#Boxing, Boxing, Tyson Fury

Fury v Wilder: A Turning Point?

Heavyweight boxing rises from the canvas

From the 1920s to the 1990s, boxing’s heavyweight division was to the forefront of not just sports but popular culture, particularly in America.  

The list of great heavyweights includes men who were giants of popular culture in their era: Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis – all names that have carved their way into sporting lore. For decades, the heavyweight champion of the world was the most famous sportsperson on the planet.

Even when avarice ensued in the 1980s and new governing bodies – WBO, IBF, WBC – were established, the best heavyweight enjoyed the adulation of the masses. However, towards the end of the last century, a number of events occurred, leading to the gradual demise of the heavyweight division.

Mike Tyson’s thrilling, sometimes depraved, journey lurched towards a sickening halt in the late 1990s and Evander Holyfield retired shortly thereafter. With Lennox Lewis’ outstanding career nearing its finale, heavyweight boxing came to be dominated by a pair of robotic behemoths from Ukraine who offered none of the flair or fanfare of their immediate predecessors.

Those men were the Klitschkos – Vitali and Wladimir – and they enjoyed a decade of dominance built on monumental physiques and relentless, metronomic left jabs. Their styles had little aesthetic appeal and they failed to engage with an American audience who still harboured historic bias towards Eastern Europe.

Big and Boring: The Klitschkos

Though Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones Jr were wowing boxing fans a few weight divisions down, the heavyweight division was always relied on to attract the casual fan. And, with a paucity of quality big men, the division descended into relative obscurity.

In all sports, the idiom states that a good big man will beat a good small man. Well, in boxing, the most enthralling sight is two huge men colliding in an eighteen by eighteen feet ring with just a 10 ounce glove for protection. Last Sunday morning, Tyson Fury,took on WBA heavyweight champion of the world, Deontay Wilder, in the Staples Centre, Los Angeles – two men attempting to win back the attention of a once rapt American audience.

The boxing community in America, together with promoters and network executives, were aware that a dull contest would represent a missed and potentially final opportunity to seize the attention of today’s demanding, impatient television audience. Remarkably – as nostalgia tends to mask the sheer number of dull heavyweight clashes – Wilder and Fury were involved in a wild contest that escalated in the final four rounds. The climax of the saw bout saw Fury rise – Undertaker-like- from the canvas in the 12th round after a devastating combination from Wilder looked to have ended the contest.


Indeed, with the exception of Larry Holmes in 1978 against Ernie Shavers, it’s unlikely that anyone has ever beaten the referee’s count after absorbing what Fury did. Wilder’s face showed both bemusement and grudging respect and though a contentious split draw decision followed minutes later, those in attendance or watching at home knew they had just witnessed something special.

The events in Los Angeles would have been keenly observed by Anthony Joshua – WBC, WBO and IBF champion of the world – and his team, led by silver-tongued promoter, Eddie Hearn. Since winning Olympic Gold in London 2012, Joshua has gone on to become the golden boy of British sport. His charisma, power and extraordinary physique have made him extremely popular with the British public and he is an advertiser’s dream.  Joshua enjoyed a narrow escape from a drug conviction in 2011, when a judge told him, ‘prison–or boxing’. Joshua took his chance and hasn’t looked back.

Hearn’s Matchroom Promotions built Joshua up as the novice destroyed all comers. While Joshua’s hype machine gathered momentum, Fury – always a divisive character –went to Dusseldorf in 2015 and defeated Wladimir Klitschko, in the process becoming the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.

However, before their rematch could take place, Fury was banned and ultimately spiralled into a deep hole of alcohol and drug abuse, very nearly taking his life in the process. The British Board of Boxing Control (BBBC) was left with little option but to ban Fury after he admitted to prolonged cocaine abuse.

With Fury suspended, Joshua defeated a Klitschko in decline and became the world’s pre-eminent heavyweight. But, champions are only as good as their rivals. Tyson had Holyfield, while Ali, Foreman, Liston and Frazier all engaged in enthralling contests in the 1960s and 1970s. New Zealand’s Joseph Parker – since proven to be an average fighter-  held the WBO title, while the Alabaman, Deontay Wilder, was relying on an ungainly but hammer like right hand to lead him to an undefeated record and possession of the WBA championship.

Joshua v Klitschko was a brilliantly even fight, not a fight between two brilliant boxers.

The problem,though, was the glaring absence of Fury from the heavyweight scene. Joshua is an immense talent but when people like Eddie Hearn unearth a man both as talented and marketable as Joshua, there is a hesitancy to put him in a ring with a man as unorthodox and dangerous as Wilder. Sportswear companies, watch manufacturers and airlines don’t respond well when the face of their billboard campaigns has been sparked in front of millions of viewers.

If there is a paucity of quality challengers – as was case when the Klitschkos ruled – then promoters can largely do as they please but audiences are wise and predictable fights will not do big office numbers. With Fury absent though, and offering little beyond pithy soundbites, Hearn knew it was his prerogative to mine Anthony Joshua’s cross-generational appeal and make some real money. Admittedly, that is the very essence of professional boxing.

Boxing enjoys a most unusual place in society, offering somewhat of a social dilemma:why do peaceful people enjoy the brutal nature of a boxing match? Perhaps it’s the drama of the event, the contradictory appeal of the glamour and raw brutality, or, perhaps we’re not as peaceful and reasonable as we believe.

This week the grim reality of the fight game came to bear when it was confirmed that former light heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Stevenson, had been placed in a medically induced coma and may have lasting brain injuries. His injuries came in defeat to Oleksandr Gvozdyk in Quebec City on the same night that heavyweight boxing was rejuvenated. The contrast is jarring. The risks are so real and so obvious and history is littered with hundreds of cautionary tales of men and women who were devoured by the boxing industry. Yet, mystifyingly the show goes on and those who should know better lap it up.

Still, while boxing cares little for its casualties, the return of the fallen great has been mythologised since the 1920s. Thus it was, earlier this year, and after negotiations with the BBBC, Tyson Fury was allowed to return to the ring, with his two-year suspension backdated to 2016. Two barely passable tune-ups followed before Fury and Wilder’s respective management teams were able to agree to last weekend’s contest.

When the fight was made, Team Joshua – none of whom lack for hubris – saw Wilder and Fury as inferior, the ‘B side’ in any future negotiations. Then, Wilder and Fury engaged in the remarkable contest last weekend and now the division is alive with opportunity once more. Unlike Joshua and Klitschko, this was actually a contest between two men in their prime. Joshua is still the main draw but as in bygone days, the pinnacle of the heavyweight division is now populated by a number of extremely talented yet markedly different men.

Whatever the case, events in California have changed the dynamic entirely. How else could Deontay Wilder have ended sitting on a couch beside the mystifying, James Corden? Until Saturday, Joshua and Hearn perhaps rightly thought that Fury and Wilder needed them. Now, however, their rematch will fill Wembley Stadium or a Las Vegas casino and the box office purchases will be like the 90s heydays.

Some people will scratch their heads and struggle to fathom the brutality of boxing but last Saturday’s fight has renewed America’s love for the storied heavyweight division. For the oddly sentimental fans of boxing and the power brokers alike, the bigs are back and all is well in the world once more.

