Tag Archives: BOXING

Wilder-Fury 2: Five questions that the ‘Gypsy King’ needs to answer

The time is almost upon us. The long-awaited rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury is nearly here, just over 16 months since their dramatic and controversial draw in Los Angeles.

Many felt that Fury came out on top in the first bout at the Staples Center, some even labelling the decision of a draw as a ‘robbery’.

You would imagine that then Fury is coming in as the clear favourite for the second fight, but some of the confidence in ‘The Gypsy King’ has waned among fight fans since that controversial draw in December 2018.

There are big question marks over whether Fury’s preparations for this fight have really given him with the tools to dismantle Wilder at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 22nd February.

Here are five questions that the Mancunian needs to answer on fight night:

Has he improved since the first fight?

Fury has had two fights since that dramatic night in LA, producing wins against the previously unbeaten Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin. Despite both ending in victory, they were two very different nights for Fury.

As expected, the 31-year-old dealt with the lesser-known Schwarz in two short rounds which, at the time, suggested he may be packing more a punch and quashing suggestions that he lacks power. However, his encounter with Wallin at the T-Mobile Arena last September didn’t quite go to plan.

What was expected to be another routine win turned into a bloody, 12-round war that left the Brit with a nasty-looking cut above the right eye. Although it definitely wasn’t a performance that would fill anyone with added confidence about Fury’s prospects against Wilder, there is not a massive amount that you can read into it.

Fury is someone that has risen to the occasion in the past. He produced two sub-par performances against Sefer Seferi and Franceso Pianneta in the lead-up to the first Wilder fight, but still managed to conjure up an excellent performance against the WBC heavyweight champion.

Fury also took on Wilder just two fights into his comeback from a near three-year lay-off and he’ll be hoping to be fitter and sharper for the rematch than he was for their first bout. It will be interesting to see if getting 14 more rounds under his belt enables Fury to show improved stamina in the later rounds; the lack of which ultimately proved to be his downfall in the first contest.

Has he been focused enough on boxing?

Since the clip of him remarkably rising from canvas after Wilder’s brutal 12th-round knockdown in their first fight went viral across the world, it’s safe to say that Fury has made the most of his new-found global fame. He’s brought out an autobiography, released a Christmas single with Robbie Williams and fought Braun Strowman in the WWE, which have all raised his profile [and boosted his bank balance), but equally raised questions over his commitment to boxing.

The lineal champion has always come across as someone who lives and breathes fighting but, due to the other commitments he’s taken on, has he left enough time to sharpen his skill-set in the gym ahead of this huge second fight against the 34-year-old from Alabama?

We recently saw Andy Ruiz Jr become distracted by the glitz, glamour and fame of reaching the summit of the heavyweight division after upsetting Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden last June – and how that then ultimately cost him in their December rematch.

You simply can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for a second in boxing, especially against fighters at the top end of the heavyweight division.

Is it possible that Fury has fallen into the same trap as Ruiz?

Is changing trainers a good idea?

Former coach Ben Davison played a huge part in pulling Fury back from the brink of disaster after his mental breakdown led him to the cusp of suicide and stepping on the scales at a whopping 385lbs. He also masterminded the game plan that so nearly got Fury the win against Wilder which would have put him back on top in the heavyweight division.

However, following an on-screen lambasting from Fury’s father John, Davison was ditched and has now been replaced by American Javan ‘Sugar Hill’ Steward, nephew of famous trainer Emmanuel Steward.

The lineal champion isn’t unfamiliar with Steward, having spent a month training with him in the famous Kronk gym in Detroit a decade ago. Andy Lee, Fury’s cousin and a former world middleweight champion who has spent time at Kronk, has also been involved in the camp although it’s not been obvious exactly what capacity that’s been in.

It’s undoubtedly a gamble to switch trainers so near to a big fight, especially when you consider how well Davison’s plan worked in the first Wilder bout and how radically different Steward’s coaching philosophies are to Davison’s. In an interview with iFL TV, Steward said: “He doesn’t want that again [going to the judges]. I wasn’t raised that way. Emanuel [Steward] always taught me ‘Get the knockout.’.”

