By Terence Dooley
Denton Vassell justified his early career hype by netting the Commonwealth welterweight title following a thrilling point’s win over Lee Purdy in April 2010. Vassell took the fight on twelve days notice, was stunned by a right hand in round seven and fought his way back in the next few stanzas, carrying the final sessions to take a unanimous decision over the man who went on to twice knock out Craig Watson when winning and defending the British 147lb title.
Vassell’s triumph over Purdy was bittersweet for the Ricky Hatton-promoted boxer, his father, Mancel, was ill in hospital at the time and later passed away from cancer ahead of Denton’s maiden defence, a decision win over experienced challenger Bethuel Uushona in March. Denton, nicknamed ‘Achilles’ due to his impressive physique, battled through the pain, overcame Uushona's’s negative tactics and later dedicated the fight to his father.
“My last title fight was frustrating because of his style of fighting but boxing throws that up. My dad had passed away; it was in my head even though I tried to put it out. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do in the fight. I’m learning anyway so it was a good experience. The twelve rounds taught me a lot,” revealed Denton as he recalled the painful build-up.
Ironically, Mancel had disapproved of Denton’s decision to become a fighter when the youngster turned his back on bodybuilding at the age of fifteen to purse a career in pugilism. This move was rewarded with a 2006 ABA welterweight title win. Although still nervous about his son’s sporting direction, Mancel supported Denton’s new path after witnessing his determination to succeed.
“He knew I enjoyed it,” mused Vassell as talk turned to his father’s feelings about the sport, “he also knew that I trained hard and he believed that I would get to where I needed to go. I’ve done well so far, my dad isn’t here anymore but my mum has got to see it all.”
Indeed, thoughts of his father’s acceptance of his choice helped Vassell to make the resolution to train through his grief in order to honour the Bethuel date. With Denton telling me that his dad would have wanted him to fulfil the commitment to defend against the then-undefeated Namibian.
“The main I was thinking about was that my dad wouldn’t have wanted me to pull out the fight after training so hard. Life goes on, that is how my dad lived his life so he wouldn’t have wanted me back on the shelf, he’d have wanted me to win the fight for him,” his declaration.
“My dad was in hospital for the Purdy fight as well [he was taken in on the eve of the bout]. But I went out there, fought Lee and took the belt to the hospital bedside for him to see it. He told me that he knew I’d do it as long as I’d trained hard and believed in myself, he was proud of me.”
The prospect received his biggest scare to date in round seven of the Purdy dust up, taking a huge right hand after deciding to turn southpaw, a move that almost cost him dearly and resulted in a dressing down from trainer Bob Shannon when Denton returned to the corner.
“Believe it or not I can actually fight southpaw,” his summation of the lapse of judgement. “I was getting lazy and complacent in that fight, kind of bored because he was doing the same thing so I switched off a little bit. When he caught me with that right hand I woke up. I went at him, did what I do and got the win.
“I didn’t realize how exciting the fight was until someone told me we were in the running for ‘Fight of the year’ lists; we both put in a hard twelve round bout. His recent form has showed how good my win was and how good I am. I boxed him on two week’s notice, it was my first twelve rounder and I had all that stuff about my dad's cancer on my back. It was also my first title fight, my first headline billing and I think I handled it well, seeing how he did against Craig Watson gave me confidence.
“When Purdy stung me it woke me up. I have got a strong chin; people know this by looking at me as I’ve got strong legs. That shot focused me. Bob told me to concentrate after that, we knew I could do the rounds, that I was fit and strong, so I put it behind me. It was good to show my chin, my fitness and that I can box. I’ve made good ground and am here to win more titles.”
Vassell had waited a long time to hear ‘…and the new’. Expectation overcame nerves, Vassell soaked up every moment ahead of his Commonwealth coronation. Saying, “It was mad, crazy to hear those words. I knew I had it won but hearing it officially was something else.”
Denton is currently 18-0 (9), he is ticking over in the gym and waiting on news of his next opponent. Promotional stable mate Matthew Hatton holds the IBF International crown, the EBU belt is due to be contested by Daniele Petrucci and Leonard Bundu after a draw in their first meeting, and fellow Brit Kell Brook looks set to contest a world title sooner rather than later leaving Vassell with limited options as he moves into 2012. However, the 27-year-old believes that Team Hatton will deliver him a big fight as long as he continues to stay amongst the Ws.
“Kell Brook is way ahead of the likes of me, he’s going on for world title shots, Matthew’s in the same stable as me, he’s moving on and I hope to follow him,” he enthused. “It is great to see Matthew doing so well, he has come on so much since joining Bob, people don’t realize how durable he is, how good his defence is. Going twelve rounds with Saul Alvarez [for the IBF light-middleweight crown] was amazing, he did so well, training with him gives me confidence and Bob adds to that as well.
“Matthew is fit enough to do the tough championship rounds, people underestimate him but I know how good a lad he is – he deserves everything he gets. I hope I can follow him for the European title, the Hattons have looked after me well by getting me the Commonwealth title shot – I’d like to step up again by going for the European.”
As for the names on the British horizon, Vassell is a firm advocate of running your own race, revealing that he does not worry about the division’s domestic danger men. “They all have two arms, two legs, why worry about one fighter? This is boxing, styles mix and you can’t stress thinking about it. I’m a person who can relax. What comes will come – I know I’m ready for anyone at my weight.”
Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather operate further up the ladder. A long time Berto fan, Vassell feels that Andre has recovered well after losing to Ortiz in April. “I like Berto”, he admitted, “there’s something about him, he’s not got the best chin but he’s a nice little boxer.
“I like Ortiz as well, Mayweather, Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton when he was about. Ricky was aggressive – I loved the way he wore people down with body shots. He was a really exciting fighter. Ricky helps me a lot. When he watches me spar or on the bags he gives me so many tips because we have a similar style of fighting. I can actually hear him from ringside during my fights. You get selective listening, I hear Bob as well, and mainly Bob as he’s my trainer, but you do catch Ricky’s advice.”
He added: “[Mike] Tyson’s another one of my favourites; he was aggressive, fast, strong chin, power and had a good defence when he was young. Jack Dempsey is another one.”
As the conversation wound down, talk turned to a huge shadow hanging over the sport, the sense of disappointment surrounding Floyd and Manny’s inability to agree terms. With Denton explaining that pro-Manny or Floyd arguments are a waste of time until we see the two meet in the ring.
“Everyone sees Mayweather out-boxing Manny so I can see it being a boring fight if there’s holding and moving from Floyd. But Floyd’s been caught clean recently by Mosley, he took the shots, though, so it is a tough one. Like most fights it will come down to who really wants it. I wouldn’t put a bet on it because boxing is so unpredictable, it comes down to who trains hardest and wants it most.”
As for his own career, “I just want to get busier, step up the ladder and continue towards my goals,” his last words on his own trajectory.
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