Top 10 British Super-Middleweights (Part 2)

Scott Heavey

5. Richie Woodhall 26-3 (16)

Unofficially the nicest man in boxing, Woodhall was a stellar amateur who won an Olympic bronze in Seoul, losing to Roy Jones Jnr in the semis. He turned pro shortly after winning Commonwealth gold in 1990 and quickly won the Commonwealth title at middleweight. He added the European title before taking on Keith Holmes for the world crown.

Having fallen short against Holmes, being stopped in the twelfth round after a brave effort fighting with an elbow injury that almost ended his career, Woodhall moved up to the super-middleweight division.

In early 1998, Woodhall had home advantage against WBC champion and recent Robin Reid conqueror Thulani Malinga. With the Telford Ice Rink packed to capacity (plus a few hundred more who had sneaked into the venue via cash in hand, hiding behind a mate with a ticket or blatantly just walking in), Woodhall was roared onto victory by an incredibly loud crowd. He controlled the fight with his textbook jab and picked Malinga off with frequent straight-rights - the style he had as an amateur tweaked ever so slightly for the professional game.

He successfully defended the title twice, gaining a majority decision against Glenn Catley and getting off the canvas to drop and stop former champion Vincenzo Nardiello. He lost the title in unfortunate circumstances; he’d been out of the ring for eight months and had been in a long legal battle with his promoter, Frank warren, before he agreed to take on Markus Beyer in Germany.

It was surprising that the champion agreed to fight an undefeated, up-and-coming fighter away from home, but by that point one sensed Woodhall was desperate to get back into the ring. Woodhall made a slow start, getting dropped in the first and twice in the third. He eventually got himself back into the contest, outboxing Beyer from the fifth onwards and rocking him late on. In the end the judges could’ve gone either way, which is remarkable given the poor start Woodhall had.

Woodhall had a rematch with Beyer scuppered by Glen Catley, who stopped the German in the final round of their title bout. It wasn’t seen as too much of a problem as there was enough interest in a rematch with Catley for that to be made, unfortunately for Woodhall, Catley was beaten in his first defence by Dingaan Thobela.

With the chance of a fight for his old WBC belt looking unlikely, IBF champion Sven Ottke was targeted, although it soon became clear that wasn’t going to happen. In late 2000 Woodhall faced his friend and WBO champion Joe Calzaghe. Woodhall was competitive early but seemed to run out of steam as the fight wore on, the non-stop punching of Calzaghe wearing down Woodhall, who was dropped in the ninth before being stopped on his feet in the tenth.

He retired after the fight and has gone on to become a much respected commentator, analyst and trainer.

4. Chris Eubank 45-5-2 (KO 23)

A two weight world champion, the eccentric Eubank was looked upon as a pantomime-esque villain in the early part of his career, yet was much loved by the time his career came to an end.

Having won the WBO middleweight title against Nigel Benn, his arch rival, and defended it three times, Eubank moved up a division for a rematch with Michael Watson, who Eubank had beaten via a majority decision in his last bout at middleweight.

Eubank produced a remarkable comeback after being thoroughly outboxed by Watson early on. He was way behind on the cards when he unleashed a brutal right hand at the end of the eleventh round that sent Watson crashing to the canvas, Watson got to his feet but was quickly halted at the start of the twelfth and final round. Watson collapsed seconds after the fight was stopped and suffered serious injuries that took him many years to overcome. It’s safe to say that if Watson hadn’t suffered those injuries, he would’ve undoubtedly become a world champion and would be very high up on this list.

Eubank made fourteen successful defences of the WBO belt he won against Watson, most notably against Ray Close twice, Graciano Rocchigiani in Germany, Henry Wharton and a disputed draw against Benn. He lost his title against Steve Collins and then failed to regain it in the rematch before losing against Joe Calzaghe in his final fight at super-middleweight.

The losses to Collins and Calzaghe changed people’s perspective of Eubank; the once cocky showman demonstrated humility in defeat and won over many of the fans who had loved to hate him. He finished his career with two impressive attempts at Carl Thompson’s cruiserweight title, failing narrowly both times.