The change in approach, coupled with the limited time Fury has had to work with his new trainer, will surely have added disruption to his preparations. After coming so close to a victory last time, did Fury really need to change his approach so drastically?

Is he really going to go for the knockout?

Although Fury is recognised as one of the best heavyweights in the world right now, he’s never really been known for the power in his punch. The best victories of his career have gone the distance rather than ended in vicious knockouts, much in contrast of his next opponent. In fact, only around 66% of his wins have come via KOs whereas Wilder has stopped 95% of his opponents, with every single one touching the canvas.

Despite this, Fury has been adamant in the build-up that he wants, not only to beat Wilder, but to knock him out as well. He’s even rumoured to be coming in much heavier than the first fight in an attempt to add more power to his arsenal.

As we know, many of Fury’s comments have to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, but his decision to change up his camp suggests there may be some legitimacy to these claims. The risk is that the extra weight means he loses some of the movement that makes him so elusive and hard to hit and becomes a sitting duck for Wilder’s famous, straight right.

Will the cut above his eye come back to haunt him?

As mentioned, Fury picked up a hideous cut above his right eye that required 50 stitches after his last fight against Wallin. Without a massive amount of healing time having passed, the likelihood is that Wilder will target it and attempt to re-open it. The appointment of Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran – one of the best and most well-known cutman in the game – suggests that there is still some nervousness in the Fury camp regarding the wound.

There’s no way of knowing how problematic this will be until fight night. There’s no word on if Fury has had any plastic surgery to speed up the healing process, but you would imagine everything has been done in order to patch it up and make sure that it doesn’t come back to haunt him.

It’s unquestionable, however, that Wilder will be targeting this. In fact, he only recently said that he is ‘looking forward to re-cutting’ Fury’s right eye. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the big night and something to monitor as the fight progresses.

YouTube boxing – genius or embarrassing?

Former WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves recently blasted the phenomenon of YouTubers infiltrating professional boxing as ‘horrific’ and ‘abysmal’.

He delivered his verdict following American vlogger Jake Paul’s win over FIFA YouTuber AnEsonGib on a Miami show headlined by middleweight world champion Demetrius Andrade. But is it really that bad?

What began as a light-hearted video between two friends has rapidly evolved into one of the biggest – and also the most divisive – invasions of a sport in recent times.

It’s safe to say that the traditional, hard-core boxing fanbase aren’t exactly welcoming this YouTube invasion with open arms, though. Many say that it is embarrassing the sport and stealing the limelight away from professional fighters who have spent years working their way up the ranks.

But, whether people like it or not, the demand appears to be there amongst the younger audience. According to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, the fight between Logan Paul and KSI last year sold more pay-per-views than Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr.

How did it start?

When Joe Weller – a YouTube star from Brighton – uploaded a video of a boxing match with his friend Theo Baker in August 2017, no one could have possibly anticipated that it would be the catalyst for the whole landscape of the sport to change. And yet here we are.

Olajide Olatunji – better known by his online alias of ‘KSI’ – challenged the winner of Weller and Baker’s bout to a fight, perhaps not initially realising at the time how big it would become.

His fight with Weller ended up selling out the Copper Box Arena in London and clocked over 23 million views on YouTube. This, inevitably, prompted another fight between two internet stars; this time between KSI and Logan Paul.

This took things to a whole new level. Their first fight sold out the Manchester Arena and generated over 1.3 million pay-per-view buys worldwide. The rematch was made into a fully-fledged professional fight, picked up by streaming service DAZN and promoted by Eddie Hearn.

It’s been quite the journey and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of this train slowing down anytime soon.

What’s the problem, then?

The most recent fight between two YouTubers: Jake Paul – brother of Logan – and AnEsonGib – ‘Gib’ for short – was hardly the sweet science. And that’s being polite.

The Saudi Arabian-born Gib used a bizarre stance in the early exchanges of the fight in an attempt to crouch out of the way of a barrage of wild, flailing punches from Paul. However, his evident lack of defence and general boxing ability meant that he struggled to keep his balance and was an easy target for the American to just pick off.

After Gib touched down on the canvas three times in quick succession, the referee decided that he’d seen enough of the farce that was unfolding in front of him and declared Paul the winner by technical knockout in the first round.

