Paper Round
December 11, 2010

Khan's becoming a genuine champion

Posted on 11/12/2010

Once maligned as an over-hyped boxer with no chin, Amir Khan is expected to do Britain proud this weekend when he attempts to wow the Las Vegas public against Marcos Maidana. For the Daily Telegraph’s Kevin Garside, Saturday marks the beginning of a new era for Khan...

“It’s my time” – a bold statement that chimes beautifully with sensibilities in Las Vegas. It was as close as Amir Khan has come all week to bombast, that cornerstone of boxing patois. It might be overstating the case to claim that Khan’s address at the head-to-head with Marcos Maidana was his Martin Luther King moment. It is fair to argue, however, that his measured words marked a departure of significance for a young British athlete making his way in the world.

There was deference and respect for his opponent, the implacable, iron-fisted Argentine sitting to his left. There was gratitude for the organisers and a balanced assessment of why his name is topping this bill. He has paid his dues as an amateur and as a pro. The message was this: it might be that public opinion does not yet accord with my own, but get there it will. You’ll see.
Khan is that rare paradox, a superstar awaiting rediscovery. The teenage warrior who warmed our hearts in Athens with the improbable heist of Olympic silver six years ago, somehow fell the wrong side of the rainbow. A narrative that played for him as a schoolboy trading leather with hairy-backed Kazakhstanis twice his age flipped negatively when the money started rolling in.

He probably did not help himself driving around Bolton at 18 with L-plates attached to a Range Rover. The 6-series convertible Beemer that followed was fatal for his hopes of blending into the community. Neither did the big house in the posh part of town progress the idea that Khan would not be corrupted by fame and fortune.

Envy was on the loose and spreading. Khan behaved, of course, as anyone would. The instinct to better one’s circumstances, to alter positively the terms and conditions of our engagement with life is a primal goal. His mistake was to be a chippy youth from the northern fringe of post-industrial Manchester one day and the next a teenage millionaire, a species guaranteed to put the nose of blue-collar Britain out of joint.

Spending big in Bolton the money that promoter Frank Warren provided on the signing of his first professional contract went down like a bad pie in the chip shop.
There is also the problematic matter of Khan’s ethnicity. Though it is taboo to raise this issue in some circles, the undercurrent of racial tension rippling along the north-Manchester axis on which Bolton sits is too important to ignore.

While one would like to believe that his background played no part in souring the love story, Khan would not be the first British Asian to suffer negative profiling. Khan, you will recall, made his professional debut nine days after the London bombings of July 2005. Those responsible were from the same demographic as Khan, teenage sons of Pakistani immigrants.
Khan denounced the perpetrators, distanced himself absolutely from Muslim extremism, proclaimed his essential Britishness, wore the flag of the Union on his shorts. Though the enlightened majority did not need convincing, the episode hardened prejudices elsewhere and complicated what should have been a tale of sporting gold.

When the inevitable adolescent skirmishes with life occurred, motoring misdemeanours in his case, there was in some quarters a depressing delight. The corresponding hiccups in the ring, the knock-downs inflicted by Willie Limond and Michael Gomez eroded his credibility further and then in September 2008, Khan ran into the career car crash that was Breidis Prescott’s right hand. Khan was gone in 54 seconds, a write-off according to many.

Here, in the countdown to his Las Vegas debut, Khan can smile at the memory. The two years of painstaking rebuilding under the aegis of Freddie Roach have drained the poison from the wound. It is now a technical issue to be deconstructed, an abstraction in the formula being developed by Roach that is transforming Khan into a great boxer.

“No fighter wants to lose, especially getting knocked out. I see more of that fight than any of my wins. Everywhere you go people just want to talk about the one you lost. I understand that. And I’m glad they do because it makes me realise that it if you make mistakes it can happen again, that you are not invincible. You can get hurt in boxing.”

Khan is Roach’s 25th world champion. The Wild Card gym he opened with actor Mickey Rourke is the most sought after finishing school in world boxing. Roach offers Khan the same sympathetic nurturing he received at Mick Jelley’s amateur gym in Bury. LA and Bury; that is some twinning of towns.

“I have so much trust in Freddie. If he says don’t throw a punch, I won’t throw it. That’s how much I trust him. He can see a fight, read a fight. If I had started my career with Freddie I might have been unbeaten. But things happen for a reason. If that defeat hadn’t happened I would be nowhere near as good as I am now. It motivates me.,” said Khan.

