Boxing: Robinson's hot pursuit of history: Domestic fight for WBO title

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The Independent Online
THOSE of us lacking personal experience of the perilous demands of professional boxing have no right to deny any fighter his opportunity to compete for world championship honours.

That said, tonight's World Boxing Organisation featherweight contest in Cardiff between Steve Robinson and Sean Murphy epitomises the problems facing the modern game. As recently as a decade ago, neither man could have entertained genuine hopes of a world title fight.

However, the proliferation of the sanctioning bodies has diluted the quality of world titles to such an extent that virtually anyone with the right connections can make their mark.

Despite the absence of genuine class, tonight's fight should be a thriller, between two worthy domestic scrappers whose honesty, commitment and explosive style would put many a ring craftsman to shame.

Robinson is making the first defence of the title he won against John Davison last April. Davison had been scheduled to challenge Ruben Palacio, but when the Colombian tested HIV positive in a routine pre-fight test, Robinson was drafted in at just 48 hours notice.

In winning the title by the narrowest of margins, the 24-year-old Cardiff man became the first Welsh world champion since Howard Winstone 25 years ago. Prior to his unexpected opportunity, however, his most meaningful contest had been a successful tilt at the Welsh crown, the high point of a 24-fight career which has produced nine losses.

Murphy, a former Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is the reigning British champion, but his limitations were wickedly exposed by the flamboyant Londoner Colin McMillan, who tormented him throughout 12 one-sided rounds when they met in October 1991.

McMillan, whose tenure of the WBO title ended following a dislocated shoulder against Palacio, has been promised an early opportunity against the winner of tonight's fight, and will be a short-priced certainty to reclaim his crown.

This evening's outcome is less clear. There is no mystery about Murphy's strategy: the aggressive 28-year-old St Albans man will look to stand toe to toe, slugging it out until only one is left standing.

The challenger would normally be considered a slight favourite, but winning a world title is an uplifting experience for any fighter, and there is evidence of a newly discovered confidence in Robinson's approach.

Provided he is not overwhelmed by the weight of a nation's expectations, he can improve on Winstone's record by successfully defending his title, perhaps then silencing those who have doubted his world championship credentials.