#Boxing, GGG v Alvarez

Golovkin v Alvarez: Preview

After the damp squib in Vegas last month, sports fans can look forward to a genuinely enthralling contest next Saturday night as Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez finally face off in Las Vegas.

Unlike the bland anomaly of a fortnight ago, GGG and Canelo will meet as the two best at their weight, the famed and storied middleweight division of Leonard, Hearns and Hagler. And, unlike the dross that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao served up two years ago, Saturday’s fight involves two fighters extremely close to their prime, particularly Alvarez, although more on that later.

Thankfully, since the slippery Oscar De La Hoya and Tom Loeffler were finally able to come to an agreement in the spring, this fight has become the most highly anticipated contest of the year for boxing fans.

Anyone who has paid even the remotest bit of attention over the last three years will be aware of charismatic, prize fighter Golovkin, who has ploughed his way unceremoniously through the peripheral characters of the middleweight division. The top contenders – Daniel Jacobs aside – have sidestepped, talked a lot of shit and ultimately ran from the Kazakh. Honourable mention goes to Billy-Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Junior.

Aficionados of boxing, the likes of Steve Bunce or Frank Lotierzo, could regale you with the various styles and techniques which pervade the pugilistic art. However, for those of us who watch with something bordering on a keen interest or even occasional viewers, nothing gets the heart racing more than a cavalier puncher who values the strength of his hands over any potential weakness in his jaw. Some fighters come to box, Golovkin largely comes to punch.

There are tales of a barely teenage Golovkin fighting grown men on the streets at the behest of older brothers and based on the subsequent 350 plus amateur fights, young Gennady took to the art with relish. Both older brothers, Sergey and Vadim died in unexplained circumstances serving in the Russian army and according to his promoter Tom Loeffler, Golovkin never divulges on this matter. Undoubtedly, his experiences in the dark early days of post-Soviet Kazakhstan helped form the devastatingly powerful fighter that hides behind relentlessly smiling eyes.

Golovkin fought long and hard to break the US market, not helped perhaps by American suspicion of anything Soviet-era. Aided by Loeffler’s K2 Promotions and veteran trainer, Abel Sanchez, it was sometime around 2014 that fans really began to take to this old fashioned, knock-out artist. Since 2015, having helped himself to three belts and sending Miguel Cotto – himself a future Hall-of-Famer – scurrying down a weight, GGG turned his attentions to Alvarez, the toast of the United States, Mexican community.

Alvarez genuinely appeared to be willing to make the fight happen last year but boxing being what it is, de La Hoya wanted to milk his prized cash cow against some fodder. Saturday night may prove otherwise, but history will probably show that GGG was at his peak in late 2015, then a relatively lightly boxed, professional at least, and definitely barely hurt, 33.

De La Hoya obviously realised this and did not want Canelo’s rebuilding period, after his insipid defeat to Mayweather in 2013, to go unrewarded. Golovkin was absolutely destroying fighters at this stage, former titlist David Lemieux getting annihilated. Instead, in 2016, De La Hoya holding the box office trump card set about organising ‘gimmes’ against the glass chinned Amir Khan and a game but outclassed Liam Smith.


In this period, Golovkin stopped Kell Brook, a man currently suffering from an acute case of sour grapes, in a hugely entertaining bout, marketed brilliantly as an actual contest by Sky Sports. The triple champion followed this with a laboured victory in March over the awkward, perpetual motion of the underrated Danny Jacobs. There is an argument based on the performances of the past 12 months that GGG has allowed signs of weakness creep into his game.

Brook, a far smaller man, landed on the champion regularly, although Golovkin could counter by saying that in a trade-off Brook would never win and that he was willing to absorb decent shots to get an open look. Brook’s broken orbital and fight-ending towel from his corner supports this view. What followed in the Jacobs fight, however, would have been more concerning for team Gennady as, despite a fourth-round knockdown, Jacobs actually strengthened as the fight wore on. Some even tried to stretch the argument, fairly implausibly, that had the belt been on the New Yorker entering the ring then the judges might have decided he had done enough to retain.

Alvarez most recent opponent was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter of all time. The fight was built as ‘the Battle of Mexico’ but Chavez brought absolutely nothing to the table and was comprehensively out boxed and bullied by the smaller Canelo. In the immediate aftermath of the bout, it was difficult to establish whether Alvarez had been immense or Chavez almost incomprehensibly, insipid.

The truth, as with most of these subjective judgments, lies somewhere in between. Canelo was rampant, comfortably countering from the back foot, dictating almost every exchange and regularly hurting his enigmatic opponent. Chavez, though, offered an offense that Gandhi would have been proud of and, not for the first time in his career, looked disinterested for large swathes of the contest.

Based on the last 12 months, Alvarez has been more impressive but that merely closes the gap between the two and even though he knocked out Khan in devastating fashion, the Englishman was actually landing plenty of shots. True, Khan never hurt Alvarez but if Golovkin lands with the same frequency, the fight will finish well within the distance.

It will be interesting to see how GGG Alvarez performs at the box office. Mayweather and Pacquiao still possessed remarkable box-office drawing power even in the latter years of their careers. Their recent efforts in a circus event and a dispiriting loss to an Australian journeyman, respectively, prove as much. What of Saturday’s combatant’s though? Alvarez is in his prime and has the adoring Mexican community to draw on, while Golovkin’s style is what the masses want, but will the casual American fan tune in for a clash that is not unreasonably being touted as a potential Fight of the Decade?

If the numbers aren’t great boxing promoters will hardly run for the hills. While there are periodic death knells for the state of boxing – AJ Liebling was already decrying the ruination of live cards by TV coverage in the 50s –  the sweet science is in the best shape it’s been for 30 years.

The heavyweights, for so long ruled by the monolithic Klitschkos, have risen from their slumber and the welterweights, led by Keith Thurman and Terence Crawford are on the cusp of becoming boxing’s premier division. However, what people tend to forget is that the Latin American and specifically, Mexican boxing community is there through thick and thin. Their support is unwavering and boxing will not rise or fall on the back of Saturday’s fight. However, if nothing else, the numbers will establish viewers preference for a sporting contest or a modern day, insubstantial ‘event’, as witnessed last month.

Picking a winner is harder than it first would have seemed. This time last year, GGG would have been a certainty. But, kudos to De La Hoya, he ensured the negotiations were protracted and now his man, a year and three fights later, looks a far better boxer. Perhaps we’ve all looked into the Jacobs fight too closely but recent form is generally indicative. If Golovkin stays patient, no guarantee, he should be able to break Canelo down but the latter is more powerful than many give him credit for and if Alvarez can establish a rhythm and land some early combinations, the Kazakh will have to deal with problems that have yet to be presented to him. That said, the lumbering Canelo is not Jacobs, all awkward movement and body angles, and it’s hard to imagine him not being drawn into a proper fight at some point.

If Golovkin stays patient, no guarantee, he should be able to break Canelo down but the latter is more powerful than many give him credit for and if Alvarez can establish a rhythm and land some early combinations, the Kazakh will have to deal with problems that have yet to be presented to him. That said, the lumbering Canelo is not Jacobs, all awkward movement and body angles, and it’s hard to imagine him not being drawn into a proper fight at some point.

