By Terence Dooley
It’s that time of year again, a time to reflect on the days that have passed by, the people who have passed away, and the fights and events that lit up the boxing landscape during 2013. There have been ups-and-downs aplenty, and a few world titles have left these shores, but there is hope for the long-term future of the domestic game as the likes of Nathan Cleverly Tony Bellew, Amir Khan and Kell Brook will no doubt hope to regain momentum in 2014, so there are still stories aplenty to write. In the meantime, here’s the best of the year gone by.
British Fighter of the year: Carl Froch
Despite the fallout over Froch’s ninth-round stoppage win over George Groves at the Phones 4U Arena on November 23 — with most of the attention focusing on referee Howard Foster’s decision to stop the bout rather than Froch’s stirring comeback from a first-round knockdown — “The Cobra” has been Britain’s outstanding fighter for the second year running.
The likes of Anthony Crolla, coming back from a mixed 2012 to draw with Derry Mathews (in March) then register wins over Gavin Rees (W MD 12 in June) and Stephen Foster (W RTD 6 in November), Scott Quigg, who consolidated his position as the WBA’s “regular” titlist, and others were in contention, but Froch registered the biggest win, his revenge victory over Mikkel Kessler at London’s O2 Arena in May (W12), and the stoppage of Groves underlined his position as Europe’s premier 168lber.
Whatever you think of Foster’s role in the outcome, Froch’s resume continues to impress and Eddie Hearn, his promoter, was quick to praise the Nottingham-based boxer’s tenacity.
“It's difficult to find a British fighter that has even given more entertainment and value for money than Carl Froch,” said Hearn when speaking to BoxingScene. “Despite being in the commercial domestic wilderness for many years, Carl is now rightfully the biggest draw in U.K. boxing.”
Whatever 2014 holds for Froch, 32-2 (23), the WBA and IBF title-holder will provide thrills and spills aplenty, especially if he locks horns with Groves again, although it is likely that both boxers will take an interim fight before a rematch can be made.
Trainer of the year: Joe Gallagher
To nick a famous quote from The Highlander: “There can be only one”, and Gallagher was peerless on these shores during 2013, producing 12 new championship wins in as many months and overseeing the Smith brothers history-making British title triple: Paul holds the British 168lb belt, Stephen was briefly the Super featherweight holder and Liam picked up the light-middleweight belt by beating Erick Ochieng in September.
Throw in titles for Scotty Cardle (BBBoC Central Area lightweight title) Callum Smith (the English and WBC International Super middleweight title), Anthony Crolla (WBO Inter-Continental title) and the aforementioned Scott Quigg, and it is clear that Gallagher’s Gym built up an unassailable head of steam over the course of 2013.
It goes back further, though, as the Bolton-based coach has worked tirelessly for two decades to produce this year’s “overnight success story” — he deserves all the plaudits that have come his way from within the trade during the past couple of months.
“This is my 20th year coaching, I’ve won British and European, but have now got that world title, and I’m the same age now as [Champs Camp founder and Gallagher’s mentor] Phil [Martin] was when he passed away [in 1993],” said Gallagher when speaking to BoxingScene about his amazing year.
“To have won that world title with Scott and walked out at the MEN [for the fight against Diego Oscar Silva (W TKO 2) in November] with him was a proud and emotional night for me. I also want to thank [former Wythenshawe Forum ABC head honcho] Jimmy Egan, who along with Phil gave me my education in boxing.
“I’m very proud and fulfilled what I wanted to do, which is a world title, not just for myself, my family and the lads, but for Phil and Jimmy as well.
“The year 2014 will be a huge year again, and they lads have all got to raise their games again. They’re getting to the level that all fighters want to be at — where they test themselves against the best and prove they’re up there.”
As for Gallagher himself, he believes that success and occasional failure is part-and-parcel of the job, stressing that the titles are a by-product of the task given to him, and the trust shown, by his stable of fighters.
“Listen, I’m paid by my fighters to do what I do, and if you get a little recognition and a pat on the back then it’s nice,” he said. “In America, they allow you to celebrate success as fighters and coaches, but over in England you don’t usually get the plaudits until you’ve retired — it’s a weird mentality over here.
“We’ve had some fantastic world-class trainers in recent times: Brendan Ingle, who has done great in and out of the ring, Brian Hughes [MBE], Rob McCracken, Jimmy Tibbs, Billy Nelson, Adam Booth and many, many others. The 12 titles in 12-months and making history with the Smiths is something I’ll never forget, but now we have to crack on in 2014.
“It is fantastic to be acknowledged by such a huge boxing website. Fair play to Glyn Leach and Boxing Monthly as well, they gave us a mention and I was chuffed — I’m proud of that. Now we have to go out and do it all over again.
