Boxing: Skelton points Francis to the exit door

Julius Francis promised to follow heavyweight boxing's commander-in-chief, Lennox Lewis, into voluntary retirement if he failed to defeat Matt Skelton whom he dismissed as a novice at London's York Hall last night. Whether he will do so after losing a lopsided battle on points over 10 rounds to the English champion remains to be seen. But, as he said himself, there is now nowhere else really to go.

It was the 39-year-old Francis's sixth successive loss in his 40-fight career. And at 18 and a half stones, he is looking like a portly, pugilistic pensioner.

For Skelton, this was his 12th victory in his 17 months since converting from kick-boxing and the first time he was taken the distance. This was supposed to be his defining bout but in an ugly brawl, there were still questions remaining about his ability which perhaps only the recently crowned British champion, Michael Sprott, or better still, Audley Harrison, can answer.

Skelton, 35 going on 38, was a clear winner on the scorecard of referee Richie Davies by 98 points to 92, despite the reduction of a point in the seventh round for illegal use of his head.

Francis used his head too, but in a brainier fashion, clashing, covering up and generally smothering Skelton's pistol-like punches which had brought swifter conclusions in his previous contest.

It was a frustrating night for the Bedford man. Only one boxer came to fight and it was him. Francis, whose chief claim to fame was being KO'd in two rounds by Mike Tyson, had planned a survival campaign and who could blame him?

There was much holding and hugging from Francis, and too much showboating from Skelton. He still has much to learn and while some lessons may have been absorbed, he will need to show sharper concentration and more accuracy if he is to emerge as the force on the heavyweight scene his co-manager Frank Maloney insists he will be.

Maloney, so long in Lewis's corner, seemed to grow impatient as his new charge failed to penetrate fortress Francis. A sell-out crowd was an indication that Skelton is building support but he also needs to build a more varied repertoire. Whether he has time to do so is as much in doubt as Francis's future.

The immediate message is "Come back Lennox. Or come in Audley''.

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