Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Curtis Woodhouse - "I get my fair share of doubters"

This June, Curtis Woodhouse and Dale Miles stood toe to toe at Rotherham’s Magna Centre and traded knockout blows for five rounds in one of the most staggering wars of attrition in recent memory. Every time Miles threw, Woodhouse dug in and replied with aplomb. As always, something had to give. Woodhouse used his ring craft to back Miles up, although when he dropped his hands in search of a finish, he walked on to a jarring short right that sent him flailing to the canvas.

Remembering that galling fifth round knockout, Woodhouse says, “I was devastated.” The Yorkshire fighter has since regrouped and picked up the English light-welterweight title, defeating Dave Ryan on points. That Miles loss was still a tough pill to swallow, though. His pride dented, Woodhouse suffered a break from hard sparring due to a slowly but steadily healing face. He only got back to training two weeks after the fight and, even then, he could only engage in shadow boxing.

There were no titles on the line during his renowned battle with Miles but Woodhouse won respect from the fight, a tag that is almost as valuable as a belt in a business such as boxing. Woodhouse’s promoter Dave Coldwell says, “If you take a fighter like Arturo Gatti who still lost three fights in a row at one stage, boxing people and fans alike respected him for the fights he was in. I’m not comparing him in terms of ability at all, but I think something similar is happening with Curtis.”

Woodhouse, who entered boxing as a latecomer at 26 after a fleeting career as a professional footballer, admits he had to overcome several obstacles by embarking on such a gamble. “I was 26 and had never laced up a pair of gloves,” he remembers. “Obviously I get a lot of doubters given how I came into the sport but I feel I’ve earned the respect of my peers, especially after winning the English title.”

Indeed, Woodhouse learned tough lessons from the Miles fight that he harked back to during the English title bout. “There was one point,” says Woodhouse, “when I got hit on the back of the head against Ryan and the room was spinning. Against Miles, I’d have fired back, but I just had to hold on for a moment to compose myself. It was a great moment for me and a great achievement to become champion of England.”  

His clash with Miles, it seems, defines Woodhouse’s career and acts as a turning point towards his euphoric English title win. Along with Coldwell, Woodhouse admits the fight taught him a lot about the values of defence. The adulation that comes after a gut check and a war such as that, however, is something that Woodhouse takes with open arms.

“People were saying it was the greatest fight they’d ever seen,” he laughs. “It’s nice to hear something like that and I think the fact that I went through hell and back for 12 weeks in my camp, training as hard as I possibly could, makes the loss slightly easier to live with.”

“Even during the exchanges I was thinking, wow, this is some fight! The crowd were going so crazy I couldn’t even heard my corner between rounds! He hurt me in the first round; I hurt him in the second round. Whenever he caught me with a good shot, I just planted my feet, bit on my gumshield, and just thought, fuck you; let’s have a fight!”

Those scattergun attacks may be pleasing for the crowd, but that surge of adrenalin Woodhouse felt still had lasting effects. Woodhouse revealed he fought on with a fractured cheekbone and a broken nose. Coming into the sport as a wide-eyed novice, soaking up any information and advice when he could, you might think Woodhouse would shy away from the more punishing sides of boxing.

Credit must go to Woodhouse, though, as he has taken the pitfalls and dangers of boxing in his stride. “If you don’t want to get hurt don’t become a boxer” is his steely yet commendable statement. The former Sheffield United defender continues to claim that boxing isn’t always a nice sport. “It’s not tennis, you’re in there to have a fight,” he professes.

That machismo and tough talking stance from Woodhouse may put some observers off, perhaps understandably so. Before his fight with Frankie Gavin, the two had to be forcibly separated at the weigh-in. “During the build-up to fights, tensions sometimes boil over,” claims Woodhouse. “It’s a tough sport for tough men, so you might expect emotions to run high.”

Thankfully, Woodhouse has managed to channel that competitive nature into hard work outside and inside the ring, and his ambitious switch to boxing seems to have paid off. Coldwell oozes with enthusiasm when discussing Woodhouse’s future. “We want Darren Hamilton, who is the British champion, then the Miles rematch. That’s the plan,” he confirms. Considering Hamilton’s upset over Ashley Theophane for the British title in May, there are many who have sounded off about Hamilton’s waning credentials as British champion.

“He doesn’t do anything great, but he does everything correctly,” says Woodhouse. “He’s got really long arms, jabs well, and proves that if you get the basics right, you can go far in boxing. There are certain things he makes look very easy in the ring, and he’s clearly worked very hard. I say good luck to him, but I want to rip that belt from him.”