These are two genuine warriors, who have fought competitively against men long before they should have been allowed and the suspicion is that Saturday’s fight will ultimately turn into a brawl. If it does, Golovkin wins hands down but if Alvarez can stay patient and frustrates the bigger man, then it becomes far more difficult to call. Still, I’ve been on the Golovkin bandwagon far too long to depart at the last stop. Golovkin by Decision.

Golovkin by Decision.

S.U.S. Prediction – Golovkin by Decision @ 7/2


Gennady Golovkin Looms Large for Saul Alvarez

35-0 with 32 victories by way of knockout. Twenty-two stoppages in a row. Gennady Golovkin’s professional record is almost impossible to compute. Yesterday’s second round destruction of Dominic Wade has merely added further substance to the mystique surrounding the California-based Kazakh .

In a week where the most tedious and highly documented pissing contest in sports history took centre stage, one could be forgiven for failing to notice that boxing’s star attraction was entertaining his adopted Inglewood crowd with another display of otherworldly punching power.

The well-traversed narrative surrounding GGG is that his phenomenal offence has the majority of the middleweight divisions running scared. And, in a sense this is true. There are two things that boxers are very fond of: money and not getting their faces caved in. And, therein lies the conundrum. A fight with GGG could end quickly for the likes of Miguel Cotto, Saul Alvarez – in the hands of the deceptively slimy Oscar de la Hoya – or even Billie Joe Saunders, but there is potential for a huge payday.

The only in-ring mystery surrounding Golovkin – whose brothers made him street fight strangers as a child –  is how his defence would hold up against the aforementioned fighters. It may be that the thirty-four-year-olds power, like prime-Tyson, would sap the vitality of his challengers leaving the question surrounding his defence a largely perfunctory issue. In any event, Golovkin is yet to hit the canvas after more than 350 fights between the amateur and professional ranks, so his otherworldly toughness is probably his strongest defensive tool.

Those in the know, including Frank Lotierzo of thesweetscience.com describe Golovkin as merely an “adequate boxer”, in the truly technical sense, but his devastating power allows him to chip away at his opponent’s resistance and then unload relentlessly. Also, his armoury runs deep so an opponent could be caught with a thunderous left hook, overhead right or a night-ending body shot.

The detractors will say that Golovkin is only beating ‘bums’, yet with the exception of Andy Lee, nobody in the top ten is willing to take a shot at the world’s number three pound-for-pound boxer. Fourth-ranked David Lemieux already took his chance in a unification bout and the only surprise that night was that Lemieux lasted into the eighth round.

We’re sorry for bleating like a particularly bolshy broken record, but boxing’s inner-politics shouldn’t just be accepted with a resigned sigh and shrug of the shoulders. There is something intrinsically wrong with this great sport when the combatants are allowed to run and take cover behind the bull shit of Frank Warren or de la Hoya.

This week, Conor McGregor, his level-headed social media following and Dana White have created an embarrassing situation, but for the most part, MMA should be lauded for ensuring that the champion always fights the next guy in line. Unless, ironically, your name is Conor McGregor and the featherweight division is set in limbo, though one suspects White and the UFC may not be so accommodating going forwards. Anyway, we digress, but the point here is Golovkin would long since have fought Alvarez or Cotto if logic was allowed prevail.

Boxing was, of course, ruptured in the 80s when new Associations, Federations and Organisations starting appearing at an inordinate rate, fracturing the sport and creating pockets of vested interests. While belts are important, Golovkin’s uniquely frustrating situation shows that the real power lies with promoters and their desire to protect their golden tickets.

De la Hoya knows that the lion’s share of PPV purchases come from the sizable, loyal Mexican boxing fraternity. Alvarez, originally a big, solid welterweight and the current lineal champion – a concept that seems to have been created by the Mad Hatter – of the middleweight division is Golden Boy Promotions gateway to Mexican fight fans, and with Mayweather most likely gone to pasture, De la Hoya has wasted no time in declaring ‘Canelo’ as boxing’s prime attraction.


Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (l) seen here in his victory over Migeul Cotto will hopefully face GGG later in 2016.

Alvarez squares off against Amir Khan on May 9th and logic would suggest the winner, most likely the current WBC champion will advance to face GGG in the super-fight of 2016. Khan, a welterweight is also being forced to jump through hoops –admittedly aided by some very alluring financial incentives- by Golden Boy as he’ll be jumping nine pounds to 156 pounds to make ‘Canelo’s’ job more palatable. Seriously, the ‘heels’ in WWE don’t have things stacked this heavily in their favour.

So, rather unsurprisingly, and in a quirk that will irritate fans and detractors of boxing in equal measure, Alvarez has indicated that any showdown with GGG will take place at a catch weight of 155 pounds. In effect, the champion at 160 is making his most dangerous rival drop five pounds of power. Alvarez defends very effectively at junior middleweight, but Golovkin is a bona fide middleweight and given his supposed technical deficiencies, he would be dispensing with logic in meeting Alvarez’ demands.

Trainer Abel Sanchez and, more so, promoter Tom Loeffler, have worked tirelessly and patiently to generate Golovkin’s fan base on the U.S. west coast so it would seem most unlikely that they would allow their once in a generation star dispense with his ‘superpower’. This being the case, Alvarez or Cotto will need to man up or Saunders or the dangerous Daniel Jacobs will need to step their games up considerably. The chance may have come and gone for Andy Lee, but boxing is nothing if not unpredictable, so who knows.

One thing is for certain, however. For all his notoriety and box office draw, Mayweather was jarringly boring to watch, due to his sublime defense and hand speed. Now retired, his void needs to be filled by a freewheeling wrecking-ball, and not another defensive whizz. Sanchez has instilled the cavalier, come-forward stylings of Mexican greats like Julio Cesar Chavez into his already outrageously, powerful charge, and fight fans have responded accordingly.


Trainer Abel Sanchez has successfully instilled in his man the stylings of the legendary Mexican hall-of-famer, Julio Cesar Chavez.

Golovkin is a young 34, insofar as his fights are usually brief, whirlwind affairs, but a boxer’s speed is probably the first thing to go and it would be shameful if bureaucracy prevents him from giving the fans what they want and what boxing needs. Anyone who watched the abominable Mayweather-Pacquiao fight last May will know the importance of boxers facing off in their prime.

Only 25, perhaps Alvarez – see De la Hoya – is scared of damaging his legacy, but the greats, like Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran never turned a big fight down. Golovkin has taken out every last bit of fodder in the lower reaches of the middleweight division. The time has come for the best to show their true colours.

#Boxing, Boxing, Football, Gaelic Games, Golf, Horse Racing, NFL/Rugby, Republic of Ireland/FIFA, Rugby Union, Soccer, UFC

Straight Up Sport Predictions 2016

2015 was, by any comparable standards, an excellent sporting year. In the murky world of sporting politics, there was also the welcome downfall of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter and the lurking snake Michel Platini. Meanwhile, we were treated to the rather unsurprising revelations that Russian athletics was involved in systematic doping and Lord Sebastian Coe is a bit of a dick.

The highlights included the New England Patriots winning their fourth Superbowl after a botched play call by Seattle Seahawks on the New England one-yard line. Almost one year later none of Pete Carroll, Darrell Blevins, Russell Wilson or the latter’s usual play-caller, God, have been willing to take responsibility for not giving the ball to this man (this clip comes with a Tipper Gore warning!)

