Frank Warren: Derry Mathews must teach emigre Richar Abril a few home truths

EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: Home advantage can be crucial, the difference between victory and defeat

Ask Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal, Roy Hodgson or Stuart Lancaster and they’ll tell you there’s no place like home. So it is in boxing.

Home advantage can be crucial, the difference between victory and defeat. I always try to ensure that any fighter I promote or manage has his own crowd behind him, cheering him on. I want everything loaded in his favour.

That’s why we have paid big money to lure the Cuban émigré holder of the WBA lightweight title, Richar Abril, to travel to Liverpool next month, when local lad Derry Mathews aims to become the next Briton to claim a World Championship. Abril has recovered from a bout of dengue fever to keep a postponed date on 18 April with Mathews at the Echo Arena.

We have ticked all the boxes to give Mathews the best possible opportunity of causing an upset. And with a 12-year career behind him he knows this is probably his last roll of the dice.

He has been written off a couple of times but he is a gritty, gutsy performer and, with his army of fans behind him, who knows?

Abril will be favourite. He’s cute and classy but with three previous losses, all by split decisions, in 23 contests he’s beatable.

Mind you, we said that about Zolani Tete, the South African who came to Liverpool last month and comprehensively beat Mathews’ Merseyside mate Paul Butler for the IBF world super-flyweight crown. That showed that all the home support you can muster won’t help if you get your tactics as horribly wrong as Butler did.

Hopefully, Mathews has absorbed that lesson.

Harder to reach across the pond for DeGale’s title shot

No doubt James DeGale, who finally also has an imminent crack at winning a world title, will now be pondering tactics too, though he must travel to the United States to face super-middleweight Andre Dirrell.

DeGale’s hopes of a home challenge at London’s O2 on 25 April were scuppered when Dirrell’s backers tabled a winning bid of $3.1m (£2.1m) to Matchroom’s bid of $2.105m.

So the fight for the IBF belt vacated by Carl Froch will be held in the US on a date and at a venue to be decided.

The loss of home advantage is a setback for DeGale, who has fought only once before outside the UK, but will be well paid for his trip to the States, which actually is no longer alien territory for British fighters, as welterweight Kell Brook demonstrated last August when claiming a split decision victory over Shawn Porter for the IBF belt.

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James DeGale (right) in his bout against George Groves in 2011

DeGale insists he is relaxed about having to travel to the US. “A ring is a ring and I’m still making history!” he declares. As a promoter and manager I prefer that ring to be in this country, because it is always harder – and unusual – to get a close decision overseas.

Ideally, it is best to win the title on your home patch and then defend it abroad, as Amir Khan and Joe Calzaghe did. They tell you how much the roar of friendly fans spurred them on. As it did with Ricky Hatton, who fought like a man possessed against Kostya Tszyu in Manchester, and Frank Bruno when he beat Oliver McCall at Wembley.

We paid DeGale a lot of money when he turned pro as Olympic champion after Beijing 2008 and I always believed him capable of becoming the first British boxer to convert Olympic gold into a pro world title. But he seemed to disappear into boxing’s backwaters at a vital stage of his career.

Now he has the chance to reconnect with the public. He’s a better fighter than many give him credit for and has a decent chance against a fellow southpaw, who himself did not fancy coming here as he believed he was robbed when he lost to Froch in the Cobra’s Nottingham backyard in 2009.

Total Combat looks a winner

Boxing became a whole new brawl game this week with the TV debut of an exciting new development in the sport.

Total Combat, the fight game’s version of Twenty20 cricket, hit the screens of BT Sport on Wednesday and BoxNation on Thursday. Developed by my son Francis, it features eight fighters from various combat disciplines boxing each other under Marquess of Queensberry rules in an octagonal roped ring in scheduled six–minute bouts when  they have not only to beat their opponent but the clock to win the maximum cash prize before moving on  to the next round. It is literally a knock-out tournament.

There are actually two clocks – one shows the six minute duration and the other the amount of money to be won. As the round continues the money goes down – so the quicker you win, the more you earn.

Should there be a lull in the action there is what is termed a Blitz. A siren sounds warning the boxers to liven things up and if the fight is then subsequently stopped or there is a KO the winner doubles his money.

It is not like UFC. There’s no kicking, wrestling, or head-butting. Medical supervision is strict and there is an hour break between their fights to give the combatants a proper rest. The man in charge of the action is Richie Davies, for many years Britain’s premier boxing referee.

Being a traditionalist I was sceptical at first but I have been won over. Total Combat looks a winner.

Rooney looks wise to have KO’d ambitions in the ring

Curtis Woodhouse and Leon McKenzie are two top-level British footballers who forsook the game to win titles as professional boxers. On the evidence of Wayne Rooney’s kitchen KO by Phil Bardsley, he is unlikely to complete the hat-trick should he eventually desire to fulfil his boyhood dreams of becoming a boxing champion.

Rooney has spoken of his love for boxing in the past. He is buddies with Manchester fighter Anthony Crolla and has carried Ricky Hatton’s belt into the ring in Las Vegas.

He started boxing when he was in the youth team at Everton and revealed last November he would have considered taking it up professionally if he had not made it as a footballer.

He says: “I was doing both boxing and football training at one stage when I was about 15 but Everton, who I was with at the time, said I had to concentrate on one of them and I opted for football.”

Wise move, Wayne. Best stick to the day job.

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