Carl Frampton can stay at the top for a long time

At the elite level of boxing a fighter’s temperament is probably just as important as the natural talent they possess. The ability to consistently handle and thrive under pressure is often the distinguishing factor between really good fighter and a great fighter.

Carl Frampton

The pressure attached to a fighters first shot at a world title is immense for many reasons, not least because it is the final step a boxer must take towards fulfilling a dream and justifying a lifetime worth of hard work and dedication. Just as importantly, though, the pressure is so much more intensified for the challenger because the champion they face is normally a huge step up in class to any opponent they have faced at any other stage of their journey.

The cliché that a young challenger is ‘untested’ is so routinely used because it is invariably true- it is hard to tell from the half-way point if someone will make it to the top of the mountain. In prizefighting there is rarely any real preparation, it is normally a sink or swim scenario. Some wither under the lights whereas others find out they are the wheat and not the chaff.

Yet on Saturday night in Belfast, Carl Frampton faced a pretty unique situation in that he already proved that he could beat the champion by knocking out Kiko Martinez before the little Spaniard won the IBF title. The great paradox of Frampton’s previous victory over Martinez was that it intensified the pressure rather than relieve the tension, as anything but a victory in the rematch would have been considered abject failure.

The Belfast boxer’s fans didn’t just have blind faith that Frampton would win his first world title- they fully expected him to do so. Defeat simply wasn’t an option in front of the expectant crowd, and that is what makes Frampton’s punch perfect performance against Martinez so impressive. He didn’t just handle the pressure he managed to put together everything he learned from a whole a body of work into 36 beautiful minutes to deliver a display befitting of his wildest boyhood dreams.

Such a dominate performance was the icing on the cake of an incredible journey for Frampton who has reached the pinnacle of the sport in only his 19th professional contest. However, now he is he at the summit, it will only get tougher, the pressure more intense, as the best fighters in the bantamweight divisions are now targeting a shot at his coveted IBF title, especially. Make no mistake Carl Frampton is now a massive draw in boxing, especially due to his loyal fan base which will bring in the big crowds and the big money.

Even former three division world champion Abner Mares tweeted in the aftermath of Frampton’s victory that he wants to move down in weight to face the newly minted IBF super bantamweight champion.

The vultures are circling, but the ‘Jackal’ has proved he can handle the pressure that comes with the territory of being a world champion, and his stunning performance on Saturday night proved he has the talent and temperament to remain at the top for a long time.

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Manny Pacquiao vs Chris Algieri: Can the good big guy beat the great little guy?

There is an old boxing adage that states a ‘good big fighter always beats a good little one’.

If this theory held true then the upcoming November fight between WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and WBO light-welterweight king Chris Algieri would be a foregone conclusion before the 1st bell rung, wouldn’t it?

Who Wins?

Who Wins?

Well, not exactly, because although Algieri proved his worth as a good big prizefighter when he dethroned the menacing Ruslan Provodnikov for his 1st world title, Manny Pacquiao has consistently proven himself to be a great little champion. Still, when you look at the promotional pictures of the two men standing side by side, the height difference between the 5ft 6in Pacquiao and the 5ft 10in challenger is astonishing. Aside from the obvious height advantage Algieri has over the little Filipino star, Pacquiao is also at a massive 6inch reach deficit compared to his rangy opponent.

Regardless of the inches in reach and height that Pacquiao concedes to Chris Algieri, he will still be a heavy betting favourite going into the fight on the 22nd November, which will be staged in Macau, China. Why? Because this is not Pacquiao’s 1st barbeque, he has battered bigger and stronger men than Algieri before in his illustrious career. Furthermore, Pacquiao holds the aces in the hand speed and power department. Algieri is a classy and crafty technician, but he is not a vaunted puncher. His record of only 8 knockouts of 20 contests testifies to that.

