By Alan Hubbard
Last year British sport witnessed high drama on the cricket pitch, rugby field, athletics track and in the boxing ring while embattled football went to VAR.
Inevitably it was the fight game which provided the seismic shock – the dethroning of an out of sorts Anthony Joshua by a Mexican-American heavyweight who looked as if he might of been auditioning for the role of Humpty Dumpty in a Christmas panto.
As it turned out Andy Ruiz jnr could not only box a bit but had a decent punch and was more mobile than he looked. As AJ, flawed and floored, was soon to discover.
Turning the pages of Old Hubbard’s Almanac I see more of the same in in the coming 12 months with a triumphant Tokyo Olympics towering over everything in a year which also includes a world heavyweight boxing championship whirligig which when it stops may well see Britain claiming what is still the richest prize in sport outright thanks to Tyson Fury. Or not.
Sport is a capricious beast which is why those of us who watch from the sidelines are all so enraptured by it.
One other thing I do confidently forecast is that more high heels – or rather running spikes, football studs and even boxing boots – will bring about a further shattering of the glass ceiling with women catching up, and even in some cases overtaking men in various fields of play.
And why not?
Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 next July and August brings back particularly nostalgic memories for me. The Games staged there 56 years ago were the first of the dozen I have covered in well over half a century of sports writing.
As a fresh-faced newlywed of only six weeks I set off not only with excitement but some trepidation of the task ahead. I need not have worried. It was a wonderful experience. That fragrance of cherry blossom still lingers from an event free of the nasty odours that have enveloped so many Olympics since.
As I have suggested before those of 1964 probably were the last of what dear old Barton de Coubertin envisaged as the true Olympics, free of terrorism, commercialism, gigantism and sport’s ugliest of four letter words, dope. At least, one imagines so and there was no evidence to contradict it.
In those 1964 Olympics not a single boxing medal was won by Great Britain – though Ireland’s Jim McCourt did win a bronze at light weight – but memorably it was the year when Joe Frazier ruled the Olympic heavyweight roost. I met Smokin’ Joe for the first time when I literally bumped into him as I was walking around the Olympic Village. He sped around a corner on a bike, skidded and almost crashed into me, falling to the ground. He apologised profusely saying it was his fault for going too fast but I can claim to be the first ever to put Joe Frazier on the floor.
Frazier’s gold medal was sandwiched between the emergence of two others who with him went on to dominate heavyweight division over the next two decades – Muhammad Ali (then 18-year-old Cassius Clay in Rome 1960 and George Foreman (Mexico City1968).
Yes those were heady days for the heavyweight division but it is not in bad nick bad these days either, with Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, two of the sport’s most fascinating larger-than-life characters and Daniel Dubois unquestionably the most exciting British prospect for many years.
Assuming she qualifies and is selected (I see no reason why not) up there on the podium should be another Dubois, doughty young lady from south London, 18-year-old Caroline whose fistic exploits are the talk of women’s boxing. She has already acquired national, European, world and youth Olympic lightweight titles and is as prolific a puncher as you will see in the women’s game. By mid-August I suspect we will all be enthusiastically chorusing boxing’s anthem, Sweet Caroline in her honour.
In my view she could be bigger, and better than the now retired double Olympic flyweight gold medallist Nicola Adams. She also happens to be the little sister of Britain’s new and unbeaten British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Dynamite Dan, a sledgehammer slugger who vies with Wilder as the hardest puncher in world boxing.
Dan waits patiently the wings while WBC champion Wilder and Tyson Fury settle their differences in Las Vegas in February.
Joshua, after his abject aberration against Ruiz, subsequently regained his titles from a new champion who elected to live the high life rather than train professionally for the return. He now has two mandatory defences and should Fury emerge as the eventual victor after what is likely to be a trio of engagements with Wilder an all-time blockbuster unification showdown with Joshua, whom I believe he would outfox and outfight, awaits in 2021 – if not before.
Last week the evergreen Bob Arum, still fresh as a daisy at 88 was over here to launch the promo for Wilder- Fury II. Bob, top man of Top Rank, remains internationally the world’s numero uno impresario while Frank Warren a sprightly 67 is still the leading promoter in Britain and has assembled a Queensberry stable, a mix of experience and youth that is the most watchable in the game. It is headed by the big men, Fury, Dubois, and Nathan Gorman… Throw the redoubtable unbeaten Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce into the mix and you have quite a sizzling heavyweight stewpot.
Happily boxing will be free from the Parliamentary strictures that would see boxing banned with Boris (“I just love watching them biff each other”) Johnson confirmed as the new PM. I know Boris strongly support boxing as does his pal, Nigel Adams, the new sports minister.
On the downside once again as in the BBC SPOTY awards boxing received short shrift in the recent Honours List yet there is no worthier recipient than the current unbeaten IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington, the Leeds warrior whose contribution to championing the Armed Forces and its charities is commendable.
A trained dental technician Warrington is a smart, intelligent and squeaky-clean young man who is a credit to his sport.
Hopefully 2020 will see him become more fashionable as Britain’s Fighter of the Year, which by rights he should have been last year and recognised accordingly with a gong.
And perhaps a knighthood finally will be bestowed on Frank Bruno for his work in helping the mentally stricken. Surely it is about time another boxer received the regal tap on the shoulder following Sir Henry Cooper.
Sir Joe Calzaghe and Sir Lennox Lewis also have as worthy a ring about them as a footballer or cricketer.
Back home my tip for the one to watch in 2020 is bantamweight Dennis ‘The Menace’ McCann, a Naz fight-alike, who has what it takes – and knows how to give it.
Time to sit back and enjoy the 2020 show.
Wishing all the happiest of New Years.