Willie Mullins dominated Cheltenham and but for this fateful fall – horse and jockey will be back with a vengeance in 2016 – the punters, for once, would have had the bookies running for cover.

Ireland secured back-to-back Six Nations championships for the first time ever after the most dramatic day in tournament history, though the year ended on a diminuendo after an injury-depleted side, with the wrong man at out-half, fell to an inspired Argentina.

Meanwhile, Andy Lee dropped his WBO middleweight title in mildly controversial circumstances to Billy Joe Saunders. It was terribly disappointing that the champion did not get an opportunity to make either of his first two defences on Irish soil. Had Lee fought Saunders in Limerick the likelihood is that he would have retained his title, as boxing historically favours a hometown champion in a tight fight.

Carl Frampton twice retained his IBF super-bantamweight championship, while it would be remiss of us not to mention Conor McGregor’s stunning knockout of Jose Aldo in Las Vegas last month.

Whether you care to admit it or not, the country’s greatest success in 2015 was the qualification for Euro 2016. After the 1-1 draw at home to Scotland in June, dreams of a French summer lay in tatters. We remember agreeing as much with a few friends in a Cambridge pub on that dank afternoon.

But, then, along came Shane Long, Irish folk-hero Jon Walters and a few dollops of luck and qualification was realised after a relatively straightforward dispatching of Bosnia. A group comprising Belgium, Italy and Sweden looks ominous but that is June’s problem.

So, to 2016 and a combination of a few of our hopes and predictions for the sporting year ahead.

  1. After much humming and hawing, Manchester United finally rid themselves of Louis van Gaal.

There can’t be a Manchester United fan out there who will miss the dull, turgid aimless crap that has cost the Dutchman £250 million to manufacture. Rumour has it that Ryan Giggs has been in cahoots with Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish to launch a coup, though, at this point, it seems another despot, Jose Mourinho, will take the reins of this great club. All the while, Sir Matt Busby turns in his grave.



The end is nigh for Louis van Gaal.  (Courtesy of Getty Images)


  1. Thanks to the incompetence of others, Arsenal win the Premier League and Arsene Wenger claims that he has been vindicated in investing in a series of shite strikers.

Arsenal definitely have previous when it comes to choking in the second half of the season but at present they appear to be the most error-free side, which by extension makes them the most likely to win the league.

Wenger, to his credit, has been arguably the second best manager of the Premier League era but his sometimes delusional stubbornness has cost the team in the past. Yes, the board love him because the club is in the black but, let’s be honest, the fans couldn’t give a shit about that. They want to win the Premier League.

If Arsenal don’t win this year’s league, then they could be facing a very lengthy drought. There would be a sense of irony as well as a perfect example of the farcical treatment of modern day managers if Manchester City regained the title before coldly sacking Manuel Pellegrini. However, we can see Arsenal just about falling over the line though North London rivals, Spurs, will pose a serious threat.

  1. People accept that Irish club rugby had a great run, stop whining and focus on the international team.

The media of late have been lamenting the death of Irish rugby mainly due to the fact that the French and English look set to dominate the European game for the foreseeable future. Now, first of all, let’s accept that the provinces have seen their fair share of benefactors down the years while the Pro 12 was in an advantageous position regarding qualification to the old Heineken Cup.

We’re definitely not apologists for the European Champions Cup – for one thing, the BT Sport coverage is stomach-churningly ‘old-boy’ and elitist –  and the chips are quite clearly stacked in favour of the shaky Anglo-French alliance. However, like many before them, the Irish provinces have been punching above their weight for years. And, rather than whinge, let’s celebrate this fact.

Many of our finest rugby journalists have gotten in a tizzy of late over the potential downfall of the national side given the perilous state of Irish sides in Europe.

Well, we give you Example A, Wales. Bar the odd good season for Ospreys, Scarlets or Cardiff, the Welsh have a dismal record in Europe. Their domestic game just about keeps its head above water and many of their finest players have departed for more rewarding, foreign bounties.

Yet, for the last eight years, Wales have been a major player, both in the Six Nations and the World Cup. They were probably screwed by Alain Rolland in 2011 and in October their injury-ravaged side came desperately close to toppling South Africa in London.

Ireland need to strike a balance – and lest we forget, Ulster still have a great chance of making this year’s Champions Cup quarter-finals – but Wales have proven that it is possible to produce a top-class national side even when the domestic game is not exactly flourishing.

The next two years should see something of a changing of the guard and there is an abundance of talent coming through; Tadhg Furlong, Stuart McCloskey, Jack McGrath, Kieran Marmion, Jack O’ Donoghue, Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander. Meanwhile, there are the resurgent Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Tommy O’ Donnell and Andrew Trimble. Not to mention, the currently sidelined Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’ Mahony. Little cause for worry, then.

Iain H

With youngsters like Iain Henderson set to take on the mantle, Irish international rugby is in very safe hands.

The provinces may be entering a fallow period but the next four years appear genuinely promising for our international side.

  1. The All-Ireland Football Championship is overshadowed by further ridiculous disciplinary hearings and successful appeals.

The important thing to remember as an inter-county Gaelic football player is that a red card is just a speed bump and a suspension can be overturned if you shout loud enough. One of the most irritating aspects of Gaelic football is that players, and by extension, their managers and county boards refuse to accept suspensions after clearly breaching on-field rules.

Connolly & Keegan

Remember, kids, you can’t get suspended for this. (Photo courtesy of sportsjoe.ie)

Last year’s clear examples were Mayo’s Kevin Keane and, of course, Diarmuid Connolly’s ridiculous, though successful, overnight appeal against his red card for punching Lee Keegan. The technicalities of that case are mind numbing but the lesson is clear: If you get sent off in the 2016 All-Ireland Football Championship, you’ll be the laughing stock of the summer if you can’t get your suspension overturned.

  1. The Republic of Ireland escape the ‘Group of Death’

By our nature, we are strangely complex characters, in that we convey optimism and pessimism in equal measures, usually in the same conversation.

An example being:

“You see the draw for the Euros?”

“Yeah it’s a fucker of a group, couldn’t be tougher.”

“Do you reckon we’ll get out, though?”

“Ah yeah, don’t see why not. Sure, Sweden only have Zlatan. Belgium are a bunch of whinging bastards. And, to be fair, Italy must be getting old at this stage.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

And that is the logic that we will be applying this summer. Remember, Sweden are ranked below Ireland in the admittedly oft-maligned FIFA World Rankings, Belgium do not have tournament pedigree. And, Italy? Well, there’s always Ray Houghton’s roly-poly in Giant Stadium.

  1. Gennady Golovkin gets a chance to decimate a middleweight world champion.

Broken record and all that, we know. Throughout 2015, GGG has grown exasperated as Golden Boy and Roc Nation protected their Latin-American cash-cows, for fear of them taking a beating that would see their market value plummet.

Not this year, though. Golovkin has relocated to Los Angeles and L.A.’s Central American fight community – the majority of the US boxing community – already love him. Golovkin fights in the tradition of the great Mexican boxers and the fans have warmed to this immediately.

To be clear, until his last few fights, GGG has only beaten what’s put in front of him and usually it’s been brave fodder who need a pay cheque. But it’s the way he’s beaten them. Toe-to-toe, stand and deliver. He may yet be found out by a younger, though more experienced in terms of quality of opponent, Saul Alvarez. Or by the erratic, though hugely talented, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But, either way, let’s see it happen.