However, there are a few significant and favourable differences between Algieri and the other ‘big guys’ that Pacquiao has put to the sword in the past. Firstly, Algieri is approaching his prime as a fighter, whereas Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito had both seen better days by the time they met Manny Pacquiao in battle. In the case of Oscar De Hoya, the ‘Golden Boy’ had lost his shine and looked emaciated against Pacquiao due to the fact he had to dissolve himself down to 147lb. His sunken features on fight night told us of the trauma his body suffered in trying to drain weight. Algieri, though, is moving up in weight to face Pacquaio, and there is a consensus opinion that his 5ft 10in frame will actually be more comfortable at welterweight than it is at 140lb.

Most importantly, what Algieri lacks in power he makes for with pure boxing skills and a crisp, authoritative jab. If Algieri can control the distance with his jab and keep the fight at range then he will cause Pacquaio a lot of problems. Having seen Algieri smile in the face of adversity against Provodnikov, after suffering several knockdowns and a grotesquely swollen eye, there are certainly no questions marks over his stomach for a fight. Algieri has heart and desire in abundance. He knows this is the biggest moment of life, and he will be determined to do whatever it takes to have his hand raised in victory. Yet Pacquiao has cultivated the aforementioned traits evident in Algieri since his childhood in the mean streets of Manilla and General Santos City.

Both men will be willing for war. That is why despite the fact there were far better fights out there for Manny Pacquiao his contest with Chris Algieri will still be full of drama and intrigue.

At this point, I still think that the great little guy will overcome the good big guy. But what if Chris Algieri shows he has the ingredients to be great, then it could be a different story.

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Smoke and Mirrors in the Middleweight Division

‘Believe none what you hear and only half of what you see’ is a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin. However, this well known idiom did not immediately enter my mind when I heard, what I first assumed to be shocking news, that Peter Quillin had relinquished his WBO middleweight title in order to pursue a fight with Daniel Jacobs for his WBA ‘regular’- read, meaningless- title.

The only available picture of Al Haymon online!

The only available picture of Al Haymon online!

To fully believe what I was seeing would be to put credence in the claim that ‘Kid Chocolate’ was vacating his title and rejecting a career high payday of $1.2  million solely to avoid facing his mandatory challenger Matt Korobov.

Yet I struggle to accept the notion that Quillin is relinquishing a legitimate title belt due to his reluctance to face Korobov, because I believe Quillin to be a better boxer than Korobov. There is no reason for him to be reticent to face Korobov. To confuse matters more, I am far less inclined to believe anything that I hear about Quillin vacating his title to assist him in his quest to be recognised as the ‘best middleweight in the world’. This is an utter fallacy. If Quillin wanted to be the best middleweight in the world he would the face the real WBA middleweight champion, Gennady Golovkin, not the Daniel Jacobs, the man in possession of a paper title that says ‘WBA’ on it.

It just didn’t add up, there were definitely a few pieces from the puzzle that had to be put together. To connect the dots, I had to think critically and ask myself the question ‘what I am being asked to believe?’ I don’t believe that I see Quillin foregoing his title and a record paycheck out of fear of facing Korobov, and all I hear is hollow words full of falsity in the statement that relinquishing his title will help him become the best middleweight in the world.

What is the truth? What can we believe? Well, in this curious case full of equivocations, one cast iron fact is that Jay Z’s Roc Nation won the bid for the Peter Quillin vs Matt Korobov bout when they put up a $1.6million purse for the fight. The problem was that Al Haymon, the autocratic manager of Quillin, doesn’t like Jay Z- his relationship with Roc Nation has been sour since the days he used to work in the music business. Now that we can appreciate the intricacies of the Al Haymon and Roc Nation dynamic, we can understand that it is was inevitable that Quillin was destined to vacate his WBO title.

We haven’t heard it, we will never see it, but what we must believe is that Al Haymon, in true dictatorial fashion, has forced his fighter to dispense with his world title so he doesn’t have to do business with Roc Nation. The truth is that Al Haymon is not going to give his rival bricks to build a foundation in the boxing business by letting his client Peter Quillin fight on a card promoted by Roc Nation.

It was all smoke and mirrors from start, and where Al Haymon is concerned, believe none of what you hear or anything of what you see.

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Paddy McCourt: The right player in the wrong time

There are undoubtedly many good, bad and ugly consequences of globalisation that are evident in the modern game. One of the most potent by-products of the globalisation of football is how professionalised the game has become. For better or worse, players are probably now referred to as ‘athlete’s’ more than they are called footballers.

