Also See Undercard: Hayemaker accounts for Kelly: By Martyn Elliott
Clinton Woods proved his critics wrong by producing a near perfect performance to claim the vacant IBF world light-heavyweight title by stopping Rico Hoye in the fifth round at the Magna Centre, Rotherham on Friday. The Sheffield fighter made a mockery of pre-fight predictions that the previously unbeaten Hoye would be too strong for him and systematically picked the American apart until referee Ian John Lewis was forced to call a halt to proceedings.
Woods’ earlier world title challenges ended with a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of a prime Roy Jones Jr and a draw and a narrow points defeat against the current 175lb boss Glen Johnson. The Yorkshireman claimed in the build up he was in far better shape than for his other title shots, that his preparation was spot on and, above all, that he was confident. And in the unusual, not to mention freezing cold, surroundings of a converted South Yorkshire steel mill Woods showed his optimism was not just the standard pre-fight bluster.
Hoye entered the ring first, striding confidently into the arena clad in a combat jacket and matching camouflage shorts. He looked relaxed, but carried the air of intent and danger that many top American fighters seem to possess. The Detroit puncher appeared unfazed as Woods’ ring-walk received a rapturous reception. The Yorkshire fans were supplemented by a large contingent of army lads, who added to the atmosphere with a barrage of noise throughout the evening and ensured the ring-card girls went home with their self-esteem at an all-time high. As the first bell approached the atmosphere in the arena was as good as at any show I’ve been to in years.
The American started well and looked to work to Woods’ body, but the home fighter got into his stride in the second half of the first round and rocked Hoye with a left hook. Another solid left from Woods hurt the Detroit man in the closing seconds and made sure he won the round. Neither boxer seemed keen on letting hostilities cease and they carried on trading after the bell, before Woods strode back to his corner with a look of real menace on his face.
The second round followed a similar pattern as Hoye began as the aggressor, before flagging after the opening minute as Woods counters took their toll. The American’s work mostly landed on the arms, but Woods’ more measured approach paid dividends as he took advantage of his opponent’s low guard. One cracking left-hand punch rocked Hoye’s head back and the 18-fight novice began to realise what sharing the ring with a seasoned, focused, world level boxer was all about.
Hoye again piled forward at the start of the third and his aggression seemed to work when Woods was trapped on the ropes, but the more experienced fighter was barely caught and replied with a short right hand which crashed into the side of the American’s head. Hoye was not deterred and finally landed a telling uppercut at the midway stage, but the Yorkshireman’s ever-reliable chin showed it was a match for the Detroit man’s much-vaunted power. Accurate counters and a left-hand body shot, which caused Hoye to wince, were enough to make it three rounds to nil for the home fighter.
Anticipation levels around the arena began to grow as the Yorkshire fans, who before the fight had nervously said they hoped Woods might pull off a points victory, realised their man would never have a better chance to win a world title. In his two clashes with Glen Johnson, Woods suffered from a slow start and left himself too much to do in the closing stages - this was a new approach and it worked fantastically.
Sensing his big chance was slipping away from him, Hoye produced his best work of the fight early in the fourth. He attempted to bully Woods and forced him back with some vicious looking body shots, all the time looking for an opening to unleash a knockout punch. Not all his body work was legal and, after being warned early in the round, Hoye strayed low yet again and was deducted a point. Woods again waited patiently for his openings before landing controlled and telling blows to take another round. Five points down with only four rounds gone, it was already beginning to look that a knockout was Hoye’s only chance of victory.
That certainly seemed to be in the American’s mind as he started the fifth at a frantic pace and caught Woods with a powerful right, but as he looked to take advantage Hoye again strayed low and received another warning from referee Lewis. A repeat infringement from the tiring and increasingly desperate Detroit man saw him lose another point. Woods sensed his demoralised opponent was ready to crumble and ploughed forward as the vociferous crowd urged him to finish it. A volley of hard, accurate, well-timed punches backed Hoye into a corner and although he tried to fight his way out, he had no effective answer to the stream of heavy rights that Woods caught him with.
One right hook rocked his head back and a short left uppercut left Hoye struggling to stay upright. The referee took a close look and halted the contest with just a second of the round left. The reaction of Hoye’s corner showed it was the correct decision - there were no complaints, they knew their man was well beaten.
While there was dejection in the American’s camp, Woods’ team celebrated wildly. The moment had been a long time coming and, understandably, they intended to enjoy Woods’ richly deserved victory. Dennis Hobson and Fight Academy deserve great credit for keeping their man in world title contention, while trainer Richard Poxon had ensured Woods was in peak physical and mental condition and in possession of a strategy that exposed all Hoye’s flaws.
Talk of fights against WBO super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe or the winner of the Antonio Tarver - Glen Johnson rematch has already started, but Woods deserves time to enjoy his triumph before looking to the future.
Clinton Woods, IBF light-heavyweight champion of the world - after all the years of waiting, that sounds really good.
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