Category Archives: Blog

July 20, 2018
July 20, 2018
Manny Pacquiao

Action Images/Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

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MANNY PACQUIAO’S back and all’s well in the world – well, not quite. However Pacquiao’s win over Lucas Matthysse was the best result for boxing. The Filipino great is still a major player. Hopefully we can forget talk of a return with Floyd Mayweather Jr and, although I would not rule it out, I just can’t see Pacquiao wanting to go over old ground against Jeff Horn. Errol Spence, Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia would jump at the chance and fight Pacquiao anywhere, anytime. If it could be made Terrence Crawford would be a big fight but not a good choice for Pacquiao. Just too tough an ask for Pacquiao at 39. Pacquiao is talking about two maybe three more fights including one at the end of this year. If you look past Spence, Thurman, Garcia and Crawford then you are looking at lesser names such as Shawn Porter, Adrien Broner and Jesse Vargas with Amir Khan hoping to get into the mix but the WBSS super-light tournament cuts down his options from that division. He is being urged to retire whilst still a champion – OK it’s a secondary title – but there is no talk of that from Pacquiao.

The only caveat about the fight at the weekend is the difficulty over judging how much was down to a refreshed Pacquiao and how much was down to a insipid Matthysse. The Argentine put up only marginal resistance. What we got was not the Matthysse who beat Lamont Peterson, John Molina and Roberto Ortiz inside the distance and fought a war in outpointing Ruslan Provodnikov but the one who was knocked out in 10 rounds by Viktor Postol. None of the three knockdowns was really convincing before Matthysse did his own no mas.

Manny Pacquiao

What a great weekend for boxing in the Philippines. Obviously Pacquiao’s victorious return hogged the headlines and to a degree it was a pity that it overshadowed two other outstanding performances by Filipino boxers. On Friday Vic Saludar challenged WBO minimumweight champion Ryuya Yamanaka in Kobe, Yamanaka’s home city, and won a clear unanimous decision. Vic probable looked a safe opponent.  Over the previous thirteen months he had lost on points to 8-1-2 Toto Landero, beaten 6-2-2 Mike Kinaadman, 14-8-4 Lito Dante and then Kindaaman again. Nothing to scare Yamanaka there but a “low risk” fight exploded in their faces. On Sunday under Pacquiao vs. Matthysse Jhack Tepora floored and stopped Mexican Edivaldo Ortega to win the interim WBA feather title. Going into the weekend their only world champion was IBF super flyweight king Jerwin Ancajas so a huge boost for boxing in the archipelago of over 7,000 islands.

Things could get even better with Toto Landero challenging Simphiwe Khonco for the IBO minimum title in South Africa on Sunday and Froilan Saludar, the elder brother of Vic, challenging Sho Kimura for the WBO flyweight title in China on 27 July. Additionally minimumweight Mark Barriga could soon be fighting Mexican Carlos Licona for the IBF title as it is expected that Hiroto Kyoguchi will vacate the title. They will have another champion for sure because Donnie Nietes and fellow-Filipino Aston Palicte meet in Cebu City on 18 August for the vacant WBO super fly title. When Jerwin Ancajas outclassed Jonas Sultan in defence of his IBF super flyweight title in May it was the first world title fight between two Filipino boxers for 93 years – now it is two in three months.

Nietes will be aiming to become a four-division champion and if he wins he will be 17-0-1 in 18 world title fights and is currently 30-0-3 in his last 33 fights. Donnie comes from a fighting family. His uncle Dan is a former Philippines champion and now a judge, Uncle Junie had a brief pro career, Uncle Gerson Snr was a good level amateur and cousin Gerson Jr is a former amateur boxer and now trains Donnie alongside ex-Philippines champion Ala Villamor.

The World Boxing Super Series have managed to pull together interesting lists for their next two divisions. The bantamweight contestants will be Mikhail Aloyan, Ryan Burnett, Nonito Donaire, Naoya Inoue, Jason Moloney, Juan Carlos Payano, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Zolani Tete. At super-light we have Ivan Baranchyk, Terry Flanagan, Ryan Martin, Regis Prograis, Kiryl Relikh, Josh Taylor, Eduard Troyanovsky and Anthony Yigit. Both good lists but for me it is the bantams that really excite with four title holders in the competition whereas only Relikh is a champion at super-light. I was informed that Prograis had relinquished the WBC interim title before he fought Juan Jose Velasco at the weekend and that their fight was for the WBC Diamond title.

