Boxing: Graham points himself at the world

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The Independent Online
There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle, as thesuper- middleweight veterans Herol Graham and Vinnie Pazienza (combined ages almost 73) demonstrated at Wembley last night.

Graham won a unanimous verdict to retain his World Boxing Council International championship and keep alive his dream of a late-career world title opportunity, but the colourful American made him work all the way. These are two of the most experienced campaigners in boxing: Graham is in the 20th year of his pro career while Pazienza won the first of his world titles a decade ago. They are part of the dwindling band of fighters who have completed the old 15 rounds championship course, but there was little evidence of athletic decay on either side as they battled with the vigour of men 10 years their junior.

The International belt is little more than a second-division championship, a staging post on the way to the real world title, but for both men the fight carried much more significance than the label bestowed. At their age, defeat can have a terminal effect on a career. It is not easy starting to rebuild again at an age when most of their contemporaries are well into retirement.

Pazienza at least has the cushion of a seven-figure bank balance to soothe his dis- appointment, but Graham is as hungry now as when he launched his career under the then obscure Brendan Ingle 20 years ago. Such a well-matched pairing was always likely to be decided by the yardstick of "who wants it more" and so it proved.

Graham won by sticking determinedly to the style which had made him almost unbeatable for a decade, mixing stinging, accurate southpaw jabs with hard left crosses and showing consumate defensive skill which ultimately reduced Pazienza to swinging and swiping like the rawest of novices. It was as good a performance as the veteran has ever given, and only once, in the 10th round, was he ever in danger.

But by then Pazienza, his face battered and swollen, needed a knockout to win and he was never likely to achieve that against the most difficult and elusive opponent in the division.

Pazienza's growing frustration showed in the eighth as he stood in a corner and grabbed the ropes with both hands before bowing in ironic acknowledgement of Graham's artistry. The message on the waistband of the American's shorts read "feel the pain" and he was certainly doing that as Graham's jab smacked repeatedly into his face.

By the ninth his nose was bleeding heavily and his left eye was closing, but he kept chasing in the increasingly vain hope that Graham's concentration might slip as it did so disastrously when the Sheffield man challenged Julian Jackson for the WBC middleweight title.

He finally broke through Graham's defences in the 10th, rocking him with swinging rights to the head, but by the end of the round Graham was back in charge and Pazienza was reduced to glaring at him in frustration as the bell rang. Pazienza looked arm-weary in the 11th, but his competitive fire still glowed and he kept hitting back defiantly in a lost cause.

The judges were unanimous in Graham's favour with scores of 116-113, 118-113 and 117-112, and now Graham hopes to challenge the WBC's world champion Robin Reid. Boxing politics will make that match difficult to arrange - Graham is promoted by Frank Maloney, Reid by Frank Warren - but after this vintage performance no one can deny that Graham deserves the chance.