Roy Gumbs: “Groves v Eubank Jr is the most exciting fight in England this year!”

Roy Gumbs has a unique claim to fame.

The former British and Commonwealth middleweight champion was the first British licence holder to challenge for the world Super-middleweight title when he travelled to South Korea to face the IBF Champion Chong Pal Park in 1985.

It began a long and proud tradition for British fighters in the super-middleweight division which continues this weekend with an all British world title fight.

George Groves the WBA ‘Super’ World Super-middleweight champion defends his title against the enigmatic IBO Super-Middleweight champion, Chris Eubank Jr on the 17th February in the Manchester Arena. The bout is one half of the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament.

Speaking to AboutBoxing.net on the phone from his home in Dubai, Roy Gumbs seems genuinely excited about this domestic battle for world honours.

“I think the clash of styles will make it one of the most exciting fights of the year in England,” he says.

“They are both hyped, this thing has been in the making for a while. They are both confident, they are both ready and I think that’s what will make this a great fight.”

Former middleweight champion Roy Gumbs

The fight seems to have all the elements of being a potential classic. George Groves is approaching the stage of his career where it seems appropriate to call him a veteran. A classic boxer-puncher with solid amateur pedigree, he announced himself on the world stage with his gallant challenges in 2013 and 2014 against Carl Froch but it took him another two attempts before he finally lifted a world title with his sixth round stoppage of Fedor Chudinov in May 2017.

The fight against Chris Eubank Jr will be Groves’ second defence of his ‘Super’ WBA title.

While Groves has a good amateur pedigree and solid professional credentials, Chris Eubank Jr has had a rather unorthodox approach to a career in professional boxing. Guided by his father, the former WBO Super-Middleweight champion Chris Eubank Sr. Junior has essentially honed his craft in professional gyms in America.

Eubank Jr’s style is flashy, relying on his athleticism, hand speed and his trademark uppercuts. Like his father he has a flair for the dramatic, albeit a much more subtle approach.

The biggest names on his resume include Billy Joe Saunders who inflicted the only professional loss on his record in November 2014, Gary ‘Spike,’ O’Sullivan who he stopped in seven rounds in December 2015 and Arthur Abraham who Eubank Jr defeated by a rather lob sided decision in July 2017.

For Roy Gumbs he believes the result will be decided by boxing fundamentals. “I think the one who will stay on the front foot for most part will win the fight. They are both gutsy fighters so it’s a matter of who wants to win the most, who has got the bigger heart and who’s not just looking for the banana skin on the canvas.”

There have been question marks over Groves stamina in the past, he was stopped in the 8th and 9th rounds of his fights with Froch and he seemed to fade in the later rounds of his fight with Badou Jack in 2015. However since then he has teamed up with current trainer Shane McGuigan, winning four of his last six by stoppage.

The fight with Groves will be Eubank Jr’s fourth fight in the Super-Middleweight division. He has fought for most of his career at middleweight and the highest profile name he has beaten at super-middleweight was a 37 year old Arthur Abraham. Eubank Jr’s record may flatter to deceive meaning the Groves fight may finally settle the argument on whether Junior is a legitimate Super-Middleweight or not.

Speaking to Roy Gumbs it becomes apparent that he sees the outcome of the fight being decided by an old boxing adage.

“Groves is accustomed to fighting bigger men,” says Gumbs, “He is used to being in there with bigger men and pushing them around. In my day we used to say, ‘a good big ‘un usually beats a good small ‘un.’”

Perhaps the most positive thing about Groves v Eubank Jr is that it has been made possible by the advent of the WBSS. Some have argued that the knockout style tournament is the future of professional boxing and this is something that is shared by the former British and Commonwealth champion.

“With so many sanctioning bodies in boxing it has taken away from the sport. You want to see the best fighters fighting for the title, but with the WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, what you really get is the best ‘contenders,’ fighting each other and it dilutes the standard of what is meant by ‘championship.”

“At least the WBSS is a good opportunity for champions coming through and to ensure the best fighters are fighting for the title.”

It had been hoped that the eventual winner of the WBSS would fight James DeGale, but the former IBF Super-Middleweight champion was recently dethroned by American Caleb Truax in a stunning upset.

Roy Gumbs who knows a thing or two about set-backs in his career provides these comforting words to the former champ, “My advice to James, is to remember that champions were once contenders who refused to give up. I think he’s got a lot going for him and he should stay with it.”

Roy Gumbs currently resides in Dubai with his wife but there is never a dull moment for the former British and Commonwealth middleweight champion. In 2016 he featured in the Fighting Fit Dubai TV show as the resident boxing expert, helping train white collar fighters for a televised boxing tournament.

Roy is not the only member of the Gumbs household involved in the showbiz industry. Roy’s son, Dwayne Gumbs is currently crowd funding a short film that he has written. ‘Holy Beef,’ is a comedy following a day in the life of a young and up and coming group of Grime MCs. The film is part of Film London’s prestigious London Calling Scheme.

As expected Roy Gumbs is very supportive of his son’s project, “Kudos to my son, he has gone out there and rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into a field that is as brutal as boxing. He has done a great job so far and my whole heart goes out to him.”

Groves v Eubank Jr is a pay-per-view event and is available through ITV Box Office. Coverage on ITV Box Office begins at 7pm on the 17th February 2018.

To view the ‘Holy Beef,’ Crowd Funding page please follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/holy-beef-a-short-comedy-backed-by-film-london-music

The Price of War: Benn v McClellan

The Price of War: Benn v McClellan

Sitting at her kitchen table Lisa McClellan studies the black and white photograph of her brother, former world middleweight champion; Gerald McClellan. It captures the fighter accompanied by his entourage, his name emblazed across his boxing robe, as he makes the short journey from his dressing room to the ring to challenge Nigel Benn for the WBC super-middleweight title in London on the 25th February 1995.

