All posts by Shane Willoughby

‘Boxing for an athlete is a lose-lose’

British boxing has undergone a major resurgence in recent years, with the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury thrilling global audiences and enjoying huge rewards for doing so.

But the story of Dwayne Jones highlights the darker side of what former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis called the ‘sweet science’.

A good prospect in the light-heavyweight division, Jones is undefeated in five professional contests, but he hasn’t fought in over 14 months and has informally announced his retirement from boxing at the age of 26.

He told Elephant Sport: “I lost the hunger. When you turn pro, you maybe start to see hundreds of thousands of pounds and this glamorous life, but I wasn’t seeing that.

“Plus I was losing my appetite to fight because [I feel like] I’m a bully, and even if I fight someone on my level, what am I fighting for? I’m not getting paid life-changing money and I can get knocked out, or they can get knocked out.”

‘Dirty sport’

Jones continues:  “When you come into boxing, you don’t realise how dirty it is; everyone is in it for themselves, it’s a dirty sport, trust me. Look at it like this – you have journeymen who fight; they know they are going to get knocked out.

“But fighters like me train to some extreme level for pence and at any time I could lose my life or knock someone out.

‘Promoters don’t fight and they can promote until they’re 100. I can only fight until I’m 40, maybe. So in that time I have to train so hard, what for? Boxing for an athlete is a lose-lose.”

‘Even when I’m on top like AJ I’m going to be knocking people out who I don’t hate and potentially giving them brain damage, and all they are trying to do is feed their family. What kind of job is that?’

Some might say that, for a fighter with so much promise, Jones is being impatient in ending his boxing career so soon.

But for many fighters like him, especially those from humble beginnings, financial security is the be-all and end-all of the fight game.

“Many fighters come into boxing with that [money] aspiration. But they don’t know what they are signing up for. If you look at AJ for example, he’s a multi-millionaire; then you look at [his promoter] Eddie Hearn – who do you think has more money?

“AJ is the biggest boxer in the country and he still earns less than a promoter, because promoters can do 60 shows a year, taking 20% of each fighter’s purse, Hearn ain’t getting punched in the face.

“As a fighter you can only fight three times [in a year] maximum, and in between that you’re training – and you don’t get paid to train. Training is the hardest part, waking up at 6am to run, eating bland food; everything you put in your body has to be checked.

“And even when I’m on top like AJ I’m going to be knocking people out who I don’t hate and potentially giving them brain damage, and all they are trying to do is feed their family. What kind of job is that?”

Hunger

Jones admits he started boxing “for all the wrong reasons”.

“I never really had a hunger to fight, and I just can’t be arsed to train, to be honest. To be a top level fighter, you have to train hard, and I have no incentive. So I’m setting myself up for failure.”

Despite his decision to quit the ring, Jones can look back on a successful time in the sport which included sparring with some of England’s best prospects.

British welterweight Chris Kongo

‘I was training at a high level, sparring with some good guys at the time, people who coming through the ranks.

People like Chris Kongo, Joshua Buatsi, Richard Riakporhe, Isaac Chamberlain. I even sparred with Anthony Yarde for one round, but he was a beast, he hits hard.

‘To me all of those guys can [get to the top], but Yarde was an animal, non-stop attack, like I was landing shots and he was still coming forward.

‘Riakporhe is cruiserweight, so that was actually better for me because in my mind I was thinking if he beats me it’s because he’s bigger so it made me fight with less pressure.

“Kongo he will be a great fighter, in fact if I had to put money on it I’ll say he will go the furthest.

“He was probably the hardest fighter to fight I’ve ever had to fight. I like to land punches; if I don’t land then I get disheartened, and I was swimming when I was fighting him. He is great defensively.

‘Buatsi I sparred with years ago, like before all of the other guys and he dropped me so, it is what it is.”

On a whole it is a great time to be a British boxing fan due to the emerging talent coming through and it will be interesting to see who goes the furthest.

With that said, boxing has in Jones lost a fighter who could have been a real star.

Windies may profit as close of play beckons for boss Cameron

West Indies cricket has taken a massive step in the right direction over the last year.

After three home Test series without a win, they saw off England 2-1 earlier this year. However, what could really see the Windies on the up is changes at the top of the game.

Dave Cameron, president of West Indies Cricket, may have to step down from the post he has held for the past six years, with Windies team manager Ricky Skerritt ready to challenge him.

Many West Indies fans are surprised by this turn of events – but in a good way, because the 47-year-old is not exactly ‘Mr Popular’ in the Caribbean cricketing circles.

His tenure has been marked by criticism from players, both past and present, and the divide between Windies fans and the WICB intensified after the 2016 T20 World Cup.

After Windies beat England in a thrilling final to win their second T20 world title, former Windies captain Darren Sammy stepped up to expose the WICB’s shortcomings.

As well as highlighting a bitter contractual dispute between the board and its players, Sammy revealed the Windies team was sent to the World Cup without even the right uniform.

Turbulent times

Although Cameron took over the WICB during turbulent times, and with the popularity of cricket one the wane in the West Indies, his reign has seen the sport’s fortunes take a nose dive.

Despite the odd bright spot such as this winter’s win over England, the Windies currently occupy lowest ranking they have ever been in, over the three formats of the game.