KSI stormed the ring after the fight for a face-to-face confrontation with Paul. We can all see where this one is going, can’t we?

‘There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing’

These events have undoubtedly attracted fresh eyes on the sport – but at what cost? Is it worth putting on such farcical, comical shows just to get a few more people watching? And, realistically, how many of those new fans are going to stick around for the ‘proper’ fights?

This could be a slippery slope for boxing. Singer Robbie Williams has already called out former rival Liam Gallagher for a fight, and pop sensation Justin Bieber has expressed an interest in fighting KSI. The old cliche is that ‘you don’t play boxing’ and yet a lot of celebrities seem pretty keen to do just that and, perhaps more worryingly, there are also people out there who are capable of making it happen.

If this is what it is going to take to bring the sport into the mainstream, I’d rather we left it as it is.

There seems to be a certain level of naivety from these online stars as well. They strut around like they are Conor McGregor at press conferences but when the head guards come off and the 10oz gloves go on, it is no longer a game.

It’s not a YouTube video that you can just re-film if you make a mistake, it’s a proper fight. And in proper fights, people who don’t know what they’re doing can get hurt. This isn’t a charity football match where celebrities can just join in for a laugh, this is the professional fight business, where one well-timed punch can render an opponent unconscious and in need of urgent medical attention.

Less than six months ago, a promising young fighter in Patrick Day lost his life. In a chapter of the sport where safety is a topic that should be more prominent than ever before, it seems an odd time to start the trend of catapulting novices into the brutal world of pro boxing.

So far, it’s been YouTubers matched against other YouTubers. But who’s to say one of them might not get a couple of wins under their belt, start to believe their own hype and chase after fights against more seasoned pros? It could easily become more than something to poke fun at. It could start to become really dangerous.

Tommy Fury, the younger half-brother of Tyson, who is decent professional plus a Love Island celebrity, appeared to call out KSI in November, saying: “I’ve heard he wants to continue fighting so if he wants a real fight, he knows where I am.

“We are both from that influencing world — he is from YouTube, I am from Love Island. We both have a great following here in the UK. Why not make it a ‘Battle of Britain’?”

At the end of the day, there’s money to be made and that doesn’t even necessarily need to be a bad thing. Although it’s not great to watch, there’s clearly a market for this sort of stuff and it would be foolish to ignore it completely. And if these guys genuinely want to box and they’re willing to put the hard graft in, they should be able to.

It was easier to stomach, though, when it felt like a bit of fun. A fake rivalry, a bit of trash talk, nothing dangerous, nothing serious. It didn’t need to go any further than that.

There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing.

Featured image via: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H65ZxeDAysg

Review: Creed II

Fresh from the box office smash that is Black Panther, Michael B Jordan reprises his role as Apollo Creed’s dynamic heavyweight son Adonis in a sequel that links directly back to the Rocky saga.

Creed II sees Adonis take on Viktor Drago, the son of ruthless Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who killed his father in the ring in Rocky IV. They end up fighting not once, but twice .

Thus, this latest chapter packs plenty of emotional punch as it explores the conflicts that arise as Adonis seeks to avenge his father and fallen hero.

The Rocky series is undoubtedly the most iconic and popular boxing film franchise. However, despite their status, the films are known to be fraught with over-dramatised action and super hero comebacks that don’t accurately represent the reality of the noble art.

However With Tyson Fury’s recent Lazarus-like rise from the canvas against Deontay Wilder, maybe those Hollywood blockbusters aren’t necessarily so over-cooked.

Emotional

As directed by Steven Caple Jr, entrusted with his first big-budget movie at the tender age of 30, the fight scenes in Creed II certainly feel more realistic and less corny than those in the Rocky series, making it a more grounded affair.

‘Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life’

Jordan excels as Adonis, imbuing him with so much passion and conviction that you actually feel he really is a boxer whose dad has died, albeit many years before.

Although the first Creed movie featured British boxer Tony Bellew as its villain, returning to the Rocky series for inspiration ultimately proved too tempting for the producers, including original star Sylvester Stallone, who returns once again as Rocky Balboa, now Creed’s trainer.

So, Dolph Lundgren is back as Drago Snr, joined by Brigette Nielsen as his (now) ex-wife. The Romanian-born, German-raised boxer Florian Munteanu plays their mountainous son.

