Boxing: Neary has the floor

IF LAST night's live boxing broadcast from Liverpool does not deliver sufficient ratings to satisfy ITV's executives, then Shea Neary is not to blame. The fighter chosen to spearhead the terrestrial network's return to Saturday night boxing provided his usual wholehearted performance in defence of the World Boxing Union light- welterweight title against the Argentine challenger Juan Carlos Villareal.

Neary retained his title for the fourth time by a wide unanimous decision - 119-107, 120-107 and 120-106 - that delighted a raucous and predictably partisan crowd of 1,500 at the St George's Hall. But on this night the main emphasis was on the front-room audience.

The 2.5m viewers who tuned in to Neary's last defence, against South Africa's Naas Scheepers in July, encouraged the network to make a firm commitment to the sport once more. That "experiment", as ITV saw it, resulted in an eight-fight agreement with Neary's promoters, Munro-Hyland. Once again they provided value for money, largely due to the efforts of "Shamrock Express" Neary, who has also attracted interest from the American subscription TV company Home Box Office, who have made the international careers of Lennox Lewis and Naseem Hamed.

This was a typically eventuful Neary performance. He showed his normal disregard for his challenger's offensive capabilities, relentlessy pressing forwards throughout. Villareal often seemed to have trouble staying upright, but this had more to do with lack of traction than Neary's punches. However, he appeared to hurt the champion in the eighth, sending him reeling backwards from a right-hander. Neary regained his composure and was untroubled thereafter.

There were interruptions before and during the 11th round caused by a loose ring board, but thankfully the final three minutes passed without a break and Neary's hand was raised in victory for the 21st time. The Scouse boxing success story continued, then, and the only threat to its longevity is the durability of its all-action leading light, Neary. His is a style that generally results in shortened careers and at some time something has to give. But not just yet.

Peter Culshaw became Liverpool's third WBU champion, after Neary and their lightweight stable-mate Colin Dunne, by stopping South Africa's Mzukisi Marali after two minutes and 48 seconds of round seven to win the flyweight title. Culshaw, the 25-year-old former Commonweath champion, was a little too strong for a fighter who was halted on both his previous overseas appearances. The Liverpudlian won for the 13th time in 15 fights.

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