By Terence Dooley
Top Manchester trainer Joe Pennington takes his charge Craig Watson into a high-pressure rematch with Colchester’s Lee Purdy at the Oldham Sports Centre on Saturday night. Purdy, 24, stopped Watson in five rounds to register a shocking upset on the undercard of Amir Khan’s WBA light-welterweight title defence against Paul McCloskey on April 4.
Watson was coming off the best win of his career, a vacant British welterweight title winning decision over John O’Donnell in February, he looked to have moved two steps backwards with the Purdy reverse.
Ricky Hatton, who promotes Watson, moved quickly in the aftermath of the loss, securing him man a rematch on home ground and providing his southpaw charge with all the advantages needed to reclaim his belt. Pennington believes that the 28-year-old former titlist will justify Hatton’s faith.
“I think he was definitely flat in the last fight but he lost it and Hatton Promotions showed what they are about by getting him the rematch. He had a twelve rounder against O’Donnell in February and looked great. Craig had trained like a madman for that one, won it and was taking a few weeks off when he got the call to appear on the Khan bill,” insists Pennington.
“Craig had a cold sore before the fight so that told me that he was drained, not weight drained, just weakened by that last big fight and feeling it in his body and mind after O’Donnell. When you’ve had a night like the one against O’Donnell you have to come down again and build things back up. He was out again within eight weeks and probably had boiled over.”
He added: “On the night there just wasn’t anything there, he looked hollow, his body wasn’t strong – I could feel it on the pads in the dressing room. I didn’t want to say anything to him because I didn’t want to knock his confidence and ruin the fight but you could see it when he came to the corner after the first round.”
Purdy’s explosive right hand troubled Denton Vassell in their April 2010 vacant Commonwealth title war; the same shot stunned Watson, 20-4 (8), relieving him of the Lonsdale belt. Pennington feels the KO was down to circumstances and that Craig’s chin is more than capable of withstanding heavy blows.
“Craig’s only ever been put down in the gym by body shots, this was when he was eighteen, nineteen years old and first came to [Pennington’s] Northside [gym]. Craig’s sparred heavier guys and never had any trouble so it was a shock. He got caught right on the button, where it is hard to take, but it wasn’t him that night, he’d been too light two weeks before the fight and won’t do that again.
“The shots usually bounce off Craig but not against Purdy. Craig’s strong as an ox now and looking great in sparring, he put someone over with a body shot the other day and has looked class. Craig’s a confident person or he could have faded away after the loss but I think he’ll win this one by knockout.
“Craig is strong enough to box him and move him back, we saw this in the O’Donnell fights. Craig walked away from his opponent at big times in other fights like the first O’Donnell fight [a controversial split decision defeat for Watson] because he wasn’t as fully fit as he is now, he used to take those little breaks but for the rematch he trained with total commitment in the gym and was buzzing going into it. Then he got into the ring and looked awesome, winning it easily.
“Craig knew he had to do it against O’Donnell, he was eleven stone a few weeks before the fight. But Craig was hollow for that last fight, he took it for the money and the opportunity to fight at the Manchester Evening News Arena so you can’t blame him but he shouldn’t have taken it, he knows that himself.
“Craig came straight back into the gym with confidence, sparring Ronnie Heffron, who I rate as one of the best kids around. Having Ronnie trying to knock his head off has prepared him.
“This time he’ll be strong, alert and elusive, Purdy’s best punch is the right hand so we’ve worked on avoiding it. Denton got caught by Purdy’s right but was fit enough to come through. The one that caught Craig was a cracker. Craig had crossed his legs over, his balance wasn’t right and he was open for the shot. We’ve worked on making sure Craig isn’t that open again.”
Pennington then turned his attention to Frank Warren’s ECHO Arena bill in Liverpool where John Murray meets Kevin Mitchell for the vacant WBO Inter-Continental lightweight strap. Murray trained out of Pennington’s Northside base as an amateur, showing enough potential back then for Joe to earmark the Joe Gallagher trained youngster as one to watch.
“I think Murray is a bit too strong and aggressive for Mitchell. If Kevin’s trained like he should train then he might be able to out-box John but John’s got a lot of strength and should be able to grind Mitchell down,” predicts Pennington.
“The layoff is a bad for Kevin, he also got knocked out last time so no one really knows until fight night how it will affect him. If he boxes like he did against [Breidis] Prescott then he has a chance as John can get busted up and comes in with his face a bit. Kevin could win it on point’s that way but it depends on which Mitchell comes in.
“John has got a phenomenal work rate. He trained at our gym for two years as a kid with his brother (Joe). John boxed Stephen Burke in the amarteurs, one of the best kids out of Liverpool, and I thought he beat him; Burke won it, John left the gym and turned pro with Gallagher after that.
“Joe was a good mover who didn’t get involved, John was always the type to get stuck in but because he was an aggressive boxer we had him weaving and rolling to get in and throwing loads of body shots, he stopped a lot of kids with body shots and has done that in the pro game by going to the head then the body. As he’s stepped up he doesn’t seem to hurt people as much so the power doesn’t seem to be there.”
Indeed, Pennington believes that Murray will have to wear people down as he moves up in class due to a lack of top-level pop in his punches. Mitchell held the longest unbeaten run, 31-0, in British boxing ahead of his dismal defeat to Michael Katsidis, Murray picked up the mantle as soon as Mitchell’s effort was waved over. Kevin will now hope to relieve John of his ‘0’, taking up the baton and moving back into world class if he can register a ‘W’. Murray, though, is likely to wear the Londoner down en route to a late stoppage win.
Pennington believes that this fight could let tell us a lot about Murray’s power. Saying, “John knocked out a lot of journeyman but has to knock these higher class kids out their game and grind them down. A lot of guys can’t handle what he brings so that is crucial in his fights. We’ll have to wait and see if he can hurt Kevin.”
Youtube will broadcast the Watson-Purdy fight live. Click on this link from 7pm tomorrow evening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8u6ALlY9k8
Please send news and views to firstname.lastname@example.org