There are also plenty of emotional father-son issues swirling around Ivan and Viktor, with the former looking to his offspring to redeem his reputation, destroyed by his loss in Rocky IV.

Mental health

The Rocky series is known for its sweaty training montages and inspiring moments where one line from the trainer inspires a huge knockout, but Creed II runs deeper then that.

Yes, the training scenes are still there to show that boxing is a tough and gruelling sport, but the film also touches on the mental well-being of boxers.

‘Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego’

Again, Tyson Fury is the man who most recently shone a spotlight on how fighters struggle with mental health issues, including depression and addiction.

Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life as Adonis’s partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is pregnant with their first child.

With a lot on his mind, Adonis rushes into the first fight with Viktor and wins – but only through disqualification. Badly beaten in the process, his ego and spirit are completely destroyed.

Thus, Creed II accurately depicts just how hard it is for boxers to recover both mentally and physically from going to war in the ring. Furthermore, it touches on their vulnerability and how lonely it can be in at the top.

Its not all gloom and doom though, as the film shows how the love and support of family and friends are as just important as training hard.

Trouble

So the stage is set for a second meeting – this time in Moscow – and Adonis is guided by Rocky to adopt a strategy to wear down his opponent, who normally wins by KO early on.

However, he suffers broken ribs in the later rounds and is knocked down, triggering a dramatic climax. This time, it’s Viktor’s turn to be emotionally distracted as his mother leaves rather than watch him lose, whilst his father eventually does the right thing by his son.

Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego, as Viktor looks to fight on even though it could mean serious injury.

The poignant parallels between him and Apollo Creed are made clear as Ivan acts to save his son from the fate that befell Adonis’s father.

He realises that his love for Viktor counts for more than pushing him to win in the ring; the message is you can be winner by learning what is really important, even in defeat.

Review: Fightworld an absorbing if flawed exposition of fight culture

“Everyone who fights has to have a reason why. I think that, in the end, most reasons are the same.”

When you strip sport of all its frills, you are left with fighting, perhaps the most original and authentic sporting phenomenon. Man’s desire to prove their superiority in physical combat is one that stretches back for millennia, and one that still holds as much significance today. Be it street fighting in Thailand, or Anthony Joshua’s sold-out bout at Wembley, combat sports boast a unique appeal that very few things can match.

Fightworld is a five-part Netflix documentary series which explores fighting cultures in five different countries: Mexico, Thailand, Myanmar, Senegal, and Israel. Actor and martial arts enthusiast Frank Grillo, best known for roles in Liam Neeson’s The Grey, and Marvel’s Captain America franchise, guides us on this journey through the underworld of combat sports.

We discover the art of boxing in Mexico, where Grillo explores the city of Tepito, described by one coach as “the rough neighbourhood of champions.”

We learn about Muay Thai in Thailand — the art of eight limbs as it’s known — and indeed the sport of Lethwei in Myanmar, the art of nine limbs whereby the head-butt completes one’s personal arsenal.

We’re thrust into the colourful and atmospheric world of Laamb wrestling in Senegal, and discover in brutal, graphic terms the reality of hand-to-hand combat in Israel. It’s a twisting and turning journey through the eye-opening actualities of fighting styles around the globe, and of the values held by their purveyors.

Grillo pad

While Fightworld offers a breathtaking exposition of a wide variety of fighting styles and subcultures, it must be said that Grillo’s presence begins to grate very quickly. You can understand the idea behind having him as the show’s navigator — the privileged American with a sharp haircut and designer stubble having his eyes opened to the stark and often grim world of these fierce sports.

However, it often feels as though Grillo is simply in the way as far as the viewer’s experience goes. His ham-fisted, clumsy attempts to communicate with the documentary’s subjects only serve to paint him as a brash, headstrong tourist. To see him buckle and whimper during his tutorial with an Israeli combat instructor in the final episode is somewhat satisfying.

While this type of programme certainly warrants the need for a central personality to link each episode together, perhaps the role would have been better served by a former boxer, someone who can truly appreciate the struggles and successes of those he meets. While Grillo’s intentions are good and genuine, the divide between him and the fighters means there is little common ground between them.

