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Boxing: Travails of Winter now in the past

MARK WINTERS faces a battle of the mind in the first defence of his British light welterweight title against the Londoner, Bernard Paul, in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, tonight.

The Ulsterman returns to the ring following the unhappy circumstances surrounding his title victory in October at the Sheffield Arena when his opponent, Carl Wright, subsequently fell into a coma, requiring neuro surgery to remove a blood clot.

Wright has made a remarkable recovery following his fight for life and is backing the champion's quest to make the Lonsdale belt his own.

The unbeaten Winters, a part-time travel agent in Antrim, spent time with the Liverpudlian and his family leading up to his first defence.

"I spent a week in Liverpool sparring with the WBU [World Boxing Union] champion Shea Neary and Andy Holligan and spent a lot of time with Carl," Winters said. "He has told me to go on and win the Lonsdale belt and I am dedicating this fight to him.

"It was the greatest moment of my career so far to win the British title and the next day it was the worst moment when I heard about Carl.

"I considered quitting the ring and my career was on hold until I knew that Carl had recovered. Everybody asks me how I will react once I get in the ring and I simply won't know until I get in there."

One thing the 26-year-old is certain about is victory over Paul, although the former Commonwealth champion has predicted that he will knock him out "in the later rounds".

Winters retorted: "There is no chance that I will lose my title to Bernard. He says he is a hard puncher but I've been sparring with Shea Neary and Bernard doesn't hit harder than him."

Paul, from Tottenham, is arguably having his last attempt at lifting a major title at the age of 32, having lost the Commonwealth belt to Paul Burke in August. That followed a controversial points win at Bethnal Green in April over Felix Bwalya, who subsequently died three days after defeating Burke at the end of last year.

The Commonwealth title is now vacant and Burke has been nominated to fight for the belt, with Ghana's Judas Clottey expected to be the opponent.

Paul would like a re-match with Burke but has focused on toppling Winters, who will be making his first appearance at home following 12 straight wins.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth cruiserweight champion, Darren Corbett, faces the Belgian Dirk Wallyn in a 10-round non-title fight. Wallyn was last seen in a British ring losing in 90 seconds to the former European champion Johnny Nelson and Corbett is expected to deliver a similar result before his world title bout with the World Boxing Organisation champion, Carl Thompson.

"I can't take any chances because my title fight with Thompson would be gone if I lost," said Corbett. "The fight with Thompson is expected to happen on 18 or 25 April."

The unbeaten Brixton heavyweight Danny Williams should chalk up his 13th straight victory inside the distance when he faces Tim Ray from Kentucky.