It would have been interesting to see WBA No 4 Mario Barrios in the mix at super light. The 23-year-old from San Antonio, who turned pro at 18, is 21-0 with 13 wins by KO/TKO He faces a good test on 28 July when he meets Jose Roman who is 24-2-1

Floyd Mayweather’s record of 50 wins in 50 fights being the highest unbeaten total for any retired world champion is under threat. On August 28 in Thailand Wanheng (Chayaphon Moonsri) will face an as yet unnamed challenger in defence of his WBC minimumweight title. Wanheng is 50-0 and will be making the tenth defence of his title. Of course for his achievement to get him in the record books he will have to retire with a 100% record so you can be sure the challenger will be very carefully chosen.

Since the parties representing Kid Galahad and Toka Kahn Clary have been unable to come to an agreement over their IBF title eliminator the IBF have called for purse bids by 31 July. Galahad is No 3 with the IBF (positions 1 and 2 are vacant) and Clary is No 9.

Boxing has never been a major factor in Singapore sport but the emergence of Muhamad Ridhwan is sparking some interest. The 30-year-old “The Chosen Wan” has already won WBA Asian, UBO World and IBO International titles and now he is looking to add a more prestigious one. On 29 September in Singapore he faces Namibian Paulus Ambunda for the vacant IBO super bantam title. Ambunda, 37, a former WBO bantam champion, held this IBO title until losing it to Moises Flores in 2016.

It was nice to see veteran Moruti Mthalane regain the IBF flyweight title at the weekend. He vacated the title a few years back after a farcical purse bidding process left him with the prospect of defending his title in Thailand for a derisory amount of money. South Africa will be hoping for another title win on Sunday when Simphiwe Khonco defends the IBO minimum title against Toto Landero (holds a win over Vic Saludar). The fight is part of a show to honour the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth and Khonco’s promoter Rodney Berman has released Khonco so that he could top the bill for the promoter of that show.

It must have been depressing for the Boxing South Africa team to have gone to the trouble of arranging for the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport to give a clinic on this very important subject of doping when only eleven licensees turned up. You can’t help people who won’t help themselves.

Thursday July 19 marked the sixtieth birthday for Azumah Nelson, arguably the greatest African fighter of all time. The “Professor” a former All-Africa, World Military and Commonwealth gold medal winner was WBC champion at feather and super feather. He beat Wilfredo Gomez, Marcos Villasana (twice), Juan Laporte, Mario Martinez (twice0, Calvin Grove, Gabe Ruelas and Jesse James Leija. British fans are unlikely to forget his one round demolition of Pat Cowdell and his dramatic last round stoppage of Jim McDonnell. He drew and then stopped Jeff Fenech in two great fights with the win in 1992 being rated by Ring Magazine as Upset of the Year and his 1995 stoppage of Ruelas was Ring Magazine Comeback of the Year. Azumah only lost two fights over his peak years. After only thirteen fights he came in as a very late substitute against the great Salvador Sanchez in 1982. He was up on one of the three cards before being stopped in the fifteenth round in what was tragically Sanchez’s last fight. His other loss was when he moved up to lightweight in 1992 to challenge Parnell Whittaker and lost a close unanimous decision. Azumah was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. Equally important is the donations he has made to many orphanages in Ghana and the Azumah Nelson Foundation to help the youth of his country. He has been a great ambassador for boxing and for Ghana and the WBC have made arrangements to honour Azumah.

Still on Africa I was advised this week of the death of Langton Tinago. The Zimbabwean “Schoolboy” died on July 17. For many years Langton was the man in boxing in Zimbabwe. Over a 20 year career from 1967 to 1987 he had 110 fights ending with a 86-20-3,1ND record. He was national champion at lightweight and welterweight and had three spells as Commonwealth champion at super featherweight and lightweight and scored wins over Ken Buchanan, Willie Booth, Chris Sanigar and Australia Graeme Brooke. He fell on hard times after he retired but was a much revered figure in Zimbabwe boxing.

July 19, 2018
July 19, 2018
Oleksander Usyk vs Murat Gassiev

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SATURDAY (July 21) sees the culmination of the popular and ground-breaking World Boxing Super Series. The long-awaited, much-anticipated Oleksandr Usyk vs Murat Gassiev final will see one-man crowned winner of the Muhammad Ali trophy and undisputed cruiserweight world champion. We are preparing for potentially the best match-up in boxing this year. The whole world awaits.

