Woodhall left to ponder future

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Richie Woodhall was left heartbroken and uncertain about his future after failing to take the World Boxing Council world middleweight title from the American champion Keith Holmes yesterday morning. The Telford fighter ran out of steam in the 12th and final round of the contest in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, as he suffered the first defeat in the 22nd fight of his professional career.

Holmes had struggled to compete in the early rounds and, for a champion, he lacked sparkle. But in the final round a short left to the head from the southpaw did the damage and it dropped Woodhall to the canvas for the first time in his career to take a count of nine.

A flurry of successive rights and lefts to Woodhall's head then forced the 74-year-old New York referee Arthur Mercante, in control of his 125th world title fight, to step in and halt the contest with 28sec remaining and leave Woodhall contemplating his future in the ring. At the time of the stoppage, the three judges had scored the fight 107-103, 107-102 and 108-102 in favour of Holmes.

Woodhall's manager, Mickey Duff, said: "The scoring was ridiculous. I thought Richie fought the right sort of fight but not quite well enough. But he did not disgrace himself. He didn't disappoint at all as I knew we were in for a tough fight."

A tearful Woodhall was gracious in defeat and said: "I was very disappointed. Everything appeared to be stacked up against me and to be honest I do not know what I am going to do now. Holmes was a very good puncher and when he spotted his opening he moved in quickly to finish the fight as I was in no position to defend myself.

"I was really tired and I was trying to fool him, but in round 10 I was aware that I was struggling and that if he stepped up the pace he would catch me out. He caught me with a solid punch and I can't complain as I didn't fight the best of fights. I had been out of the ring since last January and this proved a bigger handicap on the night than I realised going into the fight.

"There is a chance I could bounce back and go again for the European title. But at this moment in time I don't know what the future holds and I will have to sit down and have a good think about the future."

The fight had been billed as ``Middleweight Mayhem'', and this is how it turned out for Woodhall. The 28-year-old father of three found himself involved in a series of incidents that the young sporting ambassador found distasteful.

Woodhall had to endure a series of pre-fight sabotage tricks, which appeared to indicate that the Americans were trying to cause as much confusion as possible. After going "missing" for two-and-a-half hours while being transported to the Show Place Arena some 20 minutes away from his hotel, and then being forced to wait in a crowded room for the weigh-in after the scales had failed to arrive on time, Woodhall had every reason to feel aggrieved at his hosts.

Woodhall, who had to have micro-surgery on his right elbow just over a week before his trip to Washington, faces further surgery on the same arm.