“This picture makes me wonder, what went through his mind,” she solemnly admits.

This was the final fight of Gerald McClellan’s boxing career.

Despite being one of the most dramatic fights ever contested in a British ring, testing both the courage and endurance of both combatants the bout was marred by tragedy as McClellan suffered near fatal injuries which have left him permanently disabled.

McClellan lives today in the small town of Freeport, Illinois two hours west of Chicago. He is blind, requires the use of a wheelchair and suffers difficulty with comprehension. He survives with the help of his close family, particularly his sisters who provide twenty four hour care.

Gerard McClellan was not the first, or the last casualty of the ring but his bout with Nigel Benn was significant in that it managed to completely strip boxing of all its glamour and expose the raw violence and inhumanity of the sport. It underlined the vulnerability of fighters and demonstrated the ultimate price that is paid by both professionals when things go wrong in a boxing contest.

In February 1995 Gerald McClellan was the mandatory challenger for Nigel Benn’s super-middleweight world title. Already a two time middleweight champion he was once described as, “the most violent man ever to put on a pair of gloves.” McClellan was an explosive talent in the ring with one of the greatest knockout ratios in middleweight history.

He carried two losses on his record, each on points and both over eight rounds. He attributed the first loss to a lack of sparring and the second to being overworked. He had rebounded from these setbacks with twenty one straight victories with only three of his opponents having gone further than three rounds.

McClellan was no stranger to a British ring. He had won the WBO World Middleweight title vacated by Chris Eubank with a first round stoppage of the ferocious John Mugabi at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1991. In May 1993, he acquired the WBC World middleweight title with a fifth round stoppage of renowned power puncher Julian Jackson. He made three defences, knocking out each opponent in the first round before relinquishing the title to campaign as a super-middleweight.

From his training camp for the Benn fight in the Peacock Gym, Canning Town a supremely confident McClellan told The Independent’s Ken Jones, “I always go for a quick finish and I’m confident a knockout will happen. Of course it makes sense to train for twelve rounds but Benn isn’t going very far believe me.”

McClellan had an appetite for destruction. He regularly drew parallels between his mentality as a fighter and the ferocious fighting ability of a pit bull. He sported a tattoo on his bicep of his prized pit bull, ‘Deuce,’ a nod to his affinity for dog fighting. McClellan’s familiarity with violence continued throughout his pre-fight rhetoric, “Boxing is war,” he said, “and in war you have to be prepared to die.”

There was perhaps no other fighter at the time more prepared to go to war in a boxing ring than Nigel Benn. A former soldier from London’s East End, Benn had punched his way into the public consciousness combining bombastic performances with a degree of vulnerability that always left fans on the edge of their seats. Outside the ring he cultivated a hard man image which ran parallel to his hedonistic lifestyle. He was rightly regarded as the wild man of British boxing.

Benn had captured world titles in two divisions and the only blemishes on his professional record were in fights against Michael Watson and Chris Eubank but at 31 years old he was approaching the veteran stage of his career. A dangerous mandatory defence was something he could have done without but Benn’s options were limited.

The week prior to the fight, Nigel Benn was in court over a financial dispute with his former trainer Brian Lynch. He had also recently split from his last trainer Jimmy Tibbs over monetary issues and his promoter Frank Warren was threatening to sue him if he didn’t help publicise the fight with McClellan.

Benn had developed a reputation for not fulfilling his promotional duties in recent fights. He had more pressing issues on his mind. In 1993 he had split from his wife Sharron and a year later he had moved with his new partner Carolyne to Los Angeles. He was struggling to cope without his children and it was an emotional low for Benn who had gone as far as enlisting the help of celebrity hypnotist Paul McKenna to ease his suffering.

Nothing in the pre-fight build up favoured a Benn victory. The fight was billed as “Sudden Impact,” an overt reference to the anticipated fallout between two dynamic punchers on a collision course destined for the boxing ring. Nobody in the British boxing press gave Nigel Benn a chance. Added to that, McClellan’s credentials saw him installed as the heavy favourite with the bookmakers with Benn a 4-1 underdog. The more cynical observers might have suggested that the powers that be were conspiring against Nigel Benn.

McClellan’s promoter Don King was promoting the fight in the UK in association with Frank Warren. Benn had be uncooperative in the past with both King and Warren in the promotion of his contests. King saw McClellan as the natural rival to the premier super-middleweight at the time; IBF champion Roy Jones Jr. McClellan had beaten Jones in the amateurs but to make a showdown in the professional ranks as big as it could be, McClellan needed a title to make it a unification fight.

As Benn would later say, “They only brought him over here to bash me up,” confirming what the dogs on the street already knew.

Despite being the overwhelming betting favourite McClellan was not without his own pre-fight preoccupations. McClellan had turned professional under the manager and trainer Emmanuel Steward at the Kronk gym in Detroit, but a year before the fight with Benn the partnership ended when McClellan felt Steward was devoting too much of his time to other fighters in his stable. Speaking to Boxing Monthly Steward said of the split, “It wasn’t that I wouldn’t give him enough attention, but he started giving orders and that’s not the way I work.” Nevertheless, Steward was replaced with Stan Johnson who had been the G-Man’s first trainer. McClellan was eager to secure a fight with Roy Jones Jr and cement his own status as the biggest attraction outside the heavyweights. However, he would have to get past Nigel Benn first.

As the fight loomed the atmosphere surrounding it took on a life of its own. Danny Flexen the former publishing manager for Boxing News was in the crowd in the London arena, “The atmosphere was rabid and violent as if association with such a brutal fight had transcended the fight and permeated the crowd.”

The fight was a brutal almost primeval affair. “Never have I witnessed a fight of such intensity,” said the former editor of Boxing Monthly the late Glyn Leach, “The instinct that McClellan, and more particularly Benn called upon are buried deep in the mists of mankind’s long-forgotten past, centuries before such things as religion gradually brought man to his current state of sensibility. This was truly an unholy war.”