Say what you want about Andy Lee but, at least, he had shown his willingness to go straight for Golovkin had he beaten Saunders. Golovkin has been well handled by HBO and promoter, Tom Loeffler in 2015. The all-important US fan base has been carefully cultivated and for Alvarez, Saunders, Cotto and Chavez Jr., excuses are now thin on the ground.

The Four Kings never avoided each other and that’s what made the 80s the golden era of middleweight boxing. After the most overhyped, underwhelming fight of this or any other era took place between Mayweather and Pacquiao last summer, boxing fans deserve Golovkin and Alvarez in 2016.

  1. People will finally realise that Roy Hodgson is a spoofer of Frank Abignale Jr. proportions.

Children of the 90s will recall the brilliant Stephen Spielberg produced cartoon sketch show, Animaniacs. Fronted by the Warner Brothers, Wakko, Yakko and their sweet little sister, Dot, the show also featured the wonderfully, simplistic Chicken Boo sketch.

Each week, the titular Boo would arrive into town, and, thanks to some excellent costumes and a propensity to stay silent, deceive people into thinking he was, for example, a spy or a sheriff. On each occasion, one apoplectic member of the group would plead, unsuccessfully, with his friends to recognise that this was a chicken in their midst, not a man. Eventually, in the last act, Boo’s costume would come off, his true identity would be revealed and he’d be run out of town.

Now,  Roy Hodgson is obviously no chicken but he has provided a masterclass in deceiving people by basically saying nothing and being a gentleman throughout his reign as England football manager.

Remember, this is the man who said before the 2014 World Cup that he believed he had that could win the tournament. Of course, what followed was England’s worst World Cup performance since 1958, which for someone like Graham Taylor would have meant an immediate sacking.


Roy Hodgson

That’s a man who knows he’s getting away with murder. Sorry, soon to be, Sir Roy!


Now, on one hand, you have to admire the F.A. for their trust in the manager, and invariably international managers get more time in the job due to the fact that they have a specific set of players from which to choose and no transfer window.

However, the odd aspect of Hodgson’s reign is that he is being hailed as this extraordinary motivator and tactician when, in reality, he has done very little with what is actually a very talented squad.

Hodgson, unsurprisingly, wanted his England contract extension to be finalised before Euro 2016 but FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn has decided otherwise. Sorry Roy, but Chicken Boo always got found out.

  1. Djakadam wins a first Cheltenham Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.

It would hardly be a shock to suggest that the Gold Cup will be one of the racing highlights of the year but we feel this year’s renewal will be one to capture the entire sporting public’s imagination.

Even in the unfortunate absence of last year’s brilliant winner Coneygree – we will forever be loyal followers of the gutsy, Mark Bradstock trained nine-year-old –  this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be an absolutely thrilling contest.

The King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day revealed a couple of interesting pointers: Vautour is a classy horse but he may not have three miles in him; Don Cossack is probably the best of the lot but as his fall proved, you’ve got to jump them (see Annie Power); Cue Card is having a remarkable season but has question marks remaining over whether he can do it at Prestbury Park.



Djakadam and Ruby Walsh, seen here after winning last year’s Thyestes Chase in Gowran park. The pair may just finally end Willie Mullins’ wait for a maiden victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)


Meanwhile, last year’s second and this year’s favourite, the Willie Mullins trained, Djakadam, was merely an observer over Christmas. It appears at this stage he will take the route through the long grass via the Cotswold Chase, a route less popular for Gold Cup contenders in recent years.

Recent renewals have been hard to call perhaps because of a perceived dearth of quality. This year, however, there can be no question as to the depth in the field. And, it may finally see Willie Mullins win the one he so dearly desires.

  1. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will each win a major, while Tiger will, sadly, call it a day.

The depth of talent in golf is most probably at an all-time high. After his glorious 2014, it appeared that McIlroy would enjoy a reign something akin to Tiger but Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and an unfortunate game of five-a-side put paid to that.

It’s virtually impossible to separate the three, the Official World Rankings aside, so it would come as no great surprise if each of the big three took home a major this year. McIlroy is hurt by the fact that he still has not mastered Augusta but his form at the back end of the year was excellent and for the first time in a while, he may feel that he has something to prove to himself.

Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Shane Lowry and the rarely mentioned around here, Brooks Koepka, will have something to say but the battle between Day, McIlroy and Spieth will be the story of 2016.

In other news, Golfing Tiger is dead. Long live Golfing Tiger.

Tiger Woods

2016 may see the retirement of probably the greatest, and definitely the most influential golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. Vintage era Tiger was simply untouchable. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images for Golfweek)

  1. Conor McGregor continues to dominate U.F.C.

Anyone who has visited these parts before will know how we feel about Conor McGregor. However, to ignore his spectacular 2015, which culminated with the outrageous 13-second knockout of U.F.C. legend, Jose Aldo would be plain ignorant.

Thus far, he has does everything he has promised inside the octagon, and is the unquestioned king of the U.F.C. featherweight division. The jump to lightweight looks likely as he has acknowledged the difficulty of making 145lb as a relatively big featherweight at 5ft 9″.

Aldo McGregor

Conor McGregor delivered on his promise to dominate the UFC featherweight division, culminating in his 13 second K.O. of Jose Aldo. Now, in 2016, it’s up to the lightweight division. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nonetheless, while U.F.C. fans and Dana White bow down to kiss McGregor’s feet, it will be interesting to see whether ‘the Notorious’ will have to join the queue before getting a shot at the lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos.

To McGregor’s credit, he lives and may someday die by the sword and, for this reason, all eyes will be on John Kavanagh’s star turn in 2016.

Boxing, Uncategorized

Boxing remains its own worst enemy

And so, we’ve made it to the end of the year. A year where boxing shamed itself by letting that thug, Mayweather dominate, while the man who has the potential to introduce those hair on the back of your neck moments to a new generation of sports fans, Gennady Golovkin -GGG- has been forced to endure the bullshit politicking of Golden Boy Promotions, amongst others.

Of course, it’s also been a year where Tyson Fury pissed of many a person while deposing the classy, though boring-as-hell Wladimir Klitschko. Meanwhile Andy Lee, our favourite Irish sportsperson, rather devastatingly dropped his WBO middleweight title, somewhat controversially, on his first defence to the talented Billy Joe Saunders. If Lee does not get a rematch, then boxing is no more credible than WWE. This article from Boxing News will explain the current nonsensical nature of boxing for you perfectly. It is almost unconscionable, in a sport built on almost reckless courage, that men are sidestepping Golovkin. All this, while the man who actually wants to fight him has been treated awfully.


Andy Lee is the only middleweight willing to go toe-to-toe with Gennady Golovkin. (Picture courtesy of RingTV)

The Marvin Hagler Tommy Hearns classic of 1985 was celebrated earlier this year but if you’ve never seen ‘The War’ and you want to see why the 80s were truly the heyday of boxing, then please indulge us. That fight, and the era of the Four King – Hagler, Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard –  perfectly encapsulate the raw combination of savagery and beauty that only boxing can offer.

