By Alan Hubbard
Boxing Day seemed an appropriate time to reflect on a fantastic year for the fight game, culminating in an emotional and uplifting comeback for the sport’s most controversial figure, Tyson Fury, and, last Saturday night the fight of the year, indeed arguably any year, in Britain, which boasts more than a fistful of world champions,..
A packed Manchester Arena saw the Leeds warrior, Josh Warrington, make a brilliant first defence of his International Boxing Federation (IBF) world title in an enthralling battle of raw intensity with Belfast’s iconic former two-weight world champion Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton.
I doubt I have seen a greater world title fight in a British ring than this pulsating punch-up. These two truly noble artists conjured up a contest that will live long in the memory.composed of skill, will, aggression and fortitude.
Moreover it was a fine example of good sportsmanship that earned a deserved standing ovation at the conclusion with action man Warrington declared the points winner over the favoured Irishman, as I predicted.
Here was a lesson not only to other boxers, but to all in sport, notably footballers.
There was no over-hyping or bad-mouthing in the build-up and the bear hugs between the pair before the start of the last round, and again at the end was indicative of the friendship and genuine mutual respect these two gladiators shared.
It was worth every penny of a ringside seat or subscription to BT’s Box Office live telecast.
Frampton took his defeat with good grace and there was a charming tribute from his gritty conqueror: ”It takes two to make a fight like that,” said Warrington, one of the much underrated gems of British boxing. “I have always been a fan of Carl Frampton and I’m still a fan. He will go down in history as one of the best champions I have ever seen. I was proud to share a ring with him.”
The Manchester Arena has not seen such heady days since Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton trod the canvas. The first round was reminiscent of Hagler-Hearns, and the contest continued in that same ferocious vein.
“The better man won, it’s as simple as that,” said Frampton, who characteristically went out on his shield.
A jubilant Frank Warren described it as the best fight he has ever promoted and he wasn’t far wrong. It was a sensational and a fitting occasion to bring down the curtain on 2018.
The 28-year-old Frampton now looks set for a unification bout against one of the division’s other belt holders: WBO champion Oscar Valdez, WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz or WBC champion Gary Russell Jr.
For Frampton, 31, the defeat is a blow to his desire to meet Leo Santa Cruz for a third time, having lost the belt to the Mexican in January 2017. I am among those who would like to see him retire gracefully.
Meanwhile down in London another gripping contest was enacted when heavyweight bruisers Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora clashed before an equally full house at the O2. It turned out to be a decent enough scrap, with Whyte coming from behind to win with an 11th round ko.
Both fights were good for the game, in different ways, but the fact that they took place on the same night certainly wasn’t.
Both were pay-per-view fights and this daft situation did not only hit the four fighters hard in their pockets — because of split TV audiences — but surely alienated fans faced with the dilemma of which one to shell out for at £19.95.
Equally galling from my point iof view was the fact tha most newspapers sent their boxing correspondents to the O2 for a relatively meaningless domestic heavyweight brawl and not to Manchester where a genuine title fight between two world class operators was taking place.
Priority and much bigger space was given to Whyte v Chisora both in previews and reports. Typical of this was Tne Observer, of which I was once sports editior, whose excellent scribe Kevin Mitchell was allotted some 700 words on the O2 show with just three paragraphs (less than 100 words)_tucked middle on the far worthier featherweight fracas.
Warren had announced his Manchester event long before rival Eddie Hearn revealed he was putting on an O2 show, televised on Sky Box Office, the same night.
Hearn denied that this regrettable state of affairs has been engineered for the sole purpose of putting a huge financial dent in BT’s PPV figures, claiming the reason for the annoying clash was simply because the only large arena available to him this month was The O2 on December 22.
There was a time when the British Boxing Board of Control wouldn’t allow two major fights in the same week let alone the same evening.
Now the TV companies, the sports’ main financiers, dictate when and where big fights take place.
Surely their executives – and the Board – must see the folly of last weekend’s situation and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Hall of Fame impresario Warren, back in promotional pile pole position, rightly asks: How can this be in the interests of boxing and the boxers? Boxers get a percentage of the pay-per-view and will get less money. Obviously, the audience will be split. It’s senseless. Can you imagine Arsenal playing Spurs at the same time in the Premier League at home? They wouldn’t let it happen.”
However, according to the ubiquitous Hearn there will be “loads of clashes next year” in terms of venues and dates, as the appetite for big fights continues to grow. If so, this grossly detrimental to boxing.
After such a great year we want to see more scintillating spats like the Warrington – Frampton classic in the ring not irksome promotional wars outside it.
Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for the Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer Olympic Games as well as 5 Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.