Six years on from his Olympic success, Khan is demonstrably a man, a good man at that. He has come through the first phase of new wealth. What we are seeing now is a dynamic graduate empowered by a sense of his own potential and relishing the responsibility that comes with being a grown up. All that remains is for the British public to catch up.

“When people ask me the question, ‘do you want to walk out of this game filthy rich or leave behind a legacy?’ I tell them I want to be remembered as a great champion and role model like Manny Pacquiao. We all fight for purses. It’s a business. Manny makes great money all over the world, but he is still humble and loves boxing. I want to follow in his footsteps.”

November 15, 2010

This farce damaged boxing

Posted on 15/11/2010

David Haye did what was expected and demolished Audley Harrison to defend his heavyweight belt in Manchester on Saturday. But it was made easy for him by an opponent who failed to throw a punch in anger before being flattened in the third round. The conclusion of the first two rounds were greeted with boos as the two fighters looked at each other without any sign of attack. Haye finally attacked in the third and it led to a swift end. The fight confirmed Haye’s position as a genuine world-class fighter, but the manner of the victory had The Sun’s Pat Sheehan suggesting the fight did more damage than good for the sport.

"Just how Audley Harrison managed to manoeuvre himself into the position of getting a world-title shot is beyond any joke.

They say in boxing you can only beat what is put in front of you and David Haye had no trouble in doing just that in front of fans who rightly expected a lot more from Harrison.

It is not an overstatement to say fight fans were conned by Harrison who talked big but produced little.

Harrison treated the bout like a non-contact sport that would have warmed the cockles of the anti-fight brigade's hearts instead of what boxing is supposed to be - the ultimate one-to-one combat.

General sport fans would have bought into the hype but they won't like the idea of feeling they've been conned and will back off when it comes to dipping into their pockets again.

Youngsters being taught boxing, which is making a welcome return to some schools, are told the fight game isn't only about your skill with fists but about heart, will and desire.

They will have found it was in short supply in Manchester as Harrison stepped between the ropes.

The MEN Arena was packed to the rafters but if Harrison ever returns to fight again here, who would bet against a phone box not being full?"

November 13, 2010

Outsider Harrison looking a tempting bet

Posted on 13/11/2010

David haye prepares to put his WBA title on the line this evening, with the bookmakers backing the Hayemaker to retain his heavyweight crown. But Des Lynam in the Daily Telegraph believes Audley Harrison is capable of an upset.

Two of my fellow members of the Boxing Writers’ Club have even suggested that I may at last have lost my marbles, a swift decline from astute to gullible.

But I really think that Harrison, whom you could reliably bet on letting you down in the past, will at least give of his very best now that his big chance has unexpectedly come and that may well be good enough.

It is not as though he is about to face one of the great names of heavyweight boxing. Haye, whose publicity has outweighed his talent in my opinion, is more from the Henry Akinwande or Herbie Hide class of British world heavyweight champions than the Lennox Lewis school.

Harrison is not getting in the ring with the kind of opponent that some of our former British heavyweight world title challengers had to face in their careers.

The often criticised Joe Bugner, most recently seen in the ITV jungle, twice fought Muhammad Ali in his prime, losing only on points both times.

Bugner also faced the great Joe Frazier and wobbled him before losing their fight in London on points and he shared the ring with the likes of Ron Lyle and Ernie Shavers, two of the hardest-hitting heavyweights in the history of the sport. He did not disgrace himself in either fight.

Then of course there was Frank Bruno.

I still feel slightly concussed just thinking of the punishment Frank had to take in some of his fights. He had been on a streak of twenty-one consecutive knockout wins before coming up against the American James

‘Bonecrusher’ Smith at Wembley in 1984. Bruno was winning the fight comfortably until the tenth and final round when Smith landed some fearsome blows and Bruno was knocked out still leaning on the ropes.

After that setback he went on a winning run again before challenging another American, Tim Witherspoon, for the WBA championship, the title that is being contested tonight.

I can recall comparing the wonderfully conditioned Bruno with the slightly blubbery Witherspoon before the fight but, once again after leading on all three ringside judges’ cards, Bruno was beaten to a pulp in the eleventh round.

After some thoughts of retirement, he recovered and by 1989 was ready to face the then fearsome Mike Tyson for the unified world title in Las Vegas.

