The media dust has started to settle since my British title defence against the surprisingly game and resilient Ben Murphy last weekend. I’m learning to live with the high expectations that all champions carry into the ring. Just ask Amir Khan or Carl Froch. Everyone and anyone who ‘steps through those ropes’ is ultra-fired up and unlike the champion, have it all to gain and nothing to lose.
I’ve ‘walked in their shoes’ for most of my career and excelled from being the underdog and therefore benefitted from the lack of media scrutiny.
Delvin Rodriguez is ranked third in the WBA and fourth in the WBC. Danny Garcia is number two in the world, in the eyes of both the WBC and IBF. These are two fighters who I recently shared a ring with. I lost a split decision to one and the other I won a majority decision. Both fights took place in America.
Erik Morales is now due to defend his WBC world title against Danny Garcia, and Delvin Rodriguez, who challenged for a world title in 2009, and lost by a split decision, is on course to fight Saul Alvarez, or one of the other 154lb world champions.
I received some rather sharp criticism for perhaps not appearing to be strong enough to hold my own with Ben Murphy, but Delvin is a 154lb fighter, and we met at 148lbs, and I handled him with no problem, and even hurt him and could have got a stoppage if we had another round to go.
This is what makes boxing so fascinating and compelling. Muhammad Ali had the fights of his life with Joe Frazier every time they met, but knocked out George Foreman, who in turn crushed Joe Frazier twice in next to no time. Where’s the logic in that? Welcome to the fight game. Nothing must ever be taken for granted. Winning is the only and ultimate measure of success.
The last two years have been very rewarding for me, and I now look forward to 2012 with relish, as the next step after my third defence of the British title is all about moving inexorably towards a world title challenge.
My team have advised me to shift my mind-set from that of the perennial underdog, to a champion’s mind-set. I have to admit that I have found this really challenging, because coming from my background, with little support and consequently, the cards always stacked against me, I have the natural ‘fire in my belly’ to achieve the unexpected.
Being the betting favourite and the defending champion has proved to be intellectually and emotionally, seriously demanding.
Floyd Mayweather has managed to create an atmosphere where so many are willing to turn up or buy his ‘pay per view’ fights just to see him exposed. It gives him that extra motivation despite being the number one ‘pound for pound’ fighter on the planet.
Muhammad Ali would heap extra pressure on himself in the early days by predicting the round his opponents would fall.
This was all about providing the feeling of having to perform beyond the expectations of both the media and the fans, and they both delivered.
In 2010 I fought current world number two Danny Garcia in Texas, then in June I went to Munich in Germany to pick up the IBO international title. Five weeks later saw me take on world title challenger, USBA champion and IBF world number three, Delvin Rodriguez. In September 2010 I was ranked fourth in the world by the IBF.
A fight with world IBF number one Randall Bailey fell through in the autumn, but then I personally managed to make a deal to fight British champion Lenny Daws.
February of this year saw me fight Lenny Daws at Wembley Arena. I knew Lenny liked to go at a very fast pace, so I matched his pace, and when he could no longer keep it up, I took over. I dropped him twice in the ninth round and went onto win. I thought I could stop Lenny, but I rushed my work in the ninth so had to settle for a points win.
In July at Wembley Arena again, I fought former European champion Jason Cook. I knew he was a fast starter, and looks for the knock out; so the plan was to box him for the first six rounds and take over going down the stretch. I told the fight commentator, Al Bernstein, that I believed I would stop Jason and I was proved to be right.
Nigel Wright was supposed to be next, and I also believed I could stop him late on. As it turned out, after my meticulous preparation, I had to settle for a very late substitute, Southern Area champion, Ben Murphy.
Ben seemed like a fighter who jumps on his opponents and goes all out to overwhelm them with punches. Consequently, (with no time to put it into practice) my plan was to use a classic ‘rope a dope’ tactic, and just allow him to let loose on me, whilst I used the ring, the ropes and a high tight guard to stay out of danger. We thought that by round four, Ben would be running ‘out of steam’, but he was still extremely active in the sixth.
I had no option but to change tactics and started to let my hands go and force him backwards. He started to weaken and become a little ragged. I turned up the volume and stayed in front of him. It made for explosive action, but I had it all to lose and time was running out. We were now in the home straight and he was visibly tiring, I now threw caution to the winds and started loading up combinations to head and body.
My fitness and strength, yes, strength, now started to come into play, and he wilted badly. I knew he was ahead on points, but I also knew (at long last) I had him. I got the late stoppage that I knew I could get. It was in retrospect a very risky tactic, but I never for a moment lost my self-belief. The aim was to go for the knock out win, and I succeeded.
Despite his all-out attack, and ‘no prisoners’ approach, mentally, I was still executing my plan. In no way was I expecting to have to wait until the 11th round, but the champion’s mentality was very much ‘alive and kicking’.
