Boxing: Collins left to fight on Celtic fringe

Harry Mullan says the Irishman is being denied chance to prove his quality

Frustration is becoming a way of life for Steve Collins, who seems as far away as ever from the big-money, high-profile fights he craves. His dream of facing Roy Jones evaporated when the American superstar moved up to light-heavyweight, and the prospect of a unification match with the WBA champion Frankie Liles is remote. Instead, the Dubliner defends his WBO super-middleweight title in Glasgow on Saturday night against Craig Cummings, a white slugger from Kansas City who turns 30 on 7 July.

Cummings is a substitute, replacing Anwar Oshana, the even more obscure Syrian who was the original choice for the Irishman's Scottish debut in a city in which he claims strong family ties. There is nothing much in Cummings' record to inspire confidence in his chances of even giving Collins a worthwhile test, but conversely that could lead to dangerous complacency - although the champion is probably much too professional for that.

The American's statistics are impressive (32 wins in 34 fights) but Kansas City is a notoriously lax area where mis-matches are the order of the day. His last opponent, Isaac Lawson, whom he stopped in seven rounds in January, is typical of the kind of competition encountered on the Kansas circuit. He had won all seven of his fights, but was 35 years old and had done his previous fighting in the Tough Man competitions which enjoyed fleeting popularity in the mid-Western states a few years ago (former heavyweight contender Tommy Morrison was another graduate).

In his only brush with world class, Cummings showed commendable bravery but little technique when he was stopped in seven rounds by Aaron Davis in New York in 1992. That experience was enough to disillusion him, and he took 18 months out of the ring before returning as a middleweight and eventually stepping up to super-middleweight, three divisions heavier than when he launched his career as a welterweight in 1989.

He has won his last 16, all inside the distance, but none of the names on his form-sheet rates comparison with Collins or even with the men the Irishman has been beating. This will be his seventh defence of the title he took from Chris Eubank. He has been a busy champion, and at 32 knows that time is against him.

His defeats of Eubank and Nigel Benn, both of whom he beat again in rematches, have brought him high professional regard but not yet the pay cheques. He has a solidly based appreciation of his own worth and by domestic standards is being well paid, but the serious money lies in the matches which have so far been denied him. His dilemma is similar to Lennox Lewis's. He is convinced he is the world's top super-middleweight, but is consistently denied the chance to prove it.

The promoter Frank Warren, whom he joined after spells with Warren's rivals Barney Eastwood and Barry Hearn, has done his best to secure meaningful matches for him, but part of Collins's trouble is that, having spent his formative fighting years in Boston, he is all too well known to the Americans as an awkward, stubborn and competent performer - and they are in no rush to risk their reputations against him.

But at least the Glaswegians will appreciate the chance to see a fighting man of his quality in action, although given Collins' Celtic allegiance, Cummings may find himself with unexpected support from the other side of the city's great divide. He cannot have expected such a late career opportunity - the WBO is the only one of the four major sanctioning bodies to consider him worthy of a rating - and no doubt he will give it his best effort.

With nothing to lose, and with the confidence that comes from 16 straight inside-schedule victories, he could make life difficult for a few rounds. Collins has a tendency to come down to the opponent's level, as when he plodded to an uninspired points win over Cornelius Carr in 1995. But the gulf in class and pedigree is far too great, and even if Collins is lacking somewhat in motivation for this standard of competition, he should be able to grind out a decisive victory.

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