Bunce on Boxing: When chasing a dream turns into a nightmare


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The Independent Online

The perils, risks and dangers of fighting too long, coming back after a break and still chasing a dream in the ring claimed a couple of victims last weekend in very different circumstances.

On Saturday at the ExCel in east London a nice fighter from south London called Richard Williams returned to the competitive ring after a gap of six years in a fight that made no sense, on an afternoon that he will want to forget. Williams is now 41.

Williams held a version of the world title 10 years ago (IBO light-middleweight), mixed with good fighters and last fought when Howard Eastman knocked him out in the 12th round in 2006. He walked away for a long time and seemed happy enough, but rumours of his return to the gym started to circulate. He was, so people kept telling me, looking great in sparring and bashing younger fighters every day.

I have only ever heard a tale of one fighter ending an exile, looking like garbage in the gym and being told to stay retired – and that was Ricky Hatton a couple of years ago. His family watched him in the gym, moving like his feet were stuck in treacle, and immediately banned him from fighting.

Last Saturday Williams was stopped in the first round. His opponent, Virgilijus Stapulionis, entered the ring having lost just once in 19 fights and was 16 years younger. I'm assuming that the same men who told me that Williams was looking great still had their delusion goggles on when they accepted young Virgil as an opponent. Boxing is a business with no shortage of fools and collaborators in the art of denial, each holding licences that give them the ability to make such daring moves for the men they are charged to protect.

In Los Angeles on the same day an equally depressing endgame unfolded when Winky Wright lost for just the sixth time in a brilliant career in a middleweight fight too far. Wright is 40 and had not fought for three years. He lost to a crude young slugger called Kid Chocolate, also known as Peter Quillin.

Quillin is an entertaining fighter with a decent backstory but it was criminal watching his basic, heavy-fisted assaults change Wright's features; Quillin sent Wright sprawling at one point from the type of punch that would have missed by feet in Wright's counter-punching pomp. "The break has been too long, I need to think about the future," admitted a shocked Wright. He needs to ignore the men massaging his loss and walk away now.

Had Wright won he would have found himself in a particularly marketable division as the leading if aged American contender for one of the titles, and that is why he took the risk against Quillin. However, fighters seldom need too much incentive to return to the ring and, as Hatton repeatedly says, they need reasons to stay retired; they never need to hear people whispering promises in their ears. "The offers never stop. I still get offers now to fight Vitali. It's crazy," said Lennox Lewis, who beat Vitali Klitschko in 2003 and has not fought since.

It is possible that another fight on the Wright bill was even more disturbing because Antonio Tarver, who is now 43, kept his dream of a big fight with "one of them damn Klitschko brothers" still bubbling with a split decision win over a lovable Nigerian bruiser called Lateef Kayode. It was honest, horrible to watch and then comical at the end when Tarver, who works as a pundit for ShowTime in America, analysed his own victory with such revisionism that it defied belief. "You are a bullshitter fighter, man," said Kayode. It was a brief piece of honesty and, hopefully, Williams and Wright have also heard the truth since losing.