‘It may be unfair to say Cameron should take all the blame for the Windies’ recent woes’

One of the biggest reasons for their failures on the field is down to the lack of top players in the team.

The likes of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo have become superstars in T20 competitions all around the globe but aren’t available to play cricket for the West Indies.

Cameron’s ruling that in order to be selected for the Windies, players have to take part in the Carribean domestic league, meaning they can’t go abroad to maximise their income,

Due to the rift between the WICB and the team, the players have gone on strike twice during Cameron’s reign and now none of the players from the World Cup-winning team have central contracts with the West Indies.

Embarrassing

One of the most embarrassing days for Windies cricket was in 2014, when their players pulled out in the middle of a tour of India. It was claimed at the time that the travelling players were sent to participate in a series without receiving an actual contract from their board.

Cameron, a former club cricketer, once told the Windies players: ‘My role is to run the business and your role is to play cricket to the best of your ability.’

He keeps his distance from them, preferring to focus on his role of generating income for West Indies cricket in tough economic conditions, but some of the board’s problems have been self-inflicted.

For example, the West Indies missed the Championship Trophy for the first time ever in 2017 because the team only played one ODI series from 2015-2016; this meant that they were not able to pick up enough points to qualify.

It maybe too optimistic to say that Windies will return to their 1970s and 80s heyday, when they dominated the sport, and it may be unfair to say Cameron should take all the blame for their recent woes.

However his likely exit will create new hope and a rejuvenated attitude throughout Caribbean cricket. And what better time to do it, coming off a great series win and with the new young talent coming through.

The West Indies should capitalise on this, and give their fans something to cheer come the World Cup later this year.

Ogogo gone as AJ hits the heights

Anthony Ogogo last week formally announced his retirement from boxing, after over two years out of the ring.

Seemingly destined for great things after winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics, he was one of five British boxers to claim medals in London and seen by many as Britain’s most promising middleweight.

However, the Suffolk fighter has been forced to call it quits after suffering a succession of injuries, with his professional career coming to a premature ending after only 12 fights.

After picking up his bronze medal at the age of 23, Ogogo turned pro the following year, along with fellow Olympian Anthony Joshua.

His talent and ability marked him out,, and he was signed by Richard Schaffer and Golden Boy promotions (pictured right).

Being signed to an American promotional company increased the prospect’s star power internationally.

In a tale of two Anthonys, Ogogo’s and Joshua’s careers appeared to run parallel, both being the same age and appearing on the same undercards early in their careers.

However, Ogogo may have got his big break before AJ; landing a spot on a Floyd Mayweather show.

Greater rewards

It is extremely rare for British prospects to fight overseas so early in their career, especially on the card of the biggest draw in world boxing at the time.

But Ogogo was already being moulded into one of the sport’s brightest young hopes, with his slick boxer-puncher style winning over fans at home and in Germany, as well as the USA.

‘British boxing has seen the last of one of the most promising talents of his generation’

After 11 wins, he was set to fight for the vacant WBC international middleweight championship, an interim belt that lines you up for much greater rewards and eventually a full world title.

The contest was against fellow Brit Craig Cunningham, who had only one loss going into the fight, but Ogogo went in as firm favourite.

However, things didn’t go to plan as Ogogo’s head clashed with Cunningham’s forearm, leaving him with a shattered left eye socket.

Even though he couldn’t see properly, he bravely fought on for a further eight rounds before his coach decided to pull him out.

Maybe too courageous for his own good in terms of his long-term health, he was said to be 75% visually impaired for the rest of the fight.

Best efforts

It wasn’t the first time Ogogo had suffered an injury setback, so he was no stranger to rehabilitation. However this battle was the biggest and final test the fighter would have to face.

Ogogo has spent the last three years trying to get back in the ring and continue his quest for a world title. In that time, he has had several surgeries in different countries, and is said to have spent £250,000 on treatment to his eyes.

Despite all his best efforts, he has had to call an end to his career at the age of 30, and British boxing has seen the last of one of the most promising talents of his generation.

The now-retired fighter has been dealt the worst hand possible. As well as the shattered eye socket, his list of injuries include:

Anthony Ogogo’s injuries
  • Broken hand
  • Three dislocated shoulders
  • Damaged Achilles tendon
  • Knee tendon problems

So whilst Joshua has signed multimillion-pound promotional and commercial deals, Ogogo has been left penniless by his injury struggles.

Since Ogogo has been out of the ring, AJ has fought seven times and picked up three world titles long the way.

It is a shame to see such a great prospect’s career cut short, especially when looking at the strength of the current middleweight scene, with the likes of Genady Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs and Billy Joe Saunders.

Not to mention the cash cow Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who was in the same stable as Ogogo at Golden Boy.

The thought that Ogogo could have shared the ring with those fighters must be a devastating for him, as is knowing he will never step in the ring again.

Why women’s boxing will become the world’s biggest female sport

Women’s boxing will one day be the biggest female sport. Once viewed as an inappropriate activity for female athletes, it is becoming an increasingly high-profile pursuit.

In an era of increasing awareness about women’s rights and gender equality, the female fight game is finally coming of age.

On March 23rd, Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer will be headlining a main event in Atlantic City. This represents an amazing leap for women’s boxing.

Claressa Shields (left) Christina Hammer (right)

The Boardwalk Arena might not be the most prestigious venue in the States, but it will give both fighters the opportunity to fight in front of over 10,000 fans.

