By Alan Hubbard
THE ELECTRIFYING performance by Josh Warrington last weekend confirmed my long-held view that he is British boxing’s number one crowd-pleaser.
So much so that I believe he should now be short-listed for sport’s most prestigious prize – the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award. I doubt he would win it – the trophy seems destined to be held aloft by England’s supreme cricketer Ben Stokes (odds on favourite at 2-5) or the equally electrifying-breaking sprinter Dina Asher-Smith (5-1) – but surely Warrington, again snubbed in the Board of Control’s Fighter of the Year award, deserves some recognition with a place on the Beeb podium among the top three. He certainly possesses as good an engine as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, although petrolheads may demur.
Not just for the always-exciting front foot manner with which he fights but because he has an abundance of what the award is supposed to be about: Personality.
The 28-year-old Yorkshireman’s popularity is not just measured by a packed house in his home-town (he is to Leeds what Ricky Hatton was to Manchester) but the his good-natured support for charities and in particular our armed forces. A military band piped him into the ring on Saturday night, returning the favour of his regular visits to Army bases to mingle with the troops.
Fittingly so, as the way he went about dismissing Sofiane Takoucht, the French challenger for his IBF world featherweight title, in under two rounds – his 30thsuccessive victory – surely removes any lingering doubts about the efficacy of his own armoury. Josh is simply a joy to watch.
He may be one of the brainiest fighters around, in all senses of the word, but boxers are quite often given quite short shrift in SPOTY. The last winner from the fight game was Joe Calzaghe 12 years ago. There have been only three others since the award was instituted in 1954: Lennox
Lewis, Barry McGuigan and Henry Cooper, though Tyson Fury did get an honourable mention last year. Can anyone remember who the winner was? No? It was cyclist Geraint Thomas.
Monsieur Takoucht, meanwhile, will certainly remember the potency of Warrington’s punches – something his detractors from down south reckoned he never had. But as Frank Warren pointed out on BT, what Josh needed to make him a superstar was more professional promotion. Now he has that under the Queensberry banner and has made the statement that his ebullient trainer-dad Sean O’Hagan promised in his interview here last week.
It was simply this: Come and get me if you think you are hard enough.
That invitation to unify the belts has gone out to the world’s other top-notch nine-stoners. But it seems that while Josh is making the feathers fly, he is also making them flee – away from him.
HE STANDS 6ft 9in and has five kids so Tyson Fury could rightfully claim to be boxing’s Big Daddy had that nom-de-guerre had not already been nabbed by the esteemed late British wrestler Shirley Crabtree. And yes, that was his real name as all grip and grapple fans will be aware.
It so happens that Tyson Fury itself is not a bad moniker to carry into the territory once occupied by Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks along with The Rock and The Undertaker when the undefeated lineal heavyweight champion of the world makes his debut on the wrestling mat in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on October 31 against one Braun Strowman It takes place nine days before two YouTube celebrities engage in public fisticuffs and three weeks before the 55-year-old Nigel Benn returns to the ring. Strange old game.
There has been much head-shaking at Fury’s move. He will box and Strowman will wrestle. Or attempt to. Such hybrid action has occurred before of course. Back in May 1976 when the boxing business was a bit quiet for Muhammad Ali he took himself off to Tokyo to engage in mixed combat with the Japanese wrestling star Antonio Inoki. They fought an unedifying draw, splitting six million dollars and after which Ali spent three days in hospital with a thrombosis where Inoki, who had squatted on the canvas thoughout the 15 rounds, simply hacked away with his feet at Ali’s shins and calves.
Therein lies the danger for Fury. The eye injury he sustained in his last fight against the Swede Otto Wallin was among the most gruesome seen in boxing since the days when Carmen Basilio regularly bled all over the floor. Further or fresh damage could seriously jeopardise his return with WBC champion Deontay Wilder scheduled for February.
So will Fury’s Dust-Up in the Desert prove a PR masterstroke? You can bet (although gambling, like booze, is strictly forbidden) that every punch will be choreographed, as they were in the Rocky movies.
There are those who continue to insist that what happens in pro wrestling is for real. But I have to disillusion them. It isn’t. It is all fixed, and always has been.
I know this from spending a week on the road with one of wrestling’s greatest characters many years ago.
Long before the advent of Mike Tyson as “the baddest man on the planet”, Mick McManus revelled in that role back in the 1960s and 1970s, McManus was the ultimate anti-hero, the cunning, snivelling cheat whose dastardly disregard for the rules, such as they were, was compulsive viewing for some 20 years.
As he left the ring, inevitably triumphant, to a chorus of hisses and boos, outraged grannies battered him with handbags and even stuck hatpins into his black-trunked backside. They refused to believe the wrestling wasn’t genuine.
But as Donald Trump would say, it was fake news. Showbiz with fake blood.