When Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders step into the ring at Thomond Park in Limerick on Saturday 19 September it will be the 275th world title fight in which I have been involved as a promoter during my 30-odd years in the game.
And I have to say the WBO World Middleweight championship between the two engagingly talkative Travelling men rates very high on my list of those I have most anticipated. I am licking my lips already.
In many ways it is the perfect match: dignified champion, a big puncher who can take someone out with one stunning dig, and a zestful young challenger who has real style, is a beautiful boxer and can punch himself a bit when he needs to.
This historic fight is the first-ever for a legitimate world title between Travellers. Limerick is renowned as the Travellers’ world capital and it will all be about bragging rights in an community where fisticuffs has such a great heritage dating back to the bare knuckle era.
I bet they’ll be a few limericks written before the contest, too.
So here’s one I made earlier.
There was an Irish world champion named Lee
Who took on young Billy with glee
But the kid grabbed the shot
And did not lose the plot
Now he’s set to be champ, wait and see
Well it’s the way you tell’ em… as a great Irish comic used to say…I know, don’t give up the day job!
Seriously, this is a potentially enthralling bout between two decent guys, who won’t bad-mouth each other and show the utmost mutual respect because it is part of their background. It’s a nice healthy situation to have in show I am staging in partnership with Lee’s coach and mentor Adam Booth.
London born Lee, schooled in the US, and now resident in Dublin, obviously will have massive support in Limerick from, where his family originate, and we anticipate a sell-out crowd of 33,000 at the home of Munster rugby. There’ll be some craic that night.
There is nothing not to like about Lee. He has shown tremendous fortitude and ability to emerge as the first Traveller to win a world title. He gets knocked down, but he gets up again, one hallmark of a good fighter. Saunders is also the first boxer with Romany roots to become a British champion. In fact, Billy-Joe has won everything except a world title, representing his country in the Olympics and becoming British, Commonwealth and European champion as a pro and the first traveller to win outright a Lonsdale belt.
The unbeaten 25-year-old from Hatfield, who thrillingly outscored rival Chris Eubank in his last fight, has claimed the records of four undefeated opponents in his last four back-to-back fights. I know just how much he is relishing this set-to with Lee, a boxer he has always admired, though of course he must tread warily in a tuning-up bout against the Frenchman Yoann Boyer at Wembley tonight. Shaking off eight months of ring rust. Fingers crossed he comes through unscathed.
When I first signed him after the 2008 Olympics, he was rated as the best British prospect of all the Team GB squad who went to Beijing but at 18 he was just that bit too young and inexperienced to win a medal, though he boxed well.
The bottom line is this is a real 50-50 fight that could go either way. Although Bill has got a good chin, this fella knocks out even those who’ve got good chins. What’s more, he was schooled by one of the all-time greats in Emanuel Steward from the Kronk Gym in Detroit. Manny had an eye for talent and high regard for him and always predicted he would become a world champion – exactly as I predicted for Billy.
As I say, I am looking forward to this fight, to be screened live by BoxNation, both as a promoter and a fan.
With all the pride and passion involved it can’t fail to be a classic collision of skills and wills.
Because, as they two guys themselves say, it’s the gypsy in them.
I feel sorry for Anthony Crolla. There is no doubt he won his fight against Darleys Perez on Saturday and should be wearing the WBA World Lightweight belt today rather than appealing that drawn verdict. It was certainly not one of the better decisions we’ve seen in boxing this year and rather ironic that it was the home town fighter who lost out.
We wait to see what happens about a return, but if Crolla wants to, he can fight our new WBO world champion Terry Flanagan or the interim champion Derry Matthews, both fellow northerners. Whenever he wishes. Either would be great domestic dust-ups and, as I say, the offer is there any time he wants to take it up.
I thought Scott Quigg had a great victory and showed tremendous finish with a peach of a punch. Yet in the first round, his opponent Kiko Martinez seemed to be doing a bit of a job on him. Maybe the well-seasoned Spaniard became-confident and that’s how he got clipped.
In contrast, Carl Frampton was average against a very average Mexican in Texas and if the Ulsterman stays at super-bantamweight, Quigg surely will beat him and that’s the opinion of a lot of good judges.
Frampton claimed he had to lose a lot of weight and, if so, maybe that made a big difference. But his manager Barry McGuigan, sitting at ringside, must have had kittens, as well as flashbacks to the night he lost his own world title in steamy Las Vegas to Steve Cruz.
What perturbed me was to see Frampton go down from body punches in the first round. Of course any fighter can get caught cold, especially in the opening round. It has happened to quite a few great fighters, even world champions, as Carl Froch will testify. But to be floored from body punches is quite alarming.
That guy he fought was ranked No.11 in Mexico. From now on, whoever he fights will know exactly where to hurt him. If you are susceptible to body shots, it is something that is very difficult to overcome. You might say that they may have found Frampton’s Achilles heel – in his belly!
Having said that, he did well to recover and go on to win the fight. But the warning signs are there.
Among the words I most dislike using are: I told you so.
But alas, I did tell you so here last week when suggesting that heavyweight David Price might have to take it on that dodgy chin – again- when he challenged for the European title in Germany against big-punching Erkan Teper, by comparison a relative novice.
The likeable Scouser is may have a physique even more impressive than fellow giants at Klitschko or Fury but as the saying goes, you can’t put muscles on chins.
Where does he go from here? Certainly nowhere fast at 32. Though I suppose he can take heart from Frank Bruno who also had to contemplate retirement after some equally desperate nights, but went on to win a world title. I can’t see that happening with Price, who I suspect lacks Bruno’s ultimate resolve.
His reputation seems irreparably damaged after this KO, and those against Tony Thompson, but that’s far better than any further physical hurt he might suffer if he continues to fight on as an ‘opponent’ without finding a way to keep his chin down rather than up.
Tomorrow: Read Hubbard’s Cupboard on one of Britain’s greatest-ever warriors