A little understanding

11 August 2008 – by Mark Doyle

Whether or not a particular fighter is ‘over-protected’ is always a topic of much debate within the boxing media – and particularly amongst fight fans.

In a post-fight audio interview with Paul McCloskey that we featured on the site after his recent win over Nigel Woods, I asked the Dungiven native what he made of the fact that Ring Magazine, ‘The Bible of Boxing’, had labelled him the most ‘overprotected’ fighter in the light-welterweight division.

Unsurprisingly, McCloskey was more than a little baffled by this most unwanted title – and probably with good cause.

However, I don’t really want to get into McCloskey’s case in particular – but rather the careful ‘management’ of fighters by their promoters and trainers and the criticism which often comes with such an approach.

I remember speaking to Matthew Macklin before his clash with Yori Boy Campas in Dublin earlier this year and he brought up the stop-start nature of his career.

He admitted that injuries and weight struggles had played their part. However, the current Irish middleweight champion also suggested that he should not have been put in a ten-rounder against an opponent as tough as Andrew Facey at the tender age of 21.

It had not, in his opinion, been a good career move; it was too hard a fight, too soon, and proved detrimental to his development as a fighter.

There is a lesson in there. Fighters, as we are so often told, only have so many fights in them. It is a particularly hazardous career, one unlike any other, and the goal for most fighters is to not only win titles but also make as much money as they possibly can before they retire – hopefully enough to look after themselves and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

Now, I’m not defending fighters who continually duck top-level opponents, or promoters who won’t even consider putting their man in with a dangerous opponent.

But I do think more understanding is required when it comes to evaluating whether a fighter is ‘overprotected’ or not.

When a fighter displays real potential at a young age or in the early part of their career we often expect them to be fighting for world titles in no time at all.

How else do you explain McCloskey and Brian Peters having to field questions from the media concerning world title shots in the press conference which followed the former’s win over Cesar Bazan earlier this year?

It was a mightily impressive win, yes, but Bazan was clearly a fight with little left to offer and some perspective was clearly required. Indeed, while McCloskey is a fine fighter and a champion in the making, why would any right-thinking promoter, let alone one as capable and intelligent as Peters, try to get him a world-title shot before first going after a British or European title first?

Fighters need time to develop, to hone their skills – they should not be rushed.

The best example of this is Amir Khan, who, before his fight with Michael Gomez in May, was talking confidently of a securing a world title fight by the end of the year.

After being dumped on his backside during an erratic – if exciting – fifth-round stoppage of ‘The Irish Mexican’, those plans have been shelved by his promoter, Frank Warren – and with good reason.

Does Warren really want to put his protege in with one of the top men in arguably the toughest division out there right now?

Khan is undoubtedly the future of British boxing, Warren’s most valuable asset, so why jeopardise his future by risking a knockout defeat from which he might never recover?

As Khan’s case underlines, even the most talented of fighters needs to be carefully nutured.

Yes, we should kick up a fuss when a top fighter is put in with a bum – it is our perogative to turning down tickets or change the channel – but every fight should be put in context.

Young fighters need fights – and, by consequence, they will be often pitted against low-level opponents to aid their development. Experience is not a buzz word – it is a precious commodity in every sport, but particularly boxing.

We all want to see great fights between evenly-matched boxers but we have to be patient with emerging talents. It is ridiculous to expect fighters to be pitched against world-class talents before they are ready.

Reaching the summit of professional boxing is a precarious challenge and very few actually make it. We should hardly admonish a fighter, then, for taking his time and watching his step as he climbs.

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