You don’t have to agree with – or understand – everything Tony Bellew says to appreciate that he knows what he’s talking about. The Scouser is a movie script waiting for a sequel, a cruiserweight world champion with David Haye’s heavyweight scalp hanging from his belly belt, but he also has wit and sensibility that marks him out from the herd with a microphone in his hand.
Bellew has grown into an articulate and entertaining ringside analyst for Sky and hit his stride again in Manchester on Saturday night, telling it like it is all through the card. He is not a salesman for his TV bosses.
After Jack Arnfield outpointed Brian Rose in what had been billed as the Battle of Blackpool between friendly rivals who had “tangled” at the weigh-in, he said: “I’ll be honest with you, I think these guys knew each other far too well. Basically, in my opinion, that was a sparring contest. They weren’t willing to put it all on the line. It was two friends having a spar.”
Then, after the main event in which the outstanding Venezuelan Jorge Linares retained the WBA lightweight title he took from Anthony Crolla last September with another world-class display, Bellew observed: “He came up against a fighter who was just that little bit better in each department. I’d like to have seen different tactics. I’d like to have seen him pressing from the off. When it’s all said and done, Linares is an exceptional fighter. He dictated it from start to finish.”
Neither opinion fitted the guts-and-glory template Sky were probably hoping for – and which they got before the start of the 10th round from visiting promoter Oscar De La Hoya after a Crolla resurgence: “Linares [Oscar’s man] is the champion, but he has his hands full. Crolla has a heart of gold. He’s coming back very strong. This fight is anybody’s. This is a very close fight.” All three judges had it for the champion 118-109.
Linares will move on now to chase down the WBC champion Mikey Garcia. Now that will be a close fight.
Joe Gallagher, who wanted to pull Crolla out at the end of the 11th round, will have to be honest with his fighter about the future. The odds on his returning to world level are long. Crolla thrives in rematches (Carl Allen, Gary Sykes, Darleys Perez), but not this time – and there will be no next time against Linares.
As Bellew described it beforehand, this was the “defining fight of Anthony Crolla’s career”. It is difficult to see how the result and the manner of defeat suggests there will be another such moment for one of the best British boxers of the past decade.
Nothing should be taken for granted in this game. Just under a year ago, Jason Welborn, fighting around 150lb, was not going anywhere special. Boxing down the card at the Banks Stadium in Walsall, he had lost by a point over six rounds to William Warburton, whose own busy career had garnered him 18 wins, 96 losses and eight draws in eight years; at Rhydcar Leisure Centre in Merthyr Tydfil on Saturday night, “Warby” lost for the 109th time, on points over four rounds to the undefeated novice JJ Evans.
On the Crolla undercard, Welborn moved up to 160lb, and was not expected to trouble the unbeaten 14-fight run of Joe Gallagher’s highly regarded middleweight, Marcus Morrison. He did. Spectacularly. Welborn had to get off the floor to win, threw hundreds of heavy punches and nearly stopped the raging favourite in the sixth. Screaming loudest for him was the emerging manager and promoter, Matthew Macklin, who had to go the full 10 rounds to beat Welborn in 2015. “He’s been in the trenches,” Macklin said of his fighter. “Morrison’s not really been in a fight yet”. He has now.
And Bellew was right when he said Gallagher should have saved Morrison for another day (perhaps guilt kicked in later during the Crolla fight). Bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth, Morrison could not find the one-punch power to turn the fight around and took an unnecessary beating over the closing rounds, which will have done little but bruise both his face and his confidence.
Welborn, meanwhile, is the new WBC International silver middleweight champion, a belt of fringe worth to more cosseted fighters. But, as the delighted 30-year-old battler said in a rare post-fight TV chat on the ring apron: “This is going to open doors now. I’m looking for bigger and better things. A few weeks off and I’ll be back in camp again.”
In the favelas of Rio – which were put in media aspic during the Olympics, unless you wanted to gawk through a tourist bus window – boxing is saving lives and building futures. It is not easy, nor is it guaranteed, but it is a way out of desperation, poverty and a life-threatening spiral into drug-pushing and addiction.
The boxing commentator Ron McIntosh is better known to those outside the sport for sticking with John Isner and Nicolas Mahut for the duration of their match at Wimbledon seven years ago which occupied three days and 11 hours and five minutes of actual playing time. It was Ron’s first tennis gig. He is still punching in his favoured sport and is a trustee of the charity Fight For Peace, “which uses boxing, martial arts and education to positively impact young people at risk of being affected by crime and violence”.
In that capacity, big Ron sent me a link about a documentary on gym life in the favelas of Rio. Madonna produced it – which ensured it got made – and it was worth the effort. Luke Dowdney, a former British boxer, tries to help Sugar and Douglas fulfil the sort of dreams followed by Crolla, Welborn, Morrison and – who knows? Perhaps even “Warby”.