“I’m still a boxing fan first and foremost, so I’m still like a child when I meet people like James Toney — when he was in the Sky studios for Prizefighter — and to be in the same company as previous winners [Adam Booth and Robert McCracken] is a big thing. It’s the best year of my career and I’ve had to pinch myself a little bit, but nothing lasts forever and this time next year it will be someone else’s time.”
Gallagher has spent the Christmas break watching tapes of potential opponents. The whole camp will decamp to the Wild Card Gym during January to pick up some top-level sparring. Last year, we gave Dean Powell the “Grafter of the year” award, and we have retired that particular plaudit in honour of his passing, but Gallagher would have been a worthy winner of that one also had we dusted it off this time around.
Event of the year: Frank Warren’s first Copper Box promotion
When Frank Warren hooked up with The Copper Box to announce a run of shows at the 2012 Olympic venue, the veteran promoter charged the late Dean Powell, his matchmaker, with putting the events together. Boxing shows chop and change, nothing can prevent that from happening, but Powell always came up with solutions to matchmaking problems and the renowned grafter put a lot of effort into his craft.
Sadly, though, Powell died in September, just weeks before the second Copper Box show, but Warren, Andy Ayling (Warren’s event manager and the show's promoter, via Double A Promotions), press officer Richard Maynard and Warren’s other employees rolled up their sleeves and kept the bill together as a tribute to Powell.
Powell enjoyed a special bond with Dereck Chisora, who headlined the show. The heavyweight captured the spirit of the night when he came to the ring with tears in his eyes, the notoriously erratic heavyweight was clearly feeling the loss yet he kept his composure and handed Edmund Gerber a fifth-round TKO defeat to pick up the EBU heavyweight title before dedicating the win to Powell.
It was a poignant night for everyone involved. “I was a mess and the likes of Mike Goodall, Ernie Draper, Dominic Negus, Richard Clark and Jason McClory to name but a few shouldered some of the burden and helped me immensely,” said Ayling when speaking to me about the show for this month’s Boxing Monthly magazine.
“It was a very touching time in such terrible circumstances but we did it, and I know Dean would have been proud that we did. I mean, what do you do? Do you cancel the show? I know Dean wouldn’t have wanted that. Dean thought the world of Dereck Chisora, and he had a special bond with [British middleweight champion] Billy Joe [Saunders], [Super flyweight Commonwealth, and WBO and WBA Inter-Continental champion] Paul Butler and [welterweight contender] Bradley Skeete. He would want them to move on.
“It was horrible, but they all went out there and did their jobs, with heavy hearts. The dressing room was a solemn place to be for such a big show. I could sneak into the corner and have a sob, but the fighters had to stay focussed and do what they did. When I filled up, I thought of Dean saying: ‘Keep your shape, keep your composure, listen to me’. Those words got me through his funeral.”
Powell was a key figure in our 2012 Awards piece and the lifelong boxing fan spoke about the rigours of his job when accepting the 'Grafter' plaudit.
“As Mickey [Duff] said: ‘Sometimes it is not about ability, it is about availability’, and I’m always available to take a call,” Powell had said. “Even if I’m on holiday, people can get me until 12 o’clock at night or from 7 the next morning because sometimes missing that one call can make all the difference, so I try to take that onboard.
“We all have to work together (in boxing). I have a good relationship with people like Mickey Helliet, Jon Pegg and guys like that, or Errol Johnson and Carl Greaves, they can ring me at any time to ask if I have anyone available and I can do the same with them, and that’s a big thing.”
His passing marks the end of an era; he was a traditional “boxing man” through and through. “I always thought that Frank had a difficult job on his hands when Ernie Fossey died,” said Billy “The Preacher” Graham when speaking to me during the days following Powell’s death. “Then Dean came along and made the job his own. Now Dean’s gone and it is a sad loss. Replacing him won’t just be a difficult job, it’s an impossible job.”
British knockout of the year: Stephen Smith KO 5 Gary Buckland
When Liverpool’s Stephen Smith, 18-1 (11), challenged Gary Buckland for the British Super featherweight title in August the big question mark going in was how Smith would deal with Buckland’s muscular approach and whether he could do enough to take a decision win.
It became a moot point when Smith landed a picturesque right uppercut on Buckland’s chin to end the contest. The punch earned him the title; it also completed his rehabilitation from 2011’s eighth-round stoppage loss to Lee Selby and proved that working on things in the gym can pay dividends on the night.
“Speak to anyone, we worked and worked on that punch all through camp,” explained Joe Gallagher. “Mick Williamson [Smith’s cutsman] told me that people down at ringside called it a lucky shot, but it wasn’t. It was a big ring, Stephen kept stepping back, landed his shots then bang! — he brought it underneath from the blindside.
“Look at the olden day fighters, you will see the same cuteness and brutality that Stephen showed with that punch. It was a special day, a special moment and a special punch — it is nice when the practice and training comes off.”
