By Frank Warren
James DeGale, David Price and Tony Jefferies all medalled for Great Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but it’s commonly accepted that Birmingham southpaw Frankie Gavin was the most gifted boxer on that squad. Alas, ‘Funtime Frankie’ – still the only Brit to win a world amateur title when he triumphed in Chicago at 2007 – failed the weight in China when he was a hot favourite to bring home the gold medal.
After signing with me in February 2009, the pride of Brum exploded onto the pro scene, stopping eight of his first nine opponents and effortlessly adding more spite and body punching to the brilliant skills, speed and footwork that made him literally untouchable in the amateur code. It seemed he was heading for the very top, very quickly.
But last year the little magician encountered serious family related personal problems which led to a loss of focus and consequent loss of form. After two victorious but decidedly average performances for the WBO InterContinental title, Frankie cried off the night before he was due to headline a live BoxNation show at the York Hall last October. I wasn’t happy. He needed to sort himself out and I told him as much. Bluntly!
Thankfully, it appears he has dumped the ‘Funtime’ image! After stints away in Manchester and London, he is now basing himself back in Birmingham and has re-united with Tom Chaney, his ex-amateur coach who takes no nonsense.
When he resurfaced with a brace of stoppage wins earlier this year, the 27-year-old appeared close to his mercurial best and, next Thursday, he has a huge chance to atone when he challenges former WBC light-welter king Junior Witter for the British welterweight title.
It’s easily his stiffest test as a pro but, on form, Gavin is a joy to behold; a stylish, beautifully balanced box-fighter. Now he appears to have peace in his mind again, I expect he’ll have way too much for Witter.
George Best and Alex Higgins provide proof that you can’t prosper on talent alone. However, if Gavin really lives the life, he can still achieve whatever he chooses in this sport. He’s that good.
Ricky Burns, arguably the hottest ticket in British boxing at the minute following his four round demolition of Kevin Mitchell this month, makes a swift return to business when he fronts my Christmas show at London’s ExCel Arena on December 15th.
After scalping Rocky Martinez, Michael Katsidis, Paulus Moses and Mitchell – four of the best – over the last two years, some think the Scot is entitled to a less taxing voluntary defence. However, I’m not sure Walsh will oblige him.
Formerly a Commonwealth super-feather champion, the Norfolk based action man is unbeaten in 13 with 10 stoppages. Coached by the vastly underrated Graham Everett (trainer of Herbie Hide, Jon Thaxton and Sam Sexton), Walsh is super tough, can box as well as bang and at 26, is no baby. One of the fittest fighters in the country, he’s received plenty of notice and effectively enjoys home advantage.
The man who calls himself ‘Destiny’ featured in 2011’s Domestic Fight Of The Year when he rose from a heavy knockdown to dramatically stop Edinburgh’s Paul Appleby in ten. His high octane style makes him one of the best supported fighters in the land and, with the East Anglia’s ‘Farmy Army’ expected to descend in droves, Walsh won’t be ‘rolling over’, that’s for sure.
Sure, he’ll start a huge outsider but Ricky entered as a similar underdog when he captured his first world title against Martinez. Upsets can happen in sport, as my team Arsenal discovered to their cost at Norwich last weekend!
A big shout out to all involved in the annual international charity boxing bash at The Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s West End last Wednesday.
England’s amateurs beat their German counterparts 4-2, but the real winners were charity Nordoff Robbins who help transform the lives of vulnerable children through music. Thousands of pounds were raised for the kids.
Recipient of the event’s annual Boxing Icon Award was Scottish amateur legend Dick McTaggart who reputedly won 610 of 634 contests plus gold medals at the Commonwealth, European and 1956 Olympic Games.
The Dundee lightweight, now 77, always spurned a professional career. He’d have made himself very wealthy if he hadn’t!
Sad to watch Erik Morales, one of the greatest in the last 25 years, end his 25 fight world championship innings lying flat on his back, courtesy of a Danny Garcia left hook, last Saturday.
Mexico’s only four division world champion, ‘El Terrible’, 36, triumphed in 20 of those world title matches and had thrilling trilogies with Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, beating both once.
Bob Arum and I promoted his first riot with Barrera – one of the greatest in modern boxing history – at the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas in February 2000. Astonishingly only about 3,500 turned out to watch it!
I’ll remember Morales as the ultimate Mexican gladiator, who turned pro very young, always waged war and carried dynamite in both fists. His technical skills were vastly underestimated. In his prime he had everything but he’s done now.
It was sad to hear that the likable and respected former TV-am presenter Mike Morris passed away this week. Mike was my first contact in TV back in the mid-1970s at Thames News when I was promoting the fight between Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw.
I remember calling Mike to drum up some press around the fight and he thought that it was unlicensed and bare-knuckle. When I explained that they would be wearing gloves he asked if there would still be lots of blood. I replied, “If you’re squeamish don’t come!”.
On the strength of that the fight sold out. My condolences to his family.
Legendary Detroit boxing trainer Emanuel Steward sadly passed away this week at 68. He went into hospital last month and reportedly underwent surgery for the stomach disorder diverticulitis and was going to miss out on being in Wladimir Klitschko’s corner next month for the Ukrainian’s world title fight against Mariusz Wach.
Hall of Fame inductee Steward’s first world champion was Hilmer Kenty, the WBA Lightweight Champion, and from there he trained many of the modern day greats including Tommy “Hitman” Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and many more.
After Britain’s Dennis Andries was stopped in the tenth round by Hearns in 1987, many thought that it was a career ending defeat. He then joined Steward and won the WBC World Light-Heavyweight title two years later. Although another Brit, Errol Christie, went out to train at the Kronk gym and was involved in plenty of the infamous sparring sessions in the gym which were wars that ruined many fighters.
Although more recently he came in towards the end of a fighter’s training camp to add the finishing touch to preparations with advice about strategy and technical point. He was also a master of the art of hand wrapping that protects a fighter’s hands inside the gloves.
Steward won the 1963 Golden Gloves tournament as a bantamweight, but with his family needing financial support he became a lineman with the city before beginning coaching at the Kronk with his half-brother James.
His most famous student was Hearns who as an amateur was a skinny kid, but in the pros Steward turned him into a devastating puncher. Although Hearns lost his super-fight against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981, Stewards still managed to negotiate a reported $11m payday for Hearns for the rematch in 1989 when Hearns was no longer at the top of his game.
The original Kronk Gym was in the basement of the Kronk Recreation Centre, but in 2006 it was closed down because of financial trouble. It was moved to a new location nearby and continues to flourish to this day with kids training alongside world champions.
Steward also worked for many years for HBO as a color boxing commentator and was well known for his relentless charity work, namely the Kronk Gym Foundations to help vulnerable boys and girls get an education.
He was always popular with British press and well read on the current scene over here and was commenting recently on heavyweights David Price and Tyson Fury.
It’s a sad loss to the world of boxing and my condolences go out to his family.
Tags: Frank Warren