“That night Benn and McClellan brought to the ring all the ferocious intent the fight industry demands,” said The Guardian journalist and author Kevin Mitchell, whose book War Baby; The Glamour of Violence provides the definitive story on the events surrounding the Benn-McClellan fight.

The opening onslaught saw Benn punched completely out of the ring in the first round. The partisan crowd were banging on the walls of the arena to rouse Benn from his knockdown. He rallied in the second driving McClellan back with his power punching. The ferocious exchanges continued. It seemed Benn was wilting in the sixth and he dropped to the canvas in the eighth under a barrage of blows from the American. The end seemed in sight but Benn battled back once more dropping McClellan in the ninth with a powerful right hander.

In the tenth round an exhausted McClellan dropped to one knee, after an accidental head-butt. At the end of the round he would take another knee. He was blinking uncontrollably while the French referee Alfred Asaro administered the count.

Renowned boxing trainer Brendan Ingle, who during the 90s trained an impressive stable of fighters including; Herol Graham, Johnny Nelson and Naseem Hamed from his Wincobank gym in Sheffield was working as an assistant corner man for the McClellan camp.”It was the most savage fight I have ever seen from the corner,” he recalls. “To me it was obvious a few rounds earlier that something wasn’t right with McClellan. McClellan’s chief second, Stan Johnson was so wrapped up in the fight, which his fighter was still very much in, that maybe he threw caution to the wind.”

The visceral feeling for the 12,000 fans in the arena and the 17 million viewers watching from the safety of their living rooms, was that McClellan had quit at the end of the tenth round. Former world lightweight champion Jim Watt providing commentary for UK viewers on ITV exclaimed to his colleague Reg Gutteridge, “He’s quit Reg! He’s quit!” The US TV coverage provided by Showtime saw their resident ‘Fight Doctor,’ Ferdie Pacheco comment, “I never saw a guy quit in a corner like that.”

Quitting is regarded as a cardinal sin in boxing, but no one had realised that when McClellan collapsed in his corner he had a blood clot on his brain. Even as McClellan was removed from the ring on a stretcher he perpetuated his ‘quit,’ theory in his post-fight interview with Benn. Perhaps he should be forgiven, McClellan was ahead on all three Judges’ score cards when the bout was halted and Pacheco wasn’t the only person at ringside who thought McClellan quit.

It only served to prove that there is no sentimentality in boxing. The Benn-McClellan fight validated the unspoken belief that fighters are expected to lay down their lives in the name of entertainment. Nigel Benn put it in the simplest terms he could, “This is what you wanted to see. You got what you wanted to see.”

“The Benn-McClellan fight is boxing’s dirtiest secret,” said journalist and author Ben Dirs in his book The Hate Game, “It was everything most fans wanted. Except, the someone nearly dying bit. Only when fighters do get hurt do people question their own blood-lust.” Danny Flexen recalls the pandemonium in the arena following the Benn win, “Fights broke out in the crowd, and chairs were slung around but the elation quickly turned to deflation as people gradually realised how much trouble McClellan was in.”

After his collapse McClellan received immediate medical attention and was rushed to the nearby trauma unit of the Royal London Hospital where the blood clot was removed from his brain. It should be noted that the five doctors, including an anaesthetist, four paramedics and two ambulances that were on hand to provide the lifesaving treatment on McClellan were only there as a result of the reforms introduced in boxing following the inadequate first response treatment Michael Watson had received when he suffered a similar injury in the his world title fight with Chris Eubank in 1991.

Following his post-fight interviews with the media Nigel Benn returned to his dressing room and collapsed with exhaustion. He received treatment and for a brief time he was reunited with his opponent in the Royal London Hospital. He was released the next day when an x-ray indicated that his injuries did not extend to a broken jaw as previously feared. It would be twelve years before both fighters would be reunited.

While Gerald McClellan lay in a hospital bed the world of boxing was coming under fire. James Tye the director general of the British Safety Council said, “I’m a little bit horrified, because right from the beginning of the fight there wasn’t much boxing. It was just one bloke trying to injure the other bloke’s brain.” It was a harsh observation, and even harder to ignore given that one of the combatants was now fighting for his life.

Harry Mullen, the former editor of Boxing News said in the immediate aftermath of the fight, “Gerald McClellan is on a life support machine today because he boxed, and because boxing is a dangerous sport. That is the hard fact we must face.”

It was getting harder to justify the sport’s place in civilised society. British boxing had faced a quick succession of ring fatalities with the passing of Bradley Stone and James Murray and it seemed the resolve of even the most reverent supporters of boxing was being tested. Despite producing a career defining performance Nigel Benn was so affected by the tragedy that he deemed the win, ‘worthless.’

Glyn Leach writing in Boxing Monthly rallied to the defence of the noble art, “Despite what outsiders might think, boxers do not deliberately seek to do such damage to each other…incidents such as this are rare, as are fights of the intensity of Benn-McClellan…and while trying to convey my genuine feeling for those involved, I cannot term two men giving of their best as ‘worthless’. Far from it-Benn-McClellan was magnificent and deserves to be remembered as such. Anything else would be an insult.”

Boxing is one of the oldest and most resilient sports in the world. It is a testament to the sport that it didn’t fall into obscurity after the tragedy that befell McClellan. Perhaps what repelled the public from boxing continued to draw them in.

Gerald McClellan spent eleven days in a coma and was left with extensive brain damage. He returned to the United States in August 1995 with the $54,000 he was paid for the fight and an additional $100,000 from Don King as part of an insurance policy. He returned to his home in Freeport, faced with annual medical bills in the region of $70,000.

In the years that followed the McClellan family were locked in a lengthy dispute with their brothers’ former promoter Don King. This included a very public row with King over his claims that he paid for McClellan’s medical bills, which he produced receipts amounting to $226,798. There was also great animosity between the McClellan family and Nigel Benn relating to comments he made to the press in the aftermath of the fight.