I was ringside with the late Harry Carpenter and we were both shocked as Tyson threw off his spartan towelling robe on the way to the ring. If this aggressive gesture didn’t unnerve Frank, it certainly did us.

In the first round Bruno was shaken but recovered to rock the champion with a huge left hook, you might recall Harry’s words of commentary: “Get in there, Frank”. The fight was stopped in favour of Tyson with Bruno once again helpless on the ropes.

By 1993 Bruno had negotiated his third world title challenge, this time against the recently crowned Lennox Lewis who turned out to be one of the ‘greats’. It was the last all-British heavyweight world championship fight before tonight.

Once again Bruno did well until being stopped in the seventh round. Of course Bruno finally won the WBC version of the title when he outpointed Oliver McCall who had beaten Lewis in a big upset. He was obliged to face Tyson again in his first defence and was this time despatched in the third round, his world title gone.

So tonight Harrison is not facing Ali or Frazier, Tyson or Lewis or even Bruno, none of whom in their prime would be likely to have lost to him. He is facing David Haye, good boxer but not in their class.

As they say, fortune favours the brave and that is what he will have to be tonight. Heaven knows I have had to be, forecasting the outcome in his favour. Of course if he does win, the ludicrously self-regarding Harrison will become insufferable.

Mind you if he wins, so indeed might I.

Continue reading "Outsider Harrison looking a tempting bet"

September 15, 2010

The day that Frank Warren was shot

Posted on 15/09/2010

Frank Warren has become something of a marmite character in sport, loved by some, loathed by others, yet he has never done anything to deserve what happened to him 21 years ago. Reflecting on nearly 30 years in boxing, the opinionated promoters reflects with the Daily Mirror’s Oliver Holt about the night that made him want revenge...

It is what Frank Warren knows that makes him unusual. Sure, he stands out for other reasons, too. Like being Britain's best boxing promoter. Like being about to celebrate 30 years in the sport. Like rowing with Mike Tyson. But there's something else. Something more visceral. Something that still shocks.

It is not just that he knows who tried to kill him. Any old victim of attempted murder knows that. Warren is different because the man who shot him outside the Broadway Theatre in Barking 21 years ago is still out there. The gunman fled the scene. No one was ever convicted of the crime. The man is still walking free. Still unpunished. Still unforgiven.

Warren has said for many years he is "100 per cent sure" of the identity of the man who tried to end his life. He has connections. He has made inquiries. The man flits in and out of his consciousness.

He even bumped into him a few years ago."I was walking through a crowd of people when someone thrust their hand out for me to shake," Warren says. "You know sometimes when people go to shake hands with you, and you look up at their face. I looked up and it was him. I swore at him and walked past."

So there he was, the bloke who tried to kill him, trying to shake his hand, letting him know he was still around, rubbing it in that he had got away with it. Got away with it. That phrase irks Warren. He smiles icily as he sits in his office in Hertford. "In some ways, he got away with it," Warren says. "In others he didn't.

"But now he has got no respect. He has got nothing. I think he did himself a lot of damage. He has not in any way got any accolades for anything he has achieved. Nobody cares. People say that the man who shot me may be a danger to other people, but I think he is more a danger to himself.

"The way he acted on the night of the shooting, it was pathetic. He was a few feet away from me. If he had been any nearer, I would have got hold of him. And he still couldn't do the job properly. My business partner back then was a guy called John Botros, who had a double first from Oxford. He was not a physical guy and even John had the guy on the floor before he got away. The guy who shot me was incompetent. That's what he has been his whole life. He has been incompetent.

"He has always tried to challenge the system in his warped way and it has always gone t**s up for him. It's pathetic."

Warren does not like talking about the shooting. The .22 bullet from a Luger pistol missed his heart by an inch and he had to have part of a lung removed, but he says it has not affected him physically. He still plays tennis. And he insists that only rarely do the thoughts of revenge that filled his mind in the immediate aftermath of the attack flicker back into life.

"Sometimes, I feel like it didn't even happen," says Warren, 58. "It was such a long time ago. If I think about it, those feelings are still there but I don't want to think about it. It's negativity and negativity is a bad thing. I am a very positive person and I think the best of people, the best of situations.

"At the time, revenge was the first thing on my mind but I had to jump back and think 'it's not about me, it's also about my family and trying to keep things going'. Had I gone for revenge, which would have been very easy to do, then it would have been all over for me. I had young kids at the time and I wanted them to have a different life to the one I had. I was more concerned with that."

