Blackwell-Eubank Serves A Painful Reminder Of The Risks Fighters Take In The Ring

Chris-Eubank-Jr-Nick-Blackwell-e1459544141852.jpgThe ending to last Saturday’s British middleweight contest between Nick Blackwell and Chris Eubank Jr serves as a painful reminder of the risks fighters take every time they step in a ring. At 25 years old, Blackwell should be entering his prime years as a prize-fighter. Instead, he lies in an induced coma facing the stark reality that even if he recovers fully, he will probably never box again.

To retain his Lonsdale title, Blackwell was prepared to endure levels of physical and psychological attrition only fighters can relate to. Despite his subsequent injury, Blackwell’s performance showcased some of the best things about not only boxing, but the human spirit as round after round, he displayed courage and blood-spitting defiance in the face of his opponent’s ruthless aggression.

There would have been no embarrassment had he succumbed to Eubank’s pressure earlier in the fight, however, Blackwell is cut from a different cloth; you won’t find the word quit in his vocabulary. The fight’s action swung back and forth between Eubank’s calculated aggression against Blackwell’s iron will; these were gladiatorial scenes unfolding as neither fighter was prepared to lie down in pursuit of glory and the British title. 

This week has understandably seen attention turn to the sport’s safety and the staunchest of critics will see this as further evidence for an outright ban.

As tragic as the outcome of that bout was, it prompted an improvement in medical care and protection for boxers that has moved on considerably over the last quarter of a century for the benefit of the sport. Today’s boxers are much better safeguarded in this respect, and it showed on Saturday. Within seconds of Blackwell collapsing the doctors and paramedics were at his side with oxygen.

The pre-fight build up had been a heated affair dominated by fierce rhetoric and old stories of sparring. As the fight drew closer, the prospect of an all-out war with neither combatant prepared to take a backward step seemed increasingly inevitable.

Soon after the first bell rang, it was apparent that the two fighters, at least regarding skill, were on different levels. That didn’t deter the champion. Blackwell’s determination and Eubank’s blistering combinations brought the crowd to their feet.

In the early rounds, when Eubank landed, Blackwell did his best to return fire, stalking his challenger and visibly hurting Eubank at least once, however, it soon became clear that the son with the famous fighting name was the one in control.

As the rounds progressed, it was the champion’s apparent resilience rather than the shots he was landing that caught the attention. Eubank’s punches looked hurtful, hitting their target with increasing frequency, and by the mid-point of the fight, it was clear it was going in only one direction. Even so, Blackwell continued to invite his challenger on. It was obvious that neither his corner or the referee, Victor Loughlin, would call an end to the battle.

In the end, it came down to the ringside physician, to wave the fight off in the tenth round due to Blackwell being unable to see out of his completely closed left eye. With hindsight, attention has focussed on whether the fight should have been stopped earlier.

Eubank’s corner certainly seemed to think so, as Eubank’s father urged his son to take his foot off the gas and aim his attacks away from Blackwell’s head in favour of the body. In the end, it was a fight that showed both the best and worst of what boxing can offer.

So very sadly, the sport he has dedicated his life to has dealt Nick Blackwell the harshest of hands. As he lies in his hospital bed, the thoughts of the boxing community and the wider public and this writer are with him and his family. Though we wish him a full and speedy recovery, it seems the post-mortem of the fight itself and continued question marks over the safety of boxing will rumble on.

Posted on April 1, 2016 on

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Will Brook ease to victory or can Bizier cause an upset?


On Saturday, Kell Brook (35-0-K024) defends his IBF welterweight belt against mandatory challenger Kevin Bizier (25-2-K017) in front of his hometown crowd in Sheffield; it’s a test Brook is expected to come through with relative ease.

Brook’s third title defence should have been against the rugged Diego Chaves, however, an injury sustained to Brook’s ribs during preparations saw Bizier fill the void. The kudos he will earn for beating Bizier is questionable, nonetheless, Brook’s performance needs to reflect his ‘Special One’ nickname.

Bizier will be doing his best to upset the odds; hopefully the opportunity produces a fan-pleasing performance from the Canadian. Despite his credible record and an impressive victory over the previously unbeaten Fredrick Lawson last November, Bizier is a huge underdog with the bookmakers.