Nigel Benn may have been the victor but he did not escape the fight completely unscathed. “The consequences of Benn and McClellan’s total commitment for the entertainment of others were brutal,” said Kevin Mitchell, “Gerald suffered more by some distance but Nigel suffered too, spiritually and it has taken him years to deal with it.”

Despite winning the defining fight of his career Benn was not the same after the McClellan fight. He lost his world title to Sugar Boy Malinga and retired two years later following back-to-back losses to Steve Collins. Life after boxing was difficult and at one point Benn attempted to take his life through suicide. He overcame his demons outside the ring to be ordained as a born again preacher and he now lives in Australia. Speaking to The Ring magazine in 2015 Benn said, “I rarely think about it to be honest and it’s only discussed when someone bring it up. It’s part of my life that’s behind me and I don’t really dwell on it.”

In 2007, the fighters were reunited as part of a fundraiser in London for McClellan. Reports indicate it was an emotional night and Benn confirmed that he spoke with McClellan who acknowledged that it was an accident and that he didn’t blame Benn for what has happened. The reconciliation between the fighters has not stopped others from trying to determine what led to McClellan’s life altering injuries.

The 2011 ITV documentary The Fight of their Lives, explored the factors that contributed to the tragedy. The French referee who couldn’t speak English, the long count that allowed Benn back into the fight in the opening round, McClellan coming in underweight; an indicator of poor preparations, McClellan’s inexperienced corner led by the Sailor capped trainer Stan Johnson, McClellan’s constant blinking not being checked by the referee; all these issues were explored but all it does is remind us of the inherent risks in boxing.

It is over twenty years since the tragedy and Gerald McClellan remains the man most damaged by tragedy in a British ring. Unfortunately he must live with the consequences of being a professional fighter every day for the rest of his life. The care that he requires is expensive and his medical bills have gobbled up his career earnings and insurance policies. His family established a trust in his name and continue to host fundraisers to assist with his ongoing care.

Much had been made about his ferocious ring persona but Martin Bowers from the Peacock Gym, in Canning town, where McClellan trained while in London remembers a distinctly different side to the man, “McClellan had got a bad press around the time of the fight but he didn’t bring any of that into the gym. He never said anything untoward about anyone. He wasn’t aloof, he just did his training, had his coffee, checked his weight and talked about his dogs. He was just a genuine guy interested in his dogs and his boxing.”

Despite everything that has been written about Gerald McClellan over the years he was not the bogeyman, he is just a man. A brother, a father and someone’s son. As is Nigel Benn who continues to bear the unspeakable grief that men who have maimed or killed another in the ring must bear. As Kevin Mitchell puts it, “They suffered enormously for our pleasure,” which remains a hard pill for fans to swallow.

For the arm chair critics, keyboard warriors and internet trolls who criticise, laugh and sneer at fighters when they fall from grace or slump to defeat they would do well to respect the fact that fighters put everything on the line when they step into the ring. Anything less would be an insult.

If you would like to donate to the Gerald McClellan Trust then you can send a cheque or money order to:

Gerald McClellan Trust

C/o Fifth Third Bank

899 E. Wyandotte

Freeport, IL 61032

Or make an online donation via his website: http://www.geraldmcclellan.com

If you would like to support Ring 10 Veteran Boxing Foundation of New York, who help disadvantaged ex boxers, then visit : http://www.ring10.org

If you would like to help raise funds in the UK for the Ringside Rest and Care Home, a thirty-six bed residential care facility for ex boxers then visit: https://www.gofundme.com/the-rinsgide-rest-amp-care-home-for-exboxers

Journeymen; Boxing’s Unsung Heroes

In May 2016, undefeated super-middleweight Callum Smith entered the ring in front of a sold out home crowd at Goodison Park. His opponent that night was the unknown Cesar Hernan Reynoso, who had never fought outside of his native Argentina in his five years as a professional.

Perhaps Reynoso could have been spared his airfare from Buenos Aires as the hard punching Smith dropped the Argentinian three times on route to a sixth round stoppage. Despite being out of his depth, Reynoso produced a spirited performance, taking Smith’s best shots, landing some of his own and overall making his opponent work for the victory.

Fighters like Reynoso serve a valuable purpose in boxing. For promoters eager to develop a prospect into a genuine world class fighter they need opponents who will be competitive, take the prospect a few rounds but who ultimately lose.

It sounds unfair, almost as if boxing lacks integrity but in reality this is the business end of the sport. Boxing needs losers like a plant needs water.

These so-called, ‘professional losers,’ are known as ‘Journeymen.’ Perhaps a fairer definition of their title is that they are fighters who have ability but are not outstanding. At least not on paper.

“People don’t understand what a Journeyman is,” explains Lewis, ‘Poochi,’ Van Poetsch, a former soldier and retired ring veteran. “Nine times out of ten, a Journeyman is there to put a win on his opponent’s record.”

The 26 year old Van Poetsch should know, in a professional career spanning four years he amassed a record of 4-46-1 (0 KOs). In that time he served as the ‘opponent,’ for six fighters making their professional debuts and he lost to these novices on each occasion.
During his career he fought a host of domestic names including; Sam Eggington, Lee Markham and Curtis Woodhouse. He lost each of those encounters but he believes the role of a Journeyman is vital in the development of fighters.

“A Journeyman’s job is to separate the men from the boys, the less talented fighters from the better ones. If you feel your opponent is on a level par with you then you have to push them, otherwise they are going to end up being a Journeyman as well.”

Journeymen have elevated losing to an art form. It requires skill to lose a fight every month and still be able to turn a profit. In 2015, Van Poetsch fought sixteen times, winning only once but there are valid reasons why Journeymen shouldn’t bite off more than they can chew.

