Frontline Diary: Reflections on Bad Intentions
At times, the hype for Saturday’s ‘Bad Intentions’ pay-per-view promotion reached dizzying levels yet, when the dust had settled on a night of breathless action, the O2 Arena show somehow managed to exceed pre-fight expectation and we were left to reflect on British boxing’s card of the year. ‘Bad Intentions’ had just about everything and intriguingly illustrated that heavyweight juggernaut Anthony Joshua is human after all.
Joshua had steamrollered his previous 14 victims within three rounds and most expected bitter rival Dillian Whyte to follow suit despite the Brixton man’s amateur victory in an all-novice encounter in 2009.
Yet Whyte, bristling with ambition and South London swagger, somehow shipped astonishing punishment in the first round to have Joshua in desperate trouble in the second. Joshua appeared deeply affected by Whyte’s bodywork and there were gasps at ringside as the spirited South Londoner sailed tantalisingly close to an unlikely victory.
The measure of any champion, of course, is to navigate stormy waters and Joshua dug in and dodged a Brixton bullet with his name on it. He collected himself in the third and thereon instigated a vicious beatdown that would have destroyed most heavyweights. Whyte withstood quite ludicrous punishment and one hopes he can build on this momentum to emerge as a viable contender on the international stage. The Brixton man has guts in abundance and whiskers to match.
Whyte was still in there, believing, when Joshua staggered him with a right hand in the seventh before dispatching him with a chilling right uppercut by the ropes where no count was necessary. Whyte’s dogged effort had ended but maybe his story has just begun.
Howard Foster was much maligned for his intervention in the first Froch-Groves fight, but the third man can be proud of a spotless refereeing performance where commonsense and composure prevailed in the heavyweight cauldron.
Some referees might have disqualified Whyte for a late blow after the first round that sparked a melee in the ring. Foster took a shot in the fracas but didn’t go down – instead he took the contest by the scruff of the neck warning both men that they risked disqualification at the start of the second.
On numerous occasions, Whyte’s legs jiggled with the effects of Joshua’s considerable power yet Foster saw that the South Londoner was in control of his faculties and remained a constant danger in the contest. Foster’s stellar officiating facilitated the fight’s satisfactory conclusion and gave the 17,000 fans in attendance the thrilling heavyweight clash they desired.
In some ways, Chris Eubank Jr is a chip off the old block. The ‘marmite personality’ and granite chin are both there, but unlike old man ‘English’ the younger Eubank is experiencing cheers rather than jeers in his formative years.
Eubank engaged in a thrilling, all-out war with Irish puncher Spike O’Sullivan and the roar of appreciation from the O2 crowd was something his dad only heard late in his career where public opinion had softened and his fighting virtues were finally appreciated.
The star quality of the 26-year-old middleweight has been recognized by Eddie Hearn who will be promoting Eubank Jr as a headline act in 2016 as the Brighton man hones in on a mandatory shot at hard-punching WBA ‘regular’ champion Daniel Jacobs.
The younger Eubank’s natural gifts are evident, but his tendency to load up in the early rounds and engage in a punch-up may cost him at the highest level. His machismo and willingness to entertain will make his journey memorable, wherever it leads.
Luke Campbell, arguably the best amateur in British boxing history, was left to rue the harsh realities of the pro game as he was humbled over 12 painful rounds by relentless Frenchman Yvan Mendy.
Mendy was almost machine-like in his feverish pursuit and Campbell was never able to gain a foothold in the contest after suffering a shock knockdown in the fifth. He appeared oddly ill-equipped in the face of wave after wave of incessant pressure.
Yet his upset defeat should not be viewed as a career obituary, but rather as an education. An immense talent remains. Some tweaks in his preparation (one suspects a move to Matchroom’s in-house trainer Tony Sims) and Campbell can regroup to be a factor at world level. But first he needs to accept he lost fair and square and move on. Ignore the split decision, the right man won.
One could not help but feel for perennial lightweight contender Kevin Mitchell as his latest tilt at glory was shot down by dangerous Venezuelan puncher Ismael Barroso.
In May, the luckless Mitchell was on the brink of the world title he so desperately craved when facial damage and fatigue saw him fall just short against WBC champion Jorge Linares. Victory against Barroso would open the door to a clash with Manchester’s WBA champion Anthony Crolla, but some things in life are just not meant to be.
The likeable Dagenham man was never at the races against hard-punching southpaw Barroso, who has an Edwin Valero like air about him (in terms of menace not self-destruction), and Mitchell was ruthlessly dispatched in the fifth.
Mitchell is now left to hope for a lottery ticket. A lifeline may still remain from one of the lightweight division’s champions in the form of a voluntary defence, but this feels like the requiem of a dream.
Tony Bellew is a fighter who polarises opinion. The Scouser is a big personality who seems to irritate some with his shoot from the hip views. I’m in the opposite corner and find the no nonsense cruiserweight a compelling character as well as an articulate and knowledgeable fight analyst.
Bellew, star of the new ‘Creed’ movie, was forced to dig deep in the championship rounds against gritty Pole Mateusz Masternak in a gruelling encounter that was not for the faint-hearted. The fight swung one way and then the other before the Liverpool man tapped into his fighting heart to boss the final two rounds and earn the vacant European crown.
That gut-check win edged Bellew closer to a third world title shot and rounded off a highly successful 2015 for trainer Dave Coldwell who has excelled this year with the McDonnell brothers Jamie and Gavin. Coldwell’s shrewd guidance in the corner was pivotal at the O2 Arena and the affable Yorkshireman merits acknowledgement on the shortlist for UK trainer of the year.
One of British boxing’s finest souls was in attendance at the O2 Arena in the form of veteran trainer/manager Jim Evans, looking fit as a fiddle at 82 years old.
Evans was supposed to be working Ian Henry’s corner before his welterweight clash with rising prospect Ted Cheeseman was scotched due to time constraints.
A week earlier, the octogenarian trainer had been in Hamburg working the corner of heavyweight stalwart Michael Sprott against hot prospect Adrian Granat. The 6ft 7 1/2ins Swede blew out Sprott in a solitary round and, according to Evans, Granat (10-0, 9 KOs) looks “a bit special”.
Evans, who trained former British welterweight champion Geoff McCreesh among others, is still loving the game as much as ever. “Every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is boxing,” smiled Evans. Long may that continue.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig.