All posts by Tom Benett

Karate in Britain: what is the appeal?

Karate is an age-old Japanese form of combat that has spread throughout the west and become a renowned example of Japanese tradition and cultural identity.

So why is it so popular within nations that have entirely separate cultures to The Land of the Rising Sun?

To find out, and gain further insight into what motivates the modern British Karateka, Elephant Sport attended the 18th Legend Shotokan Karate Open.

The annual contest sees teams from throughout Europe coming to Bracknell in Berkshire to take part in various categories of competition.

We spoke to Shotokan Karate Do of United Nations (SKDUN) technical director and chief referee, Colin Putt, who explained the draw of karate, and why it remains popular today.

Elephant Sport also chatted with some of the competitors to discover the motivating factors among karate’s current crop of practitioners.

YouTube Preview Image
Klitschko v Joshua

Joshua’s toughness and grit compare to Ali’s, says Mitchell

Anthony Joshua already shares some of the attributes that helped to make Muhammad Ali ‘The Greatest’, according to acclaimed sports writer Kevin Mitchell.

The Guardian’s boxing correspondent also believes that Joshua won’t be overly troubled when he defends his WBA IBO, IBF world heavyweight titles against WBO champion Joseph Parker at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on March 31st.

Like the majority of boxing experts and pundits, Mitchell backs the bigger stronger man, stating: “Parker doesn’t have the one-punch power to inconvenience Joshua.”

The Briton emulated Ali at amateur level by winning Olympic gold, and since turning pro has become the most accomplished fighter on the global heavyweight scene.

Only New Zealand’s Parker and American Deontay Wilder, who holds the WBO belt, stand between him unifying the division’s various world titles.

Joshua’s toughest fight so far came against Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, when he survived a mid-fight knockdown to beat the formidable Ukrainian in 11 rounds.

Resilience

Mitchell told Elephant Sport that Joshua shares a similar resilience to Ali, in the way that each man can bite down on his mouth-piece and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

“Ali and Joshua have the same quality of wanting to keep going,” he said. “When Joshua got up [in the sixth round] against Klitschko, he was smiling… he was actually smiling.”

‘Joshua never made any excuses, and that says a lot to me… He’s a real fighter’ – Kevin Mitchell

He compared this to Ali’s 1970 victory over Oscar Bonavena by TKO in the 15th round, highlighting the ‘Desperation Factor’ that grants truly great champions the ability to gather their strength and summon a win from the brink of disaster.

Mitchell is a big admirer of Joshua, saying: “He’s got a good range of punches,” and that “he’s always in shape.” But his most striking comment of all was: “He’s got a ruthless streak, Joshua… he loves knocking people out.”

Joshua’s menacing trait is so often overlooked, as his humble and friendly demeanour outside of the ring can easily camouflage his vicious competitiveness.

No excuses

Another admirable facet of Joshua is his attitude and refusal to make excuses when things don’t go so well.

Mitchell made this evident, when praising Joshua’s character, as the Brit has never spoken about the head-butt that broke his nose in the early rounds of his win over Carlos Takam last October.

“He never made any excuses, and that says a lot to me… He’s a real fighter.”

Mitchell’s analysis and breakdown of Anthony Joshua’s talents gave me a new-found admiration for the towering Adonis of heavyweight boxing, who over the past few years cemented himself as the man at 200lbs and over.

To have his qualities compared to the greatest heavyweight ever to set foot in the ring, in a career that has spanned just five years to date, is a testament to the potential of Joshua.

Should he emerge victorious in emphatic fashion on March 31st, he’ll be one step closer to fulfilling that potential, and one step closer to matching the achievements of ‘The Greatest’.

Kevin is on Twitter @kevinmitchell50

Klitschko v Joshua image by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Groves v Eubank Jr poster

Groves can enjoy top dog status after seeing off Eubank Jr

Another great all-British feud came to a boil at the MEN Arena in Manchester as George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr met in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series.

Britain is no stranger to super-middleweight success, having produced an array of world-classs fighters since the division’s conception.

Domestic showdowns have cemented themselves in the history of the 168lbs weight class. The name Eubank is synonymous with middleweight and super-middleweight action, with Chris Eubank Sr having had memorable clashes with Michael Watson, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins in the 1990s.

So, it was only right that his son, Chris Eubank Jr, shared the ring with a quality British opponent with world titles on the line to maintain tradition.

But with George Groves providing Jr’s first meaningful opponent since stepping up a weight, and arguably only the second real challenge of his career, many wondered if he had the mettle to hang with the bigger man.

Groves, 29, has proved himself to be a staple of the current world super-middleweight scene, taking on a who’s who of the division and having earned a WBA championship belt in the process.