“If you are a Journeyman who wants to fight every fight then it’s going to be a short career for you,” explains Van Poetsch, “I’ve been stopped nine times, but I’ve only been stopped properly about three or four times. On all the other occasions it’s been the result of a cut. If you get injured then you get suspended for a month, so that’s a month with no pay.”

It doesn’t pay to take risks in the ring but that doesn’t stop some Journeymen from wanting to take the fight to their opponent.

“I wouldn’t call myself a Journeyman,” says Harry Matthews, “I would class myself as a ‘danger-man,’ because I always turn up to fight and try to win.”

“I’ve not got the best record,” Matthews admits, “but I’ve never passed up a challenge. I’ve always stepped up to the plate and I’ve fought quite a few top lads.”

Part-time personal trainer Matthews 28, holds a professional record of 14-21-2 (2KOs) and has fought Nick Blackwell, Lee Markham, Tom Doran and Chris Eubank Jr. It becomes apparent from speaking with both Van Poetsch and Matthews that neither men started their career with the intention of becoming a Journeyman.

At one point in his professional career Harry Matthews was 9-0 (2 KOs) but a loss to fellow journeyman Ciaran Healy in Belfast on the undercard of Paul McCloskey’s defence of his European title against Giuseppe Lauri in 2010 shifted the dynamic of his career.

“I don’t know what happened me,” explains Matthews, “Maybe the occasion got to me, I was 21 years old at the time and I don’t think I took boxing as seriously as I should have. If I was in that position now I would handle it a bit better because I am more mature. It was probably all due to a lack of experience.”

Van Poetsch offers a different perspective on why he became a journeyman, “when I was scheduled to fight on a show I would have to sell a certain allocation of tickets by a certain deadline. If you don’t sell your tickets then they either pull you off the show or you are made box for free. I just decided I didn’t want the stress of having to sell tickets. I am from a small town in Gloucestershire so it’s hard. I decided it was much easier to be on the road to turn up, get paid and do what I do.”

The issue of ticket selling is a real pressure in the life of a Journeyman as Matthews confirms, “It’s a hard sport to make money in. When you are selling tickets you can’t have your top line until you’ve sold your purse, your opponent’s share and your promoters cut.”

“I couldn’t live on boxing without my work as a personal trainer or my sponsor,” he adds, “If I’ve made a loss on tickets I’ve been able to make it back with sponsorship. I wonder sometimes would I be better off on the road just fighting for the money.”

Seeking fortune on the road isn’t always the answer either as Van Poetsch discovered, “There is a standard price for a four round fight, its £1000 but you pay 25% of that to your manager or trainer. Basically, you are left with £750 for twelve minutes work.”

“Sure everyone says, ‘Yeah I’d go to Doncaster and get banged out for that kind of money,’ but what they do see is all the hard work behind the scenes, like the training and making weight.”

“Usually I would get a call on short notice, but if I said I wanted more money because I’ve cancelled plans, the promoter would say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Next thing you would see someone else getting the fight. It doesn’t matter how much you think you are worth, someone will always box for the fee the promoter is offering.”

Life as a road warrior isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, fighting up and coming fighters in their own backyard can be daunting, nobody expects the out of town fighter to do anything other than lose so when there are close contests the Journeyman can end up feeling more than a little disgruntled.

“I had a couple of fights on the road, won one and then got a few dodgy decisions,” explains Van Poetsch, “I’d be in a 50/50 fight and I’d quite clearly have taken three rounds but the judges would score it 10-10, or I would get one round. In the end, you wonder to yourself, what’s the point of turning up and trying to win?”

Boxing is subjective. In a close run contest a judge perhaps might be swayed by the crowd, they are only human and with that in mind Journeymen must win convincingly when fighting on the road.

The British Board of Control (BBofC) who regulate boxing in the UK insist that the standard judging and refereeing in the jurisdiction is of the highest quality. However you don’t need to be a world class judge to tell who would be expected to win a fight. “You just have to look at any boxing programme in the country and you can pick the winner yourself,” explains Matthews.

A fighter couldn’t do the job of a Journeyman without feeling a little sore about losing. It’s probably what keeps them motivated to come back every week and take on the challenge laid down by promoters and matchmakers.

Perhaps nobody outside of the boxers themselves will ever appreciate what it’s like to be a Journeyman. It can be a solitary existence at the best of times, training for fights they aren’t expected to win. It was the Journeyman lifestyle that eventually led Van Poetsch to hang up his gloves.

“I had started to fall out of love with boxing,” he admits, “I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, the travelling, making weight and waiting around for hours not knowing if you were going to be on a show. My favourite part of it all was the final bell.”

Journeymen don’t always get the opportunities they deserve for the service they provide boxing. However in March 2015, Lewis Van Poetsch fought Harry Matthews for the British Masters Bronze super-middleweight title.

“The fight with Harry Matthews was my first 8 round fight,” Van Poetsch recalls, “I knew Harry had been in with Eubank Jr and I thought I had better take care of myself.”

“My dream has always been to win a title,” explains Matthews, “It was a good night when I fought Van Poetsch. I had to sell enough tickets to cover my purse, his purse and sanction the fight. It turned out to be a nice little earner.”

“I knew Poochi was tough,’ admits Matthews, “he had fought a lot of good fighters on the road. I dropped him in the seventh with a body shot and then he came out in the last round and he gave me a fight.”

“I won the first few rounds but he won the fight on his work rate,” exclaims Van Poetsch, “I haven’t seen Harry since, but if we met again I’d probably have a beer with him.”

For Matthews the victory against Van Poetsch was a special moment in his career, “It was very emotional that night,” Matthews admits, “After all the setbacks, all the losses, feeling like I had never gone as far I should have in boxing, that was the night I wanted to go out and hold the belt up after winning. It may have been a British Masters title, but to me it meant the world.”

After the Matthews loss, Van Poetsch was back in action the following month. He would embark on a twenty eight fight losing streak, before he was scheduled to fight Andy Holmes in Hull in September 2016.