Oleksandr Usyk of the Ukraine has cultivated a cult-like following thus far in his professional career. A southpaw with dazzling skills, fantastic speed for a big man, power in both hands and an insatiable lust for war, he has collected both the WBO and WBC titles which he will put on the line.

The tournament started for Usyk with a trip to Germany in the quarterfinals. His punch-perfect performance saw him stop Marco Huck. This contest gave us a different look at Usyk, a man who is often lauded for his boxing skills much like his former amateur teammate Vasyl Lomachenko. He was able to show a more ruthless, aggressive and powerful side to his ever-impressive arsenal. Usyk then strode into the semi final where he once again turned unlikely road warrior. He travelled into Latvia to take on Latvian WBC champion Mairis Breidis. A scintillating battle which elevated both men saw Usyk leave Latvia with Breidis’ WBC title to add to his haul by way of majority decision. Once again Usyk gave us a further look into his tool box as he displayed the engine, stamina and grit to tough out a 12-round battle of attrition.

This brings us to the final. Once again, presumably much to his dismay, Usyk finds himself travelling into hostile territory, behind enemy lines to fight Gassiev in his home country of Russia. Make no mistake, come fight time, Usyk will be unwavering in his pursuit of the trophy. The location will merely be an afterthought.

Murat Gassiev has stormed to the final of the World Boxing Super Series. The power-punching, seek-and-destroy Russian has been steadily growing in both reputation and esteem with fans for a long time. Stablemates with a recognisable Kazakh wrecking machine, Gassiev has taken the boxing world by storm and emerged from the shadows. Kicking off his tournament with an emphatic third round knockout of former champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, he set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Cuban power punching dynamo Yunier Dorticos. The semi-final did not disappoint. Toe-to-toe, brutal, barbaric, just some of the words used to describe the action we were privileged to witness. Gassiev entered the 12th and final round of a terrific fight with the slenderest of leads, not content to try and box his way to a decision. He did what all great champions do, he closed the show. Three knockdowns in the final stanza, the final one leaving Dorticos separated from his senses and unable to continue saw the Russian add the WBA title to his IBF. It also brought us to this moment. The final, Usyk vs Gassiev, for all four major belts, all the marbles. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Oleksandr Usyk

The final is, on paper, one of the most evenly matched fights of recent times. Further analysis of both fighter’s styles, strengths and weaknesses does nothing but make picking a winner even more difficult. Does Usyk have the speed, footwork and counter-punching ability to lead and sting Gassiev when he inevitably tries to return fire?  Or will Gassiev’s tremendous ring generalship, cutting off the ring and body punching render the Ukrainians footwork obsolete and force him to stand? One would normally say that either scenario would benefit the opposite man, however these are two truly elite fighters who can adapt and adjust game plans on the fly and still have great success. Usyk proved against Breidis he could gut out a 12-round battle of attrition just as Gassiev proved with a previous fight with Denis Lebedev he can adjust to a moving counter-punching southpaw. I find myself firmly on the fence with this one. The splinters are almost painful. I will, like the rest of the world, be tuning in on Saturday July 21 in anticipation of a fight that will go down in cruiserweight history. Sitting on the fence has never seemed so exciting. Enjoy!

Aarron Morgan is a professional fighter and personal trainer. Find out more here

July 16, 2018
July 16, 2018
Manny Pacquiao

Action Images/Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

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1. Keith Thurman

Manny Pacquiao won a version of the welterweight world title for the fourth time against Lucas Matthysse. However, claiming only the WBA ‘regular’ championship does cast a cloud over the triumph. A win over the returning Thurman would not only unify the WBA title palaver but also further show whether Pacquiao has much left to offer at the elite level. With Thurman set to return from injury following 16 months out, catching ‘One Time’ now could be a deciding factor in this fight.

2. Vasyl Lomachenko

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has expressed eagerness to make this showdown happen. Likely to take place at 140 lbs and for no world title this would be a fun fight for the fans between two masterful southpaw tacticians, it would be a case of Lomachenko’s momentum opposing Pacquiao’s professional experience.

Manny Pacquiao

3. Terence Crawford

Another battle between two stars, but two who hold titles in the same division. As Crawford looks to cement his name at the top of the 147lbs division a win over Pacquiao would provide this, whereas a win for the Filipino may just rank as one of the more impressive in his 69 fight career.

