Boxing: Reid's raw aggression will be test for Francis

PELE REID is honest enough to admit he is still a "raw novice" despite being the favourite for tonight's British heavyweight title challenge to Londoner Julius Francis at Bethnal Green. The unbeaten Sheffield boxer, who has won eight of his 13 paid contests in the first round, is under no illusions as he bids to join a glamorous list of domestic heavyweight kings, which include Tommy Farr, Bruce Woodcock, Henry Cooper and Lennox Lewis.

The 26-year-old former kickboxing champion, now a member of the Brendan Ingle stable, said: "I am definitely not the finished article - I'm still learning and I've got a lot to learn."

Reid's almost paid for his inexperience in his last fight when overweight African Biko Botowamungu floored him in the third round before retiring. Questions remain about Reid's punch resistance and purists shudder at his crude style, but he undoubtedly packs a punch.

Reid, who pulled out of a European title bout against the Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko to challenge Francis after Brixton's Danny Williams withdrew with a cut, said: "I've only had two weeks of full training, but I think it's sufficient because I always keep myself in good basic condition. My last fight proved that you can never underestimate any fighter, but I doubt if Julius is more wily than my other opponents. I don't see this as a big step up in class."

Francis, 34, is fast approaching veteran status but is a solid performer who takes his title seriously. A former drug pusher, football hooligan and burglar - the list could go on - he truly has been saved by his sport and he now uses his status as a champion to educate local children about the perils of crime.

Francis has another incentive: John Williams, a lifelong friend who did more than anybody to rehabilitate him, died of cancer last year, and this fight is dedicated to him.

The Woolwich man has been found wanting when he has stepped up in class in his 25-fight career, losing to both Zelkjo Mavrovic and Axel Schulz, but he will bank on experience tonight.

He said: "I'm defending my title and he's not having it - he can't just come along from obscurity after doing nothing and walk in and win my title. He can punch, but I'm not worried about his power because I've been in with plenty of big hitters and come out at the other end. I've worked too hard and too long and made too many sacrifices to lose."

In the chief supporting bout, the former World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title challenger Scott Welch continues his quest for a shot at Herbie Hide when he meets Manchester's Michael Murray.