Robert McCracken went to America in 1997 to become a world champion. He returned last December without a title and without a championship fight in sight.
McCracken, 31, is unbeaten in 33 fights and for the past five years has been considered one of the best middleweights in the world, but as each year has passed and other fighters have received their title opportunities it looked increasingly likely that he would simply fade away.
On Saturday at Wembley Arena the Birmingham boxer finally has the chance to win a world title when he challenges Keith Holmes for the World Boxing Council title in a fight that is for the purists only. Both boxers are tall, cautious and tend to think far too much for the average boxing fan.
When McCracken left Micky Duff in 1996 he was the reigning Commonwealth middleweight champion and his move to Las Vegas under Mat Tinley was at the time viewed as a sensible risk. However, in boxing promises are often broken and in McCracken's case several planned fights failed to take place. He spent two Christmases training at his new base and a total of 14 months away from his family.
"It was never easy, but it was a choice I made and at the time I believed it would work out," said McCracken . "I could have fought for the world title in America but in my heart I always wanted the fight to be here."
When McCracken returned to Britain for good last year there were fewer options to consider and fewer offers on the table than there had been in 1996, when he split with Duff. It was Panos Eliades, the former liquidator who co-promotes Lennox Lewis, who came up with the most lucrative deal and secured the Holmes fight.
It was ideal for McCracken even if it was two or three years late and, after six weeks training back in Las Vegas with Thel Torrance, the British boxer returned two weeks ago. Holmes, who is a total professional, has been in London for three weeks. The normal period of time for a visiting foreign boxer to be in Britain is seven days and the longer period Holmes has spent here is a clear indication of his serious intent.
In 1997, 1998 and last year McCracken, despite winning all four of his American fights, was clearly going nowhere. He met just one notable opponent during this three-year period, but he retained his world ranking partly due to his unbeaten record. If Eliades had not secured the Holmes fight it is possible that McCracken would have just continued fighting journeymen on the fringes. "This is the opportunity that I have been waiting so long for. After the fight there are several options open to me including a couple of defences, but I would also consider moving up to super middleweight to box Joe Calzaghe in a title fight if that was possible," he said.
In 1994 McCracken's fans marred British title victories when there were some ugly disturbances. At the time it looked likely that the fighter would always have the notoriety of his avid supporters threatening his career. However, in reality it was a tiny minority of warped Birmingham City football fans who attached themselves to McCracken - he is himself a Birmingham supporter - and attended his fights with a separate and violent agenda.
In 1995 and 1996 he kept winning, but there seemed to be something lacking and it was no surprise when he decided to move from light middleweight to middleweight. However, he failed to agree terms with any of the British promoters and succumbed to the promises of wealth from Tinley and packed his bags for Las Vegas. Yet McCracken could and should have played a crucial role in the British boxing business because he is one of the best professionals operating in this country.
He has a difficult task on Saturday, but if he wins he plans to box twice more this year with, hopefully, one of those fights in his home town of Birmingham. He is the sort of fighter that responds to the mob atmosphere of a boxing crowd and on home territory he would be very difficult to beat.
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