The phenomenal success of Conor McGregor this year should finally force boxing into accepting that UFC is not only a threat but also a genuine alternative for fans who are sick of watching overblown build ups to non-events. The 36 minutes of shit between two over-the-hill fighters in Pacquaio and Mayweather was an affront to the regular sagas of days gone by. We’re not champions of UFC and we’ll take boxing every day of the week but to Dana White’s credit he would have made Mayweather Pacquiao happen years ago.

Sorry to harp on about this but we can’t stress enough just how debilitating to boxing the treatment of GGG has been. This man is an incredibly gifted puncher -he was the highest knockout percentage in middleweight boxing history – learning his trade on the streets of the Kazakh, port town of Karaganda. Golovkin is almost an adopted son of Mexican fight fans, who have always loved the fact that their fighters come ready to bang, not to play some depressingly frustrating game of chess.

His critics, and to be fair there are very few at this stage, say that better opponents will take advantage of Golovkin’s overly aggressive style -despite the fact he’s never been knocked –  but sadly Oscar De La Hoya won’t let us see if Canelo Alvarez can actually pose these problems. More frustratingly, Billy Joe Saunders, for all his talk won’t go toe-to-toe with Golovkin either.

Andy Lee is a boxer in the truest sense of the word. He has thread a path which may not have lead him to the financial rewards he deserves but he is the only man in world boxing who actively sought a contest with GGG this year. Hand on heart, we think the Kazakh would stop Lee but, it would proffer a rare glimpse into why the middleweight division was not only the most watched boxing division in the 80s but arguably the most popular of all sports.

If Frank Warren, the wily mainstay of boxing promotion, can’t facilitate the Lee-Saunders rematch in either the Point or Thomond Park, then boxing should hang its head in shame. Like Gotham City or electronic music in its current form, boxing has been denigrated and lost its true identity.


GGG: the man who could capture the public’s attention. (Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Men like Andy Lee, up and coming British heavyweight, Anthony Joshua and the criminally underrated -to non-fight fans- Gennady Golovkin are what boxing is all about. Like the sadly departed Arturo Gatti and the abovementioned Four Kings these men just want to fight and put on a show for the fans. We’re not saying all boxers should be prizefighters, for in contrast there is beauty. And, indeed, Leonard’s career probably germinated the frustratingly brilliant tactics of Floyd Mayweather.

However, if Warren, De La Hoya, Eddie Hearns and the self-serving sycophants of boxing’s four -yes four! – main regulatory bodies want boxing to stay relevant to the wider sporting public, they need to step their game up in 2016 and give the people what they want.

Boxing, Uncategorized

Send your Fury elsewhere

RTE nailed it. Back in 1985, the national broadcaster devised an annual sports award, the RTE Sports Person of the Year Award to recognise the achievements of Ireland’s greatest sports person in any given year. In a moment of inspiration, somebody in the creative department decided to forego the moniker of Sports Personality of the Year.

If only the BBC had done the same. Then, perhaps they would have avoided the shit storm surrounding the nomination of the societal pillar, Tyson Fury, for 2015 Sports Personality of the Year.

Now, to be clear, Fury’s comments to the Mail on Sunday in November – wherein he bizarrely and misguidedly bracketed homosexuality and paedophilia together –  were incredibly insulting and derogatory. He coupled these views with his pointedly misogynistic views about heptathlete Jessica Ennis, and, all women.

However, the problem here is that the SPOTY awards are intended to recognise the sporting achievements of any British man or woman in a given calendar year. The awards do not specify in their selection criteria, award-winning humanitarian or crusader for social justice.

Take the time to look through past winners and you’ll see some extremely talented sports people with highly questionable characters.  Not naming names here but you have a philanderer here, a misogynist there and maybe a drug cheat in the middle, just for good measure.

There is clearly excessive focus on the ‘Personality’ aspect of the award. Even on a practical level, how could you give such an award to Andy Murray.  Obviously, the Scotsman is a phenomenal tennis player but he’s not exactly a guy who’d light the room up when he walks in. This award, despite its title, is intended to honour the greatest British sporting success of the past year. Not their personality.

Occasionally the winner happens to be very personable and charming, like Jessica-Ennis Hill or David Beckham. Or, it’s been the archetypal larger-than-life character, like Sir Ian Botham or Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff. Or sometimes, just to ratchet up the ire, the winner can even be Irish, like Barry McGuigan.

There have been some winners of the award who’ve managed to marry their incredible sporting success with their amazing personalities. However, in the truest sense of the word ‘personality’ is largely superfluous in the context of the award. For god’s sake, Nick Faldo! And, a fucking super injunction for the most Teflon coated man in the world.




Nick Faldo, good guy.


Tyson Fury has rightly been censured for his homophobic remarks but to counter-balance the brouhaha, one should consider the context in which the comments were made. As anyone who watches sport and actually admires Tyson Fury’s sporting achievements will know, the Mancunian has a proud heritage. Both his parents were born in Ireland and his family is steeped in the traditions of the Travelling community.

Fury himself has said that his was a strict Catholic upbringing, which appears to have been based largely on the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament.  Now, as a caveat, please note that this is not nor will it ever be a forum for spouting religious views. If you have faith in a dancing snowman who rides around on a unicorn and this belief makes you a kinder, better person, then go for it. Similarly, Allah. Or God. Or Gautama Buddha.

But, in any event, this is what a young Tyson Fury was taught. He did try and explain his comments to a certain extent, saying “that’s what the Bible taught me.” However, it’s dangerous to invest too much faith in any one book or as with mass media, to believe everything you read.

Separately, Fury’s comments about Ennis-Hill were misogynistic but as Malachy Clerkin pointed out in an excellent article in this week’s Irish Times, sport is fraught with underlying misogyny. A lot of people are, by and large, full of sanctimonious, self-serving shit and will readily move from this week’s latest hot, social justice topic to the next. But, if women are largely ignored in sport, then as Mr Clerkin pointed out, a petition isn’t going to do much about it.

The gentleman from Manchester who reported Fury’s comments to the Manchester Metropolitan Police hit the nail on the head when he said that Fury is entitled to his comments, but, when they are vitriolic and ignorant, they should probably be kept himself. That, however, is a point to be made in relation to wider society in general.

Tyson Fury is a professional boxer, a profession where thoughtfulness and self-awareness are not exactly rife. He’s also a self-promoter who can’t keep his name out of the news.

To return to our original point, he recently became the eighth British Heavyweight World Champion of all time and that, in the singularity of sporting achievement, should be respected. He deposed one of the greatest and most achingly boring heavyweight champions of all time, Wladimir Klitschko. And, for the sentimentalists out there, remember that Muhammad Ali, as amazing a man as he is, made some reprehensible comments in his own time.

So, as some people remount their social media high-horse, remember that Tyson Fury is a professional boxer with misguided thoughts. And, when the ire recedes, remember that, in all likelihood, a racist asshole is about to win the Republican nomination for the American presidential race. Guide your anger where it actually matters.




Boxing has Nothing to Fear Except Boxing Itself

Last weekend’s ‘Fight of the Century, between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, was neither surprising, exhilarating nor exciting, surely prerequisites for such a bombastically titled contest. While most observers outside of HBO, Showtime, Sky -you get the picture- predicted a snorefest, fight fans couldn’t help but hang on to that tiny thread of hope that a thirty-eight-year-old, nineteen year pro and his thirty-six-year-old, sixty-four fight veteran opponent would defy the relentless dream-thwarter that is logic and put on the classic that boxing so dearly needed. Or that we the fans too obviously wanted.

