On the same night that golden man Anthony Joshua biffed his way to nine wins from nine fights, in what will be the last of his allowed mismatches, a unique cabal of Britain’s finest so-called journeymen added to their remarkable records.
Joshua is fast becoming the anointed saviour of a heavyweight division that has been ostracised from the boxing public’s affections by a decade of physical dominance by the towering Klitschko brothers. At London’s O2 on Saturday, Joshua went into round two but was not forced to break a sweat by the Kazakh Denis Bakhtov, who lost for the 10th time in 48 fights but is a long way from being able to call himself a true journeyman.
Meanwhile, the real fighting was taking place inside rings pitched at York Hall and a nightclub in Norwich where Moses Matovu and Kristian Laight lost on points against men having just their first and second fights respectively in the professional business. The scene at the Mercy Premier club in Norwich is worth commemorating as Laight and two more of the finest losers in the game put their skills on display.
Laight lost on points over four rounds and has now lost 185 of his 201 fights, which makes him the uncrowned best loser in Britain. On the same bill Dee Mitchell went down on points to leave his record at just nine wins in 78 fights and Dan Blackwell moved to 37 defeats in 43 fights when he also lost on points over four rounds. The trio are boxing royalty and they, and their fellow journeymen, should be honoured each year at the annual boxing writers’ meal, which was held at the Savoy last night.
In his recent book, Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business, Mark Turley devotes a chapter to Laight, whose nickname is Mr Reliable. Laight has two fights scheduled during the next three weeks and has fought five times since the start of last month, losing all on points and, according to the record book, not winning a single round. He reached an impressive milestone on 4 October when he fought for the 200th time, a rarity in modern boxing, and lost on points over four rounds against a kid having his debut fight; I can guarantee that the action in the fight never threatened his looks for the post-fight selfie.
Last year Laight fought 29 times without a win but he has managed two sneaky victories so far in his 21 fights this year. He has only been stopped or knocked out five times in 185 defeats and, as he says in the Turley book, people on the outside have no idea how the sport truly functions. “No one likes being told that they’re shit, do they? I would like to think that I serve a valuable purpose in this game,” said Laight. He does, by the way.
Laight, like so many of boxing’s lost fighters, has a beautiful understanding of how the business really works and that is because he has been learning on the job for over a decade. He started off with enough ambition that it got in the way of his ability and that meant fights were much harder than they needed to be.
“In my first few fights I thought I could make waves, I thought I was going to do something, be a champion, honest to God, I did,” said Laight, but that all changed after some early debatable defeats. “I thought to myself, hang on! I taught myself, bit by bit, how to be a decent journeyman.” It worked and now Laight is the king of losers, seldom hurt, always available and never too demanding of a prospect in a business where the best get all the protection.
At York Hall on the same night that Laight was floating his way to the final bell in Norwich, Matovu, who was born in Uganda, turned professional in America but now lives in Northern Ireland, lost for the 48th time in 57 fights. It is just possible that Matovu could have been a contender, to steal Budd Schulberg’s Oscar-winning phrase, had his early management in America not been so brave at the matchmaking table. “It’s the business of boxing and I love it,” Matovu told me one night at the Troxy nightspot in east London after one of his rare wins. “I really feel I can get a few more wins together and do something.” That was 44 defeats and just two victories ago and it is all part of the same boxing business that feeds machines like Joshua fat men from Kazakhstan.
Journeymen: The Other Side of the Boxing Business by Mark Turley (Pitch Publishing).