Reflections on Rule Britannia

Mark Butcher
01/06/2015 8:20pm

Boxing Monthly’s team reflects on the repercussions and key moments at Eddie Hearn’s ‘Rule Britannia’ promotion at the O2 Arena where Lee Selby, Kell Brook, Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Joshua sparked a number of talking points. Is Mitchell still a player at world level? What does the future hold for Brook? Is heavyweight hope Joshua being moved fast enough? And what is the true potential of Welsh wizard Selby? 

Jorge Linares WTKO10 Kevin Mitchell

Mark Butcher: “This was not the hell-for-leather Mitchell of times past. He boxed cleverly against an extremely canny and capable champion in Jorge Linares and was on the brink of victory in the fifth round. Those disastrous facial injuries inhibited Mitchell’s chances, but his compelling (and gut-wrenchingly brave) performance illustrated that he still has a part to play at top level. Three-division champion Linares looked huge at the weight yet Mitchell matched him before his vision was impaired and the Venezuelan is probably the best fighter at 135lbs. Mitchell’s stock rose in a creditable defeat and I believe his world title dream can come true in a division full of opportunities.”

John Evans: “Stylistically, is there a better fighter to watch than Jorge Linares? His straight right hand has been one of the best weapons in boxing for years and his willingness to fight fire with fire and spring into action in a split second meant that Kevin Mitchell was forced to fight on his nerves for the entire fight. He kept his concentration admirably and managed to box himself into a winning position but eventually Linares’ speed and precision told. Given the level of opposition, this must go down as the best performance of Kevin Mitchell’s career. Provided the terrible facial injuries he suffered heal, is one more title tilt beyond him?”

Callum Rudge: “It was a hybrid of a chess match and shoot-out with Mitchell winning the chess match but losing the shoot-out. Linares is fragile but genuine world class; a lovely variety of punches and great conditioning. Mitchell was unlucky to lose but was over reliant on his left hand and the eye damage cost him in the end - he couldn’t see much after eight rounds and Linares took over. If Anthony Crolla wins the WBA title against Darleys Perez in July, I’d love to see Crolla vs Mitchell.”

Lee Selby WTD8 Evgeny Gradovich

Mark Butcher: “Lee Selby is a joy to watch. He’s a true artist in the ring and, even in first or second gear, a match for most featherweights on the planet. Gradovich was not a lightly-regarded champion, but the Welshman bamboozled him with exemplary footwork and pure boxing ability. Selby was systematically breaking the Russian down and en route to a highlight reel stoppage before Gradovich’s cut truncated the contest after eight rounds. I’m genuinely enthused about Selby’s prospects at elite level – I believe the best is yet to come.”

John Evans: “The greatest compliment you can pay Lee Selby is that he dealt with the biggest night of his life in the same nonchalant manner that he has treated every other challenge placed in front of him over the past four years. Evgeny Gradovich tried to fight with his usual energy and aggression, but never came close to working out a way to put any kind of dent in Selby. The Welshman is now a world champion in one of boxing’s most action-packed divisions, but his unusual mixture of movement, slick defence and excellent punch picking could see him set for a prolonged stay at the highest level.”

Callum Rudge: “You can see why they call him the ‘Welsh Mayweather’ - what a performance by Selby. Fantastic footwork, shot selection and composure against an established champion who came to win. Selby should rack up a few defenses and then look at a big unification fight - there’s four rival title-holders at featherweight [Vasyl Lomachenko, Nicholas Walters, Gary Russell Jr and Jesus Cuellar] and they’re all quality fighters, but Selby has a chance against all of them - Lomachenko included. He’s that good.”

Kell Brook WTKO6 Frankie Gavin

Mark Butcher: “I was a touch disappointed with Gavin. He was awkward and slippery as expected, but far too wary and never found his groove. This was more of an appearance than a title challenge from the former world amateur champion. Frankie may regret not taking more risks on the biggest night of his professional career. So much talent, but we’ve yet to see him reach his potential. Brook is maturing as a world champion and remained cool and composed against a tricky southpaw, economically winning round after round before dropping the boom in the sixth. Unlike rival Amir Khan, there is a real sense of momentum about Brook with quick-fire title defences in March, May and potentially August against Brandon Rios. The uncompromising American will sell that fight well and also provide a measuring stick of the Sheffield fighter’s progression. If Brook can stop Rios – that’s a real statement.”

John Evans: “I like a busy champion so have no problem at all with Kell Brook staying active inbetween bigger fights. This reminded me of the Naseem Hamed vs Billy Hardy fight back in 1997. Brook came through unscathed and moves on to a real test in August. For all of his natural talent, Gavin is the type of fighter who badly needs a shot of confidence early in a contest, whoever the opponent. He didn’t get one and steadily shrank away. Hopefully, this fight makes him realise that world honours are far more likely south of 147lbs.”

Callum Rudge: “This went pretty much as I expected. Brook was just too big and hit too hard for Gavin, who found his level against Bundu; he should return there. We all want to see Brook fight Amir Khan, but the Bolton man is obsessed with facing Floyd Mayweather, who will teach him to be careful what he wishes for. If Brook faces Brandon Rios, as is being mooted, he will receive greater U.S. exposure on HBO and another notch on his ledger.”

Anthony Joshua WTKO2 Kevin Johnson 

Mark Butcher: “Sometimes it feels as if Anthony Joshua is more of a celebrity than a fighter given his immense crossover appeal. Yes, his blend of power and personality attracts casual, less erudite fans, but this is not a criminal offence and clearly benefits the sport as a whole. This wider popularity strangely deflects from Joshua’s extraordinary discipline and sheer will to self-improve and maximize his talents. Johnson talks better than he fights (‘bars’), but his two-round annihilation was mightily impressive given his durability and level of opposition. I expected Joshua to force a stoppage given his power and pedigree, but it’s so easy to forget he has only had 13 professional fights and, if you put the hype machine to one side, he is arguably being moved at the right pace. Heavy-handed David Price and former amateur rival Dillian Whyte are in Joshua’s sights during 2015, but promoter Eddie Hearn would also like to match the Londoner with seasoned campaigners Tony Thompson, Bryant Jennings and Odlanier Solis in the medium-term. All good matches.”

John Evans: “If you were to design a heavyweight capable of giving Anthony Joshua his first real test, would you choose a man who's last punch laced with bad intentions was thrown before Joshua even turned professional? Thought not. The only surprise was that Kevin ‘Safety Pin’ Johnson’s inability to cope with Joshua’s mixture of speed and aggression manifested itself so quickly. Joshua needs to fight somebody with the belief that they can beat him. Hopefully, we will see him competing with the cream of the domestic crop by September. On a side note, Joshua also needs to be very careful about letting his punches go after the bell.”

Callum Rudge: “Despite Johnson’s record, this result didn’t stun me. Joshua throws with such spite and speed, but most importantly with a volume that meant this outcome was always likely. I’ve always been cautious when talking about Joshua's potential, but he’s the real deal. It’s now time for him to face opponents who come to win, rather than survive.”