4. Amir Khan

A fight that has always had interest but never materialised. Both men are former stablemates and sparring partners with a long history, the match up was slated for April 2017 however negotiations broke down. Both fighters have always welcomed the fight and at this stage in their careers the victor could find themselves right back in the mix at welterweight.

5. Errol Spence

At age 39 if Pacquiao wanted to prove to fans he really can still compete at the highest level a win over Spence, regarded as the best welterweight on the planet right now, would more than do that. The undefeated IBF titlist looks to be not only the best 147lbs boxer in the word but possibly a pound-for-pound contender. A win for “Pac Man” would defy all odds, something he has made a habit of in his career.

July 16, 2018
July 16, 2018
Anthony Joshua

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ANTHONY JOSHUA and Deontay Wilder negotiating a heavyweight title fight feels a bit like visiting Las Vegas, the so-called fight capital of the world, for the first time.

To fresh, untrained, wide eyes, everything looks close, obtainable, within walking distance. Yet the reality, you soon discover, is quite different. All the alluring, glittery stuff that appeared to be on your doorstep is in fact quite far away and requires either a cab or solid thighs to reach. Worse, by the time you get there you’ll be hungry, exhausted, potentially sunburnt and certainly underwhelmed by half-arsed versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Sphinx of Giza.

In short, it’s a long way to go for something that was never real – or really interesting – in the first place.

I don’t know the ins and outs or the reasons why – who does? – but it would seem the heavyweight fight the world wants to see, Joshua vs. Wilder, the heavyweight fight we were led to believe was close (“likely to happen next,” they said), won’t be happening any time soon. Not in September, not in October, not in November, all months mentioned during the negotiations, and probably not during the first quarter of 2019, either.

This is seemingly why a lot of people are mad about the situation and madder still that Alexander Povetkin has now entered the fray as Joshua’s opponent for September 22 at Wembley stadium. This fight, we’re told, must happen because of the WBA’s mandatory regulations (Povetkin is Joshua’s number one contender), but still it hurts. Still we sulk. Still it leaves us feeling misled.

Promised so much, we now find ourselves resenting one or both of the heavyweight champions involved as they get their stories straight and do their best to blame the other party. It’s a divorce of the worst kind; awash with animosity, half-truths, and threats of dalliances with others, it will all eventually seem futile as the quarrelling two, should enough money be on the table, inevitably make up and get back together. (“We’re doing it for the kids,” they’ll say.)

That will happen. Give it time. For now, though, we get Povetkin, Joshua’s rebound and our red button option.

fights

Anybody who watched the BBC’s coverage of France’s 2018 World Cup game against Argentina will have noticed in the top right-hand corner of the screen an icon encouraging viewers to hit a button – the red one – on their remote control and switch to ‘Athletics’ if that way inclined. My red button remained untouched, so I can’t tell you much about the athletics, but it did get me thinking, who, in that moment, would rather be watching athletics than (what would become) a seven-goal thriller?

I then had another thought.

If Joshua vs. Wilder is a World Cup match, the final perhaps, then Alexander Povetkin constitutes the red button option that flashes up during the national anthems. It’s a distraction. An option nobody (except the WBA) feels is necessary.

Yet, in isolation, on a day when the red button diverts you not from a World Cup game but some godawful reality show on an island, the option works. Not only that, it’s appealing, most welcome.

Boxing’s World Cup, Joshua vs. Wilder, isn’t going to be coming home this year. Resigned to this, we should therefore be able to accept Joshua vs. Povetkin as a decent warm-up fixture, one that, unlike a pre-tournament England friendly, actually means something, carries a threat level, and won’t be contested at walking pace, interrupted by superfluous substitutions.

No, this is a fight. It might not be the fight anybody wanted to see next but it’s a fight all the same.

Alexander Povetkin

Hardly a bad one, either.

Alexander Povetkin has lost just one of 35 professional bouts, against Wladimir Klitschko no less, and was a far more decorated amateur than Joshua (to the tune of gold medals at the European and World Championships and Olympic Games). He’s probably past his best at 38, and, yes, some of his standout wins were aided by performance-enhancing drugs (failed tests for ostarine and meldonium), but, when the time comes for two high-profile boxers to stand in a ring and trade punches, these details amount to small print, the sort of thing you mutter under your breath while turning your head the other way.