“My licence was due to expire in October, so I decided to take on Holmes as my retirement fight,” explains Van Poetsch, “The first round he came out swinging and I could see he wasn’t fit enough to maintain that pace.”

“As the fight progressed I started unloading punches and I began to catch him. I started enjoying it. It finished a draw which is as good as a win to a journeyman. At the end, I got a standing ovation from the crowd and I got a bit emotional because I knew I’d never box again.”

Van Poetsch has no regrets about retiring from boxing. He may not have had the glittering career that all fighters aspire to have but he gave his all as a loyal servant to boxing. He admits, “I wasn’t a diva. I just turned up and did what was expected of me. I was courteous and shook everyone’s hand. I wished everyone the best of luck and I prided myself in being a sportsman and a nice guy.” Van Poetsch is now training to be a barber.

For Matthews the wheels keep turning on his career. Since he beat Van Poetsch he has fought twice, winning one and losing the other. He remains determined to take something from boxing, “I’ve dedicated half my life to the sport. I’m not willing to quit until I at least get a house out of boxing.”

For fighters considered professional ‘losers,’ the desire and will to win is still strong in Journeymen. “You sometimes see these fighters who come out of nowhere and get a world title shot,” Matthews says, “Look at Mickey Ward, he had his own fair share of losses but he persevered and eventually won a version of the world title.”

“I’ve made a name for myself fighting big names,” says Matthews, “but I still have the drive to do better. I believe one day I’ll knock out someone who’s really good and it’ll all turn around for me.”

Harry Matthews will fight the undefeated Marcus Morrison on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s defence of his IBF heavyweight title against Eric Molina on 10th December 2016.

Fighting Fit Dubai: The reality TV show set to pack more than just a punch.

Boxing promoter Don King once said that you won’t find a reality TV show better than boxing because of the ups and downs fighters face and how the sport represents a metaphor for life.

With that in mind, it seems TV producers in Dubai have taken King’s advice literally.

Fighting Fit Dubai is a reality television series, with the idea of turning “ordinary people,” into the best versions of themselves by taking them on a life-changing journey to become champions of the boxing ring.

The series which was formerly known as White Collar DXB, is currently filming its second season and producers have adopted a new look and format for the show.

Contestants are split into two teams of eight, they take part in eight weeks of training before being pitted against one another in a boxing ring on the final week with the chance to be crowned Fighting Fit Dubai 2016 champions.

The only prerequisite is that contestants must not have had any previous boxing experience.

Despite the competitive nature of the show there is significant emphasis on strength, conditioning, nutrition, lifestyle and psychology.

Speaking to website Arabian Business producer Phil Griffiths from Nomad Productions explains, “The show is all about contestants of all shapes and sizes professions and nationalities, male and female, using the experience as a catalyst to change their lives.”

The first season of the series helped a make-up artist overcome her crippling anxiety and an ex-rugby player lose weight and regain his form. The second season will be aiming to build on this success and the producers have enlisted the help of a team of health and fitness experts to support contestants along the way.

Chris Miller owner of the Strength Gym in Dubai will be the strength and conditioning expert. He is joined by seven time Guinness world record holder and HUA fitness founder; Eva Clarke as the mental strength expert and health and nutrition expert; Vicki Tipper.

They are also joined by former British and Commonwealth middleweight boxing champion; Roy Gumbs who will assume the mantle of the show’s head boxing expert.

Former champ Roy Gumbs is the head boxing expert.

Speaking about the new head boxing expert producer Phil Griffiths said, “We can’t argue with Roy’s pedigree or character. We knew he’d be a massive asset to the show.”

“Roy’s main interest is to look after the contestants and help them improve their boxing techniques as they approach the final fight night.”

“There’s a blue team, a red team and a reserve team and he works across them all. He will provide the audience with a qualified view of how the contestants are progressing. Come fight night, we’ll see if he’s right.”

The former British and Commonwealth champion is delighted to be helping others in this new endeavour, “Working with these people gives me great satisfaction. I want to help them set personal goals and encourage them to be positive, passionate and persistent about achieving those goals.”

Gumbs added, “It’ll be a pleasure to pass on my knowledge and skills and to give these people the experience of what it’s like to be a boxer…but I also want them to enjoy themselves and have fun.”

Fighting Fit Dubai is currently filming and will be screened on Dubai Television channel OSN later in the year. To find out more about Fighting Fit Dubai follow the show on Facebook and Twitter; @FIGHTINGFITDXB.

Pictures courtesy of Facebook.

WEEKEND ROUND UP: Bellew wins world title in spectacular fashion

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Liverpool’s Tony Bellew finally got the fairy tale ending he dreamed of when he knocked out Ilunga Makabu in the third round to claim the WBC cruiserweight world title.

The opening round was a cagey affair, Bellew dominated but towards the end of the round Makabu sent Bellew to the canvas with a left hook.

Unhurt Bellew took the next round and in the third he backed his opponent up on to the ropes where he unleashed a barrage of punches which knocked his opponent out cold.

It was a spectacular finish to Bellew’s third world title challenger in front of a home crowd at Goodison park.

On the undercard Super-Middleweight Callum Smith extended his unbeaten run with a sixth round stoppage of Cesar Hernan Reynoso. It was a dominate performance by Smith who dropped his opponent three times, but the determined Reynoso made Smith work for the win and this will be invaluable experience for the young fighter from Liverpool.

On the previous evening, Scotland’s Ricky Burns became a three weight world champion with a eighth round stoppage of the thoroughly outclassed Michele Di Rocco for the vacant WBA Super- Lightweight Title at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.

Other results;

David Price TKO 2 Vaclav Pejsar; Heavyweight

Stephen Smith TKO 7 Daniel Brizuela; Super-Featherweight

Connor Benn W4 Luke Keleher; Super-Lightweight

WEEKEND REVIEW: Why fans should temper their criticisms of the latest #HayeDay

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Switzerland is famed for its chocolates, cheese, the Red Cross, relaxed banking practices and neutrality. However it seems, the country is not famed for producing elite heavyweights as UK boxing fans found out on Saturday night.

