In all its purity, there was something undeniably beautiful about Dave Allen’s win against former WBA secondary heavyweight champion Lucas Browne on Saturday night. Beautiful brutality, if you will, as the self-titled “Doncaster De La Hoya” delivered a crippling left hook to the liver of “Big Daddy” in the third round of Saturday night’s heavyweight contest.
In the melee of the current heavyweight circus — involving dodging, drugging and differing TV deals — Allen’s personable, affable, and honest charm outside the ring allowed those inside London’s O2 to switch off from the bigger boxing picture, and hone in on the desires of one of British boxing’s darlings.
It was an odd atmosphere ringside. Following on from a 10-round snooze-fest between fellow heavyweights Dereck Chisora and Senad Gashi, there was a feeling that this fight — nominated to headline the card following a campaign fronted by iFLTV’s Kugan Cassius — had to deliver. However, unlike any atmosphere I’ve experienced before in the sport, there was an unmistakable, overwhelming feeling of nerves amongst the media, staff, fans and fellow fighters sat just metres from the ring.
Make no mistake: Allen’s candidness outside the ring over the past few years has facilitated his chance to headline the UK’s principal arena. His honesty, accessibility and bravery in tackling some of the sport’s toughest topics have earned him the title of People’s Champion in Britain, and despite his shortcomings in the ring, Allen continues to be given chances on the biggest of stages in an attempt to squeeze as much out of his career as possible.
His appeal to promoter Eddie Hearn is two-fold. Their relationship as fighter and promoter is one of loyalty, trust and even friendship, but Hearn is savvy in his approach to using Allen’s appeal to boost figures on struggling cards. “The White Rhino” has proved to be a fantastic ticket seller, with his inclusion on six pay-per-view shows punctuating his worth to Matchroom Boxing, with the unavoidable caveat of previously failing to make any real strides in the heavyweight division.
As the staple musical diet of House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes and, of course, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” reverberated around the O2 Arena, a chasm of emotions was on display from contrasting segments of the floor. Deep breaths, short prayers, glances to the ceiling were all witnessed, as Allen made his entrance to the emotionally fitting “Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy. An odd choice of walk-on music, but one that Allen has used before; underlining the uniqueness of the 27-year-old as well as emphasising the emotive nature of the upcoming bout.
Allen was greeted to the roar of 8,000 fans as he entered the ring, with the Doncastian’s first port of call a respectful fist-bump to Browne as he sauntered over to the away corner, just before MC David Diamante started proceedings. The logo of the mental health charity Mind was embroidered proudly on the shorts of Allen, where most fighters would choose a nickname or other self-aggrandizing text. Echoes of “Walking in an Allen wonderland” began swarming around the Arena like a Mexican wave of solidarity for the home fighter, with a final jostle for position of those ringside to make sure they could savour whatever this heavyweight contest had to offer. Let’s be honest, nobody had a clue how it would unfold.
Allen looked sloppy in the opening exchanges. Browne’s stiff jab was finding the target far too often, with Allen walking onto shots with a distinct lack of head movement. A couple of low-punches from the “White Rhino” were shaken off by Browne, as the Australian began to find his feet and rhythm.
There were early warning signs for Allen. In his defeats to Yoka, Whyte, Ortiz and Thomas, a willingness to walk through punishment and prove his iron chin has raised huge concerns for his long-term health in the sport, with a lack of notable defence forcing winces and gasps from crowds up and down the country; there was an concern that this could be another long and painful night for Allen.
The fighters came out for the third round after six minutes of fairly comfortable Browne pressure, and in a blink of an eye, Allen secured his moment in the sun. A stiff left jab to the head opened up the chance for Browne to throw a counter right hook, to which Allen rolled, following with a thunderous left hook to the tattooed body of the Australian.
A second of hesitation followed with Browne clearly hurt, eventually sinking to his knees as Allen retreated to the neutral corner. “Five, six” was bellowed by referee Marcus McDonnell in the ears of the wounded Browne, with an expectation he would recover. “Seven, eight”, as a pumped-up Allen screamed at his opponent willing him to rise to his feet. “Nine, ten”, and that was all she wrote.
Typically stoic members of the media, friend and family, promoters, security and noticeably Darren Barker — Allen’s trainer for this camp — jumped in the air in unison, reminiscent of Rocky Balboa at the top of the Art Museum Steps, with unbridled joy, as much as relief, sweeping through the Arena.
It was a special moment for Allen. Plagued with the tag of being “just a nice guy who loses all his fights,” his moment in the East London sun came against a former heavyweight world champion in a fight he headlined; nothing can take that away from the Yorkshireman. A dissection of what version of Browne that Allen beat on Saturday night can be saved for another day; it was a signature win for Allen, against a guy that had previously only lost once to Dillian Whyte.
Neutrality is beneficial in a sport as dangerous as boxing. Keeping an objective head in the heat of fight night allows an overriding of bias and clarity of thought during the most adrenaline-fulled events. Allen won’t go on to win a heavyweight world title, heck, he might go on to lose his next fight (rumoured to be a domestic clash against David Price on Dillian Whyte’s July 20th pay-per-view show), but he has succeeded in the rarest of all feats: winning the hearts of almost everyone that has come into contact with him.
”I’m the most famous man in Doncaster for a week, it will be great,” Allen said inside the ring, underlining his humility following several heartfelt embraces with Lucas Browne.
Dave has expressed his “need” for boxing over the past few years, highlighting the importance the sport has on keeping his mental health stable. Perhaps now, for the first time, boxing needs Dave Allen as much as Dave Allen needs boxing.
To find out more about Mind mental health charity, visit https://www.mind.org.uk/