It is extremely significant, and the fight will be a great advert for women’s boxing as America’s Shields faces the German Christina Hammer for all the middleweight belts. For once, we get to see the best fight the best.

Over the past few years, women’s boxing has been on an incredible rise, and the following and exposure it’s generating is unprecedented.

Fighters such as Ireland’s former Olympic champion Katie Taylor have taken full advantage of fighting on the biggest stages, and being on the same bill as Anthony Joshua at Wembley and the Cardiff has exposed her to millions of fans worldwide.

Spectacle

Of course, it is still down to female boxers to perform – and many of their performances have been nothing short of remarkable.

The spectacle that is put on by them has not only been well received but endorsed by both genders. In a world where sexism remains rife, the ladies that enter ring have put a massive dent in many prejudices.

One of the main reasons for females success in terms of popularity is the skill level that is being showcased. Fans no longer have the attitude that women can’t fight or that ‘she’s good for a girl’ -most fans of the sport are now able to remove the gender barrier, and look at the sport as a noble art for both sexes.

‘In a world where sexism remains rife, the ladies that enter ring have put a massive dent in many prejudices’

You will be surprised to see how many male fans attend boxing fights and enjoy watching the women more than the men. The skill level is definitely on par with the male side of the sport.

Female fighters tend to engage much more than men, and due to them having less power, they tend to focus more on skill and technique. It’s extremely rare to see a dull women’s boxing bout.

However boxing has, for a long time, from a female perspective, been overshadowed by sports such as tennis and athletics. But things are changing fast, and it surely won’t be long before women’s boxing dominates female sport.

One of the major factors for the success of sports like tennis and athletics is the influence of icons and role models such as Serena Williams and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

However, Ennis-Hill has retired and Williams is coming to he end of her career, and this creates opportunities for new female role models from other sports.

Anything a man can do…

Williams is seen as the most successful female athlete of all time, and one of the main reasons for her fame and popularity is her ability. At times, it appeared as if she could not only compete in the men’s game but win doing so.

The skill and level she was able to reach made it an incredible spectacle to witness.

Shields is definitely the closest thing boxing has to a Serena, and she will eventually become the biggest female athlete in the world.

The American demonstrates an incredible amount of strength and skill, and watching her fight – similar to Williams – debunks the idea that sport can only be dominated by men.

Claressa Shields (left) lands clean left hook

In the last year or so, men’s boxing has an incredible of amount of money invested in it, with fighters like Canelo, Fury and Golovkin receiving eight-digit deals.

Whilst we have yet to see a woman get those types of paydays, it can only a matter of time before one of the big networks decide to invest large amounts in a female fighter.

Probably the only thing missing from women’s boxing is a massive rivalry.

One thing that separates boxing from every other sport on the planet is the prolonged and exciting build-ups to fights.

Boxers like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson made their name from not just what they did in the ring, but the excitement they generated outside of it.

But whilst fighters like Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor have extreme skill and ability, they rarely excite the public in press conferences, which doesn’t give fight fans that extra buzz coming into a fight. Everything is perhaps a bit too nice and polite.

However, as stated earlier, the future of woman’s boxing rests on the shoulders of Shields.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist has showcased many times that she can defeat her opponents in and outside the ring.

Her brash and cocky attitude is it exactly what is needed for the sport to get to the next level. Hopefully, for the sake of women’s boxing, we will see more fighters adopt this attitude and brash personality.

Boxing returns to Royal Albert Hall

Boxing has returned to one of London’s most famous venues, the Royal Albert Hall, with Frank Warren’s Queensberry promotions.

The bill featured the return of highly-touted prospect Anthony Yarde, Daniel Dubois and British middleweight champion Liam Williams.

The grand old arena hosted many memorable British bouts throughout the 90s with fighters such as Frank Bruno and Prince Naseem Hamed, but has seen a massive reduction in fight nights.

This is the first card held in this prestigious hall for seven years and only the second since the turn of the millennium.

As with most fight nights, the masses didn’t enter the venue until the headliners came out. Despite the subdued atmosphere, the few fans that were present early on witnessed some amazing undercard bouts, including a destructive performance by British super-flyweight Harvey Horn.

The 23-year-old Londoner took his professional record to 5-0 with a terrific first-round knockout, and appears to have a bright future ahead of him.

The super-flyweight division is very competitive, but Horn have the talent and potential to upset the apple cart.

Harvey Horn after a explosive performance

Heir to AJ’s throne

As the night wore on, the fans slowly started to pile in, and the venue’s 5,000 seats began to fill. It was then the turn of heavyweight prospect Dubois to take to the ring.

Still only 21, the Greenwich-born fighter is already seen by many as the heir to Anthony Joshua’s throne, and was taking on former world title contender Ravzan Kajanu.

Dubios came out to prove a point, going to war from the first bell, which brought the entire arena to their feet. Both heavyweights were trading leather in the centre of the ring, but it was the Londoner who was getting better of the exchanges.

The British heavyweight showed absolutely no respect for Kajanu’s power and it was only a matter before he got the stoppage.

The animated crowd, wishing the war could go the distance, was left disappointed when Dubois stopped the experienced Romanian in the second round.

However, the fans didn’t have to wait long to witness more explosive action as the next contest, between Johnny Garton and Chris Jenkins, was easily the fight of the night.

