Is 2005 the breakthrough year for UK boxing?
By Gavin Macleod (January 14, 2005) 
Ricky 'Hitman' Hatton
For British Boxing, 2004 was a year that saw the sport sailing in a ship made up primarily of hopes, aspirations and false promise, as it rode the uncertain waves of the professional fight game. The country’s top fighters were all on the verge of bursting into the big-time and it finally looked like the domestic scene had sorted itself out to give the great British public many of the fights they had been craving. However, boxing never runs that smoothly, and by the end of the year, fighters and fans alike were all left looking at a breech in the ship’s hull so vast that it threatened to pull the entire onboard cargo down into the murky depths of uncertainty.

So what was the cause of this damage?

In truth it was an accumulation of disappointments that by December 31st looked like rendering the sport in this country a shipwreck. Disappointment was ubiquitous as Michael Brodie, Damean Kelly, Clinton Woods and Danny Williams all failed to win one of the games recognised world titles, prospects either stalled or plummeted, whilst the domestic scene was rife with shocking decisions, numerous fights being called off at the last minute and fighters withdrawing from much anticipated bouts due to injury. It left a lot of pondering to be done by the UK’s best promoters as to how they would seal over the mutilation that had befallen their slowing vessel, and in conjunction, what course they would plot to sail themselves back into the big-time once again. Now 2005 may only be thirteen days old but I think they may just have cracked it.

It has been announced just this week that the British Isles’ premier puncher for pay, Ricky Hatton, will finally be in the mega-fight that he and his fanatical fans have been screaming for, as he challenges Light-Welterweight boss Kostya Tszyu for his IBF strap. Not only is the fight on, but it will take place on home soil in Hatton’s hometown Manchester Evening News Arena on June 4th. With this fight alone, Frank Warren’s Sports Network have established themselves as the number one promotional outfit in the land. Having been the brunt of a vast amount of criticism in 2004 - even from prized asset Hatton at one stage - for not matching their top guns tough enough, they can now sit back and watch as the doubters struggle to force down the last spoonful of humble pie. Hatton now has nothing to complain about and is surely relishing the opportunity to lock horns with not only the number one fighter in the 140lb division, but one of the pre-eminent fighters in anyone’s pound-for-pound listings.

Is that it I hear you cry?

“Absolutely not!” is the retort from the Fight Academy promotional firm as they prepare to stage yet another IBF Light-heavyweight title fight. Having previously secured their man Clinton Woods a unified world title shot against Roy Jones, followed by two tilts at Glen Johnson for the IBF strap in Woods’ Sheffield backyard, you would have been stumped to figure out which strings Robert Waterman and co. could pull for their man.

Low and behold however, they have shackled down hometown advantage again for Woods to square off with unbeaten American Rico Hoye for the IBF championship that was vacated by Glen Johnson to allow his fight with Antonio Tarver to go ahead. The boxing fraternity all felt that the fights against Johnson would be Wood’s best chance at becoming a world champion, but with news of the Hoye fight becoming public knowledge, it appears that Woods’ best and seemingly last chance might be just around the corner.

Side-by-side with Fight Academy, and also objecting, you have the Hennessy Sports outfit. Having built-up a good stable of fighters, Mick Hennessy increased his profile in 2004 by promoting some of the most entertaining bills of the year, matching his fighters tough, but not too tough as to jeopardise their progression. This blend of good fighters and good fights saw the Hennessy stock increase tenfold during last year, and with recent developments, things could be about to get even better.

Provided everything goes according to plan then, on February 19th at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, the most respected fighter in the Hennessy camp, Howard Eastman, will do battle with Bernard Hopkins for the undisputed Middleweight championship of the world. It is a long overdue second world title opportunity for Eastman who, having previously lost a close decision in a WBA challenge to William Joppy, has been made to wait in his position as the WBC’s #1 contender for way too long before being rewarded with this chance at glory. While the odds may be stacked heavily against Eastman, it is another huge boost for British boxing that he is involved in a fight of this magnitude.

That’s three very big fights for three of the UK’s biggest names; surely the mercurial promoters are done there?

Well if the plans of Sports Networks Frank Maloney come to fruition then, the answer is, again, a resounding “No!” Maloney has begun talks with the team representing Marco Antonio Barrera about a possible fight between the WBC Super-featherweight champion and Maloney’s golden boy, Scott Harrison, to take place in Las Vegas sometime in May. First Harrison has to take care of Victor Polo in defence of his WBO featherweight title, but providing he comes through that fight impressively, the initial signs are encouraging that the Barrera fight will get made.

As well as the aforementioned world title fights, British boxing can also look forward to some superb contests on the European and domestic scene, not least the progression of Junior Witter onto the world stage as he defends his European Light-welterweight title against the well respected Italian Gianluca Branco, which will virtually double as an eliminator for Arturo Gatti’s WBC version of the world title. I say virtually because Gatti is expected to face the #1 contender, Floyd Mayweather sometime before the summer should he emerge victorious from his upcoming contest with Puerto Rico’s Henry Bruseles. Witter is joined on the European stage by his good friend and Wincobank Gym stablemate, Esham Pickering. The Super-bantamweight is next out on March 4th when he defends his European belt against the unbeaten Miguel Mallon in Madrid, and will be looking to get in position for a world title fight before the year is out.

Closer to home we are faced with the tantalising proposition of some mouth-watering grudge fights. Commonwealth Super-featherweight champion Craig Docherty will take on his rival Alex Arthur in a clash that will revive the old East (Edinburgh) vs. West (Glasgow) rivalry and should truly capture the imagination of a nation. Add to this the potential match-ups involving Jamie Moore, Michael Jones and Wayne Alexander, any fight to be made between domestic ‘little men’ Peter Culshaw, Damean Kelly, Jason Booth and Dale Robinson plus the “must make” battle between Cruiserweights David Haye and Mark Hobson and you get the feeling that the new year has a lot in store to rekindle some of the glory days of the sport.

Indeed, this seems to be an objective on all of the UK promoter’s agenda, and, only thirteen days into 2005, they seem to be getting it very right. Finally it appears that the demands for the big fights are being met, and that is the most significant boost the sport could receive this year because, as the oft used saying goes, “you’ve got to be in it to win it”. So all in all it appears that there is a brighter journey being mapped out for the sport in terms of fighters getting fights. Certainly the sails have been hoisted to propel this ship into the upper echelons of boxing, and for everyone involved the sport it is a huge big tick on a page which was previously riddled with crosses.

FANTASY THOUGHT: If the big four fights that are mentioned all come off without a hitch, and the British boys can win all of them, then 2005 could be finishing as the most successful year in the history of British boxing. We would have four major titleholders and three men inside the pound-for-pound top ten. We can live in hope. Even in this day and age of cynicism and negativity, dreams provide the fuel that keeps the fire burning inside all of us.

Happy New Year to all fight fans. May yours be full of promise and fulfilment.
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