Boxing: Skelton's heart braves the brutality

Matt Skelton, who not so long ago was earning his living from kicks in the K1 rings of Japan, set something of a record last night when he knocked out holder Michael Sprott in the 12th round to become the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion in his 13th fight.

Matt Skelton, who not so long ago was earning his living from kicks in the K1 rings of Japan, set something of a record last night when he knocked out holder Michael Sprott in the 12th round to become the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion in his 13th fight.

This was one bout quicker than Lennox Lewis but Skelton can also claim to be the oldest man to win the national title. His fighting age may be 34 but gymnasium wisdom puts him nearer 37.

From K1 to A1 in 19 months is not bad going for the relative novice from Bedford. He battered Sprott to the floor after 56 seconds of the final round with a blistering barrage that typified the manner of his aggression throughout the contest. It was a brutal night at the Rivermead Leisure Centre in Reading, and a rough one for the 28-year-old Sprott, who was making his first title defence.

From the first bell Skelton never allowed the champion to settle or find his distance. Considering that he had previously boxed only 36 rounds in his professional career Skelton, who had acquired the newly-established English title two months ago, showed that he can take a punch as well as deliver one. He also brought with him huge and noisy support from Bedford to Sprott's own backyard.

The encounter had all the intensity of a schoolyard scrap, as well as the lack of finesse. It was a good fight to watch but a technical eyesore, full of swings and roundhouse rights. Sprott was always behind - going into the last round I had Skelton ahead by four rounds - but his resistance crumbled only when he was pinned on the ropes. He was swiped repeatedly about the head before slumping to his knees in his own corner. He rose a split-second too late to beat the count called by referee Richie Davies.

Both men had been fired up from the bell and were on the floor within seconds, Skelton landing on top of Sprott in an untidy heap. The round also saw Skelton receive two warnings for pulling his man on to the punch, but Sprott's attempt to peg back the pace and use his jab were short-lived. Sprott had one decent round, the sixth, but could not stem a final Skelton assault.

There have been far better fights for the British heavyweight championship but few have been quite as fiery. Despite the dramatic ending it is surely worthy of a return, although the probability is that the new champion, who has no time to spare, will now go in search of the European title and possibly beyond.

As Skelton's mentor Frank Maloney said: "I've worked with a lot of heavyweights, including Lennox Lewis, but I've never known one with a bigger heart than Matt.''

For his part, Skelton said: "Experience is the one thing I'm never going to get. I'm not hanging around and I'm not ducking anyone."

Rising star Kevin Mitchell, the former amateur champion, won his sixth successive fight as a professional by stopping French lightweight Eric Patrac in the first round. It was a bizarre finish, with Patrac slipping to one knee, rising but then grimacing and shaking his left arm. Apparently he had pulled a shoulder muscle and was in no position to continue.

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