By Alan Hubbard
JAB is the most popular three-letter word in the English language at the moment – not just in boxing. Thankfully we are nearing the end of what Her Maj might call the world’s “annus horribilis.” The cavalry are coming over the hill, needles poised and maybe, just maybe soon after we enter 2021 we can start getting back to the old normal.
The new normal which is actually the abnormal has been pretty dreadful for us all, some much worse than others of course.
And sport is among the things we love which virtually – another popular in-word – had its lights punched out by the pandemic.
But not quite.
Talk about boxing clever. Like other sports, the game took a bit of a clout from COVID but came back fighting thanks to some innovative thinking. Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren and his Queensberry team played a blinder with a series of crowd- free indoor shows in the BT studios, at York Hall and then, would you believe and with the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Church House, the history-rich HQ of the Church of England in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament.
Someone’s prayers were answered!
There Fearless Frank may have seen two of the stars of his stable, heavyweight Daniel Dubois and light-heavy Anthony Yarde, slip to defeat in British title fights but they will be back and we should not overlook the prowess of the respective winners, Joe Joyce and Lyndon Arthur, in terrific contests.
Interestingly, as we have seen in successive fights, the jab is the most useful weapon in a fighter’s armoury, and has been throughout the ages, from Jack Johnson to Tyson Fury in the heavyweight division, via Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis.
Jab, jab, jab. And jab some more. That’s what Joe Joyce did to inflict the critical damage on the left eye of Daniel Dubois a fortnight ago and it was how Arthur, his right hand immobilised after a training injury, tamed The Lion with his left last Saturday.
Those ‘upset’ victories were deserved in my view as Frank Warren celebrated his 40th year as a licensed promoter and Britain’s premier impresario. However, both the winners, Joyce and Arthur, are also Queensberry men who could be lined up for lip-smacking contests in 2021.
With some nifty manoeuvring by Warren I anticipate that the cartwheeling Joyce will be demonstrating his gymnastic skills after winning the WBO belt by outpointing and out-jabbing Olexandr Usyk.
Yarde and Arthur have indicated that they are ready and willing to fight a return that would sell out the Manchester Arena once the crowds return – we hope by next spring, those other jabs permitting.
That could be the time too when Dynamite Dan, refreshed and repaired, should be returning to the ring where I believe he can still show us what he is really made of and in time become a superior force among the world’s heavyweights if only he learns how to nullify those jabs.
Yarde, who I have always admired, obviously still has some learning to do, too. A few years back I introduced him to John Conteh by saying to the former world champion light-heavyweight champion “Meet the new you”.
Obviously I was a little premature for Yarde clearly needs a fresh infusion of tactical nous. He started too early in his gutsy world title bid in Sergey Kovalev’s Russian backyard and left it far too late against Arthur.
By the way, as I said here last week, I was not among those who outlandishly questioned Dubois’s bottle in taking the knee to be counted out against Joyce. Those who did should be suitably abashed by the medical reports which showed he might well have lost the sight of that brutally damaged eye had he continued in the tenth.
So never mind the gift of the jab, how about the gift of the gaffe?. Step forward Eddie Hearn the Matchroom mastermind who initially suggested that the Dubois injury might have been fake news.
Steady Eddie, you’re in danger of making a Trump of yourself – if you haven’t already.
Indeed, it has been a funny old year for boxing but I must echo the sentiments of the BT presenter, Paul Dempsey, that not only Queensberry but other promoters, including Matchroom and Hennessy Sports, deserve plaudits for keeping boxing alive and punching, as do BT rivals Sky and Channel 5.
During the closed-door contests, apart from some excellent matches and thrilling punch-ups I have admired the quiet efficiency of the veteran Scottish referee Victor Loughlin in particular. I rate him Britain’s best.
But, I am still scratching my head as some of the perverse ringside judging. Some of them need to go back to the scoring board.
And who would’ve thought that this year we would all have become dedicated followers of Dereck Chisora’s fashion by wearing face masks?
AND SO TO this Saturday night, when Anthony Joshua puts his multi-heavyweight world title belts on the line in his long overdue match-up against the Bulgarian beefcake Kubrat Pulev.
It is an interesting contest and a crucial one with a such a lot riding on it, not least boxing’s prospective ultimate big’un next year with Joshua and Tyson Fury when not only unification but many millions of dollars at risk.
Joshua may be a heavy favourite but we have seen several favourites fall in the ring this very odd year.
Though 39, Pulev is a fight-hardened pro built like a brick outhouse and is promoted by Frank Warren’s US pal Bob Arum, who doesn’t mess around with mugs and is convinced his man from Sofia will pull off a shock victory.
This I doubt for I think Joshua will do as he did when he regained his titles from Andy Ruiz jnr, and fight safely from the back foot to a decisive points victory.
Pulev’s only defeat was in 2014 when he started aggressively before being duffed up by a Wladimir Klitschko in his prime.
But beware AJ, Pulev is known as the Cobra – because of his snake like jab.
AT LEAST IN sport one thing remains constant. Come what may the SPOTY show – the BBC‘s Sports Personality of the Year Award – both nationally and internationally must go on and it remains so Sunday (December 20) albeit in a truncated and virtual form.
And as usual it has fermented a bit of a controversy. The WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, having looked at the shortlist of six declared in the parlance of another hit TV programme “Get me out of here!”
He wants none of it, even though he is nominated, because the contrary Tyson is simply being Tyson. Doubtless he is also being no doubt mindful of the time when the BBC jocked him off the list because of his errant behaviour. Now he says he doesn’t need any more honours or plaudits – he is the people’s champion and that’s good enough for him.
The BBC insist on keeping him in so Fury urges the viewers not to vote for him. But knowing how perverse Joe Public can be, we can be sure that thousands still will. So what happens if he wins and doesn’t turn up to receive the award? Will it be seen as a Fury faux pas or another Beeb boob?
They say Lewis Hamilton is a shoo-in but I am no petrol-head so my vote would have gone to Fury; not just because I am a boxing aficionado, but his dramatic demolition of Deontay Wilder, supposedly the hardest puncher in boxing history, was the most spectacular individual performance of the year.