The Canadian doesn’t appear to possess anything the champion won’t have seen before. His accuracy, power, ring generalship and boxing IQ all are inferior to the man he’s facing. Both fighters share a common opponent, having both previously fought Jo Jo Dan, of whom Brook dealt with ease, dispatching him in just four rounds. Bizier, on the other hand, went the distance twice, losing split decisions.

If Bizier does come out aggressively, Brook’s first and best line of defence is his jab- it’s one of the best in the division. Should Bizier be able to get past Brook’s ramrod jab, he’s declared his intention to rough Brook up. Can he make it uncomfortable for Brook in there, grind him down and force the champion into a dark place? It’s not easy, just ask Shawn Porter.

The last fighter who successfully pressured Brook and made him look genuinely uncomfortable was Carson Jones. Again, the 2016 version of Brook is a far more experienced, better prepared and more accomplished fighter than the one that fought Jones.

If Brook senses early on that he can take Bizier’s power, he may choose to stay in the pocket. This may produce some entertaining action for the fans. More likely than not, however, he’ll stick to his basics, keep it long, sit on the back foot and neutralise his opponent at range.

Bizier will be looking to join the likes of fellow Canadian champions Bute, Stevenson, Pascal and Lemieux. How Brook deals with his opponent on Saturday night is important, however, just as important is what he and his promoter Eddie Hearn do next. It’s time for Brook to step up.

He deserves credit for going over to America to earn his title, not to mention having to recover to full fitness following a near fatal stabbing. But he must move on from here. Brook’s been doing his job, taking care of whoever is put in front of him. But as impressive as his victory was over Shawn Porter, that was back in 2014. There are massive unification bouts out there with the likes of Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman threatening to be much sterner opposition and push Brook in every department.

These are the sort of names Brook should be mixing it with. The IBF’s tolerance for fighters not taking mandatory defences is well known (just ask Tyson Fury) but Brook needs and deserves to be fighting the big names. If he wants to go down as one of Britain’s great fighters, then his choice of opponent needs to reflect that ambition. Brook does not inhabit a division devoid of world-class talent. He’s the champion of the world; now he needs to box like it.

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Reflecting back on Carl Frampton vs Scott Quigg and where both men go from here


Fans desiring a toe-to-toe battle would have been disappointed by Saturday’s super-bantamweight clash between Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg. Though the fight didn’t explode with the intensity many had anticipated, the atmosphere was one of a kind. The noise the fans generated inside the Manchester Arena was reminiscent of the Ricky Hatton days, though this time it was the away fighter who brought the lion’s share of the crowd. 

So why did the fight fail to live up to the hype? The first third of the fight was a cagey chess match dominated by the more aggressive Frampton. The Irishman controlled the action with feints, jabs and short left hooks that rattled against, and at times penetrated Quigg’s high-held guard. Whenever Quigg did think about opening up and letting his hands go, Frampton was no longer there. The wittier boxing skills and higher work-rate saw Frampton eek out a substantial lead on the judge’s scorecards. It’s wise to use the first few rounds of a fight to ‘feel out your opponent’ but Quigg stayed with this strategy for far too long. Whether it was Frampton’s speed and skills that accounted for Quigg’s apparent paralysis is unclear, but it was evident the Manchester man remained tentative for too long, giving himself a huge hill to climb.

Like a racy novel the momentum continued to build. Quigg’s inaction had lost him the first half of the fight, and he started to fight like a man who knew that. From the seventh round onwards the fight looked to be taking a turn. Quigg began to close the distance and was increasingly landing solid body shots and some menacing straight right hands over Frampton’s low held hands.