“I’ve got options to defend my English title, so if I can’t get a British title shot, I’ll go down that route. My aim is to stay busy. If anyone wants to fight me, I’m always willing to listen. I could have quite easily got to 13-0 fighting a load of journeymen, but I want to fight the very best in Britain. A poor record is not something that interests me.” 

By Alistair Hendrie

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Chisora confirms "nearly man" status against Haye

Having earned his stripes inside the ring after a valiant tussle with Vitali Klitschko, Dereck Chisora redeemed himself once more at Upton Park this weekend, standing arm in arm with David Haye, his former rival, after suffering a vicious fifth round knockout. Respect is paramount to any fighter in this, the most demanding of sports, and Chisora gained that after he and Haye put their differences to bed. It’s a familiar, depressing tale in some ways for Chisora, who has now lost four of his last five fights, despite performing in such a courageous manner once again.

That steely determination and calm head inside the ring against Klitschko, of course, was sullied after the Munich fracas, a sentiment not lost on the East London crowd who booed Chisora on his way to the ring. Chisora took a while to get going as Haye, a picture of undeterred concentration, controlled the ring and worked his jab.

It seemed Chisora was looking for one big shot, and his eagerness to march Haye into the ropes paid off in the third when he connected with an overhand right, one of his most utilized trademarks. The fourth round, though, brought about Chisora’s most spiteful, hurtful attacks. Indeed, he was on a roll at the bell and, lamentably, caught Haye flush on the jaw with a lunging right after the bell sounded.

That was Haye’s wake up call. The Bermondsey fighter was making Chisora miss and dropped him with two swinging hooks as Chisora, showing his tactical naivety, blundered towards the ropes hoping for an advantage. After an eight count, Haye surged in with a blur of thudding hooks to the body and jaw. Chisora flailed at will then collapsed to the canvas, forming the most damning of sights for any boxer. Haye became the first man to knock out Chisora, the first man to break both his iron chin and immovable will.

During the post-fight press conference, there were no tripods, threats or scuffles, just Haye talking about how much respect he’d gained for Chisora. The wonderful thing about boxing, particularly a fight such as this, is that many times both the victor and the loser exit the ring drawing acclaim from pundits and fans alike for their efforts. For any sportsman to train hard, prepare for one opponent, and alienate themselves from friends, family and society for months before a fight is such a commendable task.

Of course, Chisora merely managed to prolong his reputation as a nearly man here. Since his surrender against Tyson Fury in 2011, Chisora has turned his career around and set his sights on bigger challenges, as well as a more focussed, disciplined approach to his work. His efforts against Klitschko and Haye were genuine and admirable, but it’s sad to see a fighter of Chisora’s standing slide down the ladder due to a seemingly chronic inability to win fights.

During the Klitschko fight, Chisora found inroads to both attack and ask Vitali questions – something barely anyone can do these days – but he lacked a certain cutting edge, verve or power. The Haye fight, it must be said, followed a similar pattern. Chisora advanced in hope of a heavy right hand but his inability to trade on the inside let him down. He hit Haye with good shots in the third and fourth – before and after the bell, that is – but his lack of power told. A record of nine knockouts in 19 professional contests, especially for a heavyweight like Chisora, does not lead to images of an explosive puncher.  

Chisora’s plight illustrates the unforgiving, fickle nature of boxing perfectly. Boxing rewards resolve, heart and mental fortitude, but not for the loser. Sports are rarely as black-and-white in their outcomes as boxing.

Throughout his career, Chisora has quietly beaten his way through the domestic heavyweight scene, challenged for a world title, and battled manfully against Haye, Britain’s greatest heavyweight since Lennox Lewis. However, he’ll still be remembered as man who came second best, repeatedly, on the biggest stage.

In the last year, granted, Chisora has improved at an arresting rate like few British heavyweights before him. Sadly, it hasn’t been good enough. Chisora is such a polarising character and his last few fights have stirred the soul enough to keep him as an attractive draw for promoters and fans alike – only what level will this be at?

A fight for David Price’s Commonwealth and British titles could be a well needed step up for Price, whereas a rematch with Robert Helenius or a test against Tor Hamer, the recent Prizefighter winner, could also happen. The Haye fight, of course, reaffirmed Chisora’s mettle and dedication to the cause but it’s the same outcome – all the potential in the world but no end product. 

By Alistair Hendrie