Boxing: Robinson rewarded for devotion to duty

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The Independent Online
IN The Professional, a novel by Bill Heinz, the hero's trainer sets out irrefutable truths about boxing. 'There are only so many punches,' he says. 'Everybody knows what they are. You've got to con the other guy into walking into them. It's thinking, first of all. Then, when he's committed, it's timing and placement. That's all.'

Appropriate as a denunciation of all the shoddy stuff served up and celebrated in boxing today, that passage came to mind in Cardiff late on Saturday when Steve Robinson retained his World Boxing Organisation featherweight championship by knocking out Duke McKenzie near the end of the ninth round.

The punch that ended the 31- year-old McKenzie's attempt at a fourth world title and further raised Robinson's profile in the division was a perfectly executed short left below the lower ribs, so obviously displeasing to the challenger that a resumption of activity was correctly deemed to be improbable. 'As soon as I saw the look on his face, I knew he wouldn't get up,' said Robinson serenely.

This much is also sure. In making a fifth successful defence of the title he gained as a late substitute for the then champion Ruben Palacio 18 months ago, Robinson further benefited from devoted attention to the syllabus drawn up by his tutors.

As it is only a week since serious gaps in education brought about Lennox Lewis's loss to Oliver McCall, the progress Robinson has made with limited natural ability should persuade the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion that more advanced tuition is a priority.

Nothing but admiration can be held out for the Welshman, who has improved immeasurably since outpointing John Davison for the vacant title.

The chief reason that fighting is taken up as a profession springs from the belief that it will result in a better way of life than the student could otherwise anticipate. A contributory cause of disillusionment is a failure to appreciate the importance of fundamentals.

One advantage Robinson possesses over more gifted contemporaries is that he is grateful for the opportunities that have come his way and is determined to make the most of them. If it is his nature to fight off the front foot, he has been persuaded to take a heartfelt interest in the defensive aspect of boxing and how best to employ the results of dedicated conditioning.

Matchmakers who seek to emphasise the value of staying in shape use Robinson as an example. 'When Steve got a call to fight for the title, almost a scandal at the time because his record wasn't up to much, he was ready for it,' one said to me last week. Many might have interpreted the offer as a pay-day. Robinson's manager, Dai Gardiner, knew he would regard it as a challenge. 'Steve was always a lot better than he was given credit for,' he said. 'Some of the decisions that had gone against him were awful.'

Talk of moving Robinson forward to a unification bout, perhaps against the WBC champion Kevin Kelley, does not move Gardiner greatly. 'Steve has come a long way in a short time so we must look at things carefully. I would like him to make two more defences of the WBO title (Cesar Polanco of the Dominican Republic is the mandatory challenger) before we start thinking about the other titles.'

Nothing pleases Robinson more than a compliment on his tenacity, and that he represents boxing far better than those who have grown rich by conforming to a pathetic principle of light entertainment. The same can be said about McKenzie, who became Britain's most successful fighter, winning three world titles without ever getting the attention or the rewards his talent justified.

Employing his considerable experience, McKenzie was able to frustrate Robinson but never looked like taking the contest away from him.

Earlier, some poignancy was introduced to the proceedings when Richie Wenton retired against Neil Swain in his first contest since the night when his opponent, Bradley Stone died. 'Every second of every minute of every round, I was thinking about Bradley Stone,' he said. 'I didn't have it. I didn't dig in.'

Such a tragedy is bound to weigh heavily on a man, but the extent of Wenton's technical shortcomings were apparent from the opening bell. In common with so many British fighters today, Wenton conveys the impression that the fundamentals of defence and delivering punches correctly are foreign to him.

Robinson is no Howard Winstone, but in applying himself completely he puts most of the rest to shame.

(Photograph omitted)