Lee Purdy will add his name to a long and distinguished list of British boxers who travelled to most points of the globe for world-title fights knowing that they were massive underdogs.
Purdy briefly held the British welterweight title and is a decent operator at domestic level, where he is either the fourth or fifth best, but tonight he walks into an Atlantic City ring to meet Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight title. The encounter comes courtesy of injury prone Kell Brook, the best welterweight in Britain, who pulled out of the Alexander fight for the final time a few weeks ago. Brook and Purdy share a promoter and a quick deal was done to slip Purdy in.
Alexander is not always pleasant to watch but his record, the men he has beaten and the men who have avoided him make him currently one of the best active boxers. His only defeat in 25 fights was on a technical decision to Tim Bradley, who beat Manny Pacquiao last year in a close fight, and his recent wins have been against the very best. Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao have ignored Alexander because of his negative style, which arguably makes him the most avoided fighter at the moment.
Purdy is fearless and can certainly punch hard enough to have taken care of 13 of his 24 opponents early, but he has never been anywhere near a boxer of Alexander’s proven class and any attempt to diminish the gulf between the pair is utter deception. The real fear is that Alexander has something to prove tonight, which could make for an awful spectacle in a battle against Purdy’s pride. However, there is little chance of Purdy’s trip ending in the same type of brutality that left Battersea’s Don Cockell in a desolate state at the fists of world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano in 1955.
Marciano was aided and abetted by a total lack of ring rules that night in California and ruined poor Cockell with just about every punch, butt, shoulder, elbow and forearm imaginable. “I hit him harder than I have ever hit anyone,” said Marciano when the fight ended in the ninth.
Cockell was the first British boxer to fight for the world heavyweight title since Tommy Farr’s heroic stand against Joe Louis in 1937. The stream of rugged British losers in ruinous fights has been far more frequent since Cockell and in recent years a lot of boxers have taken the risk, which comes with a record purse, and flown off to slaughter.
Michael Jennings, Gary Lockett and, earlier this year, Gavin Rees have all accepted fights in America against nasty world champions in the last five years. “When the offer was made I jumped at it, I never even asked about the money,” claimed Rees, who was stopped by Adrien Broner in just five rounds earlier. Lockett was stopped in three rounds by Kelly Pavlik in 2008. When Jennings met Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden in 2009 he knew he was in trouble long before the first bell. “He was a great fighter, the Garden was like his backyard and I was there for sacrifice.” Jennings refused to fold, took a beating and was stopped in round five.
Purdy, who is tough enough to hear the last bell unlike other British underdogs, promised: “I will give it my best” – which is about the most positive memory he can hope to leave with.