Name me any other sport, any other legitimate pursuit that captures the attention and the imagination of millions around the world, which can have a week like it has had this week and still feel like ‘just another’ week.
That’s not to take away from certain events that have occurred this past 7 days, of course.
Our thoughts and prayers go out unanimously to the families and individuals affected by the tragedies that have punctuated moments of greatness and ridiculousness so deeply.
But seriously…talk about highs, lows, and deja vu’s!
We’ll turn the clock back to Saturday night.
Great Britain’s boxing family gathered in Nottingham. It was with great regret that I could not be there with them, family commitments dictated otherwise.
To witness the homecoming of an unsung sporting hero. A man who has been growing in stature, garnering respect on foreign shores and proving why he deserves the place he claimed a few years ago at the top table of the Super Middleweight division.
This was a homecoming with a difference. The fighter, Carl Froch of course, was not returning with the spoils of victory from his campaign on foreign shores. He was also not looking to rest on his laurels and enjoy a crowd pleasing ‘softie’ while the next big fight was left to stew.
In fact, Carl was returning home having tested himself against the other contender for true superiority in the class and come up a little (or a lot depending on your standpoint) short against the rapidly developing talent of Andre ‘Son of God’ Ward. In that match the ‘Cobra’ was found toothless and rather over-charmed.
But now like any predatory reptile that’s been antagonised, the next thing to come into contact is likely to get bitten and the hometown hero confounded the critics, naysayers and bookies and dished out 4 rounds of pulverisation before leaving the Canadian champion with his butt sagging onto the middle rope and his head wishing he’d not made the trip across the pond after all. Still, his baggage will be a little lighter on the return with a large lump of metal and leather staying put in Nottingham.
So that was the good. Good for the sport to see a champion step up and venture out of his comfort zone to take a challenge. Good to see a former champion prove himself yet again as a credible force in a division which needed setting alight again after the Super 6 Tournament reached its conclusion and where the nailed on #1 appears to be taking a money fight with a Light Heavy after a prolonged, injury enforced lay off . And good because it reminds us that for all the paper champions and bogus contests between contenders ranked somewhere 10 and 50 for supposed honours, now and again, the best do actually fight the best and the boxing community get to have meaningful conversations about who ranks above who. Without question.
The bad came sadly in a two-part sequence, starting with the tragic death of 5 time world champion, Johnny Tapia.
I have to say that I didn’t know much about the guy until I heard of his death so I’m not going to do his memory a disservice by pretending I did. However, in researching his resume I came across plenty of names that I recognised and any fighter that puts himself through 60+ pro career outings and takes home the big belts on multiple occasions clearly deserves their recognition.
The emerging facts suggest drugs had a part to play and whatever the actual circumstances, I am qualified enough to remark that the boxing family has surely lost one of its bright personalities and Johnny’s name will surely live on through his legacy and legend for years to come. RIP sir.
Boxing does lose one of its flock with apparent regularity. Perhaps a sign of both the closeness of the community that news of such sad events travels far and fast but also that it is a sport which draws the most tragic of characters. These are fighting men that we watch, love, loathe, comment upon and elevate to platforms of greatness. They fight for many things. Money, fame, honour, their families. But above all of this they fight for their lives. And the strength of character required to lace up gloves and engage in mortal combat with another belies a sometimes quiet, sometimes vociferous desperation which all to oft manifests itself in tales of suicide, drugs, accidents, murder and more.
On the very same day, though details would not surface until a day or so later, “The Punisher” Paul Williams was reported to have crashed his motorcycle and snapped his spinal cord rendering him paralysed from the waist down.
Paul had recently been confirmed to fight Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for the WBC Junior Middleweight title in September and was no doubt enjoying some final days of relaxation before entering another grueling training camp but on this occasion fate dealt Paul a bad hand and entered him into a different kind of fight. Not one with titles and belts and fame and fortune. Simply a fight for survival and for pride and for mobility.
Paul’s illustrious career is surely over. He will probably never walk again, though knowing what a fearless warrior he was in the ring, I’m sure he will contest that point to the bitter end. But in a different kind of way, boxing has been robbed of one of its legends. Paul had unfinished business inside the ring. Sure, he’d tasted defeat, sometimes heavily. But he remained a fighter that any opponent had to take seriously and would surely have given ‘Canelo’ his stiffest test to date.
It was not meant to be. Recover as fully and quickly as you are able Mr Williams. With all our prayers.
And so to the ugly.
In an attempt to fill Paul’s boxing boots as quickly as possible and keep Saul Alvarez’s date occupied. An agreement has been reached for James Kirkland to step in and contest the WBC 154lb title. Its not an unreasonable proposition. Kirkland is certainly a contender.
However, its emerged that the WBC will now be regarding the fight as Alvarez’s ‘mandatory. Not something they had suggested doing with Williams as the opponent.
So why now, nominate Kirkland as the mandatory? They had previously declared that Martirosyan and Lara face off as an eliminator for that berth. Lara is the #1 contender , Williams is #2 and Vanes holds the ‘Silver’ title (whatever that actually means – other than that there is a belt with silver on it!).
Kirkland is coming back from injury and questions will invariably be asked about his fitness for combat. But more than that, what makes this the ‘ugly’ in my Eastwoodian collection is the fact that to declare Kirkland a mandatory despite ranking him at number 4 in their own rankings below the tragedy stricken Williams and 2 other guys (Lara and Martirosyan – the latter has a fight against pretty much nobody that could easily be shelved or fitted in simply as a warm up) smacks of just the usual sort of double standards we come to expect from the Sulaiman family in their desperate attempts to ensure Mexican big ticket fighters keep hold of marquee titles and keep the sanctioning fee coffers full.
And it also does a great disservice to Lara and Molina (who beat Williams and Kirkland respectively but for a pair of officiating horror stories) and also to Paul Williams who, while I’m sure has far more pressing priorities on his mind right now, must surely give pause at some point to wonder why the hell Kirkland got mandatory status and he didn’t. Clearly they are looking to burn a mandatory defence to allow for a few more ‘softies’ and regard Kirkland as stiff enough opposition.
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