Boxing: Savage makes sad exit from the world of hype: Giles Smith on a badly timed blow for a British bareknuckle boxer who is seeking a wider stage

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The Independent Online
BESIDE a casino in Bay St Louis, Mississippi, a tent awaits the fighters in the People's Choice boxing tournament. Launched in a cloud of hype, but dogged by financial problems, this bizarre event limps on to cable television in America tonight.

Sixteen boxers will take part, a motley assortment of former champions, rank outsiders, at least two known drug abusers and the American, Jason Williams, a former convict, making his professional debut.

Winners will advance through tonight's series of three-round bouts. But the Canadian promoters, Don Arnott and Trevor Wallden, have cash-flow problems, and the money on offer to the fighters for each bout has been cut from dollars 20,000 ( pounds 14,000) to dollars 10,000. The first round knock- out bonus has been halved, too. The grand dollars 1m winner's pay-out, announced brightly in October, has been slimmed down to only dollars 170,000 payable immediately, with a vague promise of more to come.

Inevitably, several fighters have chosen a quick exit from the roster, which now reads like a veritable Who's That? of boxing. Tyrell Biggs and James 'Bonecrusher' Smith are still in, and so is Tony Tubbs. But Henry Tillman, the 1984 Olympic gold medallist as a heavyweight, took an early flight. This week, the tournament lost the pleasure of the company of Joe Savage.

Savage, 30, is the self-crowned bareknuckle champion of Britain. In bareknuckle boxing, they do away with some of the smaller details, like gloves and rules. Head-butting is fine, kicking goes down well, and if you fancy chewing on your opponent, no one stops you. Except the police: bareknuckle boxing is illegal. Savage claims to be the veteran of 41 of these bouts, most of which have taken place behind the locked doors of warehouses.

The promoters put Savage at the centre of a month-long publicity campaign, flying him all over America for television shows, where he would claim that he was the man for the prize 'on sheer strength and brutality'. His other catchphrase was 'I want to kill everyone.'

Alas, earlier this week, Savage fell down some stairs at an airport and, as the event neared, was finding it difficult to turn his wrist. He is now back at home in the Midlands with his wife and daughter.

Savage, who owns a metal processing company near Walsall, was hoping that an appearance wearing gloves in the People's Choice tournament would launch him into legitimacy. He was able to obtain in America the licence which the British Boxing Board of Control has so far refused him. His appearance may be a problem in this respect. He has the face of Christ tattooed across his back and one of a thick forest of tattoos on his arms expresses support for Millwall FC. Another is dedicated to Winson Green prison.

By way of consolation, though, Savage has just been booked to appear on The Word, ITV's late-night television show for young people. A spokesman for Savage said this had long ranked highly among the bareknuckle champ's ambitions.

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