It was the latest instalment of “Haye Day,” which saw former WBA heavyweight world champion David Haye 35, continue his comeback from a three and a half year lay-off, with a second round stoppage of the previously undefeated Arnold Gjergjaj at the O2 Arena, London.

The Kosovo born, Swiss resident, Gjergjaj 29, was about as offensively minded as the Swiss army were during both World Wars. He was badly exposed and visited the canvas three times before the referee Terry O’Connor intervened to wave the fight off.

It was nothing more than a tune-up fight for Haye who has former WBO heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs in his sights for September this year.

The 44 year old former champion Briggs also featured on the same bill, with a first round stoppage of Argentina’s Emilio Ezequiel Zarate. Briggs utilised his superior speed, head movement and vicious body punches to beat any resistence out of the thoroughly outclassed Zarate.

The entire bill was broadcast on the digital TV channel Dave better known for its comedy programming more so than its live sporting events. It was no laughing matter as there was a severe backlash on social media in respect of the quality of matchmaking on the card. Fans were further exasperated by the WWE-esque confrontation at ringside between Briggs and Haye after the Londoner’s victory.

Fans demand competitive matchmaking and certainly no one wants to see a fighter out of their depth and at risk of getting hurt. However one would be naive to think that business in boxing is anything other than brutal.

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Haye completely outclassed his opponent.

Poor matchmaking is not a modern phenomenon there have always been sacrificial lambs offered up to the boxing gods. There is a generation of fans perhaps too young to remember Muhammad Ali’s world title defence against the hapless Richard Dunn in 1976, or even Mike Tyson’s one round demolition of Bruce Seldon for the WBA heavyweight title in 1997.

The poor matchmaking on Saturday’s bill cannot be condoned yet at the same time the purpose of these fights were to make the fighters in question look good and build up the public interest the proposed Haye v Briggs showdown in September. That is after all the job of a promoter, which underlines the real issue with Saturday’s show.

David Haye is not just the main event but also the promoter under his own “Hayemaker Promotions,” banner. It is difficult to be both the star of the show and the director of the action. Saturday night would suggest he is a long way off from producing the Citizen Kane of live boxing shows but the 20,000 fans in attendance at the O2 didn’t seem to protest all that much.

Boxing remains an exciting spectacle at any level and Haye seems intent on taking his show into the nation’s living rooms. He signed an exclusive deal with Dave for his comeback, obviously in an effort to gain terristerial TV exposure. This creates its own problems for delivering a competitive show. The problem with modern boxing is that the Satellite stations still hold the monopoly in terms of coverage.

Matchroom Sport holds an exclusive deal with Sky Sports in regards broadcasting rights on their events. This has seen fighters scramble to get signed with Matchroom Sport in an effort to get the exposure and remuneration they desire. Most famously Scott Quigg defected from Ricky Hatton to sign with Matchroom in 2013 and coincidently both Dillian Whyte and Chris Eubank Jr have signed deals with Matchroom this weekend.

Frank Warren’s BoxNation provides a counterbalance to the dominance of Sky but boxing continues to only appear on terrestrial channels periodically. ITV the spiritual home of British boxing in the late 80s and 90s has only shown a handful of live boxing events in recent years. On a more positive note, Hennessey Sports have broadcast a number of live shows in recent years across the Channel 5 and Spike platforms, which helped build the career of a certain Tyson Fury.

In a sense Haye should be commended for trying to reignite the general public’s interest in boxing. To say it was one of the worst live shows in recent would do a disservice to fights like Markham v Mullender for the English middleweight title which featured on the undercard. It would also fail to take notice of the fact some of the top fighters in the country are not just tied in with their promoters but also their promoters respective television deal. It is becoming harder than ever to get the best fighters in the ring with each other.

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Shannon Briggs taunted Haye with his “Let’s Go Champ!” chant.

Haye v Briggs may not be the fight that fans are demanding but if Haye emerged victorious it could reintroduce him as a player on the heavyweight scene and for the veteran Briggs no-one should begrudge him a big pay-day at this stage of his career.

Elsewhere in the heavyweight division New Zealand’s undefeated prospect Joseph Parker survived his sternest test to date with a points victory over dangerman Carlos Takam.

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Parker (right) won a 12 round decision against Takam.

The hard punching Parker was troubled in the opening stanza by Takam’s tight defence and counter punching. After making some adjustments he went on to dominate the fight, but he showed that he can be vulnerable defensively particularly to a left hook.

Takam 35, is known as a pressure fighter but it seemed he preferred to stalk Parker round after round, only springing into action for the last minute of each round in an effort to steal the rounds on the cards. He did have some moments in the fight but he never exerted sufficient pressure on Parker to have him in any real trouble. It was a disappointing performance from Takam given the potential reward and the fact that he has been avoided by most fighters in the division. It is difficult to say whether he will get another chance like this.

With the win Parker becomes the mandatory challenger for Anthony Joshua’s IBF world heavyweight title. There are certainly question marks over the New Zealander’s defence and stamina. It will be interesting to see how he weather’s the pressure Joshua is likely to exert when the pair finally meet.

WEEKEND REVIEW:Haskins retains his IBF world title

WEEKEND REVIEW:Haskins retains his IBF world title

Lee ‘Playboy,’ Haskins (33-3 14 KOs) left hearts broken in Tijuana this weekend as he retained his IBF world bantamweight title against Mexican Ivan Morales (29-2, 17 KOs) at the Ice Arena in Cardiff.

The Bristol boxer boxed supremely throughout the contest, proving much too awkward for the younger brother of four division world champion Erik Morales. Haskins won a unanimous points decision with one judge scoring it 118-110 and the other two scoring it 119-108 respectively.