Yet in my opinion the professionalisation of the British game is bitter sweet because the price we pay for increased professionalism is a loss of personality in football. For the flawed genius is now a thing of the past, and flair players are an almost forgotten relic of an ancient time, replaced by functional robots that run around tirelessly for 90 minutes.

Even Messi knows Paddy McCourt is the Messiah!

Even Messi knows Paddy McCourt is the Messiah!

The one player who has perhaps been most marginalised by the mechanical nature of the modern game is Paddy McCourt, who was recently released by Barnsley. Thankfully McCourt’s precocious talent has found a new home since Sami Hhypia signed him for Championship club Brighton and Hove Albion. Unbelievably, some of you reading this article may never even have heard of the man affectionately known as ‘The Derry Pele’. McCourt is a folk hero in his native Northern Ireland, and Scotland from his time playing with Glasgow Celtic. Although McCourt looks like he belongs in a leather jacket and a Libertines video, under that ungovernable mane of hair is a majestic talent. He is one of a select few of players capable of producing off the cuff moments of pure magic that all those who witnessed them will remember for the rest of their lives.

With the body of a Mexican boxer in between fights, McCourt often looked unfit and out of shape whenever he made an appearance at Parkhead. Yet in his 20 minute cameos he could conjure more moments of quality than many players can produce in their whole careers. Although McCourt was not blessed with any pace, watching him weave his magic through whole defences was a sight to behold. Fans had to rub their eyes in disbelief as the scruffy, disheveled looking McCourt entered the field of play to lead opponents on a merry waltz, forcing defences to dance to the sound of his tune such was the virtuosity of his talent.

Despite playing the game with the sort of bravura normally associated with a world class symphony orchestra, McCourt was never really trusted at Celtic. His rebellious streak and stubborn refusal to defend led to him being labeled as a luxury that could only be indulged in relatively meaningless league fixtures. He was deemed far too unreliable for the rigid approach employed by the Parkhead club in Champions League contests. The cruel irony was that he was the one player who had the natural talent to make a difference against Celtic’s more distinguished opponents. It is a crying shame he never really got the chance to showcase his quality in the Champions League.

The fact that such a fabulously gifted football player is virtually a forgotten man is a reflection of how professional and unforgiving an environment modern football is. Such a carefree maverick as McCourt was always destined to be a ‘wasted talent’ in this militaristic world of modern football. McCourt is the last of the football romantics and his talent will always remain unfulfilled because he is the antithesis of the modern footballer. He obviously loves a beer, and his former Celtic manager Neil Lennon once ruefully stated that McCourt would simply never have the stamina required to be a true force in modern day football.

Put simply, Paddy McCourt is the right player in the wrong time. I am convinced that if he was born a few decades earlier he would be mentioned in the same breath as some of the best British players.

Yet at only 30 years old, Paddy McCourt should have a few more moments of magic left in the tank. One thing is for sure; any lovers of the beautiful game will be watching more Brighton and Hove Albion games this season hoping to witness Paddy McCourt at his brilliant best.

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Mayweather won the battle but Maidana can win the war

Society normally believes in giving sinners a second chance to right their wrongs. This is mirrored in sport where the story of someone’s ‘shot at redemption’ is a familiar and popular narrative which has resonance with the fans because they can relate to it. After all, everyone makes mistakes, everyone has regrets. Therefore the average person has an affinity with someone who has fallen from grace but is resolving to restore their former glories.

Mayweather vs Maidana

However, in the harsh and unforgiving environment of boxing you are seldom ever given a second chance. The vast majority of fighters in the sport, however deserving they may be, rarely even get one shot at major success. It can be considered a minor miracle then that Floyd Mayweather has granted Marcos Maidana a second chance by agreeing to a September rematch. Furthermore, when you take into account how much trouble Maidana caused the usually unflappable Floyd Mayweather in May it makes it even more remarkable that he has decided to do it all again with Maidana next month.