Garton was defending his British welterweight belt in what was billed as a crossroads fight for him.

Is the South Londoner ready for world and European level fighters, or is he still better off at domestic level?

Despite these doubts, he was still seen as favourite to win the contest. However, Jenkins was looking to claim the title at the third time of asking, so wasn’t lacking in motivation.

Momentum

From the first bell, the champion was getting out-worked and it was clear that Jenkins had come for his belt. The Welsh fighter won plenty of new admirers as he dominated the champion and pressed the action.

However, as the bout entered its later stages, Garton started to take over and attempted to regain some momentum. The pair left it all in the ring until the final bell which triggered all in attendance to rise to their feet and applause.

Despite being a huge underdog, Jenkins rightfully won the contest by unanimous decision.

Emotions were running high after that contest, and reached fever pitch as the co-main event boxers came out. The No.1 British middleweight, Williams also had his British title on the line against Joe Mullender.

Despite the pre-fight chat billing this as a 50-50 fight, Williams refused to waste any time and went to work from the first round. Keen on putting the contest to bed early on, the Welshman, 26, got the stoppage late in the second round.

Ring rust

The final fight saw the No.1 prospect in the country in action as Yarde returned after five months out of the ring to take on America’s Travis Reeves.

Based on how the night had gone so far, the fans was expecting nothing but action from the start. Unfortunately, Yarde’s entrance was the only thing that brought the crowd to their feet.

‘The Beast’ definitely was trying to work off the ring rust and ease his way into a fight which wasn’t expected to go beyond two rounds, and this only served to dampen down the excited crowd.

It wasn’t until the fifth that Yarde started to push on and land clean shots. Unfortunately, for the eager audience, the fight was stopped before he really began firing off his deadly combinations.

Overall, the return to big-time boxing to the Royal Albert Hall was a big success, with some amazing action and an electrifying atmosphere. It raises the question, why isn’t this a regular venue for the sport?

The venerable arena, unlike others in London, wasn’t built upwards which allows everyone in attendance to get a great view of the action.

Its intimate seating arrangement makes it feels like the crowd is right on top of the ring, which creates a much better feel as a fan. Hopefully, this prestigious arena will host more nights like this and boxing doesn’t turn its back on a great place.

Battle of the boxing broadcasters

Broadcasters have long had an important influence on boxing, but in the past year it has intensified to another level.

For most of its history, the sport has been all about battles in the ring, but we are entering an era in which the biggest fights are those between media companies.

The USA and UK are seen as boxing’s biggest markets, and both countries now have three different networks competing against each other.

For British fight fans, it is common practice to turn to Sky Sports to provide the best and biggest contests in the sport. However, Sky’s arch-rival BT Sport is also becoming a major player, especially after the success of its pay-per-view (PPV) coverage of Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury.

If that wasn’t enough, ITV have decided to join the battle of the broadcasters by signing a deal with promotional company Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) last December.

PBC have had great success in America, especially through their dealings with Floyd Mayweather; now the company is venturing into the UK market and spicing up the party.

Shockwaves

The situation has long been similar in the States where boxing fans are accustomed to the ongoing stalemate between boxing broadcasters. However, as in the UK, things have escalated.

For a while, the competition in the US market has been between Al Haymon (PBC), Bob Arum (Top Rank) and Oscar De la Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions), all on separate TV networks.

In addition to its recent contract with ITV, PBC also have ongoing deals with Showtime and FOX, whilst Top Rank’s dealings are solely with ESPN.

However the introduction of DAZN  last year may change boxing for good, and has already sent shockwaves throughout boxing in America.

Branded as the Netflix of sport, DAZN is a streaming service that shows various sport events for monthly subscription fee – potentially signalling the end of PPV.

DAZN have already teamed up with Golden Boy and UK-based Matchroom to create a great triple-threat fight between ESPN, Fox and DAZN.

Why is this so important?

Promotional deals

Boxing works differently to, say, football, where organisations such as the Premier League and Uefa sign broadcast deals for their ‘product’ to be shown in various markets.

Promoters have always been the key figures in boxing, and their stables of fighters become aligned with whichever media companies they do deals with.

More recently, individual boxers have been signing with broadcasters directly. Mayweather fought under the Showtime banner; last year, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez signed a £278m deal with DAZN; Tyson Fury has just announced an £80m tie-up with ESPN.

How does this affect viewers?

When fighters sign long-term promotional deals with media companies, all of their fights for the duration of that contract will have to be shown on that platform.

One of the most common criticisms of boxing nowadays is that the best do not fight the best – well, it’s quite difficult when two fighters are contracted to two separate broadcasters.

Now we have the three best heavyweights on three separate television stations. With Fury signed to ESPN, Wilder with Showtime and Anthony Joshua to the DAZN.

Resurgence

This has been an ongoing problem in boxing over the past decade and has put several mega-fights on hold, including Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.

After being talked about for several years, it finally went ahead in 2015, when former multi-weight champion Pacquiao – at the age of 36 – was deemed by many to be past his best.

Boxing has seen a resurgence in its fortunes in recent years, and is now generating a much larger following worldwide.

The key to this upsurge isn’t easy to pinpoint, but one thing is clear – large sums of money are being invested in the sport with a view to making even larger sums.

So, what will happen going forward?