Egged on by his fanatical fans Frampton answered fire with fire. The passive Quigg we had seen in the first six became the stalker. Quigg looked the stronger as the fight descended into back and forth toe-to-toe action in the 10th and 11th. For the first time, Frampton was visibly hurt from a peach of a right hand in the penultimate round. He looked desperately tired going into the 12th and his fans ratcheted up their intensity to spur their man over the finish line. The final round showed Frampton’s grit and his champion’s heart. He came out the blocks fast, landing some punishing shots to Quigg before skirting off out of range. Quigg needed a knockout to win, but it was too little too late. The final bell rang, and both fighters embraced. Quigg’s body language seemed to suggest he knew he’d not done enough to keep his unbeaten record. Two of the judges scored it 116-112, 116-112 in Frampton’s favour. The other somehow saw it 115-113 in favour of Quigg. Frampton had defended his IBF world title and added the WBA strap to his collection. 

So where does each man go from here? Despite the decision Saturday’s fight showed that Scott Quigg is a world-class fighter. Though he started too slowly, he did cause Frampton some issues as the rounds went on.

Frampton showed his superior boxing skills and proved he has the heart and chin to match. Expect Quigg to take some time out following the news that he broke his jaw in the fourth courtesy of a Frampton uppercut. Frampton has options. The most lucrative, entertaining and logical showdown would seem to be against the highly regarded Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz fought on the same night, dominating and stopping the tough veteran Kiko Martinez. The Mexican already stated he would be prepared to travel to meet Frampton. Home advantage for Frampton would certainly be a nice bonus against such a challenging opponent. Whenever and wherever it happens, expect the Irish to be there in force.

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Eubank Jr. wants Lonsdale belt before looking for world glory

The Lonsdale Belt is the oldest championship belt in boxing and its status among British fighters has resulted in some fantastic dust-ups over the years.

On March 26th, Chris Eubank Jr gets another chance to capture the prestigious belt when he challenges Nick Blackwell for the British middleweight title at the Wembley Arena.

Blackwell earned the middleweight strap last May with a fantastic stoppage win over John Ryder. Eubank will be keen not to repeat the result of his first crack at the British title when he came up short against the now WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders.

So why has Eubank opted to face Blackwell over a mandatory shot at WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs? At the press conference he gave his answer as the two fighters came face-to-face. “This is something from a very early age that I always wanted to accomplish in my career,” Eubank Jr said of the British title. “Once we get in there and start fighting, he’ll show cowardice and end up quitting or getting knocked out.”

Having already shared a ring in sparring both fighters should have a rough idea of what they’re up against. Blackwell wasn’t shy to share his version of events.  “He knows. That’s why he hasn’t took the last three times we were supposed to fight. He knows what happened last time in sparring,“ said the middleweight champion.

Despite showing respect to his son’s opponent, the presence of Eubank Sr, or ‘English’ as he now prefers to be called, ensured the presser wasn’t without its share of poetic sparring. “It’s difficult to find anyone with his speed, his irrepressibility, his attitude, his cold-like demeanour, “ remarked Eubank’s father. “Again in my view, as a former participant, I can’t see anyone in the middleweight division or super middleweight division staying with him in boxing.”

Eubank is coming off an impressive seventh round stoppage over domestic rival Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan and will approach the 26th as the odds-on favourite. Blackwell will be planning on proving the bookmakers wrong.

– Richard Middleton / @1outsidetherope

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Carl Frampton vs. Scott Quigg: who has the edge?

Carl-Frampton-Scott-Quigg-Press-Conference-qft-T7t4qRpx-e1452279423980The British and Irish are among some of the most passionate, loyal and vocal boxing fans in the world. When they get behind one of their fighters, they do it with gusto. Ricky ‘the Hitman’ Hatton galvanised fans in their thousands. His barmy army travelled in droves across the Atlantic to spur on their hero chanting ‘there’s only one Ricky Hatton’ wherever they went. Hatton united his hometown of Manchester, and at times the nation. While his technical ability didn’t match his desire at the elite level; his fanatical following was one of a kind.

Even Las Vegas, with its glitz and glamour can’t quite match the raw and ferocious atmosphere generated by a motivated British boxing crowd. Manchester, in the north-west of the country, is a city that loves boxing. Whether it’s a domestic rivalry or a world title clash; Manchester has seen it all. Eubank vs. Benn. Froch vs. Groves. Brodie vs. Chi. Calzaghe vs. Lacy. The list goes on. So it’s rather fitting that the highly anticipated fight between Ireland’s Carl Frampton and Bury’s Scott Quigg is happening there.