Haskins won the world title on the scales last November when the American Randy Caballero was stripped of the IBF title for failing to make weight.

This was Haskins first defence and it seems to be onwards and upwards from here on. There is potential for Haskins to defend his title against domestic rival and former IBF champion, Stuart Hall. Haskins has already beaten Hall in a clash for the European bantamweight title in 2012 but it would still be considered a competitive match up.

There is also the potential that Haskins could face another domestic rival in WBA champion, Jamie McDonnell. Haskins holds an eight round points win over McDonnell from 2008, but the WBA champion has steadily improved since that setback, having beaten a number of quality bantamweights including; Tomoki Kameda (twice), Stuart Hall, and two of Haskins previous conquerors Ian Napa and Stephane Jamoye. All in all this makes for an intriguing showdown should the fight ever happen.

On the undercard, Andrew Selby (5-0, 3KOs) produced a comprehensive performance to win the vacant British flyweight title with a unanimous points victory over Louis Norman (11-2-1, 2KOs).

Cardiff’s Craig Kennedy (15-0, 8 KOs) had to get off the canvas twice to win a hard earned split decision in his clash with Joel Tambwe Djeko (9-2-1 4 KOs) for the vacant IBF International cruiserweight title. Kennedy was down in the second and sixth rounds but emerged victorious in a fight that perhaps warrants a rematch.

Belfast’s Paddy Gallagher (10-2, 6KOs) recorded an impressive first round knockout of the previously undefeated Tony Dixon (7-1, 2 KOs) to claim the vacant Celtic welterweight title.

Edinburgh’s Josh Taylor (5-0, 5 KOs) also notched up a first round knockout victory over Miguel Gonzalez (13-11, 11 KOs). Gonzalez has fought mostly as a featherweight, taking Jono Carroll ten rounds in November and suffering a fourth round stoppage at the hands of Kiko Martinez last December. However considering he was a last minute choice of opponent Taylor got the job done and will move on to the next opponent in the super-lightweight division.

Middleweight Conrad Cummings (9-0-1, 4 KOs) continued his winning ways with a last round stoppage of his opponent Frankie Borg (9-6, 3 KOs) in their fight scheduled for six rounds. The Co. Tyrone fighter is beginning to demonstrate just why he is nicknamed, “Mr Dynamite,” whilst gaining valuable rounds in the process. Most likely his next appearance will be on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s proposed clash with Leo Santa Cruz in New York on July 30th.

WEEKEND REVIEW: Canelo too much for brave Khan

WEEKEND REVIEW: Canelo too much for brave Khan

Amir Khan came, he saw but ultimately he was conquered by the hard punching Saul “Canelo,” Alvarez in their clash for the WBC middleweight world title at the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.

For the most part Khan boxed to his game plan. He moved well, firing off fast crisp punches in bunches to take rounds one through four. Canelo started slow, telegraphing a lot of his work and just falling out of range with his shots.

The early indications could have led us to believe that there was an upset in the works but by the sixth Canelo had closed the distance and landed a murderous right hand that caught Khan flush and almost immediately knocked him out cold.

The knockout was made all the more sickening as the momentum of the fall caused Khan to bang his head off the canvas. It was a brutal knockout reminiscent of the way in which Manny Pacquiao stopped Ricky Hatton in two rounds in 2009.

There were frightful number of seconds between the referee Kenny Bayless waving the fight over and the medical professionals entering the ring. To his credit after the knockout Canelo dropped to his knees to check on his stricken foe. It was a small glimmer of humanity in an otherwise brutal affair.

Khan regained his senses and was engaging with the press after the fight but it will have been hugely disappointing for him especially as he was ahead on points. Credit must be given to Khan for taking on Canelo, a fight in which he was always going to be the underdog. Up until the knockout he had been employing a very good strategy but he perhaps failed to utilise the jab sufficiently enough to keep Canelo off balance.

He made $6 million for his nights work but he would have surely preferred the victory. He remains the number one contender for the WBC’s welterweight title and that should is where he should campaign in the future. A domestic clash with IBF welterweight champion would be the fight most fans would like to see him in.

The next step for Canelo remains uncertain. The WBC have ordered that he now enter into negotiations with Gennady “GGG,” Golovkin for what would be a massive unification bout in the middleweight division. After beating Khan, Canelo made all the right noises about fighting Golovkin but the reality is if he decides to vacate the WBC title he is now such a big attraction that he doesn’t need a title to make the top dollar. It may be a case of watch this space.

Speaking of top dollar, Anthony, “Million Dollar,” Crolla (31-4-3, 13 KOs) pulled off perhaps the biggest win of his career with a seventh round stoppage of the hard punching Ismael Barroso (19-0-2 18 KOs) in their WBA world lightweight title fight at the Manchester Arena.

Barroso was last seen on British shores dismantling Kevin Mitchell in five rounds. He had established himself as the danger man of the lightweight division and the mandatory challenger for Crolla’s WBA title. There were more than a few who favoured him over the champion going into this fight.

Crolla and his trainer Joe Gallagher must have banked on Barroso having never gone beyond six rounds before because of the tactics they employed in this fight. Crolla effectively absorbed all of Barroso’s best work, taking the punches on his forearms while keeping his chin down behind a high guard.

Barroso did eventually punch himself out and Crolla stopped him in the seventh. It was an impressive win, perhaps one of the most impressive wins for a British fighter in recent years and it highlights that Crolla has grown into the role of champion.

In other results super-middleweight Martin Murray (33-3-1, 16 KOs) remained on track for his domestic clash with George Groves in June with a second round stoppage of Cedric Spera (12-5 2 KOs) and heavyweight Dereck Chisora (25-6 17KOS) lost a split decision to former world title challenger Kubrat Pulev (22-1) for the European title in Germany. The fight was an eliminator for the IBF title and Pulev will now be in line for a shot at Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight crown.