Boxing: Clinton hits the big time

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The Independent Online

Funny old game, fighting. Take Clinton Woods. He is a world light-heavyweight champion, but how many people know that? The probability is that considerably more will do so after his appearance on ITV next Saturday night in the third defence of his International Boxing Federation title against a man he has twice previously failed to beat, the United States-based Jamaican veteran Glen Johnson.

They meet again at Bolton Arena on a bill promoted by Frank Warren's Sports Network. Yet Woods is managed by another promoter, Denis Hobson, from his own home town of Sheffield, whose organisation, Fight Academy, now orchestrate the career of Warren's estranged former gloved galactico, Ricky Hatton.

Funnier still is the fact that Warren cheekily outbid Hobson by a considerable sum to give Woods not only his biggest payday, but a belated opportunity to make a name for himself on his terrestrial TV debut as champion.

Viewers may discover he is not only a decent enough fighter, but a bit of a card, who reckons that if it was not for boxing it might not be an IBF label attached to his name but an Asbo.

He explains: "I boxed as a kid until I was 16 then went on the piss for five years. I went back to boxing because I got fed up doing community service. I had turned into a bit of a slob, tits hanging down to me toes and belly over me belt. But I really didn't go back to boxing to win anything, just to get fit and keep out of serious trouble.

"But I just kept on winning, and winning. Boxing turned my life around, and what has happened to me in the last five years is just unbelievable. Now I am into big bucks."

So has the world title changed his lifestyle? "Well, I have bought a caravan so me and the family can go to Skeggy [Skegness] whenever we want...."

Woods is 34, three years younger than Johnson, against whom he drew and was outpointed before the Jamaican vacated the IBF title Woods subsequently won against the American Rico Hoye two years ago. Now Johnson wants it back, and is a slight favourite, though Woods claims: "I'm a different fighter now, stronger and more mature." It will be tough, but he might well edge it.

Warren would like the winner to meet his own Joe Calzaghe and Woods, British boxing's Cinderella Man, reckons that it would be a "fantastic fight". But we suspect the grittier one will be between Warren and Hobson to get it on.

Amir Khan's return to the local venue where he made his amateur farewell and pro debut could be his last as a six-round "apprentice". He has been promised a shot "at some sort of title" by Warren by the end of the year, and says he is ready for it.

But first he must dispatch his ninth opponent, Ryan Barrett, who, at 23, is young and capable enough still to have title ambitions himself. Barrett, a tall, rangy southpaw, is, like Amir, a former amateur international now ranked 13th among British lightweights - higher than the former Olympic hero - with 12 wins and two losses.

He has not been stopped, but he is not a banger, so expect another fist-flurrying Amir victory. Anything less and it really wouldn't be a funny old game at all.