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On the Road... with Andy Clarke: Edinburgh and Birmingham

ANDY CLARKE

It was two countries in two days again this week, although this time they were somewhat closer to home.
 
Friday night saw a trip to Edinburgh for the Cyclone Promotions show on Spike and Channel 5, headlined by the Commonwealth super lightweight title clash between Josh Taylor and Dave Ryan.

After getting the train up from London I arrived at Meadowbank at about half three. I realised I’d forgotten my cufflinks so went for a quick wander to see if I could find anywhere to buy some, but quickly discovered that was a bit optimistic. Luckily MC Craig Stephen had a spare pair.

It’s always good to get to the venue early, it gives you a chance to have a chat, check a few things and pick up some local knowledge. In terms of names there were plenty in attendance; Carl Frampton and George Groves were there as studio guests and Lee Selby had come to watch his brother. David Haye was due to be ringside too but found himself grounded by a terrorist alert at City airport.

I was covering the undercard. So after commentating alongside Richie Woodhall on good wins for John McCallum, Nick Webb, Connor Law and Craig McIntyre I could sit back and enjoy the short and sweet shootout between Jason Easton and Rhys Saunders for the vacant Celtic super lightweight title. I did have one more thing to do though which was to nip back stage after a couple of rounds of Andrew Selby’s fight, I missed his stoppage of Felix Moncada unfortunately, to do a quick dressing room interview with Dave Ryan.

Ryan was focussed and the right kind of tense, I thought, as he talked about the task ahead with Clifton Mitchell, who had had plenty to say during the week. Nearby, hovering on Dave’s shoulder, was his sister Sandy, a top fighter in the GB setup. It’s impossible not to warm to fighters like Dave Ryan who have had to do everything the hard way.

On the way back to my seat I bumped into promoter Blain McGuigan who’s always up for a chat, and he confirmed that Carl Frampton would rematch Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas on January 28. Venue to be confirmed, but I’m sure they’re hoping for the iconic MGM Grand.

He was also very confident about Josh Taylor’s chances at the top of the bill, and that confidence proved to be well founded. After a rousing ring entrance featuring bagpipes and a freshly kilted MC, Taylor produced a blistering display to stop his opponent in the fifth round and become Commonwealth champ at 140 pounds in just his seventh contest, and all in front of the original ‘Tartan Tornado’ Ken Buchanan too, who was ringside.

It was a tremendous performance and won’t make him any easier to match. Domestic rivals won’t exactly be queuing up to face him, and nor I’d imagine will Ricky Burns as high risk, low reward fights are hardly what the WBA champ will want at this stage of his career.

It was quite an early finish to the action but we were on air until midnight so I waited for Paul Dempsey, Richie and Dave Farrar to finish and then headed back to the hotel. I managed to navigate my way past the bar and straight to bed which isn’t a manoeuvre I usually have a lot of success with, but I needed to be up early so I ran for the lifts.

I bumped into Richie again at breakfast and had an interesting chat about the GB set-up and who might stay in the system and who might turn over; so far post Olympics none of them have but you’d imagine that won’t remain the case, particularly when they see the success former alumni such as Selby and Taylor, not to mention Anthony Joshua, are having.

I couldn’t hang around though as I had a train to catch at nine to Birmingham where I was commentating on Gavin v Eggington for Sky. I prefer the train to the plane. It takes longer obviously but you can do a bit of a work, and I also don’t have to chuck all my toiletries in the bin which I generally have to when I fly due to my inability to buy stuff under 100ml.

I got to New Street about one o’clock, successfully purchased some cufflinks on route to the hotel then got changed and walked down the canal to the Barclaycard Arena.

I just had a feeling it was going to be a really good night. I’d been up to see a lot of the fighters on the bill at Eastside BC, and Max McCracken’s gym about 10 days before and there had been a real sense of anticipation.

Most of the talk when I arrived was about Frankie Gavin having missed the weight but it wasn’t something I saw as being of any great significance, a sentiment that was shared my Eggington’s trainer Jon Pegg.

When I’d come up to the gyms the previous week Jon had met me off the train and taken me to Eastside and then when I’d finished there his co-trainer Paul Counihan, who lives next door to Frankie Gavin, had dropped me off at Max McCracken’s where Gavin was training. So when he saw me on fight night, hanging around backstage at about half four, Jon asked me whether I’d taken a load of Big Macs with me to Max’s.

He wasn’t remotely bothered about their opponent being over the weight and nor, he assured me, was his
fighter.

Clifton Mitchell was in the house again having also made the journey down from Edinburgh to be with his fighter Louis Norman, as was referee and judge Victor Loughlin.

I was working with Matt Macklin and Dave Coldwell on commentary and it was one of those nights where our job was made easy. Davis v Economides, two lads with interesting stories, for the WBC International super bantam title got us off to a good start before Kal Yafai stopped his opponent in three ahead of his WBA world title fight on December 10. But it was the chief support and top of the bill that really produced the fireworks.

Craig Cunningham wasn’t supposed to beat Anthony Ogogo at middleweight, but that’s exactly what the two weight Midlands Area champion did. It was a massive win for Cunningham, who was one fighter I’d missed at Eastside the previous week because his partner was in the process of giving birth, and a huge setback for Ogogo who retired due to eye damage.

But the main event was even better, a fight of the year contender in most people’s estimations with the sixth round in particular an epic three minutes of boxing. Gavin showed great skill and courage, and certainly won some hearts and minds, but it was Eggington who won the fight. ‘The Savage’ is a more composed, mature character these days and he’s getting better all the time.

For Sam you felt that the victory marked the end of the beginning whereas for Frankie it may well be the beginning of the end.