Between them, Quigg and Frampton hold two of the super-bantamweight world titles, and big fights with the likes of Nonito Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Leo Santa Cruz are all possible future opponents for the winner. If you’d asked me to pick a winner 12-18 months ago then without hesitation, I would have said Frampton. To me, the Belfast man is the more refined and complete fighter. Quigg’s last performance (a knockout victory over Kiko Martinez) has led many to believe Frampton no longer holds the advantage. How much Frampton’s performance against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr shows real weaknesses that Quigg will be able to exploit is unsure. Despite being dropped twice, Frampton picked himself up off the canvas and dominated the rest of the fight.

The more footage I study, the closer the fighters match up. Quigg prefers to go looking for his man while Frampton fights well on the front foot and in reverse. Frampton arguably has the better feet and the more fluid combinations. Quigg, on the other hand, has a fantastic engine, is possibly the bigger hitter of the two, and punches well to both body and head. Then there’s the confidence Quigg has exuded throughout the build up to this fight. There’s a steely look of conviction in his eyes. Mind you, Frampton is hardly short of belief. But it’s the Bury man who has appeared calmer when the fighters have met for their press obligations. Have Quigg’s team got under Frampton’s skin a little? If Frampton brings too much emotion into the ring, then he will be playing straight into Quigg’s hands. Whose game plan will be the right one and which fighter will stick to theirs in the heat of battle?

I can’t see Quigg outboxing Frampton. Quigg will need to apply intelligent pressure, keep a tight guard and try and slow Frampton down with his work to the body. I don’t think too much should be read into Frampton being dropped twice in his last outing either. Frampton can hold a shot. But with 8oz gloves, neither man can afford to make many mistakes. Frampton needs to maintain 100% concentration throughout the fight. Frampton’s skills could frustrate Quigg, and if that leads to openings, then you can bet your bottom dollar Frampton will capitalise. Frampton needs to be prepared to mix it with Quigg from time to time. In the exchanges, Quigg’s hooks might be the difference. Frampton has a pretty sound defence; however, he sometimes carries his hands a little low for my liking.

This fight will force both men to show their strength of character. It’s going to get tough at times, and the fighters will have to bite down on their gum shields. When one of them gets clipped, how will their pride affect their composure? How will the crowd influence their performance? There are so many interesting dynamics that make this a must-watch fight. Can Frampton frustrate Quigg with his superior boxing skills? Or will the Manchester man’s power and determination see him come out on top? On paper, Quigg has more experience. 33 fights as opposed to Frampton’s 21, and more experience in world title fights too. It’s too close to call. It’s set to be a cracking contest where the real winners will be the fans. I can’t wait.

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Is Amir Khan too brave for his own good?

canelo-khan-e1454433474761Earlier this month the boxing world was stunned. Twitter was a frenzy of activity as the news spread that former two-time world champion Amir Khan would be facing Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on May 7th in Las Vegas for the middleweight championship of the world. Boxing hasn’t been caught off guard in such fashion for some time; matches of this magnitude are practically impossible to conceal these days.
Perhaps most surprised of all was the fellow welterweight and current IBF world champion Kell Brook. Brook has been extremely vocal about his desire to face Khan in what would be a massive domestic showdown.
Through taking a challenge of this size Amir Khan dons two fingers to the naysayers and guarantees himself a huge payday. I perceive it to be a smart move from Khan too. The best case scenario results in a victory over one of the biggest names in boxing. Should the fight not go Khan’s way but remains competitive then he still walks away a lot richer, having gone up in weight to face one of boxing’s best.
No doubt the door to a lucrative fight with Kell Brook would still remain open. The only way Khan will majorly suffer from taking this fight is if the fight turns out to be hugely one-sided in Canelo’s favour- something I don’t see happening. Khan brings speed, boxing intelligence, movement and should have just enough pop in his punches to keep the naturally stronger Alvarez honest.
Khan winning would certainly qualify as an upset; however boxing history is not short of an upset or two. Hasim Rahman’s knockout of Lennox Lewis. George Foreman’s victory over
The other factor that could play a crucial role is how much power Khan carries at middleweight. He won’t be fighting as the usual middleweight limit of 160 pounds for his fight in May, instead opting for Canelo’s familiar 155-pound catchweight. But Khan will clearly be the lighter fighter on the night. Canelo usually enters the ring at over 170 pounds. He’s now a fully fledged 147 pounder but let’s not forget Khan started off as a lightweight. His height and reach could play a part in negating some of the physical edges in strength Canelo has. How much we’ll have to wait and see.
So do I think Khan will win? In short, no. In their 2013 showdown, Floyd Mayweather showed the blueprint to beat Alvarez. Mayweather put on a master class. But Khan is no Mayweather. Khan has the tools to give any elite fighter trouble. There’s no doubt in my mind he has the potential to win this fight. But I don’t think he will.
I think Alvarez will slow him down with shots to the body and catch up with him eventually. The outcome depends a lot on which Amir Khan turns up. If it’s the Khan who we saw struggle against Chris Algieri, then he’s in a world of trouble. If it the Amir Khan that controlled the pace and dominated Devon Alexander, then he has a good chance.
It’s a very tough ask though not an impossible one.

