THE last eight weeks have been the most hectic I’ve had for a long time.
Sky have had shows every week, sometimes two a week, whilst our colleagues at BoxNation, BT, ITV and Channel 5 have also been hard at it.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s been brilliant, and when you’re on a rollercoaster like that what it does more than anything else is give you the best possible view of the highs and lows that the sport can dish out to the people who actually practise it.
I’ve commentated on six world title fights over that period and I was ringside in Cardiff but it’s funny what really sticks with you and of all the dozens of fights I’ve seen, there’s one that I know I’ll never forget, one that I know I’ll recall almost every detail of years from now.
For this one we need to rewind to October 13 and Matchroom’s NXTGEN show at York Hall. All week, when preparing the notes and stats, Webber vs Israel had stood inconspicuously at the bottom of the bill. It wasn’t going to get TV so it was low on my list of priorities. I knew plenty about William Webber but had never heard of Eric Israel and couldn’t find anything on him. Matchroom confirmed he was making his debut so I left it there, it wasn’t going to concern me.
But then on the night everything changed. I watched Tyan Booth weigh in for his late notice bout with Craig Richards and he was 10lbs lighter than his opponent. It was too much said the Board of Control and the contest was pulled. It was due to be part of the coverage so now we had a hole. The solution was to fill it by promoting Webber vs Israel to our live float, which meant it could be slotted in at any time, live, if fights went short and we had time for it. I’d seen Webber’s pro debut and had spoken to him around it so I was well equipped when it came to him; 18 years old but mature with it, good amateur, now trained by his dad Paul, he looked a decent prospect. Now where was Eric Israel?
I found him in the away dressing room well before boxing was due to start getting his hands wrapped by James Birchall. They still thought they were on first so were getting ready. Both were pleased when I told them about the change and I sat down for what turned out to be a most interesting chat because Eric had a story. First of all, he’s not called Eric, not really. He’d just come up with that name, he told me, as his real name was way too difficult to ever be put on any poster or running order. So where was he from? Nigeria, he said. He’d come over to England in 2010, by himself, to further his education and had landed in Portsmouth. No family, no friends, nothing. Undaunted he’d gone to college and got himself a degree in Law and International Relations, and had also been accepted to study for a Masters but had decided that he wanted to give boxing a go, having gone to the Heart of Portsmouth BC not long after he’d arrived in the town and found not only an activity he enjoyed but also a community that welcomed him. I was fascinated. My fiancee’s Nigerian so his story had a certain familiarity for me and he was so disarmingly polite it was impossible not to really like him. His parents back in Nigeria didn’t even know he boxed, he told me as I was on my way out, they wouldn’t approve, he said. I bumped into Michael Ballingall back at ringside, who was also with him, and he told me to watch out for Eric, that he was raw but could really bang.
I was commentating with Matt Macklin and fights went short and we were told in our ear that it would be the float next, Webber vs Israel, news that brought a slightly panicked look from Matt as he rummaged through our notes trying to find the elusive contest. Not to worry I told him, I’d got the low down and would explain it all at the top. I was glad it had got TV because it was a nice story, I enjoyed telling it but I won’t lie, I was confident I knew how it would end. Webber, 18 or not, would have too much skill for the 27-year-old Israel, and for the first five and a half minutes that’s exactly what it looked like as he weaved his way around a stiff and awkward debutant. But then at the end of the second round Eric caught William with a short, left hand and knocked him down. It had come from nowhere, had hardly travelled any distance and had been thrown without any real balance. Michael Ballingall was right, he did have some power. And then at the start of the third round he landed it again and then a big right hand and all of a sudden the fight was over.
It was pretty incredible stuff and a beaming Eric gave a great post fight interview to Andy Scott, who, as always, hit all the right notes, asking him about his story, whether it was really true that his parents didn’t know he boxed and asking him to look down the camera lens and send them a message. A few hours beforehand Eric Israel had been expecting to box in front of a handful of spectators and then get in the car and head back down to Pompey and now here he was being interviewed ringside after knocking someone out live on TV. It was a great story and me and Matt were loving it. But then, seemingly at exactly the same moment, the same realisation hit us both. He’d won by KO, which is the most euphoria inducing thing you can do in the boxing ring, maybe in any sporting arena. But for one party to win by KO means that someone has to be KO’d, which I think I can say with some confidence is the most devastating way to lose in any sporting arena. We’d just seen an 18-year-old, in his second pro fight, get knocked out live on TV. It had seemed to be going his way too, until everything changed in the split second it took for that first left hand to land. William was OK, physically at least, we could see that, but his experience in that ring had been every bit as traumatic as Eric’s had been triumphant. That’s sport, and especially the sport of boxing. For every winner there must be a loser, and the more spectacular the victory, the more harrowing the defeat; in the boxing jungle, that is the law.
So by all means rejoice with the winner, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but always spare a thought for the vanquished. I’d say that’s a good rule to have with regard to all competitive arenas, sporting or otherwise. I’ve never been one for all this gung-ho “second place is first loser” nonsense. It’s not as simple as that. The line between success and failure can be very, very fine. William Webber found that out at York Hall but hopefully he’ll be better for the experience, brutal though it was. He doesn’t have another fight scheduled yet but Eric does, he’s out again at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth on November 25 so if that’s your patch then get down there and watch some boxing.