Whatever gravitas is lost through his presence, though, is made up for in the documentary’s stunning visuals. Each shot finely reflects the struggles and mood of its subject, each close-up a glimpse into the fighter’s inner thoughts. The different settings are beautifully portrayed, from the harsh streets of Tepito to the humid grasslands of Myanmar.

Life and death

Fightworld offers stunning cinematography

The real stars of Fightworld are its subjects. They offer a unique insight into the ins and outs of their varying sports. The harshness and brutality of some of these sports are laid bare, like the outdoor Muay Thai bouts or the sheer physical aptitude of the Senegalese wrestlers.

Each fighter featured paints a picture of why they believe in fighting, be it the pursuit of fame and stardom, or simply to support their impoverished families.

The most absorbing part of the series is the final episode in a besieged Israel, which is in many ways a departure from the theme of the previous four. Here, we see the kind of fighting that goes beyond mere sport, and becomes a matter of life and death.

The intensity and passion of the Israeli combat specalists are striking, not least Eitan Cohen, an armed forces instructor of Krav Maga, a unique form of hand-to-hand combat. His presence is captivating, his motives worn proudly upon his sleeve. The combat skills he possesses are as terrifying as they are mesmerising. The nine minutes for which he is on screen are unforgettable.

Scratching the surface

Perhaps the area where Fightworld most misses the mark is in its undying glorification of every aspect of these different combat sports. The various downsides for many of these fighters — and there are undoubtedly many — are swept beneath the carpet, deemed insignificant against the riches and spoils, tangible or otherwise, of fighting.

‘In the end, perhaps the main reason we fight is simply because we like it’

The potential for injury, or for lasting damage mentally and physically to those who practice these sports with little protection, are largely ignored. One of the lasting images of the documentary is of a young Burmese fighter, no more than a young teenager, staring down the lens of the camera. His face is bloodied and bruised, a look of sad defiance just discernible beneath the puffs and scrapes.

It’s a shocking image, but one that represents the juxtaposition between the pride of physical combat, and its devastating affects. Perhaps a more thorough exploration into such themes would have made Fightworld a more rounded project. After finishing the series, there is a sense that the documentary, while rich and enjoyable, has only scratched the surface.

The overarching question throughout Fightworld is why do we fight? The words of Artur Saladiak, a Lethwei boxer originally from Poland, are stark: “people like violence.”

While it’s a crude and simplistic reduction of the myriad reasons for which people fight, in many ways Saladiak touches on a key truth, and one that perhaps transcends the motivations the documentary seeks to promote — those of survival, of bettering oneself, of pride in one’s family and heritage.

In the end, perhaps the main reason we fight is simply because we like it.

Rating: 7/10

VIDEO: Interview with Paragon Gym co-founder Stuart Lawson

Charlie MacKinnon visits the Paragon Gym in Shoreditch to speak to co-founder and former world kickboxing champion Stuart Lawson.

Lawson described his own career experiences at the highest level of world kickboxing and how he came to start up the Paragon Gym in 1997.

With many fighters coming through the ranks and rising to elite levels, Elephant Sport asks are we seeing a new era of British boxing, and how is the future of the sport looking?

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To find out more about the Paragon Gym, visit their website.

‘I just want people to see me as a good fighter, not a disabled one’

Despite having cerebral palsy, mixed martial arts fighter Jack West aims to turn professional at the end of the year. By which point he says, his doubters will have been forced to accept him.

At the BST MMA Gym in the heart of Northampton town centre is where you’ll find ‘The T-Rex’ five nights a week, practising his skills and gaining respect with each passing fight.

As we sit bare footed on wrestling mats, the thud of blows being landed on a chained heavy bag resonates through a space whose sweat-soaked atmosphere captures years of primal aggression being channelled into physical prowess.

The man responsible for the noise is Jack’s main coach, former World Cage Warriors and British Tae Kwon Do champion Danny Batten, snapping a series of unrelenting low kicks into 180lbs of leather and sand.

West tells me: “My coaches and training partners are the best about. Technically, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better in the country.”

Physical pain

As well as being his coach, Batten also plays the role of sparring partner from time to time.

Attesting to his ferocious abilities, West speaks of the pain he often endures after training.

