The big September 18 card in Birmingham, England, promoted by Frank Warren and televised across the pond on Sky Box Office (their pay-per-view) has held up so far, and we're about six weeks out. Knock on wood.
This is a show that I and I suspect many other diehard American fans would have gladly paid to see carried on a Saturday afternoon pay-per-view in the United States, and I wish like hell that Integrated Sports had gotten involved, as they have in the past, and gotten a feed of the show to broadcast to American viewers on PPV. From top to bottom, you have good fights and good prospects on this card. It's a real stunner on paper for those who follow the U.K. boxing scene at all. I keep hoping it's not too late for Integrated to get the show in the U.S., but it probably is.
Here's a rundown of the card for those who have yet to get wind of this big event.
Nathan Cleverly (19-0, 9 KO) v. Karo Murat (22-0, 13 KO)
Cleverly has already held the domestic belts at 175, as well as the European light heavyweight crown. Now he and Murat will go toe-to-toe in a WBO eliminator, for the belt currently held by German bad boy Juergen Braehmer, a fighter I'd favor either of these guys against as it stands now.
Cleverly has shown a ton of talent in his young career, and at 23 could be ready to blossom into one of the premier fighters at 175 pounds. But don't count out Murat, either. The 26-year-old German has beaten several veterans, as has Cleverly. Cleverly will have a big height advantage, as the Welshman is around 6'3", while Murat is billed at 5'10 1/2". I currently have both of these guys ranked in the top ten at 175, a division that is right in the middle of a youth infiltration, as we can hope middleweight will soon feel.
European and British Middleweight Titles
Darren Barker (22-0, 14 KO) v. Matthew Macklin (26-2, 18 KO)
Britain's two best middleweights collide in the fight that may well be the most highly-anticipated of the show. These two had an agreement to fight before, but Macklin pulled out because he got an opportunity to fight for the European title against Amin Asikainen. Macklin shockingly stopped Asikainen in just 2:34. The 28-year-old Birmingham native has been out of the ring since a fight last December against Rafa Sosa Pintos, a dominant 10-round points win.
Barker, also 28, has been beating solid domestic competition since 2007. In his last fight against France's Affif Belgecham, though, he struggled some with the relentless pressure of the undersized underdog. He did escape with a hard-fought and hard-earned victory, as well as the vacant European title that Macklin had given up.
British Welterweight Title
Kell Brook (21-0, 14 KO) v. Michael Jennings (36-2, 17 KO)
This fight is long overdue, and to be totally honest my interest in it has waned as Brook, 24, has gotten better and turned into one of the top welterweights in the world (it's a weak weight class past the Big Two), while veteran Jennings has...not. There was a time where this was a very good prospect-against-veteran matchup, but I think that time has passed. Expect the young Brook to essentially have his way with Jennings, who is a game guy but not in Brook's league in terms of talent. Jennings, 32, has not fought since last October, and hasn't really faced a live body since being thrashed by Miguel Cotto in February 2009. If you eliminate Shane Mosley, as Mosley is about to go up to junior middleweight again, I'd say Kell Brook is the No. 5 welterweight in the world right now.
European Junior MIddleweight Title
Ryan Rhodes (44-4, 30 KO) v. Lukas Konecny (44-3, 21 KO)
Rhodes has been in line for a shot at the WBC belt for a good while now, but with that belt vacant, the WBC of course chose to put it up for grabs between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito. I mean, of course! It makes all the sense in the world! Rhodes, who won the British title in 1997 and lost a couple of shots at world-recognized belts (or interim belts of that kind) at middleweight, has had an incredible career comeback since a loss to Gary Lockett in 2006. He won the British 154-pound title again in 2008, beating Gary Woolcombe, and last year knocked off Jamie Moore in an absolute thriller of a battle to win the European title. He's currently riding a nine-fight win streak, with all but two of those wins coming inside the scheduled distance. The 32-year-old Konecny, a Czech fighter, is a better challenger than Luca Messi was in Rhodes' last fight. Konency has won eight straight, though largely over soft competition, since a 2008 loss to Sergiy Dzinziruk. Rhodes will be the heavy favorite in this one, and hopefully soon he'll get his actual due and get to face a true world-class fighter. He's earned the right.
European Cruiserweight Title
Enzo Maccarinelli (32-4, 25 KO) v. Alexander Frenkel (22-0, 17 KO)
After "Macca" was smoked in three rounds by Denis Lebedev in July 2009, it looked for all the world as if he were finished as a fighter. But he came back, taking an easy KO-1 win over a tomato can, followed by a TKO-1 over another easy mark. He was then matched with Alexander Kotolbay for the vacant European crown in a fight I suspect most of us thought Maccarinelli would again lose. His chin has never held up well to power, and while Kotolbay is certainly no prime Herbie Hide, he can punch a little. But Maccarinelli never let it get there, winning his third straight fight in the first round (2:15 to be precise) with an overwhelming offensive attack.
Now he gets Frenkel as his first challenger, and all bets are off. One thing you can honestly say about an Enzo Maccarinelli fight is that it's never boring. Someone's probably getting knocked out at this point in his career. He's got heavy hands and can really bang, and if the other guy can stand up to him, shots are going to come back. Frenkel can punch, though even he failed to stop iron-chinned American veteran Michael Simms in his last fight, winning a UD-8 in March. (Simms, though he's lost 13 times as a pro, has never been stopped.) This is a fight that could last a minute, or 10 rounds, or five rounds, or who knows? But I'm guessing someone goes down pretty hard to end it.
British Heavyweight Title - Rematch
Derek Chisora (13-0, 8 KO) v. Sam Sexton (13-1, 6 KO)
These two have already fought once, with Chisora winning a TKO-6 in 2008. Both have improved since then. In his last bout, Zimbabwe-born Chisora, 26, savaged what little was left of Danny Williams to win the British title. Sexton, also 26, has shot up the domestic ranks thanks to a pair of wins over popular brawler Martin Rogan. I'm not going to try to convince you that you'll see heavyweights that remind you of Holyfield and Bowe here, but these guys do come to fight, and I'm expect it to be a hard-hitting bout.
James DeGale (7-0, 5 KO) v. Carl Dilks (14-2, 5 KO)
Not really much of a step up for DeGale, as Dilks is your standard step of the ladder opponent like Sam Horton was, but this is an eliminator for the British super middleweight belt. DeGale is probably even cockier than he is talented, and has been embroiled in a war of words with fellow 168-pound prospect George Groves for a while. I'd say the jury is out on who the better prospect is, but they both have their strengths.
Irish Junior Welterweight Title
Frankie Gavin (7-0, 6 KO) v. Michael Kelly (8-1-1, 2 KO)
Well, Kelly's Irish, anyway. "Funtime" is another of Warren's top prospects, and while I wouldn't say he's the best of them, he is my favorite to watch of the bunch. This is a step up on paper only, as Gavin likely could have beaten Kelly in his first professional fight. Kelly is 1-1-1 in his last three, and lost his last bout at lightweight to Buzz Grant by virtual shutout over ten rounds.
Also in action will be super flyweight Don Broadhurst (11-1, 3 KO), coming off of the first loss of his career to Lee Haskins. He'll be fighting for the English belt at 115, but there are so few credible fighters that small over there that I wouldn't expect much by way of opponent.
This card absolutely blows the same day's Golden Boy PPV out of the water, and really if all goes well, this will probably be the best major card of 2010.