Boxing: Arthur a new box-office hit
Warren's stable of champions can help ITV revive the sport on terrestrial
Sunday 17 July 2005
Amir Khan, who led the commercial breakthrough in Bolton last night, is destined to be one of them, alongside the world champions Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, but by this time next week there might be another. Alex Arthur is already a star in Scotland, and according to his promoter, Frank Warren, "he could be huge in Britain and make his mark on the world stage. Not only can he fight, but he has the confidence and personality to go with it."
That's exactly what ITV are looking for to justify a two-year investment made on the back of Amir's Olympic silver medal. After televising Amir's pro debut alongside Matt Skelton's defence of the British heavyweight title last night, the Big Fight Live cameras move to Edinburgh's Meadowbank next Saturday, where the 24-year-old Arthur plans to add the European super-featherweight title to his British and Commonwealth belts by challenging the Russian champion, Boris Sinitsin.
There is no doubt that Arthur has what it takes, but he had to take it to prove it. That confidence Warren talks about has had to be restored following a shattering defeat, the only one in his 21-fight career, when he stuck out his chin to Michael Gomez and was blitzed in five rounds.
The lesson was learnt and Arthur's rehabilitation has been swift. He is a ferocious puncher, notably to the body, and is unquestionably the most exciting fighter Scotland has produced for decades. If successful against Sinitsin, a seasoned old pro of 34 with a useful record of 46 wins in 54 fights, he will become the first Scot since Jackie Paterson in 1946 to hold three titles simultaneously, and the first-ever Scottish super-featherweight champion. Moreover, this is the first European title fight in the Scottish capital in 77 years.
So Arthur senses history, and he says he has been promised a Hatton-style mega world title fight if he delivers. "Fighting for a world title is my destiny," he says.
Twenty-one months and five fights ago that may have sounded like a discordant bellow of the bagpipes, but subsequent performances, culminating in a crushing conquest of his compatriot Craig Docherty (whom Sinit-sin, now 10 months out of the ring, had laboured to beat by a split decision) have reaffirmed Arthur's ambitions. "Losing like that to Gomez was the worst experience I've had," he says. "But I'm glad I've had it and got it out of the way. It was a one-off. I don't see a return happening because our careers have gone in different directions since."
In some ways Arthur is a throwback. His progress has been modelled the old-fashioned way: an outstanding amateur apprenticeship with a Commonwealth Games gold medal; then fighting progressively as a pro for British, Commonwealth and now European titles. "That's the kind of way the hardcore boxing fan likes you to do things," he says.
Like others in Warren's firmament, he has been a Sky fighter until now. "They did well for me but not everyone has Sky, while everyone has ITV. They'll all be watching, from grannies to young kids. For boxing, this is as a big as London getting the Olympics."
Naturally, Warren concurs, so does this new deal mean it will be easier to bring world title fights to Britain? "Not really, because at the end of the day it is still down to me to make the matches," Warren says. "But we've proved we can do it on Sky, so there is no reason why we shouldn't now we're back on terrestrial TV.
"But it's not as if boxing went away from terrestrial TV. After all, BBC spent a lot of money on it, though you have to question whether they spent it wisely. Audley Harrison was a complete screw-up. For me the challenge now is to show what can be done when you go about things the right way.
"We have some excellent fighters around, like Ricky, Joe and Amir. I put Alex among them. The Olympics is the start of a new era for British sport and this TV deal will do the same for British boxing. There is a huge audience."
Just to show they are not completely out of the picture, Sky have announced their own package of upcoming fights, beginning this morning with the Bernard Hopkins-Jermaine Taylor world middleweight title fight, plus Howard Eastman v Arthur Abraham; on 7 August Jeff Lacy v Robin Reid; and Clinton Woods' IBF light-heavyweight title defence against Julio Gonzalez on 9 September. Seconds out.
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