Boxing: Rutherford stuns listless McKeever

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The Independent Online

Before the British Featherweight title fight at the Everton Park Sport Centre on Saturday night there was a rumour that the champion Jamie McKeever had left his best work in the gym. Once the first bell had sounded, the rumour was soon confirmed. In the third round, a short right to his body from Roy Rutherford dropped him onto all fours in a fight that young McKeever will want to forget.

Rutherford had fought just once in 18 months and, at 29, he started as an underdog in McKeever's home town. But it was clear that the Coventry boxer had a plan from the very start.

McKeever, 23, never fully recovered from the dreadful third round and by round nine his days as champion looked over. In round 10 he was hurt and at the final bell Rutherford received a 117-112 point decision and the British Featherweight title.

It was not a classic because neither McKeever or Rutherford are world-class or even top European class, but it was the type of honest domestic bout that shames the dull encounters between overprotected fighters and lame imports from Eastern Europe that have started to dominate Saturday night bills in Britain.

"A lot of modern boxers turn their back on the British title and I think that is a mistake," Rutherford said. "I won the ABA title as an amateur, now this and, hopefully, I will get a chance at something else, possibly the European belt."

There is also a slim chance that Rutherford could, with one or two high-profile wins, put himself on the lucrative waiting list for a fight against the trio of Britain's truly world-class campaigners of Naseem Hamed, Michael Brodie and the best of the lot, Scott Harrison.

It is, however, a slim chance because Rutherford is far more likely to join a domestic circuit of perfectly capable opponents operating on a level far below the quality trio.

In theory, Rutherford's next fight will be a first defence against Dazzo Williams, who came through a British title eliminator against Steve Chinnock on Saturday's undercard. This would make a perfectly respectable British title fight with the added interest of some unfinished business from their days as amateurs.

However, a fight like Rutherford against Williams only highlights further the predicament that exists in the domestic sport, where a premier league of campaigners in most of the 14 weights has pulled clear of all the other boxers. The featherweight division is extreme, but there are a lot of other weights where the best are simply too good for the others.

The situation will get worse if promoters and managers continue to protect their prospects in mismatches against no hopers that hurt rather than help, because the victories are gained in one-sided fights that have very little to do with the real business of boxing.

On Saturday night, Rutherford moved from contender to champion, but his win was virtually neglected in a sport that is increasingly becoming a two-tiered operation between the haves and the have-nots.

* The American veteran Shamba Mitchell is on course for a rematch with the undisputed light-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu after recording an emphatic points win over Ben Tackie in Reno, Nevada. In Pittsburgh, the IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora and his WBA counterpart Leonard Dorin fought out a drawn title unification contest. The winner would have met the WBC champion Floyd Mayweather to unite the division, but the draw has left it further confused.