Boxing: Mismatches offer no contest in entertainment

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The Independent Online

Capacity crowds in excess of 10,000 vanished from the boxing scene for nearly two decades, but during recent years they have again become frequent occurrences. Even so, Saturday's occasion at the Telewest Arena in Newcastle was extremely odd.

In front of 11,500 fanatics, who had purchased every ticket nearly a month ago, a procession of obvious winners climbed through the ropes just seconds after the losers had performed the same ritual. But the crowd was not bothered that the three main title fights looked like mismatches.

The moment Ricky Hatton emerged from a smoke screen to make his way to the ring there was so much noise even he looked stunned. Waiting for him was late replacement Joe Hutchinson, who lasted until the fourth round when a left hook connected with his ribs, lifting him off his feet to dump him on the canvas for the full count of 10.

Hatton, 24, has now fought in front of over 50,000 people live this year and there are very few boxers in the sport's modern history that can match those figures for a single 12-month period.

This bout was little more than a taster for the fans, but the Manchester favourite will defend his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title against his bitter rival, Junior Witter, at Maine Road next July.

The nominal main event was the remarkable 12th defence of the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title by Welshman Joe Calzaghe, who entered the ring wearing a Newcastle shirt and departed just 219 seconds later after a predictably easy win as the referee stopped the fight.

Calzaghe is Britain's best active fighter and is possibly one of the world's top 10 campaigners, but on this occasion he barely broke a sweat before his fists brought to an end the hopeless task of his US opponent, Tocker Pudwill. It was as close to a massacre as boxing ever gets, but the crowd loved every second of it.

Calzaghe and his promoter, Frank Warren, must now select the correct route from domestic respectability to serious international recognition but his next fight will not be in America. Instead, Calzaghe will face the former world champion, Thomas Tate, in April, probably in Cardiff.

It was Calzaghe's third fight of the year; his first back in April was a sellout in the Welsh capital against Charles Brewer, then in August over 5,000 packed the lawns at Cardiff Castle for his one-sided win against Miguel Jimenez.

Both Calzaghe and Hatton are real attractions, unlike most of the world champions who fight in obscure American rings for far smaller purses.

Part of the problem Warren now faces during his negotiations for future fights involving his two main attractions involves the ridiculous requests of potential opponents.

The first of the title fights on Saturday's bill was Alex Arthur's first defence of his British super-featherweight against Newark's Carl Greaves. It ended in the sixth round, again after the referee's intervention, and while it was never quite as savage as either the Hatton or Calzaghe fights, it was still a very painful spectacle because Greaves had absolutely no chance.

The night was altogether a strange one, because it is unlikely that such a large crowd would willingly play such an active part in a night of sport anywhere else in the world without any degree of criticism of the fare on offer.

The event's nature as some way short of a true night of championship boxing only reinforces the fact that boxing in Britain is driven by personalities and not by the competitive edge of the fights involved.

Hatton, Calzaghe and Arthur never had to prove the undoubted boxing credentials this time, but still left 11,500 people happy. During the next 12 months all three face career-defining fights and one can only imagine how good those nights will be.