Frontline Diary: Slings in Harrow
Chris Williamson reflects on all the goings-on at the Harrow Leisure centre as Liam Walsh headlines, a ring card girl calls in sick and Boxnation celebrates 300 live shows and five years in operation ...
There's an air of positive energy which is hard to explain and quantify when the fighting Walsh brothers are in each other's company. Boxing Monthly experienced this lively vitality on arriving at Harrow Leisure Centre for a bill topped by Liam's final-eliminator for the IBF world super-featherweight title.
British featherweight champ Ryan (who I know well), Liam's twin, greeted me as we discussed their plans to return to Las Vegas as hardcore fans, in a trip funded by the 'Walsh boxing betting syndicate.'
Even when on 'holiday', as the Las Vegas trip will be, they still train and learn as they did on the last visit at Johnny Tocco's famous gym. As one of the most ardent members of the 'Farmy Army' and old friend (Jack) told Boxing Monthly, "they don't really have training camps as such, because they're always training." Liam, within touching distance of a world title shot, seemed extremely confident.
Boxing Monthly was once invited to sit ringside as a guest of the Walshs at one show. It was fascinating to listen to Ryan dissect the finer technical details as each bout unfolded. Ryan has described a TV commentary role as "a dream job" once he hangs up the gloves and if my opinion is worth a carrot, he could easily someday become Britain's answer to Paulie Malignaggi.
The great former light-welterweight and welterweight champion James 'Buddy' McGirt trains Liam's opponent Andrey Klimov and is surely headed for the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF). McGirt wore a large ring with a boxing image on Saturday. Ryan told Boxing Monthly he'd asked McGirt if it was a Hall of Fame ring. "No, not yet," McGirt replied, revealing it was a "local commission ring". McGirt is currently on the IBHOF ballot in the modern category, alongside old rival Meldrick Taylor.
Later, Liam would rubber-stamp his mandatory status with a near flawless performance, moving beautifully while regularly switching stances and executing a boxing clinic against the California-based Russian. Walsh bounced around the Harrow ring, slipping many of Klimov's efforts while scoring with crisp jabs and sharp right hands as the 'Farmy army' roared their approval.
A straight right on the bell to end the sixth saw Klimov down, believed to be the first knockdown of his career. Klimov's eye later swelled as Walsh slipped effortlessly and pushed out effective jabs to body and head.
The 'championship' (should that be 'eliminator'?) rounds were swept up by a much smoother, razor-sharp Walsh as a vocal supporter reminded him: "no freebies," with the brave visitor pressing, albeit in vain.
As the scores were announced, Norfolk legend Jon Thaxton cheered as Walsh booked an IBF title challenge against Puerto Rican champion Jose Pedraza. Boxing Monthly scored the bout 120-107 from ringside, in line with two judges.
Ryan, always enthusiastic and engaging with boxing anecdotes, spoke at length with Klimov's 'other' cornerman, a huge man-mountain who co-founded the 'War Tape' equipment brand, an ex-army former boxer who fought Ray Mercer as an amateur and worked in LA Homicide for 30 years. Quite the storyteller! They chatted away as Liam's hands were wrapped.
A common complaint among boxing fans is a perceived lack of new blood in British refereeing and judging. When Boxing Monthly last spoke to young official Lee Every back in April, he was training to be a referee and studiously 'shadow' judging bouts as part of his training.
Lee is just what the game needs: enthusiastic, knowledgeable and with a deep love of the game. Having progressed quickly since our last meeting, Lee refereed several contests on this night and loves every minute of it. Interestingly, Lee confirmed that as a newcomer, he doesn't 'officially' judge the fights he referees, although he still keeps a 'shadow' card, which is separately assessed.
Lee works the London area, describing legendary Bethnal Green venue York Hall as "my second home," and hopes to fully qualify and judge officially from January next year. Boxing Monthly wishes him the very best of luck.
Prince Patel (now 4-0-1) secured a contract with Queensbury Promotions, partly as a result of a brash (or "marmite" as he calls it) approach. Unfortunately for Patel, this doesn't appear to translate to ticket sales and word is the scheduling of his early, off-TV match was a direct result of selling just 15 tickets. Patel won on points over four rounds against Czech Patrik Bartos (8-11).
The Boxnation TV channel celebrated 300 live shows and five years in operation, when it went on air at 7pm. Boxnation had planned their PPV launch for 29 October's now scrapped Fury v Klitschko II card, although plans appear to be afoot for a potential replacement, something 'heavyweight' related on 10 December.
Rob Butler from BBC Norfolk told BM the Walsh brothers are fantastic with the local media there. Butler is flying out for Ryan's upcoming EBU challenge in Denmark and Ryan is relishing the chance to fight on foreign territory. Incredibly, Promoters Sauerland Event won the EBU purse bid by just €300. A cynical observer might speculate that such an outcome suggests a 'mole' somewhere in the system, but since boxing politics is so clean, let's leave the conspiracy theories to Private Eye magazine.