Record-breaking

The most alarming issue, as mentioned earlier, is the battle of the broadcasters could make it much harder to ever see certain fights happen. A few that spring to mind include:

Big fights that may not happen…

  • Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
  • Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder
  • Errol Spence vs Terrance Crawford
  • Canelo vs Genady Golokvin III
  • Vasyl Lomachenko vs Gervonta Davies

One thing that has been evident since these networks have been going head to head is fighters have been getting extremely big paydays thanks to broadcast budgets increasing significantly.

DAZN broke into the US market last year with a record-breaking budget of $1bn over the next eight years. Fox and PBC have a budget of $120m a year for the next four years.

With these unprecedented amounts comes huge financial incentives for fighters, as broadcasters will offer ridiculous amounts to have the biggest draws on their platforms.

We have already seen the consequence of this already. Last year boxing saw the ‘richest contract in sports history’ when Canelo Alvarez signed his 11-fight deal with DAZN.

Since then we have seen many top-tier fighters in the majority of weight classes sign contracts for career high paydays.

Fortunately for fans, this means fighters are much more active. There is no longer a situation where boxers are fighting once a year.

However, that also means more expense for boxing fans who want to be able to see as many key bouts as possible across all the media platforms now involved in the sport.

This cold war between the broadcasters is already creating unsavoury situations such as White v Chisora being on Sky Sports PPV on the same night as BT Sport’s Warrington v Frampton PPV last December.

However due to the power of these companies, the resolution to this dilemma is further away than ever.

Do the Windies have new hope?

On the eve of the first Test in England’s latest tour of the Caribbean, what hope do the West Indies have of upsetting the odds? 

The hosts are currently a lowly eighth in the ICC test rankings, only ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and coming off dreadful tours to Bangladesh and India, where they didn’t win a single Test match.

Logically, it is extremely difficult to see how this group of players could get the better of the third-best Test cricket nation in the world. And yet…

Windies Test squad: Jason Holder (capt), Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican, Oshane Thomas (cover for Joseph)

Despite poor form on their travels, the Windies have a much better record playing on home soil, and didn’t lose a series in Caribbean conditions last year.

In their most recent Test series against England last summer, they lost 2-1, but their victory included a great performance on the last day of the second match, when they chased over 300 runs to triumph at Headingley.

Despite England being big favourites to win this latest series, they do not have a great record in the Caribbean.

England have won three of the last five Test series against the Windies, the last coming in 2017. However, they hadn’t won in the Caribbean since 2004 prior to that, with the last two series’ against the hosts ending in a draw and a defeat.

However, if you are looking at the hosts’ squad, it is very difficult to see where the danger for England lies, with all of the Windies’ world stars missing.

In with the new

Kemar Roach (left) and Shannon Gabriel

The Windies have invested their hopes in youth for this series, with the average age of the squad just 26. The oldest player is Shannon Gabriel, 30, and four players feature from the team who won the Under-19s World Cup in 2016.

One of the biggest issues the West Indies have had in the past year is their top order’s lack of scoring, which has resulted in the dropping of Devon Smith and Kieron Powell.

Three players could possibly be making their debut sometime during this series. Both John Campbell and Shamarh Brooks will be relishing the opportunity to show they deserve places in the team and could potentially resolve its lack of runs at the top of the order.

However, with them both averaging under 35 and with only nine first-class 100s between them, they may not make a big difference to the Windies batting.

The hosts’ biggest threat to England is with the ball, because the Windies have finally found a combination that works well.

Respect

If any is to be their salvation, it is likely to be Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and skipper Jason Holder.

Whilst the trio are far from the kind of fearsome Windies bowling attack that dominated Test cricket during the 70s, 80s and into 90s, their figures in 2018 will get any batsman’s respect and attention.

Roach and Gabriel both had an average of under 13 in the Caribbean last year, with Gabriel taking 33 wickets in seven matches, becoming one of three West Indians to take 13 wickets in a match, when he single-handedly bowled out Sri Lanka.

Gabriel will be by far the fastest bowler on show during the series, having the fifth fastest average speed in the world.

Holder averaged 15 at home last year, and the Windies captain’s bowling has improved considerably in recent times. In the last two Test series, he picked up three five-wicket hauls and took 28 in total, which led to him being named in the ICC Test Team of the Year.

The Windies seam bowling, by anyone’s standards, is extremely successful and can compete with any Test nation worldwide.

New talent

Oshane Thomas is rising star for the Windies

Another player who maybe looking to make his debut and add to an already-established attack, is one of the most exciting prospects in world cricket

Oshane Thomas is a right-hand fast bowler who is in the squad as cover for Alzarri Joseph. The Jamaican has become the youngest West Indian to be signed by an IPL franchise, joining the Rajastan Royals’ 2019 squad.

The hot prospect’s average bowling speeds were the fastest by any paceman worldwide in 2018; his 6 ft 3in muscular frame allows him to bowl in the mid-90s comfortably.

At the age of 21, he made his international debut against India in a T20 contest, and has become a fan favorite due to his strong performances in the Caribbean Premier League.

Watching this young talent fire them down makes you extremely happy that you’re not at the other end facing his deliveries, and conjures up memories of the likes of Michael holding and Andy Roberts.

Windies batting woes

Despite the Windies confidence with the ball, you can’t win a Test match without making runs, especially not against the best bowler in the world, James Anderson.