And, perhaps that is where the problem lies. Trawl through the truly classic fights from any era; Hagler-Hearns, all three episodes of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Duran parts one and two, and you will find that none of the fighters were near as advanced in either years or ring mileage than last weekend’s combatants.  The contest had an odd carnival-like build-up, made even more bizarre by television host Jimmy Kimmel accompanying Pacquiao for his ring entrance. Kimmel now has a wonderful anecdote for guests on his Tonight Show but what does this say about Pacquiao’s pre-fight frame of mind? Was he just happy to be part of this global circus, content to have headlined the M.G.M. Grand with Mayweather? This was sold as an era-defining fight yet failed miserably, by any measurable standard, to deliver.

By contrast, consider 1975’s epic ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, the concluding chapter of the bitter feud between Geroge Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Sitting in his corner at the end of Round 14 Frazier, face an abstract mess, begged with his trainer Eddie Futch to let him return for the final round. “I want him, boss,” begged Frazier. Futch replied, before throwing in the towel, “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today”. Forty years later the ‘Thrilla in Manilla” still resonates as one of the greatest occasions, not just in boxing, but in all sporting history.  We say with borderline certainty that virtually nobody will remember what Mayweather and Pacquiao did –or perhaps more pertinently didn’t do- by even this time next year. Mayweather slowly, methodically ground out a victory in the same manner to which he has become accustomed in the last five years, with Pacquiao appearing mildly discomfited by the outcome.

Still, the wheels of boxing commerce must grind onwards so the immediate thoughts for Al Haymon, Mayweather’s adviser and Top Rank Promotions for Pacquaio must surely have been, ‘just how can we fool a global audience into actually wanting to see this dross again? Why, let’s just blame this atrociously uninspiring and overhyped letdown on Manny’s injured shoulder.’ Dr. Neal Attrache, Pacquiao’s surgeon, has already indicated that surgery on the thirty-six-year old’s torn rotator cuff has gone splendidly. Pacquaio will need between nine and twelve months to heal. In the meantime, Mayweather will sleepwalk his way to another predictably dull points decision -perhaps over Britain’s Amir Khan- fulfilling his mutually beneficial contract with Showtime and hanging up his gloves. But just think for a moment – Mayweather will have packed it in on 49-0, agonisingly close to usurping Rocky Marciano’s age old record. Then, from the east comes a rejuvenated Manny Pacquiao hell-bent on avenging his 2015 loss –which will now be sold as courageous in light of his ‘devastating’ shoulder ailment- to his nemesis Mayweather. Meanwhile, Mayweather mutters something about being ‘too old for this shit’ –and nearing forty he’ll have a point- but nothing talks to ‘Money’ like money. Perhaps we’re taking two and two and running off the deep end with it but this theory is probably depressingly accurate.

In any event, what do we really expect from a rematch? Mayweather is not going to change from a tried and severely trying –at least for spectators- style while Pacquaio, whose superhero left arm is rapidly weakening is not going to morph into the fighter of old just because his right jab is back in town. The truth is, no one saw what they wanted in Las Vegas –which would be a first- insofar as we failed to get a toe-to-toe brawl. Boxing is raw, animalistic. There’s no denying the buzz in the air when a clean shot causes the legs to buckle or the head to snap back. It’s hard to recall more than a handful of telling shots landing in this welterweight contest. According to reports, the M.G.M. Grand don’t even want the rematch, citing as deterrents the logistic nightmare of staging the first fight and the fact that fans were completely underwhelmed by what they saw. Instead, they’ve set the date aside for an as yet unnamed concert. Which is akin to saying that you’re busy that day, but you just haven’t decided why yet.

If we have seen the last of Pacquiao then so be it. He has lit up boxing, fighting all-comers, thrilling a worldwide audience while providing a symbol of pride to his native Philippines. If Mayweather fights no more after September then it will be farewell to a superb technician, whose boxing legacy may well be tarnished by his crass, vile nature.

Boxing needs to leave its greats to go to pasture gracefully and move in a new direction now. The masses believe what they are told, but it seems crazy to focus on two fading lights when there is such a bright constellation of stars to choose from. The man who should be cast immediately into the spotlight is Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, comfortably the most exciting man in boxing right now. The unbeaten, softly-spoken yet destructive prizefighter is on a streak of eighteen straight knockouts and has the highest knockout percentage of any middleweight in professional boxing history. Unfortunately, Golovkin has the entire division scattering for cover. Miguel Cotto, a former foe of Mayweather and Pacquiao stands between Golovkin and complete domination of the 154-pound division. But the Puerto Rican, who is the lineal champion –best let you figure this one out yourself- is steadfastly ignoring GGG and this is in itself is the problem with professional boxing today. The best fighters should face each other in their prime and fiscal considerations should not be allowed derail these potential classics.

Mayweather versus Pacquiao would have been a legitimate ‘superfight’ in 2010 but for well-documented reasons the bout was constantly delayed and when eventually consumed by the public completely past its sell-by-date. Gennady Golovkin –an absolute superstar in any other era- will, at thirty-three, probably be denied the chance to display his phenomenal skill-set to the larger sporting audience. And, for a sport which is meant to thrive on the conflict of its finest combatants, this is both nonsensical and unforgivable.

Floyd Mayweather Junior -v- Manny Pacquiao

The Fight the World Deserves

Floyd Mayweather Junior -v- Manny Pacquiao

Welterweight Title Unification -Sunday 3rd May, 5 a.m. (G.M.T.) M.G.M. Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada

The greatest battles –at least the ones that make for the greatest viewing- require an easily identifiable protagonist and antagonist. To put it crudely, they need a good guy and a bad guy, just like the classic westerns. So, at long last, and with the sincerest of thanks to the combined efforts of those pragmatic, philanthropic souls at Mayweather and Top Rank Promotions the self-styled ‘Fight of the Century’ will take place this Saturday night in the M.G.M. Grand, Las Vegas. Finally, the world will get to see the long overdue showdown between the undefeated, egotistical Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Junior and the indefatigable, firecracker Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao.

Since Mayweather’s defeat of the great Oscar de la Hoya in 2007, he has rapidly deteriorated into an arch-villain more suited to a graphic novel. His grandiose, obscene histrionics have made him nigh on impossible to warm to for the average punter. In a perfect example of success wiping away past acts of malevolence, there have only been bare whispers in the media in the build up to this fight of Mayweather’s 2011 conviction in a Nevada court for the assault of his former partner in front of their two young children. Never exactly an endearing soul, these deplorable actions ensured Mayweather would never win a place in the hearts of the people.

For Mayweather’s chalk, we have the Filipino cheese, Manny Pacquiao. On top of being a six-weight world champion, ‘Pacman’ is an elected politician in his homeland as well a reserve in the Philippines army. Ask a busy man and all that…. He is absolutely adored in his home country, a truly revered, national treasure. Pacquiao’s popularity also stretches deep into boxing obsessed Mexico, where his willingness to go toe to toe with his opponent draws fond comparisons with such greats as Julio Cesar Chavez and Marco Antonio Barrera. Like the Mexican greats, Pacquiao’s impulse has always been to come with a flurry and see who’s still standing when the dust settles. True, Mayweather won’t want for support but the indisputable fact is that the majority of neutrals would like to see Ang Pambansang Kamao -‘The Nation’s Fist’’  return to General Santos City the first ever conqueror of the brash American.