“With my condition, I have restricted use of my right side with little range of motion. It’ll usually cause me pain after training, but I’ve never known any different.

“Submission wise, because I don’t have full extension of my right arm, anything on that side I’ll tap to immediately, unlike my left arm where I could possibly twist and wriggle out. I’m not going to risk it.”

‘People don’t want to fight me, and I get it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them’

Despite being born with a hemiplegia of the right side, West has managed to make a name for himself in the amateur ranks of MMA.

With a record of three wins and one loss so far, it’s hard to deny his talent, although some try to.

“People don’t want to fight me, and I get it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them. Losing means they got beat by the guy with cerebral palsy. Win, and it’s only a guy with cerebral palsy. There’s little to gain from their side.”

His solution to this problem? “If I keep working, at some point I’m going to be of the skill level where they’re forced to accept me.

“When I turn pro, I’m going to be there through ability not sympathy, and they’re going to have to fight me.”

Currently, there is no MMA organisation that has disabled-specific platforms for fighters. As a result, West has always trained and fought with abled-bodied competitors and says he’d not have it any other way.

“I don’t want to be known as a disabled fighter. I want people to say ‘he’s a good fighter’ regardless. I want people to see me as a good fighter in spite of my disability.”

Overcoming the odds

Ahead of meeting West, I was slightly nervous and unsure as to how I’d approach the topic of his disability. Rightly or wrongly, I adopted a position of sympathy.

My perception shifted dramatically when after a toilet break, I returned with two packets of dry roasted peanuts for us.

After passing West his and then woefully attempting to open mine, I felt a sudden rush of anxiety and thought ‘I should’ve opened the bloody nuts myself.’ I looked up to find him making light work of the wrapping, utilising his teeth and self-proclaimed ‘piston’ of a left hand.

“I call it the money-maker,” he tells me in jest.

“I know that sounds silly, but my condition is something other fighters don’t have. When we step inside the octagon together, I’m beating you even with cerebral palsy. I have an obstacle to climb that you don’t.

“I’m as good a fighter as anybody that I’ve stepped in there against. I have obvious disadvantages, but I make up for them in other ways. Fighting is what I’m best at.”

Researching cerebral palsy threw up a list of problems associated with the condition including poor co-ordination, stiff and weak muscles, bad posture, problems with balance –  all things you’d assume mitigate against a successful career in combat sports.

West is, however, made of sterner stuff. “Everything you’ve said there is true, but I’m overcoming it.

“I’m just as capable as everyone else. When I first started in MMA, that was exactly what it was – showing I’m just as physically capable as you lot.

“I’m actually good at sport. I can’t kick a ball to save my life, but I’m a good goalkeeper!”

Anxious

Having joined a boxing class with friends at the age of 13, West continued even after his mates lost interest. He then transitioned in MMA and found his “calling”.

“I loved thinking I was the man,” he tells me. “Playing sport (at school) people would say ‘sit down’ or whatever but I knew my potential. I knew I was strong.”

‘I’m not scared, and my mum sees that. She sees that I love it’

Now, if you were to ask most parents which sport they’d least like their child to show an interest in, MMA would probably be right up there. Add in a serious birth defect, and West admits his mother was initially extremely anxious about her son’s passion for fighting.

“When I began training at 13, obviously like most mums she was worried. Like most people, she was unaware that there is an art to mixed martial arts.

“Soon enough, she stopped worrying and just watched. Now she’s a fan of the sport.

“It’s like, if she saw I was scared, then she would be, too. But I’m not scared, and she sees that. She sees that I love it.”

No limits?

Although Jack’s situation is rare, he’s not the first disabled mixed martial artist to fight inside the cage.

Nick Newell, formerly of America’s XFX fight organisation, tasted success when he defeated Eric Reynolds to become champion of the world in their 155lb division, despite being born with a congenital amputation ending below the elbow on his left arm.

Newell is a hero to West, who takes much inspiration from his example.

“He’s someone I look up to massively. We’ve actually exchanged emails on various occasions and he’s wished me luck for upcoming fights and stuff.

“When I was younger, it was a dream of mine to fight him. I’d still love to. We’re basically the same weight.”

