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Boxing’s squared circle has many edges

10:30 06 December 2014

Liam Walsh celebrates beating Gary Sykes in their British and Commonwealth super featherweight titles fight at the ExCel Arena, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 29, 2014. See PA story BOXING London. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Liam Walsh celebrates beating Gary Sykes in their British and Commonwealth super featherweight titles fight at the ExCel Arena, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 29, 2014. See PA story BOXING London. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire

PA Wire

Boxing is perhaps the most traditional and the most basic of sports. It has its rules, but it is fairly simple, in essence: one man must prove he is stronger, more able to survive physical confrontation, than his opponent.

In truth, today’s exponents of the art are so tactically aware that it is more complicated than that. But sport is entertainment, and for those who watch, boxing isn’t rocket science – because we are sitting on the safe side of the ropes.

Generally, there is a winner and a loser – draws are fairly rare – and the methods of winning are few: either you beat your opponent before the scheduled final bell, or, if it lasts the distance, a referee or judges decide who has won.

It is a sport of few complications for the spectator, yet we can be completely and utterly engrossed in the fight night atmosphere, especially if we are whipped into a frenzy by the protagonists.

A week ago, I sat in a crowd of 16,000 fight fans at the ExCel Arena in London’s Docklands. Many were baying for blood. It was Eubank v Saunders and Fury v Chisora. Two huge grudge fights which had been hyped as far as they could possibly go. The media was the conduit for a build-up that, if words were punches, had been a toe-to-toe slugfest lasting weeks.

It sells tickets to partisan fans joining ranks with their man. Hate spilled out everywhere you looked. Fans had paid good money: they wanted blood. They wanted their winner. They wanted to be part of it.

But you know what? The best fight of the night had already been and gone. Liam Walsh v Gary Sykes.

A good four hours before Eubank and Saunders started belting it out, Walsh and Sykes had entered the ring. They had their fans – Walsh’s 500-strong Farmy Army from north Norfolk and those from his Rochdale roots; Sykes’ from Dewsbury in Yorkshire.

The build-up had consisted of good, honest, old-fashioned respect. A dozen brilliant rounds later, it ended pretty much the same way. Walsh took Sykes’ British super-featherweight title. Then they shook hands, the delighted victor, the disappointed loser. They chatted, they embraced, boxers and trainers alike. Not a bad word was said before or after.

It didn’t need the false hype which, as Liam admits, is probably a good thing.

“I am never going to earn mega money out of boxing because I am never going to slag anyone off, I am never going to be arrogant. I am a promoter’s nightmare,” he said.

“I will fight as honestly as I can – but I am not going to be an extrovert. I am not going to do anything crazy. I will always be humble. I will be honest throughout and I will be me all the way through. This is me. You will never get a false interview off me. You can come and see me any time you want and you will just get what you see. That’s it.”

Thank goodness for that. A worthy champion in so many ways.

Jeepers keepers...

The clamour for the head of City keeper John Ruddy does beg a question: would Declan Rudd be a suitable alternative?

Rudd is a good keeper, and will have benefited from spending last season on loan at Preston, who finished in the League One play-offs.

But has he got the necessary experience and temperament to take over at a time when City players are coming under increasing scrutiny? When there is more pressure on them than at any other time this season?

The truth is that Ruddy is the better goalkeeper of the two, and while he may be not be up to his usual standards, he has the experience to deal with the current situation.

Plus, what would dropping him achieve? If Rudd, through no fault of his own, conceded a few it could dent his confidence. Meanwhile, Ruddy might have his own confidence knocked by his relegation to the bench.

A clean sheet at Wigan this afternoon is what is wanted: and no Tweeting afterwards...

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