Dave Oakes previews Friday's Commonwealth super-featherweight title fight between Liam Walsh and Paul Appleby.
This Friday’s Commonwealth title clash between Liam Walsh and Paul Appleby may be the start of something special, not in terms of their prospective careers but in terms of the future of British boxing and how it’s televised.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, welcome to the TV arena, BoxNation. This new channel, found at 456 on Sky, is the first sports channel to be exclusively dedicated to boxing (well, with a bit of MMA as well). This could landmark moment in how boxing is broadcast. It could be successful and provide the blueprint for other networks in other countries to follow, or it could be a complete and utter failure which may well result in the internet becoming the main provider of live action in the future.
ITV have pulled out of boxing, Sky is seemingly losing interest and the BBC is a joke, and whilst Five have dabbled recently, they don’t seem likely to become major players. This may be the last hurrah as far as televised boxing is concerned.
The early signs for BoxNation are encouraging; there are deals in place with Frank Warren and Sauerland Events and rumours of other interesting developments, including the return of Steve Bunce’s Boxing Hour - a fan’s favourite that disappeared when Setanta sank.
A lot of people are comparing the emergence of BoxNation with Setanta; the major difference for me is that Setanta spent ridiculous sums of money securing rights to various football competitions. BoxNation seems to be far more in control of their expenditures – the billion pound football business being a world away from boxing helps in that regard.
The main obstacle BoxNation has is securing enough subscribers to make it a financially viable business, which is similar to Setanta, but BoxNation will require far fewer subscribers to cover their outgoings compared to what Setanta needed. Boxing is very popular in the U.K but whether it’s popular enough for a decent amount of people to subscribe (it’s free at the minute, £10 a month by the years end) remains to be seen.
As a boxing fanatic, it’s fair to say I’m extremely excited about the prospect of BoxNation, I think I can speak for all fight fans when I say that if they can get the formula correct, this could be a very good thing for us. The key to gaining subscribers will be competitive match-ups, plenty of live shows, plenty of delayed showings of fights from overseas (Japanese fights would be a welcome addition) as well as documentaries, Buncey’s Boxing Hour and other shows that would be cheap to make but popular with fans – Phone-ins, Quizzes, Top 10’s of various boxing related things, Classic Fights, a news programme twice a week, plenty of interviews and behind the scenes access to fighters and trainers - the possibilities are endless. Can you tell I’m excited yet?
Anyway, I’ve been sidetracked slightly. I better talk about the Walsh v Appleby fight.
This is an intriguing match-up, the up-and-coming Walsh meeting the former hot prospect who is trying to get his career back on the tracks after a series of below par performances.
Appleby, 17-2 (11), is a year younger than Walsh but has had a harder career. He won the British title when he was 20, beating John Simpson in just his twelfth outing. The fight was a toe-to-toe affair, Appleby edging a close decision. A successful defence against Esham Pickering followed. It was his second defence against Martin Lindsay that started the downturn in fortune for the South Queensferry man. Lindsay, the underdog, produced a sterling performance to stop Appleby in the sixth round of a thrilling contest. In his only competitively matched fight since then he was beat up and outpointed by Joseph Laryea, who was subsequently pummelled to submission by Ricky Burns.
In Walsh, 11-0 (8), Appleby faces a young, unbeaten, hard-hitting champion. The Cromer fighter has emerged as one of the better prospects in British boxing; he’s been matched carefully in his short career but looks to have the talent to make a major impact.
Walsh won the title in what was the toughest fight of his career – a points victory over the unheralded Maxwell Awuku. The Ghanaian (the ‘new Azumah Nelson’ – obviously!) gave Walsh a hard night, landing some heavy shots in the sixth and seventh rounds. It was Walsh who prevailed though, showing a solid chin and good spirit to comeback and regain control late on. I remember remarking during the bout that it was a perfect learning fight for Walsh - one that should stand him in good stead this Friday.
Appleby is the more experienced fighter, and he knows this may be his last chance to revive a stalling career. It’s hard to imagine Appleby not being fired up for this fight, which could prove to be his downfall. He’s shown in the past he likes to get involved in a tear-up, he’s also shown he can be easy to hit and can be hurt.
If Appleby boxes with controlled aggression he’s got a chance, if he opens up early and elects to trade with Walsh then there will only be one winner. Walsh is unquestionably the puncher in the fight; he carries respectable power in either hand and looks to be a wicked body puncher when he switches down.
The bookmakers have got the fight fairly close, obviously taking into account Appleby’s impressive ascent to British champion so early in his career. It remains to be seen whether Appleby can reproduce that form, personally, I have my doubts. Walsh is the sensible pick here; he’s the fresher fighter and carries the speed, accuracy and punch power to get the job done inside eight rounds.