Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Nick Blackwell "gutted" after loss in Ukraine

TROWBRIDGE middleweight Nick Blackwell admitted he was “gutted” to lose a controversial decision in Kharkiv, Ukraine to Max Bursak on September 21.

Travelling abroad last weekend with just two weeks’ notice, the 22-year-old dropped his rival in round four, and appeared to have the fight won until he was denied on all three judges’ cards.

Blackwell, 13-3 (6), was devastated at the final verdict. “I really thought I won the fight,” he sighed.

“Once I watched the fight back, without sounding biased I thought I caught him with the harder, cleaner and faster shots. He didn’t hurt me once, I’m just so frustrated. I thought I’d stop him in the fourth but looking back I should have used my jab a little more.”

Down but not out, the former British title challenger will try to take the positives. “I’ve learned so much from the experience,” said Blackwell. “If you look at the amount of fights I’ve had, I’ve improved a lot during the last year. Bursak is already 29 and at the peak of his career, so when you consider how well I did to stand up to him, I think I proved a lot of people wrong.

“We never expected to get a decision away from home but I would rather take a big fight abroad than stay in England, fight a journeyman, and not learn anything. These are the kind of fights that make me excited to be in boxing. The world is my oyster and you never know what may be around the corner.”

Indeed, flanked by his influential promoter PJ Rowson, Blackwell could be in line for a string of domestic thrillers after another brave performance.

With Kerry Hope from Wales and Sheffield’s Adam Etches on the horizon in the near future, there is one other fight which Blackwell has his eyes on.

“A lot of people would like to see me knock out Chris Eubank Jnr,” he laughs. “Although Chris always comes across as a nice, quiet lad whenever I’ve met him, he’s very arrogant and disrespects a lot of fighters. Now that the public know me, I think it’s a fight they want to see. The middleweight division is so exciting right now and there are a lot of fights out there to be made.”

Next on Blackwell’s agenda, though, is a trip to New York in November to spar the fearsome WBA king, Gennady Golovkin. “It might be painful!” the young prospect chuckles. “But it’s going to be a hell of an experience and a true honour to share the ring with, in my opinion, the best middleweight in the world.”

“I think to myself, if I can stand in there with Golovkin, I don't need to worry about any other fighter for the rest of my career. I’m aiming to earn some respect as well - although it’s only sparring Golovkin will try to take my head off and I’ll give as good as I get.”

By Alistair Hendrie, from Boxing News September 2013 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Rocky Fielding talks Smith, Harrison and lifting the Commonwealth title as an 11-year-old

ROCKY FIELDING has a dilemma on his hands. It is a few weeks before his September 21 assignment at the Liverpool Olympia, but the rising super-middleweight may struggle to meet the demands of his growing fanbase.

“I’ve only been given 350 tickets,” he sighs.

Indeed, Fielding has already developed a profile as an archetypal crowd-pleaser, and when he loads up on left-right combinations, plants his feet and asserts his authority, his Olympia faithful create a din more reminiscent of a stadium fight rather than a small hall tussle. What will the English champion do to appease his supporters?

“I’ve been asking around for a few more tickets,” Fielding tells Boxing News. “But my fans will always find a way - they even come through the fire exits sometimes! I’ll occasionally see them at ringside or the free bar and I’ll say: “You lot only got the £40 tickets, how did you get in here?” They’ll reply: “Ah, don’t worry about it, we find a way.”

Granted, Fielding knows all about getting into events on the snip. In the late 1990s, he befriended the revered trainer John Smith, and attended fights for free in exchange for holding spit-bucket duties in the corner. “Smithy still takes me to events today!” the Scouser laughs.

But one moment stands out from Fielding’s time shadowing the pros. As a wide-eyed 11-year-old, he was photographed with Alex Moon’s Commonwealth super-featherweight title after rushing into the ring during a post-fight scramble. Fielding now has his own chance for Commonwealth gold when he tackles the crafty Ghanaian Mohammed Akrong.