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Kovalev vs. Pascal II Preview

kovalev-vs-pascal-new-york-city-press-conference-e1453311835754Sergey Kovalev currently rules the roost in the light heavyweight division and is one of boxing’s most feared pugilists. For one of the weight class’s hardest punchers, there’s smoothness to his work. He doesn’t load up with his shots; instead, his punches are released with fluidity in twos, threes and fours. He keeps himself balanced, poised and controls the distance well. He’s a smart fighter too- perhaps the most technically proficient 175-pounder bar Andre Ward. For much of his career, Kovalev fought for little reward away from the attention of the mainstream broadcasters. Now, however, thanks to his fan-pleasing style and promoter Kathy Duva, he’s risen from relative obscurity to become one of HBO’s biggest stars.

Tomorrow night he puts his 28 fight unbeaten record on the line against the awkward and strong Jean Pascal. Pascal now lives in Canada but heralds from Haiti, and has been in with some of the division’s finest, including Kovalev. Their first fight proved highly entertaining; a great stylistic matchup and well worthy of a second run. For the most part, Kovalev dominated the bout, landing the most hurtful punches and sending Pascal to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. But there were moments in the fight where the momentum swung. Pascal had the Russian visibly wobbled in places before the fight ended in the 8th with the referee stopping the contest.

So should fans expect the rematch to deliver a different result? Both fighters have weighed and are in fantastic shape, as we’d expect. Pascal has made the most noticeable changes to his camp, bringing in hall-of-fame trainer Freddie Roach. Quite what Roach can add to Pascal’s performance with just this training camp for the two to gel is uncertain. Roach has a wealth of experience and is a great tactician. But even if he can refine Pascal’s style, tighten up his punches a bit, and bring a bit more boxing to his game, is that going to be enough to trouble Kovalev. If Pascal’s game plan is to outbox Kovalev, I don’t see it working. To my eye, the better boxing skills lie with the Russian. It’s hard to get past Kovalev’s jab for one. He uses it as a weapon, directing it to head and body. Once he’s softened you up with the jab, he brings in behind it brutal straight rights and hooks. Will Roach be able to bring some refinement to Pascal’s game, and even if he can, how much will that benefit him. Much of Pascal’s success in their first meeting came from slipping inside and under Kovalev’s shots, launching his big bombs around the side of Kovalev’s guard. He did have some success with the straight right counter too. Injecting a bit more method to Pascal’s attacks would stand to reason. Coming in behind a jab would surely help. And keeping on the front foot too, I see as key. When Kovalev is backing you up, you’re in trouble. I believe Pascal needs to pressure Kovalev, make use of the jab more and bring in his power shots behind it. If he can unsettle Kovalev’s rhythm and make it uncomfortable in there for him, he could have some success. He has the power to hurt Kovalev. I can see Roach bringing improvements to Pascal; whether those improvements will bring a greater degree of competitiveness rather than a change in result is unsure. Pascal will no doubt have moments in the fight, and Roach’s work may be enough to stop it ending in a knockout. Ultimately, though, I see this as Kovalev’s night.

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