In this article I suppose I am appealing for a second chance as well because after the initial bout between the two men I wrote that there was really no merit in a rematch. Sure the 1st fight was a close, competitive contest, but the result was not controversial. Mayweather clearly deserved to get the decision. Yet I have revised my initial estimation that the rematch will be irrelevant because I now believe that the outcome can be different. In short, in the 1st fight Maidana did more to lose it than Mayweather did to win it. He had a golden chance to win the 1st fight but he ruined it by gassing out due to throwing hundreds of wild, wasteful punches that were way off target. Consequently, the second coming of Mayweather vs Maidana will only have a different conclusion if Maidana can learn from the mistakes he made in the first match up.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was repeating the same actions over and over again but expecting different results. Yet it doesn’t take someone with the intellect of Einstein to predict that Maidana will suffer a similar fate in the rematch if he repeats the game plan he employed in the 1st fight against Mayweather.

Even though his strategy in the first fight yielded relative success, it was the execution that was fundamentally flawed.

Maidana must aim to set the same frantic pace and apply similar levels of relentless pressure on Mayweather. He however cannot expect to prevail against a prizefighting genius and a defensive master by simply pinning Mayweather on the ropes and swinging recklessly with his power punches. There must be more method and less madness from Maidana if he is to have his hand raised in the rematch.

In the big fight build up Maidana’s trainer Robert Garcia has been at pains to emphasise that Maidana will paint a different picture this time. Garcia insists that instead of falling victim to insanity and repeating the same actions but expecting different results, this time Maidana will be more measured in his approach. I would echo Garcia’s sentiments. When Maidana has Mayweather at his mercy on the ropes, he must make him pay by replacing his unmitigated madness with the method of launching precision power shots to the head and body.

There is no point trying to overwhelm Mayweather with reckless offensive onslaughts. Restraint and composure are the keys to victory for ‘El Chino’. Maidana has to cut off the ring and road block the escape routes of the elusive Mayweather, of course he does. On the other hand, he cannot close the distance to the point where he smothers his own punches as this will only serve to suffocate his chances of success.

Undoubtedly Maidana is lucky to get a second chance in the Mayweather lottery. Now he must use his shot at redemption to prove he is the man to decipher the ‘May-Vinci’ code.

This boxing fan now believes that Mayweather can be broken by Maidana.

 Do you?

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Brandon Rios vs Ruslan Provodnikov: A Fans Fight

Being a boxing fan is a labour of love sometimes, isn’t it?

The paying public watches on helplessly, powerless to prevent the reputation of the sport we love being dragged through the mud on a routine basis. Boxing lurches from disarray to disaster because of bad decisions, rumours of rampant performance enhancing drug abuse, and the laughable list of world titles dished out indiscriminately like hot dinners at a halfway house.

Ruslan Provodnikov

We all know boxing is a business. Even still, it is saddening to see the credibility of boxing plummet to new depths with the news that the World Boxing Association (WBA) now has three ‘world champions’ in the middleweight division. In no way am I trying to pin the blame on the fighters, it is not their fault. They put their lives on the line to put food in the mouths and shoes on the feet of themselves and their families. Those alphabet titles pay their bills. But still, three ‘champions’ in one weight class? What is that all about?  Irrespective of who is to blame though, fight fans can be forgiven for wanting to get back to basics.

That is why we should welcome the news that a fight between Brandon Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov is in the works. Although both men personify the brutality of boxing more than the beauty of the sweet science, it is a refreshing thought that these two warriors will soon meet in the ring for a good old fashioned tear up. It is a rarity in boxing that two evenly balanced boxers are allowed to do battle. Too many times we are sold the fallacy of a fight between two men who do not belong in the same ring together.

Forget the pretence of ‘this will be a great fight’. With Rios and Provodnikov we have the promise of punishment. Their come forward, combative styles, coupled with their complete disregard for defence is a prescription for all out war. There really is no other way the fight can unfold.

Make no mistake; if and when the fight is made, it will be bloody. It will be brutal. It will be downright barbaric at times. But it will be a sweet escape from the mismatches the fans are fed shamelessly by promoters and television networks who insist what is in fact festering water is actually fine wine. We fight fans are not fools. We know fine well we are being duped on a regular basis. Yet we endure the bitter taste of the bad times because we love the flavour of the big fights.