“I visited my mum’s recently to pick up the photo of Moon’s belt,” says the 26-year-old. “I placed it on the mantelpiece and every time I look at it, it reminds me of my years following Smith around the pros. I always thought to myself, I’d love to fight for one of those belts one day. It’s amazing to think that now I’ve finally got that chance.”

Along with his waves of local support, another man hoping for a Commonwealth scalp is Fielding’s trainer Oliver Harrison. The 52-year-old already counts Jamie Moore, Amir Khan, Tony Dodson and Martin Murray as past and present alumni, and began coaching Fielding in 2010, shortly after he decided to turn pro. Although the pair initially struggled with communication – “I listened to the crowd more than instructions” – they have nevertheless blossomed into a unique partnership.

With Harrison’s methodical approach and Fielding’s gun-slinging enthusiasm, the Liverpool prospect has already won the Prizefighter tournament, as well as a host of English title clashes against Carl Dilks and Wayne Reed. In that case it is no surprise Fielding has generated such a following. Why, though, did he choose the arduous, daily commute to Salford in order to work with Harrison?

“I just wanted to train away from Liverpool. When you stay in Liverpool, because everyone knows everyone, if you have a bad spar or if you get cut, it spreads all over town in no time. There were a lot of good coaches around, but they all had big stables, so I wanted to find a coach who would look after me properly.”

As an amateur Fielding enjoyed stints at the Salisbury ABC, the Stockbridge ABC and the Rotunda base in Kirkdale, and continues: “When I turned pro I travelled around to a few gyms to see how I’d feel, but once I stepped into Oliver’s ABC I just remember seeing how busy it was. I looked around the gym and saw photos of all these great fighters with their titles – Khan, Moore, Murray...

“I remember during my first spar I did about a round and 30 seconds until Oliver called me over to stop. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know how I’d be received. I just remember glancing over at Derry [Mathews], who simply shrugged his shoulders at me. Thankfully, once Oliver sat me down he told me he was really impressed. He’s a coach I trust and I’m really happy with him.”

Fielding, who also fought for England in the unpaid ranks, paints Harrison as a relentless workaholic. Come sunrise, the trainer is already in the gym, setting up equipment, tidying up, and jotting down training plans for his stable. After all, Harrison has always been known as a master tactician and, in April, he and Murray almost upset WBC middleweight king Sergio Martinez.

“The tactics were spot on,” Fielding attests. “Oliver’s idea was to rough Sergio up, get him reeling and force him to retire on the stool. I thought Murray just nicked it. I’ve always monitored Oliver’s fighters, and I hope what he’s done for Murray can rub off on me. He really studies boxing and to be honest the gym’s never shut - I don’t think he even goes on holiday. Sometimes he does send his missus and kids away though!”

The starlet vows to stay with his current cornerman for the rest of his career, proclaiming: “After my family, Oliver is the person I trust the most and someone who wants the best for me. We’re so close, we’re together every day in the gym, and aside from that we’re always talking on the phone and texting. He hasn’t rushed me into anything and always does what’s right.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn has also played his part. “He always said we could fight for the Commonwealth title,” reveals Fielding. Hearn pulled off another trick when he placed his fighter at ringside in June, as Liverpool’s Paul Smith tore into Dodson in six bloody rounds to take the British title. 

Unsurprisingly, talk is rife of a derby showdown between Smith and Fielding. “I’d like the fight but I say let Paul defend his belt a few times or maybe go for the European title. He’s had 30-odd fights and been around the block a bit, so he deserves it.”

But Fielding turns up the heat when asked about the Sky Sports pundits, Johnny Nelson and Glenn McCrory, who argued that the Smith fight is a bridge too far at this moment in time. “On Sky Sports they only see me in fights where the other guy isn’t fighting back. If they’d seen me at all before Prizefighter, they’d say: “Yeah, you’re sound, you’re ready.” Even on the night I won the tournament, all three of my opponents came to knock me out and they all came to win - that’s when I perform to my best. Maybe after this fight, then we’ll see whether they think I’m ready for Smith or not.”

