Boxing: Britain's magnificent seven ensure fight game finishes on top of world

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The Independent Online

The Hitman may have hit the deck, but 2007 was the year in which British boxing hit the heights. The battered old game's comeback anticlimaxed when Ricky Hatton ran into a reality check in Las Vegas, but otherwise it was a prodigious 12 months which produced a record seven world champions, one of them Joe Calzaghe, voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, while the coach of the year just happens to be his dad.

Boxing hasn't had it so good here since Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank strutted their stuff, or received such popular endorsement since "Bruno, Bruno" rever-berated around Wembley.

Television channels scrapped again for big-fight rights. Setanta squared up to Sky, while the BBC, whose anti-boxing chief, Peter Fincham, went following that royal seal of disapproval, have started to climb back into a ring hitherto dominated by ITV.

The Government even recognised that while bombs and bullets kill people in the Middle East, a legitimate punch on the nose is the least of society's ills. Hence their backing for boxing's overdue return to schools. So the politically correct brigade got biffed and the noble art, at least for the time being, saw off the challenge of Mixed Martial Arts, aka Ultimate Fighting.

The nature of orthodox gloved combat proved irresist-ible as the 35-year-old Calzaghe drew a crowd of 50,000-plus to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, unifying the world super-middleweight title against Mikkel Kessler. Calzaghe, with his trainer-father Enzo riding shotgun, heads British boxing's Magnificent Seven as the only undisputed world champ, alongside his Celtic stablemates Enzo Maccarinelli, the WBO cruiserweight, and Gavin Rees, the WBA light-welterweight.

Junior Witter's possession of the one light-weltertitle that Hatton has never held, the WBC, is an outstanding accomp-lishment,as is David Haye's hold,recently acquired, on both the WBC and WBA cruiserweight belts. And Clinton Woods returned from injury to retain the IBF light-heavyweight title.

World title No 7 is undis-puted, the one secured by the southpaw Frankie Gavin, an occasional spar-mate of Amir Khan, at lightweight in the World Amateur Championships. Britain's first gold was one of three medals won in Chicago by a sport enjoying an even healthier renaissance than the pro game.

Actually, if you throw in Hatton's still-held but scantly regarded IBO light-welter title, the UK's world title count reaches eight. Sadly, the days when there were only eight champions in all weight divisions (from fly to heavy) are long gone. Now, winning a world title can be as easy as ABC. This is not to diminish the achievements of the battling Brits, nor should we dismiss the Hitman's endeavours in a year which saw epic collisions of talent but the bursting of the bubble that was Audley Harrison. There may have been only one Ricky Hatton, but there was also only one Floyd Mayweather, a master of the noble arts who collates sublime defensive skills with awesomelyinstinctive finishing power.

Our man's seductive self-belief trapped many into believing that he was better equipped than he was for such a task. He fought gamely but without the guile necessary to ensnare a distinguished champion.

Kid Khan came of age, also floored but thankfully not irrevocably flawed, as the fast-rising star destined to ensure that boxing's beat goes on in 2008.

Reasons to be cheerful

1. Another mega Calzaghe classic, possibly against Bernard Hopkins. Then farewell Joe?

2. The biggest home fight for 15 years with Haye and Maccarinelli unifying world cruiserweight title on 8 March.

3. Frankie Gavin leading best-ever GB amateur squad in Beijing Olympic medal quest.

4. Matt Skelton's challenge for world heavyweight title at 40-something in Dsseldorf.

5. More razzle-dazzle from Amir Khan in quest to become youngest world champion.

6. Super-feather Kevin Mitchell emerging as another British world-beating prospect.

Alan Hubbard