Boxing: Roche to challenge strength of canvas

Neil Sinclair knows that each time he gets in the ring there is a good chance that either he or his opponent will be on the canvas at some point in the fight.

Tonight Sinclair defends his British welterweight title against Derek Roche in front of a capacity crowd at the Leeds Town Hall and the likelihood that both boxers remain upright until the fight is over is zero. Roche was down six times in his last fight but still survived until the final bell.

Both boxers share a vulnerability to head shots which can be both frustrating and entertaining, depending on your vantage point. Tonight, Roche, who is from Leeds, will no doubt try to force the pace in the hope of catching Sinclair early, when he has been shown to be most vulnerable, but in doing so he will find himself caught and hurt.

Just because both are frequent visitors to the canvas does not make them bad fighters because they in turn have the power to stop and knock out an awful lot of men. Sinclair has 19 quick wins from 23 and Roche 14 from 26.

In December 2000, Sinclair left the domestic scene and took a huge step up in class to fight Puerto Rico's Daniel Santos for the World Boxing Organisation welterweight title and in the opening round Santos was on the canvas but in the second round Sinclair was knocked out. Tonight's fight could follow a similar type of pattern.

In January this year, Rochechallenged South Africa's Jan Bergman for the World Boxing Union welterweight title, the fight in which he hit the canvas six times.

The winner could be decided by just one punch, but it will certainly not be the only punch that influences a fight that will surely be hectic from the opening bell of what should be an amazing opening round.

* Six days after knocking out Mike Tyson, the world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis returned to Britain yesterday, but gave nothing away when asked whether he now plans to retire. "I'm trying to bask in my glory for a little bit, enjoy it for a minute. There was always something to prove. Now that you've proven everything, you can relax," he said. The Tyson-Lewis fight will be shown on BBC1 today at 10.45 and again at 23.10.

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