Boxing: Akinwande out to win the crowd

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The Independent Online
HENRY AKINWANDE should have few problems successfully defending his European heavyweight championship against Biagio Chianese, of Italy, at the Royal Albert Hall tonight. Perhaps the more demanding task facing the 6ft 7in Londoner is to improve his status as Britain's lowest-profile boxing champion.

In the heavyweight popularity stakes, Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno are established front runners, while Herbie Hide, the British champion who is a major beneficiary of Barry Hearn's promotional acumen, enjoys a growing base of support.

When it comes to generating publicity, however, Akinwande is handicapped by a ring style which fails to quicken the pulse. The 28-year-old title holder, a former ABA champion, remains unbeaten, but exciting moments have been rare, the majority of his contests going the distance.

He is a man of few words who seems to have taken quite literally that old fighters' maxim of letting his fists do the talking. As a result, Akinwande enjoys a degree of anonymity out of line with his achievements in the ring.

An impressive performance tonight could project the champion on to a wider stage. For the first time in his career, he tops the bill in a contest to be screened live on BBC on Sportsnight.

Akinwande won the vacant title earlier in the year with a points decision over Axel Schultz in Germany, a performance which went largely unrecognised in Britain. Mickey Duff, his manager, has shrewdly guided his charge through a risk-free 22-fight career against opponents of questionable pedigree and the challenger he faces tonight looks to have been selected with similar care.

Chianese is most noteworthy for his size: at around 18 stone, he is the bulkiest Italian heavyweight since Primo Carnera, who challenged for the world title in the 1930s. The vastness of his girth has brought its problems: his second fight was declared a 'no contest' after the ring collapsed.

It is unlikely that Akinwande possesses the power to disturb the bloated Italian. The champion's strengths are speed and an ability to box on the move, qualities which should be sufficient to enable him to retain the crown by a wide points margin. Convincing the viewing public that he is a credible force in the heavyweight division may prove more difficult.

(Photograph omitted)