Saturday’s encounter can, in many ways, be viewed with a tinge of regret. Bad blood –and bad blood testing– petty squabbles and plain, old greed prevented this bout from happening at the turn of the last decade, when these men were head and shoulders above anyone in the welterweight -147 pound- division. It’s not an exaggeration to say that since 2007- at a time when mixed martial arts were thriving and didn’t have to rely on one mouthy Dubliner to pique the public interest- these men ensured boxing has maintained its relevance in the general sporting domain. Belatedly, this Saturday night we get too aging boxers –Mayweather is thirty-eight, Pacquiao thirty-six- cashing in on an obscene pay day before the curtain comes down on two extraordinary careers. In no other sport could two men, clearly in decline, demand the highest pay cheque in sporting history for a fight that should have happened five years ago. And, despite what HBO, Showtime and legendary promoter Bob Arum say this fight’s impact most likely won’t resonate for generations to come in the manner of say, Hagler v Hearns in 1985 or 1980’s enduring ‘No Mas’ encounter between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.

And yet, as unashamed addicts of sports and, indeed popular culture, we can’t wait to see how this one unfolds. Anyone who’s anyone will be in ‘Vegas on Saturday night. It doesn’t matter whether you know a southpaw from a dog paw, those ringside seats are the hottest ticket in the world this weekend. True, the fight is being overhyped but it would be a travesty if these two bonafide legends hung up their gloves without first throwing down in a Las Vegas ring. There are obvious caveats; potential lack of hunger, the reality that great fighters rarely put on their best bouts in their twilight years and, of course, the fact that Juan Manuel Marquez dropped and stopped Pacquiao with the sort of shot that derails careers in their 2012 contest. Remember, however, that Pacquiao has long sought a shot at Mayweather, while his opponent is on the cusp, at 47-0, of equalling Rocky Marciano’s incredible, unmatched 49-0 career record.  Mayweather says the record does not interest him, but he dare not contemplate retirement with the memory of his opponent’s arm being raised in the middle of the ring. And, while it probably shouldn’t -given that it’s five years too late- this fight, more than any other, will leave indelible marks on the legacies of both men. True, this isn’t the fight it could have been but let’s not cry over punches never thrown. Instead, let’s look forward to those that will be launched on Saturday night.

At the end of the last decade, both ‘Money’ and ‘Pacman’ were laying waste to all comers. In 2007, Ricky Hatton – one time and, no doubt, one time only drinking buddy of this column- appeared, at least on this side of the Atlantic to be the main threat to Mayweather at the top of the welterweight food chain. The Mancunian travelled to Las Vegas in December 2007 on the back of a brilliant promotion campaign –well done Mr Murdoch- an excellent, unblemished streak of his own and incredible goodwill, only to be picked apart by the classy Mayweather over ten lopsided rounds.  In May 2009, Pacquaio stopped Hatton in less than six minutes with a devastating left that precipitated the beginning of the end for Hatton’s career. These fights are highly instructive in illustrating the contrasting fighting styles of Saturday’s opponents. Mayweather’s controlled erosion of Hatton’s challenge was in many ways as impressive as Pacquiao’s swift, demolition job. To say Pacquiao’s only mode of offence is hyper-speed aggression would be disingenuous -particularly as he has become more of a tactician as he has moved up the weights and on in years- but there is no denying that Mayweather is the superior tactician and an unmatched, defensive genius.  There’s a reason he used to go by the moniker ‘Pretty Boy’ before he became an uber-dick and adopted ‘Money’- no one could touch him.

The question now, six years on, is which man’s decline has been steeper. In 2010 valid arguments could have been made for the both the technical mastery of Mayweather and the relentless, left-handed onslaughts of Pacquiao. Mayweather, defending WBA and WBC champ, is of course still undefeated but recent victories over the resilient, though ultimately workaday, Marcos Maidana showed a definite vulnerability in the once unbreachable defences of the Michigan native. Mayweather’s flashy, arrogant persona outside of the ring could barely be further from the ultra defensive, methodical counter-attacking genius whose signature victory is usually a lopsided twelve round verdict on the judges’ cards. For his part, Mayweather invariably prefers to square up against orthodox right-handers. The left handed Pacquiao fights in the southpaw stance – right hand and leg forward- and Mayweather is deemed to have had trouble with such fighters in the past, although the empirical evidence is rather limited in this regard. Forty seven times Mayweather has been challenged and a few scares aside- inevitable over the course of a career- the formula to stop him is yet to be perfected.

Pacquiao is conceding a little more than an inch in height and more pertinently five in reach to his older foe. This has become a regular handicap for a man who once fought as a super flyweight, off just 112 pounds. The smaller man needs to move in, systematically pick his punches and then move out of range. Bigger fighters than Pacquiao have tried to exert pressure on Mayweather but his incredible footwork and hand movement –like this check hook- generally leave them swinging at air or worse, as Hatton learned. It would be folly for us to suggest a game plan for taking down Mayweather when far wiser men have yet to figure him out but the man in Pacquiao’s corner, Freddie Roach, is about as studied a mind as exists in boxing, so the Filipino will not want for preparation. Still, the doubts remain. As Mayweather himself said this week, “Everybody’s game plan is to come forward and throw lots of punches. It hasn’t worked in 19 years and 47 fights.” So, why would it work now? Well, the most obvious threat to Mayweather is the fact that Pacquiao will likely execute his game-plan better than any other left hander –of which there have been only eight- that the American has faced. Nonetheless, and even with his superior punching power, Pacquiao is unlikely to get many open looks and this may lead to frustration and consequently reckless endeavours.

Mayweather is about as patient a boxer as there is on the planet. Allied to this is the fact that he is renowned for his ability to change tack mid-fight to neutralise his opponent’s most potent weapons or worse still set a fatal trap. Frankly, we feel Pacquiao will need to channel the spirit of 2008 when he put de la Hoya to the sword in what legendary HBO commentator Larry Merchant described as “death by a thousand left hands”, a furious, high intensity domination of one of the most storied fighters in boxing’s long and winding history. The passing of time is yet to be bettered though and Pacquiao’s skill-set appears to have been blunted more than Mayweather’s.  “The most exciting little fighter in the world”, is how Merchant once referred to Pacquiao. Such a shame he’s taking on the smartest little fighter in the world. The Marquess of Queensbury Rules made no allowance for sentiment all those years ago. Much as we want a Pacquiao victory, objective consideration just won’t allow us arrive at that conclusion. As first light breaks slowly on this side of the world, in a rabid Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather Jr will further confirm his status as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time.

The Verdict: Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Points/Decision (8/11 generally)

The Fighters

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao
Money Pac-Man
Tale of the tape
Las Vegas,NevadaU.S. From General Santos,Philippines
47–0 (26 KO) Pre-fight record 57–5–2 (38 KO)
5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) Height 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m)
147 lb (67 kg) Weight 147 lb (67 kg)
Orthodox Style Southpaw
ESPN.com No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound
Unified WBA (Super), WBC, The Ring welterweight and light middleweight champion
5-division world champion
Recognition ESPN.com No. 2 ranked pound-for-pound
WBO welterweight champion
8-division world champion