IT WAS a relentless year, it really was, with so many fights and nights and miles and waits. The last boxing weekend of the year was no exception.
On Friday, I went to Errol Johnson’s show at the Hangar in Wolverhampton. It was freezing, snow on the floor, the venue thick with frozen breath and vape and dry ice; the ring was shrouded in a fog, much like a night at Wembley in the Seventies.
Errol came over, emerging from the smoke, shaking his head. “I had ten fights last week,” he said. “Now, I’ve got four.” That happens, the show must go on and it did.
I stood and watched and ignored my seat. Well, part of that was the traction – my feet were stuck to the Hangar floor. I like that in a venue.
The following night, 190-miles away, Errol was ringside for the Boxxer show in Bournemouth. The floor had some sticky parts there, by the way. Bournemouth was bitterly cold that night, but that venue, on Chris Billam-Smith nights, is a bit special. It was boiling by the time CBS walked across the stage and entered the ring. The sloping bank of fans came alive, moving like a giant blanket of 8,000 outstretched arms.
Spread over the two nights, there were two main event fighters, men from big television nights, returning in low-key fights on the bills; Brad Foster in Wolverhampton and Michael McKinson in Bournemouth. It was, in my mind, sensible decisions to return from defeats on shows where their rust, any lingering horrors from their recent losses and frustrations, could be buried by the anonymity of the night. They were both given the chance to ease their way back. It must be said that tumbling from the bright lights to a cameo at the Hangar in bleak winter or an early-evening walk-out fight in Bournemouth could rob the soul of its desire. McKinson and Foster had to be professional, and they were.
Both Foster and McKinson went through the motions, neither were particularly happy with their wins and I think they are being a bit harsh on themselves. The key to getting back to winning ways and titles is by getting back to winning ways. Nobody, trust me, is going to judge their futures on their rounds last weekend. Nobody.
In August, McKinson had lost to Vergil Ortiz Jnr, a man with such glowing hype and hope that I would not be surprised to find out that he can actually walk on water, and Foster had broken a hand losing to Ionut Baluta back in May. Both of their previous fights were live on television, and both were main events.
Foster got a good six rounds, and he fought like a man who needed a good six rounds. He won, obviously, all six without any drama. And he sold a few tickets to his Lichfield faithful. Foster, it is always good to remember, had his first fight when he made his professional debut; he won and defended the British super-bantamweight title three times. He is still only 25 and has only fought 19 times. He’s a boxing baby.
Foster just needed a win, a win at any weight. He got it over six solid rounds.
The next night, McKinson was far less content. However, he is the one that really needed the rounds and the win. His loss to Ortiz was his first defeat in 23 fights and the first is always a bad loss. Ortiz finally solved McKinson and stopped him in nine rounds, in Texas in the summer. Ortiz moved to 19 wins with 19 stoppages and left McKinson in an ugly place. The loss hurt and that is fine with me; nobody has to be a good loser. McKinson fights on confidence and backs his ability to be smarter and faster than the man in the opposite corner.
The arena was close to empty when McKinson was fighting. He looked angry at times and that just shows the fire is still raging in his belly. He wants more and will get more than an off-tv slot on any Saturday night; he needed the six rounds as badly as Foster needed them. He was third on the bill, no television cameras in his face, no real glory, but he had to win. He had to battle a bit of pride and just get it done. And, pride, by the way, can be a fearsome enemy for a boxer.
The action away from the ring on both nights was vintage; there were Gully Powar’s drummers in Wolverhampton and Jimmy First was converting neutrals in Bournemouth. The two both now have a flock – First is 41 and unbeaten and Powar is 20 and unbeaten. What a business we have. Powar was expected to win, First expects to win. Both are a breath of fresh air.
Also in Bournemouth, the Marvin Hagler tribute act, Dan Azeez, retained his British light-heavyweight title. There is a very good chance that Azeez and his very short velvet shorts will become an even bigger cult figure than he already is. I hope Dan never sticks a logo on those shorts and remains true to the Hagler format. He is a joy to watch and at times it looked like Rocky Fielding was enjoying the old-school action. I searched for a Hagler connection, hoping John Smith, helping in Fielding’s corner, had fought on a distant bill with somebody having a connection to Hagler. I had no joy.
The two anonymous wins might just have salvaged the careers of both Foster and McKinson. There will be bright lights in the future, but last weekend they were each scrapping in the shadows.