Boxing: Regan keen to contest title deeds

Harry Mullan says that the returning Welshman has much to fight for this week
WINNING a world title used to be an uncomplicated process. You had the fight, collected your nice plastic belt, went home to field the invitations from Celebrity Squares and Question of Sport, and prayed that the bimbo you pulled that night in Stringfellows wouldn't turn up in next week's News Of The World to tell lurid tales of "Nights of passion with my gentle giant".

Times have changed, even if the bimbos have not. On Saturday in Cardiff International Arena, boxing's complicated championship picture will be muddled even further when the Welshman Robbie Regan and the Colombian Jorge Julio contest the World Boxing Organisation bantamweight title which, astonishingly, they each claim to hold. Regan won it first, outpointing Daniel Jiminez in Cardiff in April 1996. It was a sweet victory for the 29-year-old, whose previous title bid (for the WBO flyweight title) had ended in an embarrassingly one-sided defeat. But instead of being the start of the best years of his boxing life, it turned out to be the last time he was seen in a ring.

He developed a kidney condition which threatened to end his career, and while the WBO were initially sympathetic and did not insist that he either defend the title or relinquish it, they eventually ran out of patience when, after 15 months, there was still no sign of Regan returning to action.

They informed promoters that the title was now vacant, and sanctioned a match between Julio - who was the mandatory contender - and Oscar Maldonado of Mexico, which took place at the Los Angeles Forum on 28 July 1997. The WBO president, Francisco Valcarcel, and the chairman of the championships committee, Luis Batista Salas, were both present at ringside to lend their authority to the fight, which Julio won on points.

The promoter Antonio Curtis paid the WBO the nominal sanctioning fees for a world- title fight, and insisted: "When we paid the fees, we did so with the idea that this was for the vacant WBO title. When money changed hands, that consummated the deal." The fight was billed as a world-title match and announced as such, and when Julio won he was presented with a championship belt.

Back in Britain, however, Regan's promoter Frank Warren - a figure of immense importance to the WBO - protested that Regan had not relinquished the title or been stripped of it, and would indeed be ready to fight again by the end of 1997. The WBO, showing fancy footwork which their fighters might envy, back-tracked and said the California fight had actually been for the "interim" title.

It was the first time they had downgraded the status of a fight retrospectively since an unforgettable night in 1993 when a preliminary brawler, Tim Tomashek, was hauled out of the arena bar to fight Tommy Morrison for the WBO heavyweight title after Morrison's original opponent, Mike Williams, had fled with an attack of nerves. Tomashek survived into the fifth round, but the storm of criticism was so intense that a few days later the WBO was forced to announce that the fight had not, after all, involved Morrison's title.

This time, sanity of a sort has prevailed with the Regan and Julio camps agreeing to a quick settlement of the dispute. It is unlikely to be decided in the Welshman's favour, though. Julio is a former World Boxing Association bantamweight champion with just one loss in nearly 40 fights, and has been boxing regularly while Regan suffered and fretted in enforced inactivity. Had Regan been allowed a few warm-ups to get the feel of the ring again he might have had a better chance, but as it is he will do well to last the full 12 rounds with the hard- hitting Colombian.

The outlook is brighter for another Welshman, Joe Calzaghe, who makes the first defence of his WBO super- middleweight title on the same show. He meets the substitute opponent Branco Sobot, a Croatian southpaw who has done his previous fighting as a middleweight. He is tough and competent, taking Hassine Cherifi the distance in a good fight for the European title a year ago, but Calzaghe's form in beating Chris Eubank to become champion was so impressive that defeat at this level is inconceivable.

More ambitious tests await Calzaghe, including a possible summer match with Robin Reid, recently dethroned as World Boxing Council champion by the South African veteran Sugar Boy Malinga. The fight will be worth considerably less than it would have been before Reid's shock defeat in December, but will still offer a useful indication of the Welshman's true potential.

Reid had always looked the better long-term prospect in the early days of their respective careers but his limitations were painfully exposed by the 42-year-old Malinga, and he needs a short cut back to championship status.

Unlike so many recent matches which political considerations have blocked, this one will be easy to make: Warren manages them both, and will keep the title in the family whatever the result.