Despite the great skill and class displayed by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite in the last series against England in 2016, they both have struggled to make runs in the longest form of the game.

Hope has failed to score a test hundred since the two he scored at Headingley, and Brathwaite has been in terrible form, averaging six runs in his last eight innings and only making over 10 runs twice.

But despite their lack of runs, the West Indies have regained fresh hope in the return of Darren Bravo.

Bravo is back

Darren Bravo cover drives against England

The selection of the Trinidadian to face England could be key for the hosts. He still has the highest batting figures in Test cricket of any current West Indian batsman, averaging 40.

Bravo, 29, has five scores over 150 and two double hundreds in his eight centuries. He also top scored the last time he came up against England, making 82 to level the series 1-1 in 2015.

Despite his clear superiority over every other Windies batsmen, he hasn’t played a Test since 2016 due to a contractual dispute. The left-hander’s batting will add a great deal of strength to the Windies line-up and therefore give balance to their team.

England are clear favourites in this upcoming series, however they were clearer favourites last time in the Caribbean in 2017 and just edged a series win.

Maybe the Caribbean conditions and a youthful, rejuvenated West Indian team will provide a tougher task this time around.

Windies likely XI: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shai hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase,  Shane Dowrich,  Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel.

Why the WBC is re-hydrating boxing

Boxing has an ongoing duty of care for its competitors, but an array of governing bodies doesn’t make for a unified approach to their health and safety.

One of the biggest issues the sport has had to face in recent years is controlling the weight of boxers, many of whom bulk up between bouts and shed pounds drastically ahead of their next fight.

Some need to crash diet because they want to pursue lucrative opportunities in weight divisions which are much lighter than their natural mass

As the average human body is around 50-65% water, this means fighters can risk serious dehydration, and this can be life-threatening in a long, exhausting contest in which they sweat out even more weight.

However, the World Boxing Council (WBC) has decided to lead the way in tackling the problem.

The governing body, whose belts are viewed as the most prestigious in world boxing, has introduced four new rules to control and maintain boxer’s weights. They are:

  1.      1. “Mandatory disclosure of both fighters weight at the at the time of agreement for a fight”- which means both boxers competing in the bout must submit their exact weight at the time of signing for the fight
  2. “All fighters competing in WBC sanctioned fights weight will be checked at three different check points and must weigh-in within a specific weight”.
  • ‘30 days before the fight a fighter must be within 10% of the limit.’
  • ’14 days before the fight a fighter must be within 5% of the limit.’
  • ‘7 days before the fight a fighter must be within 3% of the limit.’

Which means if a boxer fights at middleweight (160lbs) after 30 days they cannot be more than 176lbs which is 10% of the weight limit.

  1. “The promoter of the bout must arrange with the WBC and the boxing commission for the fight, to have a scale at the venue so fighters can be weighed on arrival. Boxers must not be above 10% of the weight weighed-in on the official weigh in.”

Which means both boxers will be weighed again, the moment they arrive at the fight venue, and they cannot weigh above of 10% of the limit.

      4. “The WBC have various sanctions and penalties for failure to oblige by these rules.” The sanctions are:

  • Failure of rules 1 and 2 will result in fines up to $5,000
  • Failure could result in the withdrawal of sanctioning the fight.
  • Failure of rule 3 could result in fines of 30% of a fighter’s purse.

Extreme regime

The WBC has taken action to more closely monitor fighters’ weight loss and re-hydration. Many put their bodies through unhealthy regimes, including not eating for prolong periods, just to fight at an unnatural weight, so they are dehydrated and weakened even before a punch is thrown.

In 2013, Tony Bellew took on Adonis Stevenson for his WBC light-heavyweight title. This was Bellew’s first-ever shot at a world title, so he went through an extreme regime in order to make weight. He duly suffered a devastating knock-out.

Canelo at the weigh-in (left), and on fight night

There have been several cases where fighters have stripped a ridiculous amount of weight in order to fight at a lighter weight. So, the inclusion of the first two rules ensure that fighters are losing weight at a steady level that is monitored by the WBC.

The third rule especially, has been introduced to ensure fighters are rehydrating correctly. There have also been many cases where boxers have shredded to make the weigh-in but then re-hydrate too quickly and put on several pounds between the weigh-in and fight.

In 2015, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez took on Amir Khan at a catch-weight of 155lbs. At the time, it was common knowledge in boxing circles that the Mexican could no longer comfortably make this weight. Despite this, he weighed-in at 155lbs exactly. However, it is believed that on the day of the fight, he was 20lbs heavier.

These rumours may not be true, but Canelo was remarkable bigger. So it came as no surprise when Khan was left unconscious on the canvas.

The rule aims to protect fighters in the ring, as boxers will not be allowed to rehydrate to an extreme extent, and the likes of Khan won’t be fighting guys three weight-classes above them.

It’s convenient for the ‘cash-cow’ Canelo that the WBC have introduced these rules after his move up to a higher weight division, but its probably coincidental…

Nonetheless, boxing will surely continue to have issue with fighters’ weights as many hop between the divisions in order to mop up world titles and guarantee themselves big paydays.

Percentage

The International Boxing Federation (IBF) has also tried its hand at tackling this dilemma by introducing its own rehydration rule, under which a fighter will be weighed the day after the official weigh in, and they cannot weigh 10lbs over the limit.

