Rhodes' timely punch ushers in a fresh era

Harry Mullan sees an old warrior suffer and a new talent show his promise
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The Independent Online
There is a pleasing continuity about boxing: a new star emerges as an old one fades, the handover as effortless as a well executed baton change in a relay. But it is rarely done so smoothly as in Sheffield on Saturday night. Ryan Rhodes a 20-year-old prodigy from Brendan Ingle's academy, became the youngest British champion for 57 years. Less than an hour earlier, Dennis Andries, a three-times World Boxing Council light- heavyweight champion, failed in his bid to become Britain's oldest-ever title holder.

Andries' exact age has long been a matter of speculation, mischievously encouraged by the fighter himself, but the consensus is that he was born in Guyana somewhere between 43 and 48 years ago. The latter figure looked the more believable on Saturday, as Rhodes' stable-mate, Johnny Nelson, administered an embarrassingly one- sided beating to regain the British cruiserweight title which he had relinquished six years ago.

The veteran had nothing to offer except a dogged resilience and an occasional crude, lunging right, only two of which connected cleanly in the six and a half rounds which elapsed before the referee, John Keane, compassionately spared Andries further suffering in a lost cause.

In the past Andries' capacity for endurance has carried him to some famous victories, notably his world title wins in America and Australia, when he was able to absorb everything the opposition threw at him and then grind them down remorselessly. That never looked like happening against Nelson, who has had more strenuous work-outs on the heavy bag.

Andries has his troubles outside the ring as the Inland Revenue hound him towards bankruptcy, and there is a danger that even this conclusive defeat will not be enough to dissuade him from seeking another couple of paydays. "I'll think about it" was as far as he would go towards a retirement announcement which, given his age and the total eradication of what skills he once had, cannot be long delayed.

He has served British boxing nobly for 18 years, and one hopes that the Board of Control secretary, John Morris, a long-time friend and admirer, will have a quiet word in his ear.

If Andries' future is limited, Rhodes' glows with bright promise. The right hook with which he flattened former World Boxing Organisation champion, Paul "Silky" Jones, in the eighth round of their bout for the vacant light- middleweight title was a punch of world-class potential, particularly as he produced it at a point when the fight was in danger of slipping away from him.

Inventiveness under pressure is one of the hallmarks of a quality fighter, and Rhodes showed it in the final stages of a fight which, until then, had been tense rather than exciting. Jones stepped up his pace at the beginning of the eighth, and there were signs that the youngster, his nose bleeding, might be floundering. But then Rhodes caught him with a right hook, and as Jones clowned, doing a pretend wobble, Rhodes feinted a left and brought over the second, crushing hook which sent Jones sprawling face first.

It was Rhodes' 12th straight win, and already there are mutterings about world title opportunities next year. If that sounds premature, remember Naseem Hamed won his first title, the European bantamweight championship, after the same number of fights.