Boxing: Fallon can apply mat finish if eyes hold out

Blond bomber ready to grab Britain's first medal but cuts could ruin dream
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The Independent Online

The weight-worried world amateur boxing champion Frankie Gavin has called in Ricky Hatton's diet guru Kerry Kayes to assist in perhaps the biggest battle he will face in his quest to strike gold in the Beijing ring – making the 9st 8lb limit.

A fellow Midlander also hoping to win an Olympic title in unarmed combat, judo's Craig Fallon, would do well to employ another of the Hitman's henchmen, Mick "The Rub" Williamson, the London cabbie renowned as the best cuts man in the business.

For while "Funtime Frankie", the Brummie lightweight who is favourite to go one better than Amir Khan, struggles with the scales, the 25-year-old Fallon, from Wolverhampton, is susceptible to another of Hatton's boxing bugbears, cut eyes. His style is such that there are often head clashes, and he seems to have the same sort of fragile eyebrows as Hatton and Henry Cooper before him, another of boxing's great "bleeders".

The bones around his eyebrows are quite prominent and it is not unusual to see him finish a contest with his head swathed in bandages. His last major appearance was in the recent German Open when he fought in a category above his normal bantamweight (under-60kg) limit, but had to withdraw with eye problems.

In judo, as in boxing, fighters can continue with a cut unless a doctor or referee decrees otherwise. But the bout is stopped if the wound continues to bleed after treatment. This is where Williamson, the pugilistic paramedic who is a dab hand at stemming the blood with a swabstick and adrenalin solution, could be a saviour.

Dodgy minces apart, Fallon goes to Beijing with a considerable weight of expectation on his shoulders. A former world champion, he is the star performer of Britain's seven-strong judo squad (four men, three women), a blond, blue-eyed golden boy of a sport which needs to pick itself up off the Olympic mat after Athens, where Britain failed to secure a single medal.

There had been high hopes then that Fallon might lead a pace-setting British gold rush on the opening day of the Games, as cyclist Jason Queally did in Sydney four years before, but instead it was a case of first in and first out. Fallon, well ahead on points, was thrown on his back when caught by boxing's equivalent of a sucker punch in an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration.

This time it is again Fallon who is deployed to set the Olympic ball rolling, seeking Britain's first medal of the Games. Is he up for it? There may be similarities with Hatton, but an extrovert persona is not one of them. Fallon is no stand-up comic, preferring to let his harai-goshis and seoi-nagis (hip and shoulder throws) do the talking. "Of course I'm looking for a medal," he says. "I learned a lot from that defeat. When I'm fit, nothing can stop me." And those cut eyes? "Sure, I've had a few, but they don't put me off. It's something I live with."

Fallon is currently ranked seventh in the world. "There isn't much difference between the top six or seven. Who wins depends on who performs best on the day, or who makes a mistake. If you had a competition everyday with the same top people, there would befour different winners." SoFallon hopes that Saturday 9 August will be his day.

In 2003 he won a world silver medal and two years later, after the Athensdefeat, became only the third Briton to reign as a world judo champion, following this with the European title to become the first British male since Neil Adams to hold world and European titles at the same time. However, he has suffered a series of injuries, missing the last World Championships, and he also made an early exit in this year's Europeans.

While Fallon is the leading candidate for a top pod-ium place, the Scottish middleweight Euan Burton, a world and European bronze medallist, and the female heavyweight Karina Bryant – she is approaching 17st – are also strong medal hopes. Both are 29. Another potential medallist is Peter Cousins, 27, who in 2005 was the first British athlete to miss three drugs tests, and was initially banned from the Games for life by the British Olympic Association. But, like Christine Ohuruogu, he appealed successfully. He is a World Championships silver medallist.

Britain have never won Olympic gold but have 16 medals, including six silver, since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1964. After the disappointment of Athens, an administrative shake-up has placed two tough women, Margaret Hicks and Karen Roberts, in control of the performance side of the sport.

And for the first time squad members will be able to take their own sparring partners with them. No doubt Fallon will wish he could have Mick the Rub to keep an eye on him, too.

Life and times

Born: 16 December 1982, Wolverhampton.

Height: 5ft 5in.

Weight: 9st 5lb (60kg)

Category: Bantamweight (under-60kg class)

Achievements: Commonwealth Games gold medal (Manchester 2002); World Championships gold(Cairo 2005); European Championships gold(Finland 2006); World Cup gold (Birmingham, 2007). Only the third Britishjudoka to win a world title.

Previous Olympics: Athens 2004. Having been one of the pre-tournament favourites, he was unexpectedly eliminatedin the first round.