FIRST OF ALL, in what is my first column of 2022, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a slightly belated happy and healthy New Year.
As I have expressed and commented on elsewhere, this year is going to be a big one for the Queensberry Collection of champions and leading contenders, such as the likes of Tyson Fury, Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois, Anthony Yarde, Zach Parker and David Avenesyan.
They have all got huge fights and nights to look forward to and I fully expect all of them to be taking part in world title action across the year. It is our job to deliver on their respective world championship dreams and we will do so.
But I am probably equally excited about the next band of fighters we have coming through, who are ready to take significant steps this year and step up their claims to move higher up the cards or to headline in big fights.
Some of them are already champions in their own right, like our British super middleweight champion Lennox Clarke who, frustratingly up to now, has been unable to build on his convincing destruction of Willy Hutchinson at the end of March last year.
Lennox is a big draw in Birmingham, where we have happily established a strong foothold in recent times and it is just a shame he has been unable to play a part so far due to injury. It will all change this year and Lennox just isn’t the type to be in a dull fight so it will be a fun ride seeing him fulfil his potential in a popular division.
First up for Lennox will likely be an existing engagement with Zac Chelli and what a fight that will be as neither man possesses a reverse gear.
A star of the Midlands scene for us has been Nathan Heaney and his backing chorus, who have illuminated shows since the fans were allowed back in July. Nathan seems to attract a bit of stick from fighters with a fraction of his following, but he really is not trying to kid anyone.
He will go as far as his ability will take him and he has been totally honest about the fact that fighting for the British title represents his dream in the sport. I believe he is more than capable of this and beyond and it is no secret that our deliverance for Nathan will be him stepping out at the Bet365 Stadium to fight in the centre circle in front of many thousands of the Stoke public.
It will truly be an amazing spectacle and hopefully an inspiration for others from the region to follow Nathan and make Stoke a boxing hotbed for years to come.
It is onwards and upwards for Hamzah Sheeraz this year now he has made the decision to move up to middleweight, where I feel he can become a force at a weight more suitable for his strapping frame.
He has got to put the controversy resulting from his fight with Bradley Skeete behind him now and crack on with his career. In his position he could do no more than offer up an immediate rematch, but his offer has been met with a wall of silence so he now has to do what is best for himself and that is to move up to 160lbs.
I am also looking forward to progressing the prospects of our quiet force at welterweight, Ekow Essuman, who so impressively won the British title against Chris Jenkins and defended against Danny Ball.
I have stated on a number of occasions that I would have no hesitation in putting Ekow in with any of the more celebrated welterweights operating in this country, but I don’t think any of them will be sticking their hand up to accept a fight with him.
He is a quality performer and we will do what it takes to get him the fights to move him along towards world level.
Of course, we have got an absolute banger of a fight brewing at lightweight, with Mark Chamberlain and Sam Noakes both making big strides with thrilling performances. I feel a fight between these two is deserving of being a headline attraction in front of a bumper crowd, so we need to give it a little bit of time and get them both up to 12-14 fights before making it a reality.
They have both recently signed long-term contracts to remain with us at Queensberry, so we have the time to make it into the fight it should be. In the meantime they will be challenged in their development. Sam is already WBC International Silver champion and Mark will fight for a WBO international title in his next fight.
Dropping down a weight, we also have the British champion at super featherweight in Anthony Cacace. To my mind, ‘The Apache’ is genuinely the best of British across the board and quite simply is a class act when he steps into the ring – skilful and spiteful at the same time.
The problem has been a lack of momentum. You will recall how many attempts it took to get his first defence against Lyon Woodstock done and a subsequent date fell through due to injury.
If Anthony can put a run of fights together then a world title will be his for the taking because he is that good. I sincerely hope 2022 is the year where things fall into place for Anthony and he can fulfil his world class potential.
Another who has been a bit stop-start over the years is Ryan Garner but he has now got his eyes firmly on the prize and has totally dedicated himself to the sport and the work that needs to be put in.
Ryan, I believe, now needs to be properly stepped up to allow him to demonstrate his obvious talent. It is time for him to really become a television attraction in his own right and show us why we should be nudging him up the card with every fight.
His performances against a couple of opponents he knows he should be too good for have been a little bit sloppy, but I put this down to him trying too hard to impress and going for the show stopping finish.
He will tell you himself that he needs a bit of the fear-factor to come into play to bring the best out of him and that is what he will get from now on. Ryan has always been a special talent and it would be a particular thrill for me to see him successfully step up the levels.
Our interest in the featherweight division is strong and headed up by the WBC International Silver champion Louie Lynn, who is as fan-friendly and exciting as they come. Unfortunately, Louie sustained a nasty cut to his forehead in overcoming the also then unbeaten Amin Jahanzeb last year and this stalled him a little, but he will be back soon and there will be no holding him back.
We also have Nick Ball in the running for a shot at the British title. Nick, from the renowned Everton Red Triangle Gym, is a ferocious and powerful competitor who has declared himself ready to take on all comers.
There is a thriving scene at super bantamweight with some terrific fights to be made. Jason Cunningham – the European, British and Commonwealth champion – is clearly well placed to look upwards towards a world title tilt, while I still have every confidence that Brad Foster will come again after losing his belts by such a narrow margin to Jason.
Chris Bourke, another of our WBC International Silver champs, is desperate to get himself into the multiple title mix, as is Liam Davies, who also holds a WBC strap. Then there is the formidable Andrew Cain, who would fight King Kong if we put that fight on the table.
Andrew, another from the Everton Red Triangle – along with the impressive Brad Strand – is an uncompromising character who wants his boxing career to travel in the fast lane. He is a brutal puncher with the ability to bully opponents, but he can also do it the other way and possesses an array of boxing skills and clever footwork.
Andrew is a big one to watch in 2022 and I anticipate it being a breakthrough year for him.
Finally, at bantamweight, I must mention Dennis McCann, who has just turned 21 and I believe will soon be ready to be fighting for titles. Dennis has got the lot, he can box, he can fight, has got lightning speed and considerable power. He has also got a character that people can only warm to.
I have stuck as far as I can to discussing the prospects of our fighters who are at, or soon will be, at championship level and those who I feel will make a massive impact across 2022.
Of course, as everyone knows, we’ve got a bumper crop of elite young talents on our books and they too will be a huge part of what we do this year. The popular ‘Prospect Shows’ will be back, giving our youngsters every opportunity to shine and showcase themselves on a live TV platform.
Our March start cannot come quickly enough for me and, as you can see, we have so much to look forward to.