Boxing: Woods seeks a fairytale ending against the man felled by Rocky

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The Independent Online

Clinton Woods, who likes to be known as the Cinderella man of British boxing, continues to ride in the golden coach he climbed aboard three years ago when he acquired the International Boxing Federation world light-heavyweight title. In the early hours of next Sunday he finally goes to the ball in Tampa, Florida, meeting ex-champion Antonio Tarver in the second of a trilogy of mega-dollar match-ups featuring Britons invading US rings.

Sandwiched between the Las Vegas excursions of Ricky Hatton against Floyd Mayweather and Joe Calzaghe, who faces Bernard Hopkins the following weekend, Woods gets his biggest payday for facing an opponent last seen scuffling to a points win over Rocky Balboa. Tarver played the world champion Mason Dixon and, though victorious in the screen fight, the word is that he was actually knocked off his feet by the 61-year-old Sylvester Stallone when they sparred in rehearsals. That should give Woods some heart in Tarver's home town. Not that he seems to need it.

Of Britain's five remaining world champions the Sheffield man has had such a low profile that American fans could be excused for thinking Clinton Woods a place rather than a person. But they could be about to discover he is not only a decent fighter but a bit of a card, who reckons that if it was not for boxing it might not be an IBF label attached to him but an Asbo.

He explains: "I boxed as a kid until I was 16, then went on the piss for five years. I went back to boxing because I got fed up doing community service. I had turned into a bit of a slob, tits hanging down to me toes and belly over me belt. I really didn'tgo back to boxing to win anything, just to get fit and keep out of serious trouble. But I just kept on winning, and winning. Boxing turned my life around, what has happened to me in the last five years is just unbelievable. Now I am into big bucks."

So has the world title changed his lifestyle? He grins: "Well, I have bought a caravan so me and the family can go to Skeggy [Skegness] whenever we want..."

He is 34, four years younger than Tarver, and success came late in a 45-fight career dogged by elbow injuries. He hankers after a domestic showdown with Calzaghe, but this is probably as vain a hope as Junior Witter's of fighting Hatton. Both are seasoned British world champions who can claim to be the best in their division. But sadly boxing's politics do not work like that.

Woods says his immediate ambition is to beat Tarver in this fourth defence, have another big-money fight, and then see what happens. "I'm as fit as I've ever been. A boxer knows when it's time to quit. Some may deny it, but I'll know when to pack it in."

Southpaw Tarver, aka "The Magic Man", is one of the motormouths of US boxing. Becoming a movie star hardly diminished his ego. He has twice beaten the once-formidable Roy Jones Jnr, but his 30 fights include four defeats, one in 2006 against Hopkins, the man who plans to be Calzaghe's nemesis. Calzaghe thinks it should be comfortable for Woods. "Tarver's crap," he said. "I've never rated him. Clinton is a good fighter who's worked hard to get where he is."

Woods should not be deluded. Tarver's bravado comes with a quality pedigree: Olympic silver and a world amateur title. But how much has his temporary defection from blowbiz to showbiz drained his desire for taking punches that are not choreographed in this production of Cinderella and the Rocky fella?

Watch Clinton Woods in action on Setanta Sports 1 next Sunday, from 3am