Boxing: Britons ready for world stage
Cleverly and Mitchell show title credentials with impressive displays at Wembley
Nathan Cleverly and Kevin Mitchell emphatically underscored their potential as the rising stars of British boxing with sparkling and spectacular victories at Wembley last night which have pushed them to the forefront as world title contenders.
Maths student Cleverly, 23 this week, added the vacant European light-heavyweight title to the British and Commonwealth crowns in a short career of just 19 pro fights by stopping his best opponent yet, the Italian Antonio Brancalion, in five rounds. It was his sixth successive KO. Mitchell, chirpy and confident, knocked out Colombia's Ignacio Mendoza with a thundering right hand to retain his WBO inter-continental lightweight title in just two rounds.
For promoter Frank Warren, the night was an opportunity to show that there is life in his stable after his prize thoroughbred Amir Khan's defection to America's Golden Boy. In Cleverly and Mitchell he has two home-grown golden boys. Here was proof that Britain indeed has talent and that Cleverly and Mitchell, together with the Olympians James DeGale and Frankie Gavin who both improved their records to six fights without defeat, have the X-factor.
Cleverly graduates from university in May, and last night showed he may well be on the way to an honours degree in the noble art. Brancalion may not have been world-class but he was no mug. The young Welshman has a smart head on his shoulders and he out-boxed and then clinically dismantle the 34-year-old Italian. This victory manoeuvres him into the world's top 10, and title contenders will be wary of his powerful and accurate right-hand punches.
Brancalion's legs began to wobble under a systematic assault in the fourth and he was floored as the bell sounded at the end of the round. Cleverly stepped up the pace in the fifth, the French referee rescuing Brancalion after 1min 15sec as two more solid rights thudded on to his jaw.
"This was my most mature performance," he said. "I picked my shots and my progress has been astronomical really, but I know I need to show more patience. The European title is a good platform to move on to world level."
If anyone has the clout and charisma to be Warren's new Khan it is Mitchell, the 25-year-old London lightweight now unbeaten in 31 contests. After moving up from super-featherweight to show Khan the way to beat his one-round nemesis Breidis Prescott in December, Mitchell dealt brutally and brilliantly with the 26-year-old Mendoza, knocking him out with a peach of a punch after 1min 24sec of the second round.
The Madrid-based Mendoza just never knew what hit him. After an opening round in which Mitchell coolly counter-punched and boxed thoughtfully, he opened up in the second, lifting Mendoza off the floor with a right hand which landed flush on the jaw. Mendoza was counted out and had to be helped to his feet.
Immediately negotiations have begun for Mitchell to fight for the WBO title against the lively Australian Michael Katsidis. "I'd relish the chance," he said. "When Amir was fighting it was always the Amir Khan show, now it's the Kevin Mitchell show. It's all about me. Tonight I wanted to show I had power as well as boxing ability and it worked. Bang."
Super-middleweight DeGale, the Olympic champion fighting for the first time in his home town, stopped fellow southpaw Matthew Barr midway through the second round.
Gavin, also a southpaw, was taken the six-round distance for the first time but the Birmingham welterweight, who is Britain's only world amateur champion, won every round against the former Irish champion Peter McDonagh with a fine exhibition of back-foot boxing.
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