Many IBF belt holders have been stripped of their titles due to failure to comply. However, despite the IBF’s strict policy, it is not without its flaws.

‘How can a fighter weighing 200lbs have the same rehydration allowance as a man weigh 125lbs?’

One of the biggest criticisms is the fact that a fighter was weighed on the morning after the weigh-in, which meant they still have several hours re-hydrate and bulk up before the fight.

However, the WBC seem to have tackled that problem head on by weighing fighters on arrival at the venue.

Another way the WBC seemed to have bettered the IBF, is the inclusion of a weight percentage. The IBF’s allowance for rehydration is 10lb,s which creates a even greater problem.

How can a fighter weighing 200lbs have the same rehydration allowance as a man weigh 125lbs?  An additional 10lbs for a cruiserweight does not have the same effect as it will for a featherweight.

This is why the WBC have decided to have a 10% percentage weight allowance, which allows a specific amount based on the individual’s weight class.

The WBC’s new rules may have a positive impact on the sport over time, however there have been a few eyebrows raised. The biggest issue when it comes to these new rules are the sanctions.

Many fighters will not be afraid to fall fouls of rules 1 and 2 as the penalty isn’t very high. Are boxers earning tens of millions really going to worry about a $5,000 fine?

Wilder-Fury undercard: lessons from the fights before the fight

Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury will go down as a boxing classic.

But while the main event will never be forgotten, the undercard is probably absent from most people’s minds.

Many UK fans probably set their alarm clocks for the bill-topping showdown early on Sunday morning, ignoring the strong line-up of other contests included in their pay-per-view deal.

So, what else went on at the Staples Center in Los Angeles before WBC heavyweight title-holder Wilder and Britain’s former world champion Fury fought their way to a thrilling draw?

Impressive

Barriga (right) and Licona at the weigh-in

If you are not a hardcore boxing fan, then probably nothing was worth staying up all night for.

However, for those who actually acknowledge fighters outside of the heavyweight division, there were plenty of interesting bouts that others will have slept through.

The first came in a class that doesn’t get much attention – minimumweight. The contest between Mark Barriga and Carlos Licona was a fight where both men weighed in at less than 105lbs; that is the average size of a 14-year-old boy in England.

The first thing that registered about this match-up was how small both men seemed in the ring; it looked like they were fighting on a football pitch.

But never mind their size – the quality that both fighters showed was impressive. Barriga, who is listed at 5ft 2in, looked as if he had been trained in the defensive arts by Floyd Mayweather Jr, which is ironic as he is a Filipino compatriot of Manny Pacquiao.

On the subject of ‘Money’, there is a Thai minimumweight fighter named Chayaphon Moonsri who has a better record than Mayweather, with 52 wins and zero losses.

Despite his amazing defence, Barriga couldn’t find a way impress two of the judges as Licona won by split decision. The class and skills both men displayed made it very easy to stay awake.

Ghost story

As the evening built towards the main event, a previous opponent of Mayweather launched a comeback after 17 months out of the ring.

Guerrero takes the win on his comeback

Robert ‘Ghost’ Geurrero, a former IBF world champion at featherweight and junior-lightweight returned with an amazing stoppage of Hungary’s Adam ‘Bad Boy’ Mate.

The 35-year-old ended their welterweight contest by delivering a forceful left hook to Mate’s body in only the second round.

Guerrero showed his quality and was certainly one of the stand-out performers of the night in LA. But how would he fare against the top dogs of the division?

Having already achieved so much in the sport, why he would want to return?  It didn’t take long before the question was answered as Guerrero called out Pacquiao, the veteran cash cow of the division.

Joyce lays down a marker

Joyce impressed on his American debut

The fight that many British boxing fans were looking forward to seeing was Joe Joyce against Joe Hanks.

Joyce, the 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight silver medallist, was a prodigy of David Haye, but the former world champion has since turned to managing his old foe Dereck Chisora.

So ‘The Juggernaut’ had a point to prove as he made his US debut – and he made it in some style.

A destructive knock-out of America’s Hanks in the first round saw Joyce take his record to 7-0.

However, the Londoner really needs to fast-track his way up through division after turning pro late in his boxing career.

At the age 33, he remains relatively inexperienced, and time is not on his side.

Ortiz vs Father Time

On the topic of Father Time – the one opponent that no boxer can ever hope to beat – Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz was also in action on the Wilder-Fury undercard.

The Cuban’s great effort against Wilder earlier this year remain fresh in the memory, but he looked as if his best days were definitely behind him as defeated Travis Kauffmann.

‘Kong’ finally decided to throw a decent combination late in the 10th round to stop the fight

If there was any fight on the bill made for UK night owls to sleep through, it was this one; a certain cure for anyone suffering from insomnia.

It began in extremely one-sided fashion, with Ortiz landing punches freely. The 39-year-old has probably had harder fights against a heavy bag in the gym.

The only thing that stopped him ending this lethargic contest earlier was surely fatigue.

Both fighters tried their best to reserve energy throughout, but ‘Kong’ finally decided to throw a decent combination late in the 10th round to stop the fight.

Hurd vs Wellborn

If your alarm was set too early, you may have caught the end of the Jarrett ‘Swift’ Hurd vs Jason Welborn fight.

