By Frank Warren
Perhaps the greatest honour of my career in boxing was a surprise invitation to meet Nelson Mandela at his house in Johannesburg days after South Africa’s Sugar Boy Malinga relieved Nigel Benn of his WBC Super-Middleweight world title in February 1996.
Like everyone, it was with great sadness I heard of his passing last week, at the ripe old age of 95. He was probably the most impressive man I ever met, a deceptively tall man with an imposing yet serene and graceful presence.
Sitting in Mr Mandela’s house with Malinga I learnt he was a lifelong boxing nut with a fabulous knowledge of the sport’s great fights and fighters.
Prior to battling apartheid, he’d battled inside the ring as an amateur heavyweight and continued to pursue a strict boxing training regime throughout his 27 years incarceration.
Indeed, there is a five metre sculpture of Mandela striking a boxing pose in front of the magistrates’ court in Johannesburg.
At his home, he proudly showcased a world championship belt gifted to him by Sugar Ray Leonard.
He was the ultimate fighting man. RIP.
My thoughts also go to the friends and family of Mr Mandela’s favourite fighter Jacob Matlala who died from pneumonia just 51 two days after.
Just 4ft 10in tall on his tiptoes, ‘Baby Jake’ won WBO titles in both the flyweight and light-flyweight classes and was the sport’s shortest ever world champion.
Like all Brits I was saddened to see Darren Barker concede his IBF Middleweight Title in such fashion in Germany last weekend.
The world championship prize ring is no place to be, unless you are 100% fit yet ‘Dazzling Darren’ appeared compromised from the start by long standing hip injuries. He attacked with uncharacteristic aggression which resulted in him being floored twice and finished within two rounds with an impressive hungry performance by German Felix Sturm.
Team Barker justified their decision to risk defending overseas by Sturm’s team paying a large amount of money to gain home advantage for their man and that Barker would be guaranteed a rematch in the UK were their man to concede his title.
However, it seems unlikely that the likeable and honest 31 year old from Barnet will take a return against Sturm. To his credit Barker said he was beaten ‘fair and square’ by Sturm.
This is the fifth occasion this year that promoter Eddie Hearn has led one of his fighters into a world championship ring on foreign climes. Only Barker succeeded, when he eked out a split decision over Australia’s Daniel Geale on neutral terrain in Atlantic City. The others - Gavin Rees, Lee Purdy, Tony Bellew and now Barker – were all emphatically stopped inside seven rounds.
Maybe a fight that in my mind made more sense would have seen Darren stay at home in a mega fight with Carl Froch at super-middleweight. Win or lose he would’ve still had his middleweight title.
Congratulations to the boxers who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next June, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe.
Welsh great Calzaghe, who was victorious in all 46 pro fights and reigned undefeated as world champion for 11 years, joins pre-war compatriots Jimmy Wilde, Jim Driscoll and Freddie Welsh as the Principality’s fourth entrant.
Joe, who was elected in the first ballot for which he was eligible – five years after retirement – was the best British fighter that I was ever involved with.
Welcome to the IBHOF club!
In recent decades Sheffield and Manchester have enjoyed periods of dominance but, right now, Liverpool is becoming Britain’s premier fight city.
Last weekend three unbeaten talents at the vanguard of the Scouse revival sparkled on my promotion at the Echo Arena.
World-rated super-flyweight Paul Butler showed he has both silky skills and temperament to overcome hand damage, to deliver a clinical and shut out hardy Mexican Ruben Montoya over 12 rounds.
British light-middleweight boss Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith demonstrated previously unseen spite when annihilating Manchester’s capable Mark Thompson in four. One of four fighting brothers, Liam has just signed a new promotional deal with me and I’ve massive plans for him.
It was good to see Joe Selkirk getting his career back on track after a series of injuries.
The 2007 ABA champion, who combines classy skill with chilling power, has now won a dozen straight and romped to the WBO European title by pulverising Hungary’s previously undefeated Zoltan Sera inside three rounds.
Great news from New York. Magomed Abdusalamov, the Russian heavyweight who incurred a blood clot on the brain following a brutal 10 round fight with Cuba’s Mikey Perez six weeks ago, has been taken out of his medically induced coma.
The 32 year old father of three opened his eyes, is breathing independently, and has been removed from intensive care.
Don’t miss what’s sure to be a classic boxer versus banger dust up this evening when US messiah Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner puts his WBA welterweight strap on the line against concrete fisted Argentine Marcos Maidana.
The pair share 53 stoppage wins in 64 fights but the 24 year old Ohioan possesses the slicker skills and that should sway matters his way.
Heading the undercard, Florida’s Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman, another welter with sleeping pills in his gloves, squares off with Mexican iron man Jesus Soto Karass. BoxNation televise live.
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Tags: Frank Warren