was fighting my brother - so I didn’t leave the arena thinking I’d seen something special.”
Smith and the other boxers based at Joe Gallagher’s gym received a boost earlier this year when Anthony Crolla announced that he would fight again and that his comeback fight would be a world title challenge to WBA lightweight titlist Darleys Perez at the Manchester Arena on 18 July. Bury’s Scott Quigg fights Kiko Martinez on the same bill.
“I love training with the two of them because of the effort they put in,” said Smith when discussing his stablemates. “It makes you want to train harder. It’s good to be around. They’re sharing a bill and fighting for world titles - it’s going to be great.”
Frankie Gavin (22-2, 13 early) and Kell Brook caught up with each for the first time since Brook stopped Gavin in round six to defend his IBF welterweight title for the second time. Gavin’s weight has been the topic of much debate ever since he turned over in 2009. The Birmingham-based boxer told me that he is eyeing a move down to 140lbs, has a new team around him and had asked Eddie Hearn for the opportunity to face Brook, arguing that any world title opportunity is hard to turn down.
Matthew Macklin (32-6, 21 KOs) was Birmingham’s other ringside representative. A loss to Jorge Sebastian Heiland (L KO 10) last year derailed his plans for a fourth world title shot. He returned with a routine second-round KO win over Sandor Micsko in May and is now back with former trainer Jamie Moore, I think.
“I can’t keep up myself, to be honest!” he said with a laugh when asked who would be in the corner for his next fight. “The last fight was a five-week camp. I had the flu and was going to pull out, but it was in Birmingham, I’d sold tickets and didn’t have to make 160lbs so took the fight and the win.”
When talk turned to the Heiland loss, he stated that he spent too much of the early part of that year in the gym. “I’d been training for a rematch with Felix Sturm that had been meant to happen early-April,” he explained.
“It didn’t happen, then it looked like [Peter] Quillin might happen only for [Daniel] Geale to get made and signed, with everything going ahead, but the fight got scrapped.
“I had a week off then back into the gym in August for the original Heiland fight, which got scrapped when [his trainer] Jamie [Moore] got shot in the leg. I did an eight-rounder, had a week off then was back in the gym for another camp. My knuckles flared up in sparring, so I did a lot of circuit training to replicate the intensity.
“In hindsight, I did too much. I looked the part on the scales, but after three rounds I felt sapped and tried to bluff my way through the rounds. I didn’t have the energy to fight bell-to-bell. By the lights out round, I had nothing left.”
The 33-year-old wondered if it was time to draw a line under his career, eventually deciding that he still had something to offer and could win a title at 160lbs.
He said: “After the fight, I was thinking: ‘Am I done? Has a hard career took its toll?’ I still want a world title, I should have had it in Germany but didn’t get it. I believe I’m in that mix of fighters who can win a world title. Outside of [Gennady] Golovkin, there’s a few who could win world titles. I want to fight in October then go for a world title at the end of the year or next year.”
Kell Brook is enjoying life as a champion. The 29-year-old intends to make the most of his earning capacity, especially know that he has moved his family into their dream home.
“As a young kid, I always used to drive past this nice area when we were going for Sunday dinner,” stated a beaming Brook. “I used to think: ‘One day, I’m going to live in one of these houses’ - now I’m living up there. My dream is coming true. I’m looking for massive fights - bring on the big fights, bring on the money. My main priority is to excite the fans with big time boxing.
“I’ve got my family now,” added Brook (35-0, 24 KOs). “I walk out on my lawn, look back at my house and think: ‘This is what I want to do. I don’t want to go out and about any more. I want to provide for them’. I want to make sure we can live very comfortably.”
Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding both won their respective fights (W12 and TKO 2). However, Ian Jon-Lewis was the chief topic of discussion after he made a meal of the stoppage by failing to spot that Vera's glove had touched the canvas and allowed Fielding to tee off on the visitor during the confusion called by his lack of a call.
When fighters lose or get knocked out it takes a bit of confidence out of them, often resulting in a cautious air known as being 'gun shy'. Lewis has made some poor calls recently. He looks unsure of himself; referees need to look, feel and act assured. The BBBoC may want to consider relegating him to smaller, non-TV shows for a while so he can regain his confidence.
Another thing for them to consider is allowing their officials to talk to the press. One referee recently told me that many of his peers would be up for that if the interview took place, say, an hour after the fight so they have had a chance to regain their composure.
It is really hard to unwind after a show. I ended up watching Sky’s broadcast then filed a Kell Brook piece, before you know it it was 5am and I had to snatch a bit of sleep before the next day’s open-air workout featuring Crolla and Quigg.
There were dark clouds over Manchester on the Saturday morning, leading me to wonder if scheduling this session was a good idea. The skies cleared, though, and both boxers went through their paces for the shoppers, boxing fans and complete and utter lunatics that have always found the lure of Piccadilly Gardens too strong to resist.
The PA system got lost en route so Craig Stephen, the MC, was forced to bellow introductions to the crowd. His voice managed to stay the course.
Quigg (30-0-2, 22 early) has recently spoken about his need to play the media game. The quiet, softly spoken titlist went to all sides of the ring and shouted: “I’m available if anyone wants to talk to me or take photos.” Uttering that short sentence to the onlookers was probably as nerve-racking as walking to the ring for the WBA super-bantamweight title-holder, maybe even more so as the ring is his natural environment.
I had a quick chat with Quigg. “The big fights won't be there for me if lose to Kiko - this one sets them up for me,” he said before concluding the interview with a joke. The cheek of it - that’s my job.