Boxing: Warren extends the title contenders

Harry Mullan finds that the promoter is setting his fighters stiff tests as his influence grows
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The Independent Online
British fans and fighters are not complaining but those who take a more global view must feel a little uneasy at the spectacle of three more British fighters queueing up at London Arena on Friday night to join the heavyweight Herbie Hide, cruiserweight Carl Thompson, super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe, feather- weight Naseem Hamed and bantamweight Robbie Regan as World Boxing Organisation champions.

Ryan Rhodes contested the WBO middleweight title in Sheffield last night, while the light-heavyweight Nicky Piper, light-middleweight Steve Foster, welterweight Michael Carruth, light-welter Nigel Wenton and light-fly Mickey Cantwell have all made unsuccessful challenges this year.

Friday's trio (the light-middle Adrian Dodson, super-feather Barry Jones and Cantwell again, this time at straw-weight) are, like all the men named above, under the promotion of Frank Warren. Monopoly cannot be in the long-term interests of the game, yet the fact that Piper, Cantwell, Foster, Rhodes, Wenton and Calzaghe were given title opportunities ahead of better- qualified contenders shows how powerful Warren's influence has become since the WBO was reconstituted a couple of years ago. The situation is ironic in that Warren came to prominence in Britain by smashing the long- held monopoly exercised by the group comprising Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire, Terry Lawless and Mike Barrett, yet has now in effect established his own monopoly of WBO championships and, through his key role at Sky Sports, is also the single most important figure in British boxing. He is, like many an historical figure, in danger of becoming that which he set out to destroy.

But at least he cannot be accused of always giving his boxers easy opponents. Robin Reid, who defends his World Boxing Council super-middleweight title against the South African veteran Sugarboy Malinga in Friday's main event, had to beat an Italian in Milan to become champion and could face a difficult task against the tricky Malinga, who ended Nigel Benn's tenure of the championship. Ronald Wright, the light-middleweight champion who faces Dodson, has boxed here twice when he retained the title against Ensley Bingham and Foster, and impressed hugely on both visits. The undefeated Dodson, who grew up in America, has waited a long time for his opportunity, but will do well to overcome a man who has lost only once in his 38 fights.

Barry Jones, the Welshman who meets Wilson Palacio of Colombia for the vacant super-featherweight title, is a fine technical boxer who is unbeaten in 17 fights, but he has scored just one stoppage and will almost certainly have to go the full 12 rounds for victory. There would be no more popular winner than Cantwell. The south Londoner has given great service to the game, not least as an amateur when he won two ABA titles and boxed in the Olympic games. At 33 he is positively ancient for a fighter of his weight, but his opponent, Eric Jamili of the Philippines, has managed only eight wins in 13 fights and scarcely looks world championship material.

Two other championship fights complete a marathon programme. At super- middleweight, the British champion Dean Francis contests the vacant European title with Frederic Sellier of France, who lost a WBO challenge in this ring against Steve Collins and is unlikely to fare any better this time. At light-middle, the Manchester veteran Ensley Bingham meets Nicky Thurbin for the vacant British title. Bingham held the title in 1996, but relinquished it to try for Ronald Wright's WBO title. Thurbin from Loughton, is unbeaten but is taking a huge and potentially painful step up in class.