3. Nigel Benn 42-5-1 (KO 35)

One of the most vicious, brutal and entertaining boxers there’s ever been. With the moniker ‘The Dark Destroyer’, his wild eyed stare, snazzy dress wear and street thug image, Benn was a press man’s dream. For many, the Benn-Eubank rivalry of the 90’s is the golden era of British boxing, and you were one or the other, you couldn’t like both, it simply wasn’t allowed.

Having lost his WBO middleweight title to his arch rival, Benn moved up to 168lbs and claimed the WBC title in 1992 after cuts brought his fight with Mauro Galvano to a premature finish. He made nine successful defences over the next three years, starting with a hammering of Nicky Piper in his first defence, and including a controversial draw with Eubank - the majority of fans believing he’d done enough to win.

His most impressive performance was also the saddest night of his career. Gerald McClellan came to Britain with a reputation similar to Benn’s – a kid from the street, vicious, brutal and one of the most dangerous punchers in world boxing. The fight was shockingly violent. When Benn was sent sprawling through the ropes in the first round it looked like the fight was over, he somehow managed to get to his feet and back into the ring and began one of the most remarkable fight backs of all-time.

The action went back and forth, both fighters landing hard, hurtful shots. Benn was dropped again in the eighth yet came back to hurt McClellan in the following round. As the fight went into the ninth and tenth rounds Benn started to takeover the fight, with a visibly tiring McClellan beginning to wilt. When McClellan dropped to his knees for a second time in the 10th round, there was a feeling that Benn had broken his will, Jim Watt commentating said McClellan had quit, the truth was far worse, as one of the most disturbing events in boxing unfolded before everyone’s eyes.

McClellan suffered life threatening injuries. Battling back bravely from a blood clot on his brain, he has spent the rest of his blind, in a wheelchair and suffering from memory loss. A tragic reminder of how dangerous boxing is.

Benn was never the same fighter after that night, he clearly struggled to find peace with himself for what had happened. He struggled outside the ring as well as in it, losing the last three fights of his career, twice against Steve Collins. He turned to God after retiring and is now a minister and a devoted family man.

2. Carl Froch 30-2 (KO 22)

You can call his style crude, you can call him overly cocky, but one thing you can’t criticise is his ‘take on anyone’ attitude. His willingness to face the best opponents, whether it is at home or abroad, is what has made Froch great. Whilst he may not be as technically gifted as some of the other boxers in this list, he more than makes up for it with his heart, chin, punching power and come forward aggression.

He first won the WBC title in 2008, beating Jean Pascal on points in an exciting fight in Nottingham. He made his first defence on the road with a come from behind last round knockout of Jermain Taylor. He lost the title to Mikkel Kessler two fights later in a toe to toe war in Denmark; they meet again this Saturday’s in what is one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches of recent times.

If he was to conquer Kessler on Saturday, he will add the Dane’s WBA title to the IBF belt he won when clobbering Lucian Bute to submission last year. A victory would also put him line to rematch Andre Ward, the only other fighter to have defeated him.

1. Joe Calzaghe 46-0 (KO 32)

Arguably the best super-middleweight of all-time, the Welsh southpaw blasted his way through domestic opponents before taking on the far more experienced Chris Eubank for the vacant WBO belt in October 1997. After scoring a surprise knockdown in the first thirty seconds, Calzaghe subsequently outboxed Eubank for the majority of the rounds thereafter to record a comfortable points victory and claim his first world title.

Calzaghe went on to defend the WBO belt twenty-one times over a ten year period of divisional dominance before finishing his career off at light-heavyweight with wins over Bernard Hopkins and a faded Roy Jones.

He also won the IBF, WBA and WBC titles when defeating Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler - two fights which were the standout performances of his career. The much hyped Lacy was the IBF champion and the betting favourite going into the bout but ended up on the receiving end of one of the most one-sided, unrelenting beatings a champion has ever suffered.

Calzaghe’s out-pointing of the then unbeaten Kessler was the fight which cemented his legacy. The younger, fresher, big-punching Dane was always competitive but never fully got to grips with Calzaghe’s quick rat-a-tat-tat flurries and fleet footwork. Kessler’s subsequent performances have made the victory look even better, with the Viking warrior only suffering one other defeat, against the phenomenally talented Andre Ward – a fighter with the ability to surmount Calzaghe to become the best 168lber of all-time.

e-mail Dave Oakes

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