Boxing: Life turns sour for Sweet C

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THE HAZARDS of taking a voluntary defence against fighters brought up in the hard rings of Central America were painfully brought home to Colin McMillan last night. He lost his World Boxing Organisation featherweight title when he was forced to retire with a shoulder injury against Ruben Palacio of Colombia after 1 min 52 sec of the eighth round.

It had turned out to be the toughest contest of McMillan's career, and although he was ahead on points after surviving seven hard rounds it was clear that he could not continue with an injury that left him helpless on the ropes, and he lost on a technical knockout. The injury, a dislocated shoulder, was serious enough for McMillan to be taken to hospital by ambulance after the contest.

The defeat put paid to a projected unifying contest against Paul Hodkinson, the World Boxing Council champion from Liverpool, and once again raises the question of whether McMillan has enough power to withstand the efforts of hard men like the Colombian. They abound in Central and South America, and not for the first time a British fighter found himself at full stretch to deal with the rushes and tricks of inside boxing that Palacio displayed.

With the experience of more than 50 contests in various parts of the world, Palacio showed no respect for McMillan's reputation or the skills that have established him as one of the most appealing figures in British boxing.

From the opening bell it was obvious that McMillan would have to be at his best. A true stylist, most of what he attempts in the ring excites the audience and they were quick to applaud when he admonished the Colombian with two stinging jabs. Palacio didn't attempt to probe for openings, and was willing to retreat on to the ropes, trying to lure McMillan to where he could be caught with a counter-punch. However, the Londoner had to be wary, especially when Palacio rushed forward with wild hooks.

In his only previous appearance in a British ring, six years ago when he was stopped in seven rounds by Jim McDonnell, the former European champion, Palacio proved he knew most of the tricks of infighting.

He began to cause McMillan real trouble, wading in with powerful hooks and forcing the champion back on to the ropes, where he needed all his evasive skills. It was as hard a fight as McMillan has known in his career.

The one thing McMillan has always lacked is a powerful punch, and by the fourth he was finding it difficult to keep the Colombian at bay. Most of Palacio's punches were wildly off the mark and yet McMillan found it difficult to avoid some of the swings, particularly the right hand thrown over the top of his own left.

After Palacio had rushed him across the ring again, McMillan was warned for pulling his man's head down, but the Colombian did plenty of rough stuff himself, lunging in with his head so dangerously that there was a protest from the champion's corner between rounds.

The fifth was another hard and almost disastrous round for McMillan when he was wobbled by a heavy right, and then came under heavy fire on the ropes. The Colombian again bore dangerously in with his head, and this time opened a cut on McMillan's forehead. Switching to southpaw, McMillan managed to slow the pace a little, but Palacio was quickly back on him again and his strength looked like becoming a decisive factor. Wild as much of his work was, it carried a consistent threat, and the champion was bleeding freely from his forehead and mouth as the contest approached halfway.

It was not until the seventh that McMillan established any measure of control, frustrating Palacio with clever manoeuvres and winning the round with superior boxing and speed of punch.

Palacio was warned in the eighth for thumbing McMillan in the eye, but the most serious injury was to his shoulder. The fight was suspended for all of five minutes until the officials decided that Palacio was the victor.

PROFESSIONAL PROMOTION (Olympia): 12-rd featherweight (for WBO world championship): R Palacio (Col) bt C McMillan (Barking) tko 8th. 4-rd light-heavyweight: Hussain Shah (Pak) bt N Wadman (Brighton) rsf 4th. 8-rd light-middleweight: S Cummins (Peterborough) bt J Kaighin (Swansea) ret 4th. 6-rd featherweight: F Churchill (Liverpool) bt R Wenton (Devon) rsf 2nd.

(Photograph omitted)