First of all, Fielding will need to deal with Akrong, a defensively gifted fighter with a highly slung guard and a mean right cross. The African, 19-5 (15), made his debut in 2003 - seven years before his next opponent - but has campaigned for the most part against journeymen with losing records. Harrison will need to be on top form regardless.

“He’ll [Harrison] tell me what to do and we’ll establish how to win the fight,” Fielding stresses. “I’m sure Oliver will give me the correct tactics because he studies the game so closely. We plan on working to the body, getting his hands down and then taking him out. I think Akrong’s there for the taking. I want to make my dreams a reality and win this Commonwealth title. The next year or so is going to be exciting.”

Still, it is always exciting when Fielding is around. The softly spoken Liverpool man is already crafting a reputation for his knack of loading up on combinations, as well as his ability to finish off a wounded opponent. If Akrong suffers a similar fate, you can guarantee Hearn, Harrison and the Liverpool public will tear the roof off of the old Olympia, whether the fans snuck in through the fire exits or not. 

By Alistair Hendrie

From Boxing News (September 2013)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Scott crumbles on the big stage against Chisora

Philadelphia heavyweight Malik Scott lost both his mind and his undefeated record this weekend at Wembley Arena against Dereck Chisora. Down on one knee in the sixth round after a cuffing right hand, Scott appeared unhurt but for whatever reason rose soon after the count of nine and was counted out in controversial circumstances. Whether or not Scott was unjustly stopped, he looked merely embarrassed as opposed to disappointed, and hardly mirrored the fury which his corner fired at referee Phil Edwards.

Was Scott simply overwhelmed by the occasion? This was the first time in Scott’s 37-fight career that he had fought outside of America and although he was supposed to be an acid test for Chisora, he engaged in too much holding and ignored the advice of his trainer, Jesse Reid, who told him to stop the spoiling antics. 
Debate ensued on social media over the stoppage, but Scott should have known better and stood up earlier.

However, Chisora, who won the lightly regarded WBO International title, boxed calmly behind a high guard and threw the full force of his weight behind every punch. Indeed, you get the sense this is a turning point in his career. He turned in a studious performance and obeyed the commands of his father-figure trainer Don Charles, barking “yes sir” at his instructions.

The Finchley man set a high pace early on, walking forward with the visiting fighter circling away from potent roundhouse swings. Chisora nevertheless struggled to score with any great accuracy and the defensive Scott used mauling tactics to frustrate his rival. Be it tangling arms, wrestling or leading with the forearm, no amount of fouling seemed beyond the American and Edwards warned him repeatedly.

Scott’s team begged him to stop clinching and in the fourth session, Chisora finally began to break his stubborn opponent’s guard. With Scott on the ropes, looking to deflect and parry punishment, Chisora found a second wind and fired vicious left-rights to the body, finishing with a clean uppercut that forced his opposite number to side-step away in a hurry.

Still, in round number five, Malik continued to play possum on the ropes but began to roll with the punches and avoid attacks. His balletic footwork was paramount, as he wheeled away once again, and he also scored with two sudden uppercuts.  Come the sixth round Scott was beginning to relax. Toying with Chisora again, he dropped his hands and relied on speed and combinations.

But Chisora grew frustrated and bull-rushed the tattooed Scott against the ropes, decking him with an untidy overhand right and a cheap shot to the body. Scott dropped to one knee in the unsightly melee. It was difficult to gauge the extent of his pain in such a blur of unravelling drama. He smiled at his corner during the count, but only he knows why. He stood up at “nine,” although Edwards was already signalling the end of the contest. Scott looked bashful more than anything else.

Granted, the polarising climax takes some of the gloss away from Chisora’s win. As MC Mark Burdis announced the result, the profanities Scott’s corner directed at Edwards caught the attention more than the actual result.

After the fight, promoter Frank Warren announced that Chisora will fight again on September 21 at east London’s Copper Box Arena. A revenge-tinged rematch with Robert Helenius could be an attractive option, while Tony Thompson could a potential foe if Warren is willing to cough up the cash and pull a few strings. This was by far the most accomplished performance of Chisora’s career and he and Charles seem to have found a groove together. Where Scott goes after such a humiliating meltdown is another story. 

