Boxing: Duff's trouble with Henry

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The Independent Online
WHERE has Henry Akinwande gone wrong? At 28, he is the European and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, unbeaten in 24 fights and ranked in everybody's top 10. He has the dimensions promoters dream about - 6ft 7in tall, and almost 17st - and he is guided by the most influential figure in British boxing, Mickey Duff. Yet while Herbie Hide, whom Akinwande trounced in the 1989 ABA final, claims the World Boxing Organisation share of the world title, Akinwande remains unknown outside the game's inner circle.

The answer, as Duff reluctantly concedes, is that his man is boring; Chris Eubank without the attitude. Akinwande, who defends his European title against Mario Schiesser in Berlin on Saturday, has been a hard sell throughout his five-year pro career, yet the pounds 37,000 he will earn next week pushes his take from four European title fights to more than pounds 200,000.

'The trouble with Henry,' Duff says, 'is that he hasn't been able to get the kind of high-profile match which could move him into a world title fight, and because his style is unappealing he's not going to get a voluntary defence. He had two chances last year: I turned down pounds 100,000 for him to fight Riddick Bowe because I felt it was worth three times that, and the other was an opportunity to fight Frank Bruno.

'That would have been the perfect launch pad for him with the British public, and I'd already got Bruno's agreement. Henry had only to say the word and he'd have had the biggest purse of his life, but instead he priced himself out of it.

'Frankly, I don't know who there is who can lick him. He's got the longest arms I've ever seen, he's nearly impossible to hit, has a good chin and plenty of stamina.'

The Nigerian-born, Dulwich-raised Akinwande, ABA champion in 1988 and 1989, has never adapted comfortably to the professional requirement that it is not enough merely to win, that you must entertain as well. His cautious approach to his trade has not endeared him to British audiences, so he has been obliged to take work where he can find it.

The muscular Schiesser has also boxed 24 times as a pro, with 22 wins and a draw. His opposition has generally been a class below Akinwande's, and his walk-forward style, pinning his hopes on a heavy right swing which has brought him 12 quick wins, looks tailor-made for Akinwande's brand of awkward, long-arm defensive boxing.

The probability is that Akinwande will record yet another dull points win, move yet another notch up the world rankings, and remain as far away as ever from the likes of Lewis, Moorer and Bowe.

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