British fight of the year: Carl Froch W RSF 9 George Groves
It wasn’t just the early knockdown, the frenetic first dozen rounds, Froch’s inspired comeback or the sight of Groves growing into the role of champion only to be stopped late on — it was the whole package. A fight between two of the division’s top fighters — although Andre Ward is still the runaway number one — that fired the imagination of the British boxing public.
Grumble all you like about PPV and the patchy undercard, the fight itself was value for money and became the talking point of the year.
“The fight between Carl and George grew into one of the biggest domestic fights of all time and was full of drama,” said Eddie Hearn.
“I'm not sure I can remember such a tense, dramatic fight and both fighters deserve a huge amount of respect. Who knows what the future holds for both fighters, there is huge demand for Froch vs Groves II and I think it would be the biggest UK fight of all time. Lets see how it plays out.”
Breakout performance of the year by a British fighter: George Groves L RSF 9 Carl Froch
In the perverse world of boxing, a loss can sometimes be as rewarding as a win; this was certainly the case when Howard Foster stopped Groves, 19-1 (15), at 1:33 of the ninth round, a move that raised the fans ire as well Groves’s profile and stock. Many accused Foster of making a premature call, but the Doncaster-based official is one of the best, and most honest, referees in the business and the call was his to make.
Sadly, the post-fight furore also saw Froch hit with an avalanche of criticism, despite the fact that he did his job on the night and left the final decision in the hands of the official. The main positive that we can take from the fight is that, in Groves, the domestic 168lb division is in safe hands when “The Cobra” finally steps away from the sport.
Despite some naivety — especially electing to stand and trade when the odd breather was in order — Groves’s performance produced a lot of positives and, should he learn from his first professional defeat, the Londoner will almost certainly become a world champion at some point. This could be his year if he is given another big opportunity.
Either way, the 25-year-old’s stock is high right now, and will remain high even if he cannot secure a rematch with Froch, who has said he is moving on to pastures new. In an age of interim and multiple titles, Groves’s decision to step up to the plate when named as the IBF’s mandatory challenger was a breath of fresh air, he will reap the rewards down the line.
Overseas fighter of the year: Adonis Stevenson
The man with a chequered past forged a new future for himself during 2013, wins over Darnell Boone (KO 6), Chad Dawson (KO 1 to win the WBC belt), Tavoris Cloud (RTD 7) and Tony Bellew (RSF 6) cemented his position atop the 175lb division. Indeed, the big punching Canadian, 23-1 (20), is now the man to beat at light-heavyweight, which is testament to Bellew’s desire to go the traditional route and win the coveted green belt. A big 2014 beckons for the 36-year-old champion, who has a wealth of options available to him. It is good to be king.
It’s a topsy-turvy business award: Jamie McDonnell, the IBF and Stuart Hall’s win over Vusi Malinga
Stuart Hall, 16-2-1 (7), began the year as Commonwealth bantamweight titlist; Jamie McDonnell was waiting on news of his world title fight. By the turn of the year, McDonnell had won and been stripped of the IBF belt and Hall was the new title-holder, with McDonnell set to be either installed as the top-ranked challenger for the belt or given a lofty ranking, according to the IBF’s statement to BoxingScene during the midst of McDonnell’s dispute with the governing body.
McDonnell won the title with a majority decision victory over Julio Ceja in May; his then-promoter Dennis Hobson brought the fight to the McDonnell’s hometown of Doncaster. The fighter decided to part company with Hobson in October. Crucially, though, his mandatory defence against Vusi Malinga had to be nailed down by November 11 and the IBF moved to strip McDonnell when the fight failed to materialise, despite a last ditch protest from McDonnell.
Hall and Malinga was made for the vacant belt, Hobson brought the fight to the First Direct Arena, Leeds and Hall produced a monumental effort to win on points. In the midst of all this, McDonnell switched to Matchroom and registered victories over Bernard Inom and Abigail Medina (TKO 7 and W8 in November and December respectively). It means that Hall-McDonnell II is bound to happen sometime this year, the new champion can make a voluntary defence and has to defend against his mandatory, when one is announced, within six-months as per IBF rules.
Should McDonnell get the nod, and he definitely should, the rematch will be a storied affair and the whole situation encapsulates the up-and-down nature of this sport. It was unfair on almost everyone bar Hall, who took the chance when it came his way, and is typical of the sport. Hopefully it gets sorted out in the ring at some point during 2014.
Robbery of the year: …
There is no such thing as robberies, only different perspectives and officiating incompetence. “That was a robbery!” is slothful shorthand for: “I don’t know how to understand and explain what I’ve just seen”, especially when trotted out by journalists. It is boxing’s very own version of those countless IMDb threads that reduce the ending of every single film, no matter how simple or complex, to ‘It was a dream!’ It will probably be used liberally throughout this coming year, as is the case every year — just another lazy cliché that is trotted out at times when more in-depth analysis is required.
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