Boxing: Hodkinson retains title

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The Independent Online
Whenever Paul Hodkinson goes to the ring there is always anxiety about his eyes, but there was not a mark on his face after retaining the World Boxing Council featherweight title here last night.

In fact it was a nasty gash on the lower lip sustained by the challenger, Fabrice Benichou of France, that led to the contest being halted midway through the 10th round with Hodkinson well ahead.

For Hodkinson there is always the anxiety that comes with having a finely textured skin, and as Benichou has a reputation for being careless with his head, Hodkinson was thinking about establishing enough early superiority to discourage the Frenchman.

Instructed to keep the fight at long range to avoid the possibility of being caught by an accidental butt, Hodkinson scored well at the start of the second round and soon his jab was working well, forcing the Frenchman to give ground.

There was nothing stylish about Benichou, his defence, apart from ducking extraordinarily low, almost non-existent, and Hodkinson was able to score at will, slipping inside to gain a position where the best work could be done.

Hodkinson, making the second defence of his title, was showing no signs of serious wear and tear, and by the fourth round he had discouraged the Frenchman enough to be safe from attempts to rush him against the ropes.

Whenever they came together it was Benichou who broke the action first, but he was never reluctant to come forward, and Hodkinson had to guard against a right hook. But the Liverpudlian had the upper hand, and after driving in three solid blows to the head he sent Benichou down for a count of five.

Employing exactly the right tactics, keeping his gloves up to ward off glancing blows and staying inside the Frenchman's wild swings, Hodkinson fought well, because even though this was voluntary defence against a ring-soiled opponent, none of the champion's contests are likely to be easy.

A solid left to Hodkinson's ribs brought the crowd to their feet and Benichou's cornermen implored their man to come forward, but when he dropped his hands Hodkinson hit him with a left-right combination that was probably enough to even the eighth round.

Despite the punishment he had taken, Benichou's will did not weaken, and he came alive again to take the ninth round by throwing more punches than the champion, who appeared to be taking a breather.

Benichou tried everything he had learnt from 44 professional contests, holding, laying on, forcing his head up in clinches, anything that might unsettle Hodkinson and damage his face. But when the referee suspended the action while a doctor came to the ring, it was to examine a nasty cut on Beniachou's lower lip bad enough to result in the being stopped. The challenger protested angrily and had to be led back to his corner as Hodkinson raised his hands in victory.

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