British 154lb division is hotting up
Why light-middleweight is the hottest division in the UK
By Michael J. Jones
THIS YEAR should be huge for UK boxing. We have good fighters in every division; several of which are genuine world class, yet one division stands aloft as the one with the deepest talent; our light-middleweights. Looking down at our 154 lb ratings, we have one world-level fighter, eight or nine good domestic fighters, several top prospects and many others who are a win or two away from the upper-echelon of the division.
Sitting pretty at the top of the list is veteran southpaw Ryan Rhodes. Even at 35-years-old, the well-preserved Rhodes could feature in big fights for another couple of years to come. The former British, Commonwealth and European champion lost to dynamic WBC champion Saul Alvarez last June via twelfth-round stoppage in Mexico. It was the Sheffield puncher’s first loss in five years and his first at the light-middleweight limit. Rhodes had waited for his title shot for over a year but found the undefeated Mexican sensation too tenacious, being floored in the fourth before the referee’s intervention in the last.
Brendan Ingle-trained Rhodes, who turned pro in 1995, is scheduled to face dangerous Belarusian Sergey Rabchenko on March 24 for his old European crown. Rabchenko is ten years younger than switch-hitting Ryan and a dangerous puncher, scoring stoppages in thirteen of his last fourteen contests (albeit at a much-lower level). Rhodes, now 46-5 (31), may be destined to regain his old title in his hometown of Sheffield before challenging for another world title later in the year. Unless he grows old overnight, expect Ryan to be too experienced and awkward for the strong, but one-dimensional, Rabchenko.
Firmly in second place is newly-crowned British champion Brian Rose. Blackpool’s Rose caused something of a shock last December when dethroning in-form champion Prince Aaron by deserved split decision (Rose seemed a wide winner). Six-foot Rose has put behind him a horrific knock-out loss to tough warhorse Max Maxwell 18 months ago. That fight saw Rose, now 18-1 (5), edging a close fight before being pole-axed by one massive right hand by Maxwell, not considered a puncher before that stunning victory.
Against Aaron though, Rose boxed beautifully. His tactics were spot-on; staying on the outside and countering neatly against the taller defending champion. Aaron, two years the younger man at 24-years-old, was on a long unbeaten run going into the twelve rounder, yet couldn’t build any kind of rhythm against the Bobby Rimmer-trained challenger. Aaron had demolished previous champion Sam Webb the previous May to lift the domestic title and was expected to retain without much trouble against the Blackpool fighter. Rose is scheduled to defend his new belt against an opponent to be named in hometown of Blackpool at the end of March. Brian has expressed his desire to defend as soon as possible against old foe Maxwell, who had been previously linked to an English title fight with Mark Lloyd (unlikely now as two other fighters are scheduled to contest the vacant belt later this month).
Prince Aaron may also put the Rose loss behind him and come right back into the fray this year; he was looking like a European-level fighter before the Rose reverse.
Also a champion at this weight is Commonwealth boss Jamie Cox. The 25-year-old former ABA light-welterweight champion won the title under controversial circumstances last September over co-challenger Obadai Sai. Cox suffered cuts above both eyes and was also deducted two points for low blows, yet won a unanimous decision over his strong Ghanaian foe (who many saw winning without the deductions). The fight left a bitter taste in ones mouth as Cox landed countless shots below the belt; many observers suggesting the Swindon southpaw should have been thrown out many rounds before the baffling scorecards were even read out. Southpaw Cox is 16-0 (9) and providing his cuts heal, (and learns from by-far his toughest test to date), may yet grow into a fine champion. A duel title showdown with Rose or a rematch with Sai would show us where the former amateur star is headed.
