A bit of a break after Wembley was a good thing for all involved I think. People needed a rest, if just for a couple of days as events like that are very draining. It’s fine if you do what I do, as a commentator you really only have to worry about yourself, but everyone involved on the production side just has so much detail to attend to that a period of decompression is pretty crucial. And not having a show the very next week I think also avoided that “morning after the night before” kind of feeling that would have been hard to shake otherwise.
And so it was on to Birmingham and Kal Yafai’s first defence of the WBA super-flyweight title he won against Luis Concepcion in Manchester before Christmas. It was a voluntary defence and the opponent selected was Suguru Muranaka, not someone I knew a huge amount about and I didn’t emerge from Tuesday’s open workout at the Bullring any the wiser as the Japanese fighter hardly did anything in the ring at all. Some fighters do, some fighters don’t, it’s their choice.
The workout and Friday’s weigh-in, both at the same venue, were very well attended. I had to collect details of the corners and officials which is a job that requires a bit of strategy as fighters tend to pop up and disappear pretty quickly. Renald Garrido was on the card taking on Frankie Gavin and he wrote his team’s names down for me. One of them was given as Leven Alain. Nothing unusual in that I thought, I’d not heard of him but I couldn’t be expected to recognise the name of every French cornerman. But I had heard of him as it turned out because the gentleman in question wasn’t Leven Alain but Alan Levene. And he’s from Liverpool, the left bank of the Mersey rather than the left bank of the Seine. You have to be on your toes in boxing, always.
I was down to commentate on Ryan Kelly vs Adam Harper, 10 rounds for the vacant Midlands Area Super Welterweight title, and the pair of them got into it when they stepped off the scales, pushing and shoving, and it continued backstage with invitations to get down to business there and then being traded. I love Area title fights, I’ve seen so many good ones and so few poor ones and I was very confident Harper vs Kelly would be a good one. I’d spoken to Harper at length on the phone the week before, he’s not a man you can have a short conversation with, and knew just what an opportunity he felt he had. It was our Facebook fight, before the main show started on Sky Sports 2, and it really delivered. My co-commentator Dave Coldwell had Kelly by a point at the end but it was very, very tight and there could be no argument when referee Shaun Messer raised Harper’s hand. The new champion then proceeded to give Andy Scott one of the more memorable post fight interviews I’ve heard; Andy really just had to ask him one question and then let him roll, and roll he did. Ryan Kelly, who was ringside with him, just had to sit there and listen to it all. It’s great when you have a good, tight fight and both fighters then share the apron for the interviews just as they’ve shared the ring for the previous 45 minutes, it shows tremendous sportsmanship and casts the sport in a really good light but it’s hard for the loser, it really is. Harper was hell bent on dragging Eddie Hearn, who was only a few yards away, into the discussion, but he couldn’t quite manage it. He has Eddie’s number though, and he won’t be afraid to use it.
Josh Kelly looked very good again. I really do think he can move very quickly, even in a division as competitive as welterweight; matching him will be the problem. Kelly, a former amateur star of course, was followed by someone who achieved something in the amateur ranks which no male GB boxer had before or has since. 10 years ago in Chicago Frankie Gavin won a gold medal at the World Amateur Championships and we all just assumed that at some stage a professional world title would follow. But it hasn’t. Now that doesn’t make him a bad fighter, far from it, athletes are judged much too harshly nowadays in my opinion; it seems that the public demands that they be the best and if, heaven forbid, they fall short of that lofty mark, then they’re rubbish. It’s a ludicrous mentality but when Frankie Gavin looks back at his career, and he’s reaching the final stages now you would have to say, he’ll have regrets because although he’s always had huge ability, he hasn’t had the discipline to go with it. That precious talent hasn’t been maximised because he hasn’t been able to be strict with his weight. I’m not saying it’s easy because it’s not, but we’ve only seen glimpses of what he can really do and yet those glimpses have been enough to win British and Commonwealth titles and to see him challenge for European and World titles. Gavin beat Renald Garrido and he’s still capable of beating a lot of opponents but his main opponent all these years has been himself, and that’s a bout no fighter ever wins.
At the top of the bill it was a good night for the Yafais, with a win for Gamal against Sean Davis and a first successful defence for Kal, and another step forward for Sam Eggington. The Savage became European Welterweight champion with a brutal knockout against Ceferino Rodriguez and will fight Danny Garcia next year if Barry Hearn has his way. I’m not so sure that will happen myself but he’s inching closer to that world top 10.
Next up for me is Brook vs Spence on the 27th. The challenger has already arrived in the UK and in most people’s eyes is favourite to cross back over the Atlantic with Kell Brook’s IBF belt. But we’ve seen this movie before, a much vaunted American challenger coming over to take on a British champion, and that’s not how it’s tended to end. More on that next week.