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The last chance for Ronnie Clark

Ronnie Clark
Leigh Dawney/Getty Images
Ronnie Clark takes on Craig Woodruff in a bout with more at stake than the Celtic title, writes Matt Bozeat

AS he sat in the away changing room at Norfolk Showground waiting to fight a six-rounder he took at short notice, Ronnie Clark glanced at a television. There he saw Zelfa Barrett outpointing Bruno Tarimo in a sanctioning body eliminator – and it made the 37-year-old southpaw from Dundee think back to a night at the York Hall around four years earlier.

“I had just got out of jail and they must have thought: ‘He’s been out of the ring for a while and he’s there for the taking,’” said Clark, remembering his fight with Barrett. “It must have been very embarrassing.”

Clark won a deserved majority verdict over 12 rounds, dropping Barrett in the sixth and then outpunching him down the stretch, leaving him bloodied at the final bell.

After that, Clark, a married father of two, wasn’t seen in a ring for another three-and-a-half years. Neck, hand and back injuries robbed him of the Barrett rematch, a fight with David Oliver Joyce and a shot at then British super-featherweight champion Sam Bowen.

“I had a mental run of luck,” said Clark, “and then Covid came along.”

Clark, outpointed by Martin Ward in a challenge for the British title at 130lbs in November, 2016, has lost all three since returning, albeit in good company. The six-round points loss to Ryan Walsh in December was a rematch. They had fought out a 10-round draw in November, 2011. That was before Clark started describing boxing as “a pantomime,” but while he hates the business, he still loves fighting and that’s what keeps him in the sport and excited for his next challenge, a 10-rounder in Cardiff on Saturday night that offers him a route back to the British title, up at 135lbs.
Mo Prior promotes the show at Vale Sports Arena topped by Clark taking on Newport’s Craig Woodruff [inset] for the Celtic belt. It is a fight that was first mooted nearly nine years ago when Woodruff was the Welsh lightweight champion and Clark was unbeaten.

For Woodruff, it’s a risky fight. The Board have ordered the winner of Gavin Gwynne-Luke Willis for the vacant British title to defend against Woodruff within 90 days.

The 29-year-old says he wanted a tool sharpener before fighting for the British title and after Joe Fitzpatrick pulled out, Clark stepped in at around three weeks’ notice.

“I didn’t come into boxing to fight journeymen,” said Woodruff, who sent former British super-featherweight champion Carl Johanneson into retirement with a shock points win in only his fourth fight, way back in 2012. “I could be 20-0 fighting journeymen, but I want proper fights and I want a belt for my two children.”

Woodruff says his children, Kelsey and Mason-Lee, are bringing out the best in him. The skinny technician turned pro at 19 after winning Welsh honours during a 37-bout amateur career and said: “I didn’t have the discipline back then. I was off the rails. I didn’t have kids. I’m switched on now.”

Woodruff was out for more than four years after a loss to Luke Campbell in July, 2014 and says he owes what he calls “my second career” to trainer Luke Pearce, a nephew of the late British heavyweight champion Dave Pearce and son of ex-pro Walter.

“I thought I was finished with boxing,” said Woodruff, whose win over Frenchman Faycal Rezkallah (5-0-1) last September improved his record to 11-6. “I thought that was it. Luke rang me up, we had a chat and he got me back down the gym. Dave Pearce was the last man from Newport to win the British title and I’ve always wanted to do the same.”

Every time he goes out for a run, Woodruff is reminded of his goal. He passes the statue of Pearce, known as ‘Newport’s ‘Rocky,’’ who died in 2000, aged 41. “He wasn’t even a heavyweight, he was a cruiserweight, and he used to knock over big heavyweights. He would have been a massive star if he had been around today,” said Woodruff.

There’s also ‘The Welsh Rocky’ charity that Woodruff says “helps sporting development in Newport. They support rugby clubs, amateur boxing gyms, golfers, anyone from Newport.”

Woodruff, who pays his bills working as a carpenter, will be fancied to boost spirits in the South Wales town on Saturday night. Clark always fights with a fire in his belly and in a 21-7-2 career, only Anthony Cacace has stopped him, in the 10th and last round in October, 2015, and the pick is for the taller and sharper Woodruff to box his way to a points win.

The Verdict A solid scrap and a must-win for Clark.

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