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Talking Boxing

Interviews, opinions, features and news from the greatest sport in the world!

November 28, 2016

On the Road... with Andy Clarke: London

Katie Taylor is a "silent assassin" and returns to the ring on December 10 in Manchester.

by Andy Clarke

I didn’t exactly have far to go this week as I was commentating for Sky on the Matchroom bill at Wembley Arena, back at the venue for the second time in eight days.

And it was a fight week I was really excited about, largely due to the debut of Katie Taylor.

Professional boxing’s been lagging behind both AIBA and UFC when it comes to embracing the women’s game, and with Claressa Shields and Taylor turning over within the space of a week I genuinely felt I was on the ground floor of something big.

I had plenty of other fights to cover as well so trotted off to the press conference at the Landmark Hotel on Thursday.

Press conferences are better than weigh-ins for talking to fighters because they’re more relaxed; at weigh-ins boxers tend to be edgy before they get on the scales and then shoot off, often to the nearest Nandos, as soon as they get off them.

I was early so had a good chat with John Wischhusen from Matchroom. Whatever I want to know, John always has the answer and there are always plenty of things I want to know. I’m probably a bit annoying at times, but he’s a patient man.

The first fighter I spoke to was Taylor herself. I’ve seen her fight a lot but had never spoken to her and she’s the total opposite of how she is in the ring; reserved, and softly spoken. All I really wanted to know was whether she’d be able to move around the weight divisions if she needed to, and she confirmed that she could and would.

Carson Jones was just standing at the back minding his own business, sipping on a coffee. He’s been a regular visitor to the UK, and was totally confident he’d leave with the win against Ben Hall who was similarly upbeat in the company of trainer Peter Sims; it was a fight they’d been looking at since the start of the year and Sims felt now was the right time to take a step up.

The fighter I was most keen to catch up with was Ronnie Clark who was challenging Martin Ward for his British Super Featherweight title, purely because I knew very little about him. When you’re working for Sky you get supplied with notes on all bouts, they’re excellent and I read every word of them but there’s no substitute for doing your own research. And I warmed to Clark. He’s got an interesting story having been a world kick boxing champion before turning to boxing and, ridiculous cliché though it is, there was a touch of the Braveheart about him; a tremendous warlike hair style and a never-say-die attitude. He gave Ward a good stare at the face-off, but didn’t bother the champion who told me he really had no idea what to expect from his opponent but that he’d figure it out on the night.

I just had time to catch Ohara Davies before he left. Davies is a confident lad who enjoys the spotlight. There’s an edge to him that boxers need. He’s perfectly friendly but there’s an old-fashioned hunger and desire to succeed there, and he doesn’t try and hide it.

The vibe at the weigh-in the next day was different, it always is. It’s really interesting to see how different fighters look just 24 hours after you’ve last seen them, particularly their faces. You can see that they’ve lost weight and that they’ve had an uncomfortable few hours. There’s a nervous energy in the air in a room full of pugilists before they make weight, you can smell it.

I only really needed to catch up with Ted Cheeseman, which didn’t take long, and Lloyd Ellett, which took a little longer due to the presence of his new trainer Lloyd Honeyghan. Honeyghan was extravagantly dressed as always and entertaining company; it’s just over 30 years since he famously beat Don Curry and has got a book out soon he was telling me.

On fight night I arrived at Wembley Arena to be greeted by the news that Nick Blackwell, who I saw injured at the very same venue against Chris Eubank, had been badly hurt once more sparring, information that was greeted with utter dismay and disbelief. How could it be allowed to happen?

And early in the night, eight days after Eduard Gutknecht left the venue in an ambulance following his fight against George Groves, we had another very worrying few minutes when Jake Ball was savagely knocked out by JJ McDonagh. Ball thankfully was OK but it was a bad night for Matchroom prospects, as Ben Hall was stopped by Carson Jones after snapping a tendon in his right hand and tearing a muscle in his left shoulder.

Martin Ward survived a late knockdown to retain his British title against Ronnie Clark who gave it everything whilst Ohara Davies won by shutout over 12 rounds versus Andrea Scarpa to claim the WBC Silver title at super lightweight. The feeling from my co-commentators Dave Coldwell and Darren Barker was that Davies had an opportunity to really put on a show against a very circumspect opponent and didn’t take it. I liked that analysis because it’s a lot easier not to be too critical particularly if you know the boxers involved, and Darren knows Davies very well, but they had no problem calling it as they saw it and that’s what the job is.

Martin Gethin’s win against John Wayne Hibbert, in a fight he took at a week’s notice, was tremendous. Gethin had been contemplating retirement beforehand, but afterwards it was Hibbert who actually hung the gloves up. His nose was broken by a left hand in the first round and he did everything he could to overcome it but just when it looked as though Hibbert had hurt his man Gethin produced a stunning four punch combination to finish the fight and extend his career. Hibbert’s been a warrior and I wish him all the very best in retirement. I just hope he stays retired as he has nothing left to prove.

Katie Taylor was supersonic. I’ve seen a lot of women’s professional boxing and some good fighters such as Erica Farias, Klara Svensson and Miakela Lauren, who are all around Taylor’s weight but the Irish woman is by a distance the best I’ve seen. She could fight for a world title tomorrow at super feather, lightweight or super lightweight and win, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. The biggest name currently is Caecilia Braekhus who holds all the belts at welterweight and long term a showdown between those two may well be the target. I really believe Taylor can attract new fans to the sport, and not just women either.

Sport is about entertainment and she is simply very good to watch. I also think her personality and the stark contrast between how she is outside the ring compared to how she is inside it will work for her. Katie Taylor is a silent assassin and her next victim’s already lined up for the Manchester Arena on Joshua’s undercard a week on Saturday. I’ll be there.