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On the Road... with Andy Clarke: Hamburg and Frederikshavin

ANDY CLARKE

In boxing there are few things better than a road trip so when Sauerland asked me if I wanted to cover last Friday’s bill in Germany followed by Dennis Ceylan v Ryan Walsh in Denmark the following night, I was more than happy to oblige.

Friday night was Hamburg, and a clash between Noel Gevor, Sauerland’s (22-0, 10 KOs) WBO International cruiserweight title holder, and Scotland’s Stephen Simmons (15-2, 7 KOs), who had taken the fight at a week’s notice after Mirko Larghetti withdrew with a rib injury.

I’m a fan of Friday night fights but I understand why promoters aren’t on the whole, it’s just more difficult to sell tickets. With that in mind the Inselparkhalle was a good choice of venue; not too big, but big enough. And there was German boxing royalty in the house too in the shape of Jorg Blin who went seven rounds with Muhammad Ali in Zurich in the 1970s.

The undercard gave me another chance to watch (light heavyweight) Alexander Kuvac, who is possibly the most curious fighter I’ve ever seen. He operates in a perpetual state of hypertension, which we probably all would if we’d been stopped 26 times in 27 defeats and his performance against the (3-0, 3 KOs) Moise Lohombo was vintage Kuvac.

The man from Derventa in Bosnia-Herzegovina negotiated the first round without too much trouble and then folded in the second, going down three times in quick succession under the merest pressure before his corner threw in the towel, much to Kuvac’s apparent disgust. I’d love to sit down and have a chat with Kuvac at some point, I really would.

The main event was a lot more competitive and my feeling going into it was that Simmons had a real chance. Gevor had done everything that had been asked of him in his career, but had never been extended. I’d seen him a good few times before and on every occasion he’d won comfortably against opponents he was expected to beat, and who expected to lose. But Simmons didn’t expect to lose and at the end of the 12 rounds I had him ahead 116-113.

There were a lot of close rounds but from where I was sitting he outworked Gevor and one judge agreed with me, returning the same score, but the other two didn’t and their tallies of 116-112 to the home fighter saw Gevor win by split decision.

I went to see Stephen and trainer Billy Nelson in the changing room just a few minutes after the verdict was announced, and Nelson was far from happy. His fighter on the other hand was remarkably philosophical. Boxers somehow just seem to be able to move on incredibly quickly from setbacks that would leave the rest of us howling at the moon in frustration; it’s one of the many things I admire about them. A rematch would be fair but Simmons knows he won’t get one, whilst Gevor is now mandatory challenger for Oleksandr Usyk’s WBO cruiserweight crown. If I were him I’d prefer a rematch with the Scot.

I got a lift back to the hotel via the hospital to drop off Norwegian light heavyweight Alexander Hagen for some stitches after his defeat to Gevor’s brother Abel. I then caught a few hours’ sleep before heading to Frederikshavn via Copenhagen. It was an uneventful journey, although I did discover that it’s impossible to buy boxer shorts at Copenhagen airport. If you’re after briefs or trunks then you’re laughing, but if it’s boxers you want then you’re out of luck.

If you want to buy anything at all, undergarment related or not, on a Saturday afternoon in Frederikshavn then you can forget about it. After checking into my hotel, which turned out to be a kind of Waterworld, mobbed with young families, I went for a wander into the town centre only to find everything closed. But it’s always nice to have a look around as Sauerland’s Nordic Fight Nights, which have been running for a good while now, take you to some proper boxing outposts. There’s something a bit different about them. For example there’s always at least one women’s bout and whilst the crowd is passionate they’re also pretty placid, it’s just a good kind of vibe.

And the Nordic Fight Nights have unearthed some talent that’s now coming to fruition in the likes of Dennis Ceylan (18-0-1, 8 KOs), whose fight for the vacant European featherweight title against Ryan Walsh (21-2-1, 10 KOs) topped the bill, Anthony Yigit, Erik Skoglund, and Otto Wallin to name just a few.

Apart from Ryan Walsh there was added British interest due to the presence of Joe Murray (19-2, 8 KOs) who had taken a fight against undefeated Sauerland prospect Rashid “The Dream” Kassem (11-1, 7 KOs), at short notice.

Murray, operating at lightweight these days and trained by brother and former British and European 135-pound champ John, stormed into the ring in dungarees and straw hat to the strains of ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’. I really don’t think the Danish fans knew what to make of him, but they were treated to a spectacular contest.

Kassem almost took Murray out early before the Manchester man came back to knock his opponent down three times (only one was given as a knockdown, bad refereeing in my view) in an incredible opening three minutes. Murray was like a man possessed and finished the fight in spectacular fashion in the sixth round, with as good a right hand as you’ll see. I ran into him and John at the bar later and they want a fight with British 135lbs champion Scotty Cardle as soon as possible. I for one would love to see that.

The main event between Ceylan and Walsh wasn’t as explosive, but it was just as absorbing. After being down in the first, Ceylan, who hadn’t mixed in anything like the same company as Walsh in his career up until that point, worked his way back into the fight.

It was incredibly tight, with Ryan's brothers Liam and Michael in particular looking increasingly concerned as the rounds ticked by. On my card it was level at 104-104 going into the final three minutes and a couple of clean shots from Ryan towards the very end saw me lean the way of the Farmy Army by a score of 114-113. But my card doesn’t matter, and whilst one judge saw it wide to Walsh the other two scored it 115-112 to Dennis the Menace, as he’s known. Denmark had a new European champion.

The sportsmanship displayed by the losing corner at the end was commendable. The disappointment of the defeat plain to see, but in Ceylan we had a worthy winner. The Aarhus fighter has overcome the kind of difficult beginning to life that’s so common in boxing and has a bond with trainer Frank Holm that could soften the hardest heart. Ceylan’s promoter Nisse Sauerland felt the victory was clear, no need for a rematch, whilst Walsh's promoter Francis Warren was left railing against the injustice of it all.

Life on the road in boxing is hard for fighters, trainers and promoters, but not for commentators. For us it’s a joy.