Wembley Arena Boxing Special Round-Up

Saturday saw Sky Sports and Frank Warren Promotions organize a three-hour live special to highlight some of the young boxers that their promoter is already predicting will be part of a new golden age for British boxing. While the event was plagued with problems including British champion Danny Williams pulling out with an injury at the last minute, the Wembley Arena show delivered plenty of action with Kevin Mitchell earning a shot at the WBO Lightweight Title, Nathan Cleverly winning the European Light-Heavyweight Title and several of Warren’s younger boxers securing important victories.

The biggest news was that Kevin Mitchell had earned a surprise shot at the WBO Lightweight Title. After a restrained yet assured performance against Brendis Prescott to win the WBO Intercontinental Title (no, I don’t know what it is either) he again impressed, dismantling Ignacio Mendoza in just two rounds. In the first round he again showed his improved temperament, patiently feeling out his opponent but his old power was on display in the second round which he ended with one, devastating right hand. What was really encouraging about his performance was how focused Mitchell was at the task in hand, adding greater technical sophistication to his undoubted knockout power. For example, even though his right hand was a beautiful, single punch KO he was still looking for the combination even as Mendoza was starting to fall.

It was expected that this would simply move Mitchell into contention for one of the WBO Lightweight Titles later in the year, especially given the less than top-draw quality of his opponent. Luckily for Mitchell, his date with destiny was unexpectedly and rapidly moved forward. Firstly, Michael Katsidis’ defense of his ‘interim’ version of the title against Robert Guerrero was canceled due to sad news that the challenger’s wife was suffering from cancer. This allowed the WBO to make Mitchell its new number one contender and give the fighters twenty-eight days to agree terms. Secondly, the ‘full’ champion Juan Manuel Marquez vacated his title to pursue more high profile matches at light-welterweight against either Amir Khan or more likely Ricky Hatton. Mitchell vs. Katsidis should be a great fight as Katsidis’ all-action approach should mesh well with the aggressive, power hitting style of Mitchell.

Mitchell wasn’t the only British fighter who boxed himself into world-title contention, with Welsh light-heavyweight Nathan Cleverly taking a massive leap forward by winning the vacate European Title. Cleverly really is something special having a perfect record of 19-0, winning his last six matches within the distance and now sporting three titles round his waist (Commonwealth, British and European) before his 23rd birthday. What is even more remarkable is that he’s done all this while still being a part-time boxer, combining his burgeoning fight career with his university studies.

Despite that distraction (indeed he had several exams in January) he put in a first-class performance against Antonio Brancalion, taking advantage of his opponent’s failure to keep his head down and properly protect his chin. He took full control of the fight in the fourth round, putting in an astonishing performance as he picked apart the Italian, connecting with over half his punches and securing the knockdown just as the round ended. Cleverly finished him in the fifth, landing several unanswered shots after pinning Brancalion against the ropes. After this performance and given the relative lack of top contenders at light heavyweight, Cleverly’s camp is already talking about him fighting for a world title by the end of the year. With Cleverly planning to go full-time in the summer after completing his final set of exams, he’ll soon be to dedicate more time on improving his game and getting that fourth title round his waist. 

The other two live fights saw two of the brightest prospects in British boxing continue their promising transition from amateur to professional. Olympic Gold Medalist James DeGale and former world amateur boxing champion Frankie Gavin secured comfortable victories in only their sixth professional fights. DeGale made short work of Matthew Barr, dispatching the journeyman in just two rounds while Frankie Gavin earned a shutout decision victory after outclassing Peter McDonagh for six rounds. Both fighters should develop into genuine contenders, with DeGale showing a killer instinct and punching power that he lacked in his earlier professional fights while Gavin’s slick, evasive counter-punching style led some of the more excitable British journalists to compare him with Floyd Mayweather Jr. However both need to fight a higher quality of opponent before we can judge just how good they really are.

The only notable match on the undercard was bad boy Derek Chisora’s quick stoppage victory against Carl Baker. Chisora was due to face British Heavyweight Champion Danny Williams, but the increasingly erratic champion withdrew with an injury just days before the show. Faced with an uninspiring match with Baker, Chisora tried to make headlines at the weigh-in by kissing (yes kissing) Baker during the staredown. While most just groaned at Chisora’s latest attempt to play Mike Tyson (he was recently suspended for biting an opponent and then mocked the fine as ‘chump change’) he made short work of the overmatched Sheffield heavyweight to go 13-0 and confirm himself as a fighter on the rise.

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