Sam Sexton against Hughie Fury promises a taste of old school boxing
Norwich boxer Sam Sexton defends his British heavyweight title against Hughie Fury next month - CHRIS LAKEY was there when the two met for the first time as the build-up to the fight began in earnest
Sam Sexton and Hughie Fury went head to head yesterday - and not an insult, threat or victorious fist was thrown as boxing hinted at a return to old school fight nights.
Not for Sexton and Fury the foul-mouthed, table-throwing antics of some other heavyweights intent on screwing the last penny out of the sport’s paying public, desperate for blood.
The two men face each other on May 12 for the right to wear the Lonsdale belt, first awarded more than a century ago by the National Sporting Club to the men who hold this country’s highest boxing honour.
Sexton won his, at the third attempt, when he beat Gary Cornish in Edinburgh last autumn - and is enjoying an Indian summer to his career.
Fury wants it and when they meet again, at Bolton Wanderers’ Macron Stadium, the winner of the friendly war will decide whether it stays in Lancashire or returns to Norfolk.
What makes this fight different? Well, for the first time in seven years, the viewing public can put their feet up, leave their credit cards in their wallets, and watch the heavyweight title fight for free. This is not an advertisement for Channel Five, who will screen the fight night, but an acknowledgement that Sexton v Fury is something of a throwback.
The media plug for the fight was held at the venue, and the theme was respect: the fight doesn’t have a label or title yet, a sales gimmick much beloved by boxing promoters, but “Old School” might work for starters.
Peter Fury – Hughie’s father and trainer – in his first words to the assembled media, talked about the admiration he has for Sexton and his long-time trainer Graham Everett.
“This is a gentleman’s sport and let us respect all of the great fighters of the past,” he said. “Let us represent them as well in a positive manner and respect the boxers who have been there before and what they have done. It is nice to do the fighting in the ring.
“I like Graham as a person, I think he is a great trainer. He is quiet, he does his job, he is not one to stick his face in front of the TV cameras. He just does his business quietly. I wouldn’t say he is under-rated, but people don’t realise how good a trainer he is and the champions he has had.”
It’s fair to say Sexton could have chosen easier opponents for his first defence, but between them, he and Everett made life a lot easier for promoter Mick Hennessy when he made the first phone call offering the fight.
Sexton, approaching 34 years of age, is 10 years Fury’s senior, but is enjoying a trouble-free life after the trials and tribulations which have dogged his career, most notably the tragic death of his mother, Mandy, in 2016.
For him, taking the easy route would have been cheating himself. He didn’t want a novice or, as Everett so perfectly described them, “internet fighters”.
“When Sam beat Gary Cornish all of a sudden he became the most popular heavyweight in Britain,” said Everett. “My phone did not stop ringing. But as soon as I mentioned Hughie, that is the fight he wanted. Hughie is world class. At 33 Sam wants to test himself against the best.”
“Fair play to Sam Sexton, he is the only one who would take the fight,” said Fury senior.
So, admiration all around. But there is clearly a steely determination in both men, both camps, to win. “May the best man win,” they both said whilst thinking “as long as it’s me”. But that is the nature of the boxing beast – if they lacked that desire to win, they wouldn’t be fighting at this level of competition, they’d be in the crowd with the rest of us.
While Sexton has clearly benefited hugely from the experience of beating Cornish to win the title and enjoying the subsequent acknowledgements of a job extremely well done, there is no room for anything other than complete concentration on the job.
While Sexton has ridden the highest of highs – “it’s lifted him,” said Everett – Fury is coming off a loss for the first time in his career, controversially beaten by Joseph Parker last September for the New Zealander’s WBO world title.
Mention it, though, and it is probably the only time you will see Peter Fury’s eyebrow raised.
“There is nothing to be down or negative about,” he said. “We are not looking at that as a loss, we are looking at that as outside politics, so there is nothing to pick up from.”
And there was the determination that was the undercurrent yesterday. Amid the niceties, there is a huge prize at stake.
“Hughie is going to get me where I want to be,” said Sexton. “At the end of the day it is two men, on the night. Let the best man win.”
As long as it is Sam Sexton...