Boxing: Pundits under pressure

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The Independent Online
CONTROVERSY is nothing new in professional boxing, so it was no surprise to find Henry Wharton's narrow points verdict over Fidel Castro at Elland Road, Leeds, on Wednesday night greeted either as an excellent decision or a shocking miscarriage of justice - depending on which side of the ring you were seated.

In the blue corner, BBC Television's heavyweight duo of Harry Carpenter and Frank Bruno. A terrible decision, said Harry, of referee Larry O'Connell's awarding the fight to Wharton by a single round, 118-117 1/2 , a verdict which enabled the York boxer to add Castro's British super-middleweight crown to his own Commonwealth title.

Big Frank agreed, suggesting 'the referee must have been watching a different fight'. Meanwhile, seeing red in the other corner was the double champion's manager, Mickey Duff. 'I can't believe it was only one round,' he said. 'There's no way Henry won by less than two or three points. Harry Carpenter should think about retiring, his judgement's gone.'

What is not in doubt is that Castro was the superior boxer. Skilful and imaginative, the Sheffield man began and ended the fight on top, but failed to do himself justice in the middle rounds, when his work-rate failed to match that of his determined rival.

Wharton, an easy target who will be thoroughly dismantled by the first world-class opponent he meets, maintained constant pressure. Although his attacks were one-dimensional and predictable, he stuck to his task far better than Castro, who spent too much time playing the clown, pulling faces at Wharton and his corner men.

None of this will have escaped the notice of O'Connell, widely respected as Britain's premier referee. A round is won by the fighter who lands the most scoring blows: on that basis, Castro failed to win a round between the fourth and the eighth, leaving himself with too much to make up.

Wharton's performance, while proving that you do not have to be a great boxer to become a champion, was a testament to his superior work ethic. Carpenter, Bruno and Castro may have forgotten that success often owes more to perspiration than inspiration.

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