Boxing: Catley catch let out of bag

The WBC needs to puts its ratings house in order, argues Bob Mee
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The Independent Online
IT IS always heartwarming to see nice guys finish first. Consequently, I could never begrudge Richie Woodhall a payday. However, his defence of the World Boxing Council super-middleweight title against Glenn Catley, a substitute contender, raises questions about the way the WBC runs its business.

When Woodhall became champion by outscoring the veteran South African Sugarboy Malinga in March, it was just reward for years of hard work and playing straight. Those who take only a passing interest in sport will probably not have heard of this unspoiled family man from Telford, who lives quietly with his partner Jayne and their three children, and whose twin passions are fishing and West Bromwich Albion. Yet the 30-year-old, a bronze medal winner at the 1988 Olympics, is an accomplished ring technician who has endured dark days to reach the top.

His first title bid in the small town of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1996 brought him a 12th-round defeat against WBC middleweight champion Keith Holmes. He had gambled by boxing with a seriously damaged right elbow, which subsequently threatened his career. He switched promotional camps from Mickey Duff to Frank Warren, and moved up to the l2st super- middleweight division. The reward came six months later when he floored and outboxed Malinga before a packed Telford Ice Rink.

By then, Woodhall knew his next title defence would be against the mandatory challenger Vincenzo Nardiello of Italy. Nardiello did not deserve to be No 1 contender. He had edged out Malinga to win the WBC title in 1996, then lost on a knockout to Robin Reid. He had also been stopped by Nigel Benn and Henry Wharton.

Nardiello's promoter is Don King, who won the purse bids with a surprisingly large offer, which would have earned Woodhall a gross payday of around pounds 300,000. For that money, he didn't mind boxing Nardiello in Italy. King, coincidentally, is embroiled in a legal dispute with Warren.

When King failed to follow up his purse bid, the WBC awarded the fight to Warren, who was the next highest bidder. He arranged it for Telford this Saturday. Last week, however, Nardiello pulled out with a damaged calf muscle. To replace Nardiello and preserve the promotion's world title tag, Warren, who inherited rather than created the situation, brought in the British middleweight champion Catley, whom he also promotes.

Catley is a popular, crowding fighter with a powerful left hook, but has not yet suggested he is in Woodhall's league. He has meanwhile been inserted in the WBC ratings for August as Woodhall's No 10 challenger (only the top 10 are allowed to box for the world title). Checks revealed that this was done on the say-so of the WBC head office, manned by its president, Jose Sulaiman, and his assistant Eduardo Lamazon. Astonishingly, the WBC ratings committee were not consulted. It is the job of the 14- man ratings committee to give the WBC its structure by ranking boxers in their proper order and correct weight divisions.

Yet one committee member, Peter Stucki of Switzerland, said: "What is scandalous is the fact that no member of the WBC ratings committee agreed or even suggested Catley to be rated as a super-middle. The WBC office just did it."

In the United States, Senator John McCain is attempting to eradicate this anomaly in order to restore much-needed structure to a sport close to disintegration. There are six so-called world title authorities who have operated in recent times, and just as many who have not. Some would say McCain's Boxing Act will destroy the business, while others think there has to be a radical remoulding of ideas.

May Woodhall and Catley, a one-time electrician who has battled long and hard for his success, earn well, increase their reputations and stage a great fight. And may boxing look at itself more closely in the wake of it.