By Terence Dooley
The fans in attendance and those who tuned into BoxNation on Friday night to watch Frankie Gavin versus Denton Vassell got to see the best of boxing from both sides of the argument, even though the fight itself failed to fire into a competitive clash. Instead, fans were treated to a very intelligent boxing performance from Gavin, who successfully defended his British welterweight title and added Vassell’s Commonwealth belt to his collection courtesy of the seventh-round corner retirement win, and a brave showing from Vassell as the beaten fighter battled against a broken jaw to try to keep himself in the contest.
Vassell’s 12-round game plan was nixed by Gavin’s constant movement on the outside and deceptive strength on the inside, not to mention a series of straight shots throughout that were expertly delivered by the eventual winner. Bob Shannon, who trains Vassell, had seen enough by the end of round seven, his concern over his fighter’s rapidly swelling jaw prompted him to ask for the intervention of the doctor and the fight was stopped despite Vassell’s protestations.
It turned out to be the right move. Vassell, 20-1 (10), gets to fight another day — once the two breaks are repaired and he is deemed fit to box again. Shannon, although disappointed to be on the losing side, made the right call at just the right time.
“Denton’s got breaks on both sides of his jaw,” said Shannon when speaking to BoxingScene. “It was very bad — one of the worst you can get. Denton said it happened from a clash of heads in the fourth round — he felt it go then — and he was in terrible pain from then on.
“I asked him in the sixth if he was alright, because I could see blood in his mouth, then I saw his mouth gradually opening in the round and called the doctor over when he came back for the seventh. I knew straight away that the jaw had gone. Denton looked at me with pleading in them eyes of his — he’d have carried on if it was up to him — but how could I ignore the health of my fighter?
“If it hadn’t been stopped and something had happened then how could I live with myself? The hardest thing, for me as a trainer, is that Denton was still full of fight and energy. Denton said he felt he was getting closer and would get Frankie by coming on in the last six rounds, but how can you risk someone’s health to see if that’s what is going to happen?”
“We’re not saying it was a deliberate butt, we knew it could happen in this type of fight, and Frankie did shove Denton off a lot inside, but Denton allowed him to do it. It all became even harder for him after that fourth round. How he fought through those other rounds with that bad a break is beyond belief.”
Gavin was one step ahead of his rival throughout, give or take a few stirring right hands from Vassell and a few close and messy rounds, and Gavin moved to 16-0 (12) with some aplomb. For Shannon, though, the fight was still very much alive and they had hoped to come on strong down the stretch.
“It was sixty percent of Denton, 100% Frankie, who was only two rounds in front on the cards when it ended,” he said. “Frankie used the right tactics, but the head clashes kept coming up and it was something extra to deal with.
“We did have a plan, we knew what Frankie would do, but Denton was trying to wear him down for the second half of the fight, and he felt he’d have had him. Had it gone on you never know how it would have ended. All we’ve got to go on is what we had until round six, and Frankie won that first half of the fight and the damage was done in those rounds.
“One thing that does hurt is that a few people said we didn’t have any tactics and that I didn’t give him any corner advice. We did work on tactics. I asked Denton to lean back and draw him onto uppercuts when they were mauling inside, and to let the right hand go. Denton needed to give himself room, and he would have warmed up as it went on and done that, so I was asking him to do things inside, not to smother his work, pop his own underrated jab and use his own right hand. If I gave the wrong advice then I’d admit it to Denton and everyone else. I just hope that people watch it back on TV and see that we had a plan. It’s just hard when the occasion’s big, you’re stiff early because you haven’t fought too often and you’ve got an injury as well.”
Vassell still has plenty of time; he is 28 and lives the life between fights. Despite Friday’s misfire, Shannon passionately believes that Vassell is the British welterweight division’s biggest threat. He told me that time will vindicate this belief. “We put everything we had into this fight, but that’s life and Denton’s going to get better and come back from this,” insisted Shannon.
“Denton’s been with me for years, everyone knows what he’s capable of and it shows a lot that everyone who believed in him before the fight still believes in him now — it’s because we all know how much talent is there. The hardest thing will be keeping Denton out of the gym. What he needs now is to rest and get himself better, and then come back even stronger than before. Lots of fighters have done that over the years. Champions have lost and come back before. That’s a great part of the history of this sport and something that Denton knows himself. We just need to get Denton back on his feet now and make sure he’s fully better before thinking about where to go next.”
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