Causing a stir with hardened boxing connoisseurs at the moment is Middlesex’ Steve O’ Meara. The 28-year-old former Prizefighter runner-up looked to be going nowhere fast a year ago when losing a six-round decision to unbeaten scouse prospect Joe Selkirk. However O’ Meara seems to have found a dig to accompany his silky skills. Challenging for the Southern Area title last September against unbeaten Ryan Toms, (supposed none-puncher) O’ Meara impressively tore up the script by knocking Toms spark out at the end of the first round. Steve has followed up that great win with another first round stoppage, crushing Nathan Weise in just 51 seconds. O’ Meara is one to watch in 2012 and is now 15-2 (4). Selkirk could also be a force if he were to campaign permanently at the lower weight (Joe is 6ft 1in and has also fought at middleweight).
The British light-middleweight rankings also have some great young fighters coming through. Welshman Tom Doran is a former four-time Welsh ABA champion and 10-0 (3) as a pro. He takes on Sheffield banger Jez Wilson in an eliminator for the British title in early February (Scott Quigg-Jamie Arthur bill). Doran has been on the sidelines since his last contest seven months ago due to a hand injury. Twenty-four year-old Doran stopped Max Maxwell in one round last May, though the result flatters the Welshman a little. Dropped by a right in the opening moments, Tom was rocked again later in the round before blazing back to bring a questionable stoppage by referee Howard Foster. However, the talented and fast-handed Doran will be strongly in the mix if he can beat Wilson, 8-1-1 (5).
Other prospects worth keeping an eye on are Liam Smith, 8-0-1 (4), Erick Ochieng, 8-1 (2), Nick Quigley and Peter Vaughan. The latter two impressed in last year’s Prizefighter, won by Robert Lloyd Taylor (who is also in the mix at 31 after a stop-start career). Ochieng and Quigley clash in a tasty-looking ten rounder for the vacant English belt.
Bringing up the rear in this fine line-up are veterans Matthew Hall, Bradley Pryce and Max Maxwell. Former commonwealth boss Hall (who holds a stoppage victory over Pryce), looked finished after losing a comeback fight last October to unknown Bulgarian Alexey Ribchev in Manchester. Just a month later though, big-punching Hall was tearing Kris Carslaw’s unbeaten record to pieces in Scotland. Stocky Hall, trained by Anthony Farnell, looked better than ever against Carslaw, 14-0 (3) coming in. Using intelligent pressure, good head-movement and showing far superior physical strength, 27-year-old Hall romped home by a ten-round unanimous verdict. If he can maintain the drive of that fight, Hall could still be a formidable opponent for anyone in the division not-called Ryan Rhodes.
Long-time contender Pryce could also feature in a title fight or two before he reaches the climax of his long career. Despite being only 30-years-old, “SugarSweet” is second to only Rhodes in fight experience. Pryce, now 32-10 (18), is still capable of springing an upset if the chance came to him. Last May the Welshman became the only man ever to take Hatton prospect (and future Rhodes foe) Sergey Rabchenko the full twelve-round distance. The fight was close for the first six rounds before the power-punching Belarusian pulled-away down the stretch. Pryce came back to outpoint Danny Butler at middleweight but is still able to get down to his favourite weight where he reigned as Commonwealth champion a couple of years ago.
Max Maxwell, 15-10-3 (3), may have the most misleading record in UK boxing. Maxwell, 32-years-old, is a tough pressure fighter with a decent dig (as Brian Rose will attest). He has beaten Rose, fought Prince Aaron twice (a draw and a loss) and came within a whisker of upsetting Doran. Maxwell, who has fought each of the last three British title-holders at the weight, also pushed Sam Webb close and fought a draw with Jez Wilson. If a rematch with Rose was made, don’t rule out the Birmingham-based Jamaican pulling off another upset. Some fighters mentally never get over the memory of a bad stoppage loss and only time will tell if Rose has erased the memory of his lone defeat.
This year should be very interesting for our light-middleweights, expect more drama and exciting match-ups between the fighters mentioned above. Brian Rose will have done very well to remain as British champion through this year with the long list of hungry contenders, prospects and veterans all baying for their shot. Few could predict who will come out on-top once the smoke clears between our finest at 154 lbs, but it’ll be fun seeing how it unfolds this year.
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