In 2015, Newell retired from MMA despite winning a unanimous decision in his final fight. West explained how following the American’s career opened his eyes to his own limitations.

“There’s a ceiling. It’s important to not be deluded about this. He knows, like I know, that there’s a limit to what we can do with our disabilities, and I think he’d reached his.”

Two fights prior to his retirement, Newell lost a bout to Justin Gaethje, a top fighter who currently poses a challenge to UFC superstar Conor McGregor’s lightweight crown. West remembers it vividly.

“It was tough to watch. He obviously took a proper beating, but it goes to show that there really is a gap, and that’s cool.

“I’m not ever going to get lost in the emotion of it and think ‘I’m going to be the next UFC lightweight champion’ or anything. I know what I’ve got.”

Newell held an impressive 9-1 professional record, with nearly all of his victories coming via submission. I, like most, interpreted this as Newell recognising his disadvantage on the feet (having one arm significantly shorter than the other). West’s victories, however, have come via KOs and TKOs.

“Stand-up fighting is what I’m best at. I hit hard, I know that. Everything I’m doing is setting you up to land my big left hand.

“I don’t want to use the ground and for people say I’m just using it because I can’t stand. I’m a good striker and they learn that quickly.”

Perspective

A habitual reader and appreciator of philosophy, West’s outlook and demeanour took me back, admittedly. Articulacy accompanied by a defiant aura, I had no qualms in telling him I felt he’d go far.

“That whole philosophy that Conor McGregor holds of ‘believe in your surroundings’ is one that I share and agree with wholeheartedly. This is a gift.

“You have to love yourself, and every part of you.”

I end our interview by asking where he sees himself in the near future.

“I’m looking to turn professional at the end of the year,” he replies.

“Then from there, I can hand on my heart say I’m going to be world champion. I believe that, absolutely.

“When I retire, maybe I’d like to start something to help others in my situation. I’ve been approached before about teaching a disabled class. That’s something I’d love to do in the future.

“Right now, I’m fighting.”

‘I’m no stepping stone’ Langford warns Khurtsidze

Elephant Sport’s Emily Jamieson speaks to British middleweight Tommy Langford about his upcoming fight against Avtandil Khurtsidze.

Speaking at his training camp in Birmingham, he warns his Georgian opponent not expect to “walk through” him.

Langford, 27, speaks highly of his “crazy and loud” fans and his hopes for a big fight in Las Vegas if he defeats Khurtsidze, nicknamed ‘Mini Mike Tyson’.

North Devon’s Langford has won all 18 of his professional bouts so far, with six wins coming via knockouts.

Khurtsidze, who is 10 years his senior, hasn’t fought in over a year, but has 34 wins in 36 bouts, with 21 knockouts and only two losses.

Langford and Khurtsidze meet at the Leicester Arena on April 22nd for the interim WBO world middleweight title. The fight is live on BT Sport.

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Elephant Sport Podcast – The Rise of Online Streaming

Mike Newell and Lucas Chomicki investigate why more sports fans are turning to internet streaming to watch live events.

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This vox pop features anonymous interviewees because of the subject under discussion.

 

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British champion Langford eyes world glory in 2017

It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.

A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.

The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.

When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.

Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.

Business

“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.

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Langford took his record to 18-0 against Sam Sheedy. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.

“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.

“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.

“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.

“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.

“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.

“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”

Control

Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.

“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.

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Southpaw Sheedy stepped up to fight Langford after Chris Eubank Jr withdrew in September

“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.

“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”

Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.

“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.

“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.

“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.

“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.

“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”

Outburst

For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.

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The ‘Baggies Bomber’ now has three belts to his name. Pic tommylangford.co.uk

There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.

So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?

“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.

“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.

“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.

“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.

“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”

Impact

Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.

“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”

“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.

 

“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.

“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.

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Langford appears on BT Sport ahead of West Brom’s home game with Man Utd. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.

“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.

“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.

“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”

Fan base

Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.

With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.

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Birmingham-based Langford enjoys strong ties with his boyhood club. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.

“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.

“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.

“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”

“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.

“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.

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A fight at the Hawthorns would be a dream for Langford and his fans. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.

“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”

Challenges

Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?

With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.

But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.

“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”

Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.

“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.

“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.

“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.

“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”