Talking Boxing

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December 13, 2016

On the Road... with Andy Clarke: Manchester

Vincent Feigenbutz

by Andy Clarke

Last week it was Manchester.

It was the first Sky Sports Box Office card I’d been involved in and there was a different, bigger feel to it, starting with Tuesday’s open workout.

Matchroom hired me to MC it which I’m always happy to do. I’m a commentator first and foremost, but a couple of years ago people started asking me to MC so I got myself a license (the interview with the Board’s interesting, you get a proper grilling) and I enjoy it. The workout was live on Sky Sports which it isn’t usually. An indication of the PPV factor.

It was good to catch up with colleagues early in the week too. I’d read Jamie Moore’s book recently so had a chat with him about that; there’s a great bit in it where he describes going to a Simon and Garfunkel concert in Las Vegas with Barry Hearn and Michael Brodie, a unlikely scenario to conjure with. Jamie’s great company. He’s had a lot to deal with in recent times but you never hear him complain, and was telling me that he’d just started training without a foot brace for the first time on his road to full recovery after the shooting. He’ll get there, he won’t have it any other way.

Open workouts are good for the fans but generally tell you very little. Joe Gallagher nipped over to check my intro for Callum Smith, just to make sure I had the full list of his achievements. As I saw him approaching I knew exactly what his game was so was ready for him. It’s the kind of thing I expect from Joe and I like it; he pays great attention to detail and expects you to do so as well. Barry McGuigan’s the same. I think it’s fair to say they won’t be exchanging Christmas cards but the two of them are more similar than they’d like to think: Both do whatever they feel is necessary to get the best possible treatment for their fighters and they demand that you bring your A game because they’ll be bringing theirs. It keeps you on your toes.

The next day was the undercard press conference which gave me the chance to speak with Hosea Burton, Callum Smith, David Allen and Luke Blackledge, whose fights I was covering. Blackledge and trainer Alex Matvienko were particularly good value, admitting that they hadn’t expected to fight Callum Smith when they went down the British title route, they thought Smith would vacate but he hadn’t and they were stuck with him.

Burton and Frank Buglioni exchanged some entertaining words but it was the encounter between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora that stole the headlines. It was a strange one to be honest because Chisora was bossing it and then just flipped. I don’t think he was helped by the fact that he was there by himself. If Kalle Sauerland or Don Charles had been with him then I think they’d have got their man out of there earlier as the whole thing had begun to get quite repetitive and tedious. But it was allowed to rumble on and all of a sudden the furniture went flying. It was real, no question about that.

It put the fight in jeopardy but I learnt the next day via a text from Adam Smith, who was at the hearing, that it would go ahead.

Whyte and Chisora were kept apart at the weigh-in which was well attended. They’re always pretty chaotic I find, more so the bigger the card. Michael Buffer had arrived and his presence always sprinkles a little stardust, exactly as it’s intended to. My priority though was to catch Conor Benn and Steve Backhouse as they were the only fighters on my list I hadn’t spoken to, and I managed to snag Benn who was raring to go as usual. Backhouse proved more elusive but Matt Bozeat, our statistician, managed to succeed where I failed and glean a few details. Matt’s presence in fight week is crucial for me. He knows the sport really well and his historical knowledge is immense.

Unfortunately though, whilst Matt’s more than capable of recalling details of an amateur show he attended over a decade ago he’s less good when it comes to remembering where he parked his car 24 hours previously. The pair of us had a good wander around the Piccadilly multi-storey the next day before finding his VW and heading over to the Manchester Arena.

When I arrived ringside security were in the middle of a briefing. They’d learnt that David Haye and Tony Bellew were going to be seated uncomfortably close to each other due to TV and radio commitments which was yet another thing for them to keep an eye on.

As for the fights, it was a great night. Conor Benn was clinical, Burton v Buglioni was breathtaking, and Ortiz v Allen was very watchable too. The one that left a bitter taste in the mouth was Callum Smith v Luke Blackledge. Blackledge was acquitting himself creditably until he was savagely knocked out late on and what had been, up until that point, a positive experience in a split second became a negative one. It was a bad knockout, the kind that can scar a fighter. And whilst I really hope it doesn’t, I suspect it might.

I loved watching Kal Yafai win his world title, I enjoy the lower weights just as much as any of the others and having a world champ at super flyweight is great. Scott Quigg and Katie Taylor did what they needed to do, Quigg in emphatic fashion, before Whyte and Chisora did what we hoped they would and produced a 12 round epic. Del Boy was cheered from the arena, something that seemed unlikely earlier in the week.

As Joshua v Molina got underway Andy Scott slipped into the seat next to me and told me that Joshua v Klitschko was set to be announced in the ring at the end of the fight but that it still wasn’t 100%. There were still details to be finalised apparently but whatever they were they must have been dealt with swiftly as Anthony Joshua didn’t waste much time disposing of Eric Molina. The outcome had seemed inevitable since the fight had been announced but AJ did what he needed to do and before we knew it Wladimir Klitschko was in the ring and Wembley stadium on April 29 was confirmed. It would draw a crowd of 90,000 according to Eddie Hearn who threw out that figure whilst smirking at Carl Froch who was sitting just in front of me, a little aside that wasn’t lost on Barry Hearn who found the whole thing very amusing. As did Froch who, despite what some people seem to think, is more than capable of having a chuckle at his own expense.

It was a late finish and I didn’t sleep much, I never do after a fight night, there’s always too much swirling around my head, mainly this time thoughts about what next year will bring. There are some huge fights in the calendar already. I can’t wait.