Hurd delivers a body shot to Wellborn

This contest was definitely the biggest bout outside of the main event, with British super-welterweight Wellborn taking on Hurd for his IBF, IBO and WBA belts.

Welborn fought like this was the chance of a lifetime and showed great heart and aggression from the off.

The 32-year-old from the West Midlands repeatedly pinned Hurd on the ropes early on, throwing a barrage of punches as he sought to tear the titles out of the American’s grasp.

His best moment came in the fourth when he put together a 19-punch unanswered combination and forced the champion into a clinch.

However, that seemed to act as a wake-up call for Hurd, and less than a minute later, he hit the challenger with a ferocious body shot, sending him to the canvas and gaining the stoppage.

It had looked as if Wellborn could pull off an upset, but Hurd, 28, has now won all of his 23 fights.

A British fighter overturning the odds? That came in the main event as Fury survived that 12th-round knockdown to draw a fight which many thought he had won.

New champ Camacho eyes bigger prizes in cruiserweight shake-up

Boxing’s cruiserweight division is going through a period of radical transition.

The thrilling contest between Tony Bellew and Oleksandr Usyk at the Manchester Arena turned the spotlight on what has often been seen as a weight class which the best fighters pass through en route to heavyweight riches.

‘With upheaval looming at cruiserweight, fighters at this level have a great opportunity to propel themselves to the division’s top table’

Usyk is expected to make the step up after conquering the division by winning all four world titles. And with former world champion ‘Bomber’ Bellew now retired, what is next for cruiserweight fight fans?

One notable thing about the Ukrainian’s imminent move above 200lbs is it means all of his belts will be up for grabs. Many of the top cruiserweight contenders will contest the next World Boxing Super Series, but Bellew won’t be one of them. His exit from the ring is a big loss for British boxing.

So, who will be the next British star at this weight? One of the belts the ‘Bomber’ won during his successful career was the Commonwealth title.

And after British champion Lawrence Okolie relinquished the Commonwealth title last month, the two main challengers for the vacant crown were Wadi ‘Machoman’ Camacho and Arfan ‘Major’ Iqbal.

Seasoned pro

Iqbal, 27, a 12-0 cruiserweight was one up on Camacho after stopping him last year in a rollercoaster war, but he had been fairly inactive after that win, fighting just once.

Will Uysk vacate his cruiserweight belts, including the WBC version?

Camacho, with a record of 20 wins and seven losses, had just come off an impressive knock-out of Danny Couzens.

The 33-year-old, who was born in Spain but is a British citizen, is seasoned pro and also showed a decent level of skill when he took British cruiserweight contender Isaac Chamberlain the distance.

With the southpaw looking for revenge against Camacho, he jumped at the opportunity of a rematch, with the vacant Commonwealth crown at stake.

With upheaval looming at cruiserweight, fighters at this level have a great opportunity to propel themselves to the division’s top table.

So, Iqbal and Camacho’s recent Commonwealth clash at the York Hall in Bethnal Green took on a greater resonance.

Rookie mistakes

Both fighters tried their best to dictate the pace of the fight in the early rounds, but Camacho began to get on top with his jab, and it seemed that Iqbal couldn’t get to grips with his southpaw stance.

Camacho shows off his new Commonwealth belt

The undefeated fighter was making rookie mistakes, taking steps to his right to avoid the Camacho’s blows but walking into left hands on a consistent basis.

Older fighters are never too old to learn new tricks, and Camacho showed his improvement on the inside, pounding Iqbal every time he tried to get close.

It wasn’t long before he was rewarded for his clean, sharp work up close as he dropped Iqbal in the fifth round after he walked into a left hand that clipped him on the top of his head.

Iqbal had come for one thing, to land power shots, and the sixth round was where he got the most success after he landed a sweet right that forced his rival into a clinch.

The 12-0 fighter had turned on the power from round one, planting his feet to put his bodyweight behind his swings. However, Camacho showed his experience throughout by keeping out of Iqbal’s range and making him miss.

The ‘Major’ began to look very minor as his sloppy and over-aggressive tactics resulted in him succumbing to fatigue. Then, Arfan Iqbal hit the wall, Arfan Iqbal had a great fall in the seventh round as he tumbled through the ropes and out of the ring.

The cruiserweights impersonation of Humpty Dumpty meant that he wasn’t able to continue due to an back injury he suffered after falling onto a table.

The fight was stopped and went to the judges’ scorecard which read 69-63, 68-64, 69-63 in Camacho’s favour. The ‘Machoman’ is now the new Commonwealth cruiserweight champion in what is a highly competitive and open division.

Who’s next?

Dillian Whyte’s fighter Richard Riakporhe

It is hard to see Lawrence Okolie, who is the top dog in the UK, come down a level and fight for a belt he just relinquished, Camacho would welcome the opportunity.

Then there’s heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte’s protege Richard Riakporhe, who notched up a thrilling win on the Usyk-Bellew undercard.

The fight that makes the most sense for both Camacho and Iqbal is the trilogy: Camacho vs Iqbal III. Each fighter has a win over the other, and a third bout would settle things between them once and for all.

Regardless of what path each fighter decides to take, the cruiserweight division is shaping up into something really spicy in the next few years and threatening to throw off its status as simply a stepping stone to the top division.

Feature image courtesy ofKristin Wall via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).