Although there would be no title at stake for Brandon Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov fight, the real fans recognise it as a big fight. Why? Because we would finally get our monies worth instead of being blinded by a light while unscrupulous promoters and managers plunder our pockets for every penny they can pinch.

The result of the protracted showdown with Brandon Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov will be the subject of much debate in the build up to the fight. But what is beyond doubt is that this fight will be a hellacious battle from the start to the bloody, bitter end.

Will we watch it? Yes, of course.

Why? We are boxing fans.

We love it.

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Ryan Gauld: A champion of circumstance

When the collective gaze of the football world was firmly fixed on the World Cup, all other football related matters seem trivial in comparison.

It was hardly surprising then that the signing of young Scottish protégé Ryan Gauld, by Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon from Dundee United, failed to send shockwaves through the football world. The transfer seemed to move as subtly as Gauld when he glides between enemy lines to decipher the code of opposition defences. Yet in my native Scotland it was seen as a hugely significant transfer. His surprise move to Sporting Lisbon is sure to have positive implications for youth development in a country that has floundered in a sea of soccer mediocrity for years.

Ryan Gauld

Many of the policy makers and coaches of professional youth teams in Scotland have long been accused of applying an antiquated approach to developing the technical ability of our young players. For far too long too great an emphasis was placed on physicality at the expense of ability. The by-product of this seemed to be an endless procession of one dimensional footballer’s devoid of craft and imagination.

The overwhelming focus on the physical make-up of players was compounded by the fact that youth team coaches, worried about losing their jobs, were forced to subordinate the development of ability and creativity of the individual in favour of focusing on the results of the collective. As a consequence, many talented prospects with great potential have become victims of a set of circumstances that seem to conspire against technically gifted young players in Scotland. Ryan Gauld, however, is a champion of circumstance. His transfer to Sporting Lisbon could result in a paradigm shift for Scottish football at youth level, the significance of which cannot be overstated.

In his international best-selling book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that out of the greatest adversity arises the greatest opportunities for success. Gladwell’s theory seems to mirror the reality in Scotland. The dire financial state of Scottish football has made our domestic game a breeding ground for young talents such Gauld, who out of necessity, have been given the platform to express themselves at a professional level from a very young age.

For example Gauld made his senior debut at the tender age of 16. He has now featured in around 50 professional games at only 18 years old. Yet he is not the exception to the rule. In fact he wasn’t even the only young protégé at Dundee United. His ex-team mate Andrew Robertson is a full Scotland international at 19 years old, and will hone his craft in the cauldron of the English Premiership this season after sealing a move to Hull City this summer.

On a personal level, the proudest moment of my life came when I watched my younger brother Jack- released from Celtic for being ‘too small’ at only 14- make his professional debut at 17 for Airdrie in the final game of the season before last. Sadly he was injured all last season in what was supposed to be his breakthrough year. But he is now back and better than ever. I expect big things from my brother in the not too distant future. From Jacks age group the number of players plying their trade at all levels of the senior game in Scotland are too numerous to mention.

In some ways it seems to be more by accident than design that our country is at last beginning to develop a batch of gifted young players. There is no doubt that youth development has been injected with fresh impetus in recent years. Equally, it cannot be disputed that the influx of teenagers in teams up and down the country is due to the financial constraints of clubs in Scotland. Yet although senior teams are financially malnourished, they are not starved of talent, and now have healthy numbers of young boys who are making their mark against men on a weekly basis.

The rise of Ryan Gauld proves that the new progressive style of coaching is a prescription for the future prosperity of Scottish football.

Famous Greek philosopher Aristotle said that ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.’ Therefore we must continue to place our faith in the feet of our youngsters and allow them to express their talents. While also persevering with this new progressive style of youth development so that Scotland can begin to habitually breed young players of a similar ilk to Ryan Gauld.

In a situation parallel to our independence vote in September, in a football sense, Scottish clubs must take control of their own destiny and usher in a new of era of success and prosperity instead of the ‘glorious failure’ our nation has become synonymous with.

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