Before testers gate-crashed his party, Povetkin was – perhaps still is – a solid, technically sound and aggressive heavyweight, someone heavy-handed enough to knock out durable types like Carlos Takam, Chris Byrd and Manuel Charr. He was undersized against Klitschko in 2013, but so were many before and after him. Moreover, the fact he was once considered Klitschko’s first decent challenge in quite a while is a testament to ‘Sasha’s pedigree and power.

Today, Povetkin moves slower and seems vulnerable, but his March win over Price (the climax of which will soon be replayed ad nauseam) at least showed the Russian is now aware of his limitations – his lack of size, his susceptibility to monster punchers – and finds comfort in the simple strategy of moving his head, rolling under punches, and then swinging wildly with hooks of his own. This, in the context of a fight against Joshua, someone who shifts hands better than feet and head, could mean excitement. Danger, too, from Joshua’s point of view.

Which is why anyone frustrated by the Wilder shenanigans will do well to appreciate the Watford man’s willingness to wander sideways into a hazardous assignment. Because, chances are, Povetkin will be better than Wilder’s next fall guy. And let’s not forget, either, that only three months ago Joshua was taking Joseph Parker’s unbeaten record and WBO title in the first unification fight of his 21-fight pro career.

Say what you want about the Joshua and Wilder grandstanding, but one accusation that can’t be levelled at the 2012 Olympic champion is that he dodges challenges or enjoys being mollycoddled. In fact, Joshua, moved expertly since day one, has taken every fight at just the right time, done all that’s been asked of him in the ring, and is now one of the most marketable stars in the sport. He won’t turn 29 until October and he’s still very much finding his feet as a champion. If, therefore, he delays the biggest test of his career, his Everest moment, that’s fine. Benefit of the doubt should be given – at least temporarily.

Anthony Joshua next opponent

Besides, such is the flimsy nature of the heavyweight division, it might pay to put this thing off for a while and hope, during this time, other contenders emerge, and the chasing pack fattens up a bit. Give it 12 months, let’s say, and the division might have something more to offer than a couple of larger-than-life champions and a gaggle of also-rans; leftovers from the Klitschko era and untested novices whose rise owes more to a lack of numbers than any great talent.

The fear is that you press ‘go’ on The Big One, take either Joshua or Wilder out of the equation, and create a god of a relative novice and a shortlist of contenders whose limitations have already been exposed. (Trust me, the world’s not yet ready for Dillian Whyte to declare himself the world’s number two.)

So Povetkin, if nothing else, buys time. He buys time for Joshua and Wilder to sort their numbers out and increase their respective profiles, and he buys time for the heavyweight division to find some shape and quality. A silver lining, of sorts.

boxing

Finally, sticking with the Sin City theme, there’s a certain fun to be had from standing back from the table and watching other people – strangers – recklessly gamble their own money in the hope they’ll win a lot more somewhere down the line.

Whether boxers, managers or promoters, these are men with the golden ticket to the chocolate factory who, rather than enter, wait outside for an upgrade (oblivious to the fact that gold is gold). And that’s fine. It’s their money. It’s their decision. But just as we shouldn’t get caught up in the pre-fight chicanery and crossfire, nor should we feel too sympathetic if it all blows up in various faces and the Joshua vs. Wilder fight, for one reason or another, never ends up happening.

These aren’t Valium-fuelled single mums slouching over a slot machine, child hanging from a leg, with an ashtray of crushed dreams, unpaid bills and cigarette butts. They are, instead, big boys, high rollers; blokes in expensive suits who are in it to win it and in it for whatever they can get. They’re playing a high-stakes game. They are fully aware of the rules. Fully in control.

Bystanders, meanwhile, can watch it all unfold, guilt-free, and find excitement in knowing each time Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder take a fight in the interim, each time they roll another dice instead of cashing out, they do so acutely aware that everything – everything – could go wrong in an instant.

It’s what makes otherwise vanilla title defences all of a sudden crucial. It’s what makes the likes of Alexander Povetkin more dangerous than you might assume.

July 16, 2018
July 16, 2018
title fight

Action Images/Peter Cziborra

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THE weekend just gone may well have been my favourite of the season.

I commentated on two great wins, at opposite ends of the boxing spectrum, but both just as rich in emotion as each other. One was for an area title, the other for a world title, but there was no difference at all in what they meant to the boxers. The value of victory was the same for each of them; priceless. And their reactions to winning were so raw and so personal that I almost felt like I was intruding, that I should slip away and leave them to it. Boxing’s like that, it’s so intense that it can make you feel like you’re an integral part of something when actually you’re on the periphery. It’s possibly my favourite thing about the sport; the fighters give so much of themselves for the people who come to watch that every single spectator is made to feel like a VIP.

