THE expectation amongst most observers from across the Atlantic is that Errol Spence Jr will be taking home Kell Brook’s IBF title. The US fight fraternity can’t help it; they have an in-built superiority complex that’s very hard to shift. But they also have short memories, as much vaunted North American challengers have come to the UK before and it hasn’t always ended well…
Jim Watt vs Howard Davis Jnr – June 7th 1980, Ibrox Park, Glasgow
Howard Davis arrived in the UK unbeaten as a pro at 13-0 and marching towards his coronation as a world champion. Davis had won gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in a great US team, that also saw gold for Leon and Michael Spinks and Sugar Ray Leonard, and beaten Leonard to the Val Barker trophy for the outstanding boxer of the Games. In his way was our very own Jim Watt, making the third defence of his WBC World Lightweight title. Davis’ countrymen expected him to relieve Jim of his belt but Jim hadn’t read their script and beat Davis over 15 rounds. Davis never won a world title.
Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan – February 25th 1995, London Arena
Gerald McClellan touched down in London in early 1995 as one of the most feared fighters on the planet. He was the former WBO Middleweight champion and reigning WBC champion and he’d decided to step up to Super Middleweight, come over to England, smash our WBC Super Middleweight champion Nigel Benn to pieces and waltz off with his title. And everyone thought he would. Everyone. Many well respected judges even feared that McClellan might kill Benn. But despite being knocked out of the ring in the opening exchanges Benn somehow won a savage contest. McClellan suffered terrible injuries and never boxed again.
Joe Calzaghe vs Jeff lacy – 4th March 2006, MEN Arena, Manchester
In this instance both fighters brought a belt to the table. Calzaghe (40-0), was the WBO Super Middle champion, whilst Lacy (21-0 and 1 NC) was IBF boss. Lacy was a heavy favourite; there was an astonishing amount of hype around him and his celebrated left hook. The fight even took place in the early hours of the morning British time at the behest of American TV so they could treat viewers to a prime time look at Lacy’s inevitable unification and glorification. But that isn’t what they saw. Calzaghe handed Lacy a systematic beating winning 119-107, 119-107 and 119-105. Lacy continued but was never the same again, the last I heard of him was in October last year when he retired after 5 rounds in Bristol against Tony Okey in a fight not licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control.
Lucian Bute vs Carl Froch – 26th May 2012, Nottingham Arena
I’ve cheated slightly with this one because firstly Bute was the champion and Froch the challenger, and secondly because Bute is Romanian. But it qualifies because Bute had fought his entire career (apart from one fight in Romania) in North America, and because he was unjustly a huge favourite. Unjustly because although he was 30-0, and making the 10th defence of his IBF title, his CV was nowhere near as good as Froch’s, who, as a 2 time WBC champion, had mixed in far better company. But Froch was coming into the fight off the back of a unification defeat to Andre Ward and many thought he was finished. But he wasn’t. The Cobra utterly annihilated Bute, stopping him in the 5th. Bute had a rematch clause but never exercised it, he didn’t want any more of Froch, not at any price.
But sometimes the hype is real; Terence Crawford was outstanding when he took Ricky Burns’ WBO Lightweight title in Glasgow in March 2014 (Gervonta Davis defended his title in style at the Copperbox on Saturday too) and Errol Spence Jr may also prove to be the real thing. But he’ll need to be because Kell Brook’s already proved that he’s the genuine article. And that, really, is my point.