By Nick Halling
Interesting developments in the super middleweight division earlier this month, when Tobias Webb was rejected by the British Boxing Board of Control as the opponent for a voluntary defense for current domestic champion Paul Smith.
Webb was turned down in favor of current Commonwealth title holder Rocky Fielding. According to the Board’s official announcement, purse bids for Smith-Fielding must be in by 12 March, with the fight taking place by 31 May.
Smith’s well-publicized aspirations were for one more defense of his domestic crown in order to win a Lonsdale belt outright, and then move forward towards a possible world title tilt. Webb, with only one defeat (in Prizefighter against, coincidentally, Rocky Fielding) boasts a decent enough record, but mainly against opponents with a losing slate. His best win on paper is against ageing former world champion Robin Reid, but clearly that is not enough to satisfy the Board.
Fielding is a logical choice. The Commonwealth boss has improved significantly over the last couple of years, and with three first round stoppages in his last four outings, is in a hot streak of form. A Smith-Fielding collision would also be an all-Liverpool affair and a huge ticket seller.
But there are two hurdles to be overcome. First, Fielding is in action on 15 March, defending his Commonwealth title against another Liverpool super middle, Tony Dodson. Fielding may well win, but in boxing, anything can happen. If he were to lose, his credibility as a British title contender would take a severe dent.
Second, and far more significantly, Fielding has plans of his own. Under the shrewd guidance of trainer Oliver Harrison, Rocky has made huge strides, and has targeted an International belt next. The humble, likeable Liverpudlian wants a world ranking, and his ideal scenario is to claim a top 15 rating that comes with an International belt, then prove himself against a big name who has seen better days, before moving into world title eliminator territory in 2015. It’s a strategy which makes a lot of sense. Neither Smith, nor the Lonsdale belt, are currently on his radar.
If Fielding opts to pursue his own path, as is his right, that would leave Smith in a tricky spot. The top British super middles – Carl Froch, George Groves and James DeGale – are well beyond British title level. Below Smith are Fielding and Smith’s younger sibling Callum. The brothers will never face each other in the ring.
Moving down the rankings, the likes of exciting young Londoner Frank Buglioni start to appear. Buglioni has a big upside and a bright future, but is he ready for a British title yet? His connections might fancy it, but also, they may be in no rush. Dodson? If he beats Fielding, then he is back in the mix. But Smith has already beaten him twice for the British title, most recently last June, when Smith stopped him in six. And if he loses, Dodson is pretty much washed up.
Beyond that, the field starts to thin considerably, with the likes of Luke Blackledge (another Fielding first round victim), Kelvin Young, and Cello Renda starting to appear. Along with.....Tobias Webb.
If Fielding decides to stick with his own roadmap, while the likes of Webb are not deemed acceptable for a British title fight, it is difficult to see where Smith’s next opponent is going to come from. The only thing we know for sure is that the reigning British super middleweight champion will be in action on 15th March in Liverpool – and unless there is a dramatic U-turn from the Board, the Lonsdale belt will not be on the line, and Tobias Webb will not be in the opposite corner.
Ricky Burns has freshened up his training regime ahead of his WBO lightweight title defense against American Terence Crawford on 1 March. Burns not only spent a week in Essex at Tony Sims’s gym last month, where he had excellent sparring with former victim Kevin Mitchell, he has also added a strength and conditioning coach to his team – and he didn’t have far too look for him.
Burns and Matthew Smillie are long-time friends. Smillie is a qualified fitness instructor, so the addition made sense. No fundamental changes have been made, but Smillie has added news drills, worked on hill sprints, TRX training, and simply added a lot more variety to the overall fitness programme. The boredom that inevitably comes with repetition has been eliminated.
The results are impressive, according to trainer Billy Nelson. Burns, says Nelson, is looking stronger and punching harder. Most importantly, he seems very happy within himself. The week in Essex was so successful that a change of scenery might become an element of future Burns training camps.
The Scot wrapped up his sparring with newly-crowned European featherweight boss Lee Selby. Overall, there has been a significant improvement in the quality of sparring partners during the course of the current camp. Lightweight prospects Luke Campbell and Terry Flanagan have also spent time working with Burns.
After successive low-key performances against Jose Gonzalez and Ray Beltran, adjustments were clearly necessary. Expect Burns to look sharper and fresher when he takes on the unbeaten American next month.
Former British light middleweight champion Brian Rose remains on deck to challenge for the WBO light middleweight title against holder Demetrius Andrade. The only problem is, he doesn’t know where or when the fight might take place.
Rose is the mandatory for Andrade, and agreement has been reached for the fight to take place. Word out of America, however, is that the fight will be the chief support to Ruslan Provodnikov defense of his WBO light middleweight crown.
And that is where the holdup lies. That fight has yet to be firmed up, although negotiations are said to be continuing. It’s looking likely that if everything goes to plan, the contest could be made for May, with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, or Atlantic City the favored destinations.
Rose’s connections have considered the possibility of a tuneup contest while the wait goes on, but the feeling within the camp is that there is no need to take any risks, particularly as Rose has been very busy moving up through the rankings over the last two years.
Rose hasn’t boxed since winning an eliminator against Argentina’s Javier Maciel in October. However, he is back in training, refreshed after a good break. Once the phone rings, preparations for Andrade will begin in earnest.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.