On Friday night I was at York Hall for MTK Global’s Seize The City. It was packed, noisy and very, sweaty, just how it should be. Chief support was Siar Ozgul’s first defence of his Southern Area Super Lightweight title and it was a fight the Hackney man was expected to win. Finding an opponent for the 13-0 Ozgul hadn’t been easy but late in the day a call was made to Jason McClory’s Longshots Sports and up stepped Mikey Sakyi. And with a 5-2 record the Romford man, trained at the Sparta 300 gym by Dominic Negus, did indeed look to be a long shot, particularly given that his two defeats had come against the only two fighters he’d faced with winning records.

But a first glance doesn’t tell you everything. You cannot judge a fighter just by looking at Boxrec. Boxing is a “naked eye universe” as I once memorably saw it described, meaning that you can only trust what you actually see with your own eyes, and I’d never seen Sakyi before so I greeted the opening bell with an open mind. I had seen Ozgul though so was pretty sure what I’d get from him and he duly delivered giving a performance of high intensity and immense work rate. Siar is a real handful but Mikey showed from the beginning that he had some quality, producing bursts of eye-catching boxing. But heading into the final round on my card the champion was in control and the challenger in need of a knockout (referee Jeff Hinds said afterwards that it was very close on his card, the one that mattered, going into the last three minutes) with myself and co-commentator Matt McCarthy pre-empting a points defeat for Sakyi and agreeing that his stock would still rise in defeat due to his performance. But the defeat turned out to be Ozgul’s.

In stifling heat, and way deeper into a fight that he’d ever been before, Mikey Sakyi stunned the Southern Area champ with a left hand and then pursued him around the ring, landing clean shots until Mr Hinds rightly jumped in and stopped the contest. It was pure drama, the kind that no other sport can rival, and the celebrations were wild. An Area title means a hell of a lot to a fighter, it’s the first official BBBofC sanctioned belt that you can win and if you manage it then your name goes into the record books forever. Against the odds, Mikey Sakyi is now a champion and there will never be another day in his life when that won’t be true.

Meanwhile over in the German town of Offenburg, a nice place nestled on the edge of Riesling wine country, Rocky Fielding was hoping to get some sleep ahead of the biggest fight of his life. It had been a long road to a title shot and although plenty gave him a chance, most were backing WBA Regular Super Middleweight champion Tyron Zeuge to retain his belt. Fielding had sprung to prominence by winning Prizefighter in 2011 and English and Commonwealth titles had followed but when he was laid low in under a round by Callum Smith in November 2015 in a high-profile Liverpool derby everybody seemed to agree that Rocky from Stocky wasn’t, and never would be, world class. But he picked himself up and got back to work, winning the British title and then the Commonwealth again before relinquishing the Lonsdale belt to pursue world honours. People insisted he wasn’t good enough, although his world rankings said otherwise, but, as a fighter must, Fielding stuck to his guns and Matchroom delivered the chance he craved.

It was a voluntary defence and champions don’t give voluntaries to fighters they think will beat them so Zeuge and his promoters Sauerland were clearly confident. But fight week was odd, to describe it as low-key would have been an understatement, with the usual hoopla that surrounds a title fight notable by its absence. Fielding arrived with trainer Jamie Moore midweek, with Martin Murray flying in on Friday and Nigel Travis somehow making it to ringside in time for the opening bell after travelling from Harare to Offenburg via Nairobi, Amsterdam and Strasbourg (he’d been cornering Marc Leach in Zimbabwe the night before). No great entourage, just a tight inner boxing circle, and a decent smattering of family and friends. There were no mind games or nonsense from Zeuge which made for a peaceful build-up and the atmosphere in the arena on the night was muted which it very often is in Germany; it really is nothing like boxing in the UK, certainly a world away from a Liverpool fight night.