Hard counter-punches

The intensity was evident from the ring walks. Eubank, 28, entered first, and sported a straight face with a determined gaze set firmly ahead of him. Groves’ entrance ramped up the anticipation, as the WBA champ rushed to the ring with a vicious scowl.

The first three rounds played out the way that many expected, with Groves’ technical savvy on display, as he controlled a stiff and somewhat bewildered Eubank.

The Londoner dictated the course of the action with his famed jab and hard counter-punches, while his smaller opponent attempted to close the range.

However, Groves’ growing confidence created openings for Eubank, who landed a hard left hook in the latter stages of the third, which motivated him to open up.

Eubank also picked up a cut above his left eye due to an accidental clash of heads.

The fourth through to the seventh round saw a significant increase in the tempo of the fight. Eubank had been spurred on by his success in the third and proceeded to take it to Groves.

Against the ropes

Eubank’s fitness and strength was evident as he bullied Groves against the ropes, forcing wrestling-like tactics but landing little in the way of clean punches.

Despite Eubank’s lack of real success, his physicality prevented Groves from setting himself and implementing his will. This led me to score the fourth through to the seventh for Eubank, but by the culmination of the seventh, he was clearly tiring.

Eubank’s strength and fitness had given him much success against smaller boxers at middleweight, but it would not see him through against the bigger men at 168lbs. He was waning rapidly from the seventh onwards.

‘Groves’ use of the jab had Eubank looking utterly amateur at times’

Despite the many tough fights under his belt, Groves proved to be much the fresher man,

His precision punching coupled with his economic use of the jab had Eubank looking utterly amateur at times, flailing wildly, desperate to tag his opponent.

Eubank was spent, and unable to mount any telling assault for the rest of the fight. However, what should have been smooth sailing for his opponent was made hard work at times.

He allowed himself to be pushed to the ropes by Eubank, where he would spend significant portions of the round.

At the arrival of the championship rounds I had the fight scored even, but was confident that Groves’ greater ring savvy would see him capture the final six minutes, which seemed to be the case through the 11th.

However, Groves output was near non-existent through the 12th, and it soon became evident that he’d injured his left arm, as he would regularly shake and jerk it.

An exhausted Eubank chased the handicapped yet elusive Groves around the ring, landing several hard punches on his one-armed foe, earning him the round.

Groves was given a wide unanimous decision victory, with scores of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113. I personally had the bout scored even at 114-114.

This win sets Groves up to meet the winner of British fighter Callum Smith versus German Jürgen Brähmer, in the final of the World Boxing Super Series.

Top dog Groves

The outcome of this fight has granted fans some clarity as to who is the top dog at 168lbs.

‘Eubank Jr may need to rethink his career strategy, and ask himself whether his father’s strong influence on it is necessarily a good thing’

Super-middleweight has opened up over the past few months, with championships changing hands and the weight’s best fighters vacating their belts in order to chase glory in the heavier classes, creating a question mark as to who really is the current top dog.

Groves can at long last assume that mantle, and for the time being can relish the achievement that has evaded him for so long.

But he can’t forget the fire rising beneath him, with a guaranteed challenge ahead in June’s final – if he is fit to compete – and rising contenders eager to snatch his crown, such as lightning-fast American phenomenon David Benavidez.

The future of one of boxing’s more neglected weight divisions seems bright, particularly within the UK, where homegrown talent made for a series of epic fights in the 1990s super-middleweight golden era.

But for the time being, Groves sits atop the pile, a worthy ambassador of British boxing excellence.

Eubank Jr, meanwhile, may need to rethink his career strategy, and ask himself whether his father’s strong influence on it is necessarily a good thing.

Explosive, electrifying, endearing – inside the world of Lucha Libre

Lucha Libre is a form of wrestling that originated in Mexico and translates from Spanish as ‘free fight’.

Mexican wrestling is famous for the colourful masks of its luchadores, and the codes of honour surrounding them.

I was recently granted a unique opportunity to attend and take part in a training session alongside members of Europe’s largest professional wrestling academy, the London School of Lucha Libre.

Being typically British, pro wrestling never really encroached onto my radar as a youth.

So when the chance arose to step behind the scenes of what I had been assured was one of the most explosive and outlandish athletic and theatrical spectacles in the city, in Lucha Britannia, and gain insight into the inner workings of the country’s pro wrestling scene,  I took it by both hands.

Club captain Garry Vanderhorne explains how Lucha Britannia takes the best elements from wrestling around the world and merges them into an almost balletic form of combat which boosts the fitness, confidence and self-esteem of participants who also form many friendships in and out of the ring.

YouTube Preview Image

Check out the Lucha Britannia website for news about featuring upcoming shows and class times.

The school and venue is located at The Resistance Gallery, 265 Poyser Street, Bethnal Green. E29RF.

Film and editorial credit – Natalia Glow. Photo credit – https://www.facebook.com/PUMPphotography/