On Saturday, Warren will preside over a bumper show called The Magnificent Seven at Birmingham's LG Arena, featuring many of the country's rising stars such as Frankie Gavin and James DeGale. A couple of months from now, on December 10, Warren will celebrate 30 years in the sport. He will be feted for his achievements. And somewhere, somewhere away from the crowds and the lights, the man who tried to kill him will watch from the shadows of his life.

September 13, 2010

End of the line for Hatton

Posted on 13/09/2010

It was always in doubt whether Ricky Hatton would ever return to the ring, but following allegations of cocaine use in the News of the Worlfd, it looks like it could signal the end of the former world champion's career, writes Jeff Powell in The Daily Mail

The chances of Ricky Hatton fighting again have dipped from slim to none after he was filmed apparently snorting several lines of cocaine while on a drink and drugs binge.

There is also a risk that the former world champion will have his license as a promoter revoked or suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control.

scene is little short of tragic but this is a controversial sport which has no option but to limit the damage to its image.

Sadly this latest, alleged fall from grace of another of our sporting legends is as unsurprising as it is unwelcome.

While the Hitman could hardly be classed as a role model, he is a hero to tens of thousands of his fellow Englishmen.

The potential removal of the charismatic and hugely popular Hatton from the big fight

Be it as an all-action fighter, an animated mingler with the vociferous fans who followed their Mancunian idol on his title-winning adventures abroad, a boozer in his local pub or a compulsive eater between his heroic bouts, Hatton has always done everything to excess.

Continue reading "End of the line for Hatton"

May 17, 2010

Khan still lacking authority

Posted on 17/05/2010

Amir Khan may have made his American debut in style, dominating Paulie Malignaggi to defend his WBA light-welterweight title, but question marks still remain, writes Matthew Syed in The Times

Amir Khan’s victory over Paulie Malignaggi, a savvy and talented New Yorker, at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden was impressive, as far as it went, but whether it heralds his arrival as a great of the sport, as many were proclaiming after the bout, remains to be seen.

There is no doubting Khan’s speed or versatility. The left jab was sharp as a scalpel and his counter-punching was crisp and, for the most part, accurate.

He also seemed to be undaunted by boxing in front of a largely hostile crowd, his youthful face a picture of concentration and intent. But it was clear early on that Malignaggi lacked discernible fire power — an observation bolstered by his record of only five knockouts in 27 wins — and the most urgent question mark hanging over Khan is whether he has the chin to go with his hand speed and precision. His knockout defeat in 54 seconds by Breidis Prescott continues to loom large in the minds of many British fans who witnessed it.

What is certain is that, however much he continues to improve his technical repertoire, sooner or later Khan is going to get tagged by one of the decent young boxers who populate the light-welterweight division. He will be drawn into a battle of will and stamina of the kind that all fighters have to endure at some stage of their career, and it is only then we are going to see whether he has the durability to go with his undoubted class.

Until that moment, and until that question has been answered, Khan remains a boxer with oodles of talent but without absolute authority.

Continue reading "Khan still lacking authority"

January 27, 2010

Hollywood Haye in danger

Posted on 27/01/2010

David Haye celebrates after defeating Nikolai Valuev © Getty Images

David Haye is putting the excitement factor back into boxing (who didn’t enjoy watching him dance around that giant statue in Germany?) but Jeff Powell has some concerns in the Daily Mail. Powell has seen fame destroy the best of them over the years, Tyson, Bruno... Grant Bovey. Now the seasoned boxing expert is worried that David “Hayemaker” Haye is about to become David “Hollywood” Haye unless he knuckles down for his April 3 bout with John Ruiz.

Haye is reported to have made more appearances than the stars on these cold, clear nights of midwinter. Britain's world heavyweight champion has hardly missed a ceremony during this awards season and has apparently been sighted at more than enough celebrity bashes to confirm his arrival on the A-list of most desirable guests.

Nothing wrong with that. Not of itself. It is not every year that an Englishman reaches up to grasp boxing's supreme prize and this young man from south London would not be human had he not taken time out to celebrate this achievement. Especially since this David slew his Goliath to claim his crown.

But now it is back to business. Starting today if the Hayemaker is not to fall into a trap as old as prize-fighting itself.

Continue reading "Hollywood Haye in danger"