By Alistair Hendrie

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Woodhouse considers retirement after Singleton farce

After perhaps one of the most baffling decisions in the recent history of British boxing, Curtis Woodhouse looks unlikely to ever step through the ropes again. Making the first defence of his English light-welterweight title against Shayne Singleton, Woodhouse help a firm grip on proceedings from the fourth round onwards but somehow, someway, two judges gave Singleton the nod by one and two rounds respectively.

Indeed, upon the announcement of a split decision, Woodhouse and his promoter Dave Coldwell exchanged looks of horror. And given his recent Twitter posts, it seems the Driffield fighter is now adamant on hanging up the gloves.

The defending champion patrolled the ring with menace and left his rival bloodied and bruised thanks to a fearsome jab and straight right. Tellingly, Singleton’s face was a mess towards the end of the fight, with a cut below each eye and blood flowing from his butchered nose.

Still, Singleton counter-punched well and grew accustomed to boxing and moving towards the end of the fight. He struck gold with a few crosses and rangy jabs in the opening three rounds but despite Woodhouse losing a point for punching after the break in round ten, it seems staggering that Singleton was adjudged to have won on two cards.

This was meant to be an easy fight for Woodhouse, a night where he would dispatch a mere gatekeeper before challenging the likes of Adil Anwar and Darren Hamilton. However, both men looked in competitive mood during their ring entrances.

Boxing in front of a home crowd at Manchester’s Bowlers Arena, Singleton scored with the greater frequency in the opening two rounds as Woodhouse opted to feint on the inside and anticipate his opponent’s attacks. Indeed, by the third round, Woodhouse was only just warming up and had perhaps thrown more feints than significant punches.

Soon, however, he found his stride and was walking his man down with merciless intent. The former Premier League footballer dug into his reserves and moved up a gear in the fourth, jabbing with malice and sticking to Singleton’s chest.

It seemed the longer the fight went on, the more Woodhouse’s pristine conditioning was becoming a significant asset. As he weaved forward at a terrific pace, keeping his hands up and firing that hurtful jab, the challenger became bloody and weary. Time after time, Curtis snapped his adversary’s head back with alarming regularity.

By the eighth round, the titlist’s straight right was finely tuned and finding its mark each time, particularly when thrown as part of a combination. Woodhouse’s clusters of punches and speed were frightening and towards the end of the fight, it seemed Karl Ince in Singleton’s corner thought once or twice about throwing the towel in to rescue his outfought charge.  

However, in a fight where both men frequently went eyeball to eyeball at the end of each round, Woodhouse connected with a vicious sucker punch in the tenth and final round soon after referee Howard Foster had called for a break. Woodhouse appeared to fire an insult at Singleton but came up short when Foster deducted a point from him.

How crucial that would prove to be. Singleton took it upon himself to somehow motor over the finishing line and threw five jabs at a time, perhaps spurred on by a second wind. His work ethic and Woodhouse’s point deduction won him the final stanza but despite his celebrations at the bell, surely the judges would score the fight to Woodhouse.

Regardless, Singleton got the green light from two of the three judges, prompting a mass bundle in the middle of the ring as Ince leapt to his fighter’s acclaim. Even though Woodhouse had a point torn away from him in the commencing moments, it is difficult to see where he would have lost the majority of the rounds. Granted, from the middle to latter rounds he pierced his rival’s leaky defence and rocked him with jabs to the body and head numerous times.

It was a dreadful verdict and leaves one of Britain’s most industrious fighters on the scrapheap. Coming off a successful career in professional football, few thought Woodhouse could switch professions with such ease, but after winning the English title and going toe-to-toe with the likes of Frankie Gavin and Dale Miles, he drew revenge against those who said he would never make it. In Singleton’s case, though, he should be in no position to call himself a champion. 

By Alistair Hendrie