Boxing: Sutherland tragedy puts Maloney on the ropes

Ebullient promoter laid low as beleaguered fight game takes another hard fall
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The Independent Online

The promoter Frank Maloney has been recuperating in hospital after the most traumatic week of his life. Nothing, he says, will ever compare to the shock of finding one of his brightest prospects, the Irish Olympic medallist Darren Sutherland, dead in the fighter's south-east London flat on Monday afternoon after the 27-year-old super-middleweight had apparently hanged himself.

Subsequently Maloney has undergone surgery for a minor heart attack which medics told him they believed happened even before this tragic discovery, probably at the ringside in Brentwood three nights earlier when, with Sutherland, he watched his heavyweight John McDermott lose his English title to unbeaten youngster Tyson Fury – hardly surprising as Maloney was almost apoplectic at an outrageously bad decision into which the board of control are due to hold an inquiry this week.

Boxing is used to taking vicissitudes on the chin but it has been stunned by the death of Sutherland (pictured below), which adds to the litany of tragedies that continue to bedevil it out of the ring and comes at a time when the sport in this country is at its lowest ebb for years, with a scarcity of crowd-pulling fighters and an escalating lack of television exposure even for those with genuine talent.

The university-educated Sutherland had tremendous potential. Some good judges saw him as a future world champion. He lost to gold medal-winner James DeGale in the Beijing semi-final but had beaten him four times previously as an amateur. Since signing for Maloney – who labelled him "The Dazzler", declaring he was the most exciting fighter in his stable since Lennox Lewis – Sutherland won all his four pro fights inside the distance and was due to box on the same bill as Maloney's other Olympic bronze medallist, light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries, in Sunderland next month. He was respectful and well-liked, though apparently subject to mood swings and depression. Maloney, who is currently receiving counselling himself, had arranged for Sutherland to see a clinical psychologist. "I still can't believe it," Maloney said yesterday. "He had so much talent. He had lived with my family for a time and we were really close."

An inquest has been opened which puts into some perspective the inquiry the board are holding into the McDermott-Fury fight verdict. Although he has been told to rest for six weeks without stress Maloney says he will attend. He wants the result, which saw Fury awarded a jaw-dropping six-point landslide by referee Terry O'Connor, overturned.

Maloney seems to have a penchant for being in the middle of maelstroms. He has always been a little man with big ideas, short on height but never on controversy. Like most promoters he has suffered his share of setbacks and there is no love lost between Britain's principal fistic impresarios, himself, Frank Warren, Mick Hennessey and Barry Hearn. But it was ever thus since the famously feuding days of Jack Solomons and Harry Levene.

Maloney, 55, who originates from Del Boy's Peckham, boxed at school, flirted with the idea of joining the priesthood, and unsuccessfully tried to become a jockey and footballer before working as a chef. He has trained, managed and promoted some of Britain's best young fighters, taking Lewis and David Haye to world titles before both decamped to do their own thing. He also embarked on a political campaign, trying to give Ken Livingstone a bloody nose in the 2004 London mayoral election, finishing fourth after sponging down that red and white Union Jack suit to stand for UKIP while denying he was more right-wing than right-on.

But boxing's show goes on, and there is now speculation whether Maloney might sign another Olympian, the Beijing super-heavyweight bronze medallist David Price, released by Hayemaker following the collapse of their TV bankrollers Setanta. Intriguingly Price had been approached to rejoin the GB amateur squad. It was believed that the international amateur governing body would give special dispensation to the 6ft 8in Price if he joined their new World Series after only one paid fight but it seems the Liverpudlian is to continue his pro career either with Maloney, Warren or Ricky Hatton's new stable.

When Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, became champion in 1964 he declared: "I shook up the world." It desperately needs another shaking up, though Haye might give it a bit of a stir if he can take the WBA heavyweight title from the Russian giant Nicolai Valuev in Nuremberg on 7 November. Haye seems to be forging a new working relationship with Hatton, who promotes his first major show, a European middleweight title fight between Matthew Macklin and Finland's Amin Asikainen at the Manchester Velodrome on Friday.

If there is one young fighter who might jerk boxing out of its depressed state it is the Welsh light-heavyweight Nathan Cleverly, 22, a university maths student as bright as his name and potentially the best emerging talent in the game. He defends his 17-fight unbeaten record and Commonwealth light-heavyweight title against Courtney Fry at London's York Hall on 9 October. One to watch, along with sadness that we are no longer able to do the same with Sutherland.