So it was unfamiliar but not intimidating for the British challenger and when the bell went it was Zeuge who pretty rapidly looked the more uncomfortable in his surroundings. The German seemed to be in a hurry and when he failed to put a dent in Rocky in the opening two rounds the tide started to turn. And once it had started to turn there was no turning it back. By the start of the fifth Zeuge was in big trouble and Fielding was on the brink. He knew it, we all did, it was staring us in the face, but it must be a strange feeling when something that you’ve worked so long for, something that not so long ago had seemed so very far away, is so close you can almost reach out and touch it. But he kept his head, closed the show and then immediately ran out of the ring to celebrate with loved ones. It was every bit as dizzying as the night before. Watching someone realise a dream is an absolute privilege. Their joy is utterly infectious and it doesn’t matter who it is or where they’re from or whether you know them or whether you don’t. It could be your best friend or a complete stranger, you’ll still feel like you’re right there with them, sharing that moment.

rocky fielding

Life will be different for both Sakyi and Fielding from now on. People will want to know more about them, so here’s a Fielding fact just to get you started, courtesy of my Sky colleague Andy Scott (I didn’t feel I could steal it despite the fact that a lot of people think we’re the same person): The new WBA Regular super-middleweight champion’s favourite TV programme is River Cottage. I don’t know what the new Southern Area super-lightweight champion likes to watch in his spare time but I will find out.

July 15, 2018
July 15, 2018
Manny Pacquiao

Action Images/Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

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GREAT fighters often turn in one final vintage performance that reminds everyone just how special they are.

Muhammad Ali did it against Leon Spinks in 1978, Roberto Duran rolled back the years to stun Iran Barkley in 1989, Bernard Hopkins bewitched Beibut Shumenov as recently as 2014, and Manny Pacquiao – arguably the greatest fighter of the current era – may have had his final glorious moment against Lucas Matthysse, when he halted the Argentinian in seven rounds.

Manny Pacquiao

After 23 long years of giving and taking punches as a professional prizefighter, the 39-year-old’s performance against Matthysse was superb. Yet, at risk of upsetting the legions of “Pac Man” supporters, some perspective is also required.

While Pacquiao has experienced a steady decline over the last decade, the form of the ageing Matthysse is in freefall. The version of Matthysse who the Filipino thrashed in Kuala Lumpar is far removed from the seek-and-destroy slugger who battered Humberto Soto and Lamont Peterson in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Nor is he the same fighter who outlasted John Molina in 2014 and edged Ruslan Provodnikov a year later.

This was not even the Matthysse who was thumped into defeat by Viktor Postol three years ago. Matthysse, after all, is only human. While Pacquiao’s showing at the age of 39 defies all logic, Matthysse is experiencing what most 35-year-olds experience. His reactions are a shade slower, his punches more deliberate and his resistance has been bent and bruised by a punishing career.

Manny Pacquiao

But that should not detract, at least not too much, from the astonishing effort of Pacquiao. Without long-time coach Freddie Roach, and coming back one year after a humbling loss to Jeff Horn, many suspected that even the 2018 model of Matthysse would be too much for a fighter who began his career way back in 1995, when he weighed a paltry 106lbs.

Exhibiting his signature speed, Pacquiao zip and zapped inside and out to befuddle the increasingly clunky Matthysse from the outset. It was a solid showing and, while not exactly the Pacquiao of old, it served as a reminder that even the old Pacquiao is one of the best boxers around today.

Problem is, of course, he cannot defy time forever. No one can. And while Matthysse was both disappointing and tailor made for the highly educated brilliance of Pacquiao, there are younger assassins around capable of making Manny look his age. Both Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford have been mentioned as potential opponents for the seven-weight titlist, and a showdown with either would be marketed as a superfight of the ages.

In the build-up we would be reminded of Pacquiao at his best, told over and over again that his opponent has never fought anyone like him. But as Ali discovered against Larry Holmes, as Duran realised against Sugar Ray Leonard and as Sergey Kovalev proved to Hopkins, Pacquiao will have to accept that boxing is a young man’s game.

For now, though, let’s appreciate Manny Pacquiao. A man who has made a career out of thrilling his fans and defying the odds. Out of rising in weight and taking on the best rivals available to him. Out of sumptuous skill and dazzling speed.

So appreciate every moment, every smile and every frenzied attack. Because this modern great will not be around for much longer. And we may never see his kind again.

July 15, 2018
July 15, 2018
Manny Pacquiao

Action Images/Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

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MANNY PACQUIAO rolled back the years in the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to stop Lucas Matthysse in seven rounds. Pacquiao, 39, made a successful comeback after a shocking loss to Jeff Horn last year.

Matthysse was dropped three times in all, as Pacquiao scored his first stoppage victory since he halted Miguel Cotto way back in 2009.

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