A motivational poster on the wall of the leisure centre shouted: "Everyone Active". The Slovakian opponent of DP Carr (6-0), Elemir Raphael (34-105-4), wasn't paying attention as he went down very easily, knocked down and stopped from body shots in less than two minutes.
At around 3pm on the day of the event, Queensbury had received a text from the round card girl claiming she was too sick to work. Her friend and colleague at the agency was offered as a replacement, stepping in at late notice.
One prominent figure at ringside gently ribbed the colleague responsible for the quality of the replacement. "She doesn't look too interested," Boxing Monthly said to the individual responsible.
"Neither do we," he quipped as we waited for the next bout.
Regardless, she was happier later on, helping herself to an always prepared MC Mark Burdis's Rowntree wine gums.
Hornchurch prospect Sam McNess started the televised card. A big West Ham fan, the Queensbury team took him to a recent 'Hammers' testimonial game. McNess moved to 6-0 and looks the business at this early stage of his career, stopping Northerner Sam Omidi (4-4-1) in the second with a vicious body attack.
Word at ringside was that Queensbury and WAM (the Andy Ayling headed company) will be putting on more small hall shows in future, with Boxnation televising.
Boy Jones Jr (now 10-0-1) put punches together very nicely and had a useful workout at super-featherweight before stopping Hungarian Tamas Laska (11-10-1) in the sixth.
Ticket sales for the Cardiff 'A Little Less Conversation' show have been doing very well. Sam Sheedy, replacement for Chris Eubank Jr against Tommy Langford, has impressed Queensbury with his marketable 'Jack the Lad' persona at press conferences.
Macaulay McGowan (now 10-0-1) entered to club classic 'Sandstorm' alongside trainer Anthony Farnell. Little did we know just how exciting his bout with Jez Smith (now 7-0-1) would prove. Even Mark Burdis introduced the contest as "someone's 0 has to go," which of course turned out to be mistaken, as the contest was adjudged a draw.
Macaulay had blood seeping from his nose in the very first round. Smith, from literally up the road in Harrow, enjoyed a sizeable support. The bout erupted into the kind of primitive competition which reminds us why we fell in love with the sport. Two gutsy young lads pitting skills in a cauldron like small-hall atmosphere. Blood and guts; it had everything except for a winner.
George Jupp (14-3) seems to have changed his ring moniker from 'Saint' to 'The Quiet Man'. Whether seeking to emulate Iain Duncan Smith or John Wayne, he had to go the full eight rounds against Jordan Ellison (5-8).
A much catchier ring name is worn by Southampton's Ryan 'The Piranha' Garner (2-0) who impressed in his second bout, against overmatched Latvian Aleksandrs Birkenbergs (3-8).
There's a significant Asian population in this part of North West London. Many fans of Indian heritage had spent the day celebrating at a festival held nearby, before moving on to the leisure centre to support Hornchurch's Sanjeev Sahota. Or, as one fan put it neatly to BM: "dancing and fighting - sounds like a good night!"
Perhaps it helps that Sanjeev's name is perfect for chanting an AJ style "Oh, Sanjeev Sahota!"
Sahota had an early shock as he was put down (although the referee didn't call it a knockdown) and staggered like a drunk on the night tube. It looked like a happy day for opponent Fonz Alexander as his trainer shouted "He's gone!" while Francis Warren looked concerned at ringside for the prospects of his Asian project.
Although Alexander wore 'Boom' on the back of his shorts, he failed to finish the fight, Sahota (now 4-0) recovering to win a 38-37 decision and then celebrating by dancing in the ring with an Indian flag.
Following the main event, Adam Booth trained Mitchell Smith (14-1) looked several weight divisions below rotund Nicaraguan opponent Norwin Galo (7-5), rebounding from a loss to George Jupp with an eight round points win as the clock struck midnight.
There's something lovely about the quirky and intimate atmosphere of smaller hall shows. One eccentricity in particular was that tokens were considered the only legal tender once inside the leisure centre. Beer and hotdogs were on offer, but this was like a cashless, basic society, which made Team Klimov's 'Welcome to the Jungle' ring-walk seem particularly appropriate.
Last on, into the early hours and with the TV cameras no longer rolling, was Archie 'Sharp-shooter' Sharp (now 6-0) who fed off a fun, raucous following while outpointing Pole Damian Lawniczak (now 3-18-1) over six rounds.
The Pole is a frequent visitor to these shores, including a couple of losses to Zelfa Barrett. "Smash him Archie!" yelled one female supporter, while another reminded the young pink-attired Sharp: "You promised me a third round finish, Archie boy!", to sleepy laughter from those of us left at the end of a wonderful reminder of what memorable experiences smaller hall boxing can deliver.