My tactics in my fights with Garcia, Rodriguez, Daws, Cook and Murphy have been spot on. Rodriguez appeared to have a stamina problem, so constant pressure was the key. Garcia is a solid counter puncher, so I boxed him and used movement. I fought Lenny at his own game, and out did him in the stamina department. Cook starts incredibly fast, but fades, so I was patient with him, and Murphy was Ali’s innovative 1974 ‘rope a dope’ tactic, and I brought it alive again in 2011.
Tactics are an integral and very important part of winning championship fights. On occasion, many will not understand what a fighter is doing in the ring, but as long as the fighter and his team know, that is all that matters. You must never be tempted to play to the gallery, but have ultimate faith in yourself and your team’s game plan.
Early next year will see me defend my British title for the third (and final) time, and a win will see me keep the Lonsdale belt forever. As a youngster, this was not on my agenda, but growing up in London and seeing the likes of Lloyd Honeyghan fight at domestic level for the Lonsdale belt, has made it a must for myself. We all need local role models.
I was fighting out of the USA, and ranked world number four, when I accepted the fight with Lenny for the British title. Moving back from New York has seen me slide down the world rankings since winning the title, but I’m British and it felt seriously important to me to be the champion of my home and country. When the Lonsdale belt was wrapped around my waist, nothing I had tasted before had felt so good and so pleasing. I promised myself I would win it for keeps, so I decided to take a year out of my world title ambitions to capture the belt, and we are well on target.
Plan your work and work your plan.
This Saturday night, WBA world champion, Andre Ward put on a master class performance in his Super Six final clash with WBC champion, Carl Froch.
Carl looked confused and bemused as he struggled to cope with Ward’s tactics, speed, skill, and all round ring general-ship.
For ten rounds Andre cruised through the fight. He was out-boxing, out-foxing and out-fighting Carl.
Carl had his two best rounds in the eleventh and twelfth rounds, but Andre had taken his foot off the pedal by then.
Andre is now the undisputed number one 168lb fighter in the world, and I would have him closing in on the ‘pound for pound’ top five; Floyd Mayweather Jr., Sergio Martinez and Manny Pacquiao are in the top three of the ‘pound for pound’ list but they are all well into their thirties. Andre Ward is only twenty seven and could be the future of boxing. He can fight, box and he has the much sort after, ‘X factor’. A fight with IBF king, Lucian Bute, may well be high on the agenda, but Lucian will have to eventually come out of Canada to make that fight happen. I believe both Froch and Ward would see off Bute, as he has enjoyed the comforts of home far too much, and I’m not sure he is as good as the ‘experts’ would have you believe.
Bernard Hopkins was in attendance of the Super Six final and I’m sure he would happily fight either man.
Both fighters have options and the right offer would encourage a move up to 175lbs, and would not be an issue for either of them. Tavoris Cloud, Chad Dawson and Jean Pascal would be mouth-watering fights for either of them.
Carl Froch vs Nathan Cleverly would be a great domestic dust up. If Nathan wants the big fights he will have to forget about hosting them in Britain, and ‘bite the bullet’ in going stateside, like Carl Froch and Amir Khan have done with much inherent risk but great credit.
Carl, in my eyes, is the best fighter to come out of Britain since Ricky Hatton. Carl has fought the best fighters in the world since becoming world champion, and has had the courage to fight them in their backyard. He has fought Jean Pascal, Jermaine Taylor, Arthur Abraham, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Glen Johnson and Andre Ward. I can’t remember a British fighter ever fighting that top class level of fighter on such a consistent and back to back basis.
Carl is definitely one of Britain’s most successful fighters ever – period. He deserves to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame when he eventually hangs up his gloves. I am not a natural Carl Froch fan, as we share differing fighting philosophies, but I respect and admire his courage and self-belief, and importantly what he has achieved. He is a real warrior.
Amir Khan lost rather controversially last weekend and has been doing the rounds on radio and TV stations around the UK.
Amir should have won, but as I mentioned earlier never underestimate the hungry hometown underdog. He was clearly the better boxer but perhaps Lamont Peterson wanted it more on the night and gave it his all.
Lamont has agreed to a rematch. Perhaps Amir, or/and his team had their eyes on stepping up and Mayweather. No one can afford to look beyond his opponent, even if he is a late replacement or an un-fancied underdog!
For a smart and articulate champion, he was starting to sound like a sore loser. He is clearly better than that. He continuously pushed Peterson, again and again, and the referee warned him loads of times.
Amir needs to move on and bounce back even bigger and better. Golden Boy Promotions can get him a rematch, and he can surely rectify the decision with his fists.
I lost a wafer thin decision to WBC 140lbs world number two, Danny Garcia in February 2010. Many boxing fans thought I won, and I still receive emails to this day saying I need to get a rematch with him, or that I should be fighting Erik Morales on January 28th instead of him. Bad decisions happen in all sports (and especially recently in boxing), but you just need to stay focused, and direct your anger into your next fight.
I picked up the IBO International title, beat world number three, Delvin Rodriguez, and picked up the British title, all within a year of being on the wrong end of a tough split decision against Danny Garcia.
Never get carried away with the expectations of others, as only you can answer for your performance.