Boxing: Poignant night for McCreesh

Harry Mullan says fickle Wembley fans missed out on a compelling story
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The Independent Online
The 5,000 or so Naseem Hamed fans who walked out of Wembley last weekend as soon as their hero had disposed of Juan Cabrera knew nothing about boxing, otherwise they would have stayed to watch Geoff McCreesh take the British welterweight title from Kevin Lueshing on a 10th-round stoppage in a relentlessly thrilling fight. For the aficionado, this was a prospect to savour, a match that was always going to be compelling viewing and with a background story that a soap opera editor would have dismissed as impossibly contrived.

McCreesh, a homespun 26-year-old from Bracknell, insisted on going through with the fight despite an appalling personal tragedy, when his mother was killed and his father seriously injured as they drove to see the boxer's new-born son. Only two years earlier, the family had been devastated by the death of Geoff's brother in another car accident.

Jim Evans, McCreesh's manager, said: "We left the decision up to Geoff, whether he would have the fight or not. In the end he felt that it would take his mind off what happened, and dedicating the fight to his mother gave him extra motivation." McCreesh has always been a gritty competitor, but he fought last week like a man prepared to walk through walls for victory.

"I've never seen a man so fired-up," a rueful Lueshing said last week. "I hit him with shots that would have flattened anybody, but he just kept coming. I must have taken more punches in those 10 rounds than I'd done in my whole career, and at the finish I was just exhausted. I don't know if he can ever fight like that again: probably not, because he'll never have that degree of motivation again. It could be that he'll never win another British title fight, but this was his night and nothing was going to take it away from him.

"If I was going to lose the title, I'd have wanted Geoff to win it. After everything he's been through, he deserves it."

Gracious words from a man whose own life has never been easy, but despite the image conveyed by thugs like Mike Tyson, Lueshing's reaction is typical of the camaraderie and mutual respect which exists between fighters. After a month of dreadful publicity, there was a sense of relief throughout the boxing business that at last we had something in which we could take pride: a well-matched, hard-fought and thoroughly sporting contest which reminded us of why we were attracted to the game in the first place.

There was quiet satisfaction too in watching Evans celebrate his first British championship after a long and ill-rewarded career as one of boxing's foot soldiers, an unfashionable manager who lost more than he ever made in running small-hall shows to keep his boxers in work.

McCreesh is unlikely championship material. A trio of Home Counties ABA titles in 1989-91 was the summit of his amateur achievements, and his reputation was marred by a wild brawl at ringside following his disqualification in the 1990 championships against Robert McCracken, now the Commonwealth middleweight title holder. Fights broke out involving the two families, and McCreesh literally dived through the ropes during the interval between rounds to join in. Both boxers were ordered back to the dressing room, and at the end of the evening it was announced that McCreesh had been disqualified "for leaving the fight without the referee's permission". McCreesh's official challenger for the British title is Robert's brother Spencer, raising the possibility of an unwelcome rematch.

Trouble has followed McCreesh into the pro game, with back-to-back disqualifications in the space of a month against Michael Smyth and Steve Goodwin. The Smyth loss was a perculiar affair, as McCreesh had floored the Welshman twice before being thrown out for persistent holding.

The Goodwin disqualification (for butting) in front of his hometown fans in Bracknell completed a miserable spell for him. After making a bright start to his career with eight straight wins, culminating in a one-round stoppage of Clay O'Shea to win the Southern Area title, he broke his hand against Dennis Berry and quit in the fifth round, followed by the losses to Smyth and Goodwin.

He rebuilt with a string of down-the-bill matches over four or six rounds, then shocked the former world lightweight champion Dingaan Thobela by knocking him out in two rounds in South Africa. That result earned him approval as a contender for Lueshing: earlier in 1996, the Board of Control had refused Lueshing permission to make a voluntary defence against him.

Yet McCreesh never lost faith in his own ability. "I surprised a lot of people by beating Lueshing, but I never surprised myself," he said. "Three weeks before the fight I wasn't right, but I did what I had to do and pulled myself up on my feet again."