“Somebody’s 0 has got to go.” This boxing cliché/soundbite is usually set aside for the bigger, headline fights, between two champions at the peak of their powers. Both carefully caressed through the early to mid-stages of their careers, culminating in a string of high profile tests where the monetary gain outweighs the potential detriment of defeat.
Unbeaten records have become to be considered more and more important in our sport. The Mayweather Effect, perhaps, but the risk of step-ups early in a fighter’s career have begun to - in the eyes of promoters and managers - far outweighed the possible reward in securing a win.
Last weekend’s boxing action in Liverpool, England, put the two unbeaten records of domestic rivals to the test. A super welterweight 10-rounder for the vacant WBC International title was the sub-plot to a bad-mouthed — at times hilarious — grudge match that had brewed over months on social media. It was Fowler vs Fitzgerald; Liverpool vs Preston; Commonwealth Games gold medalist vs Commonwealth Games gold medalist.
Despite the result — in which Scott Fitzgerald won a split decision following dropping Fowler in the last round — the disparity in the odds before the fight, heavily in Fowler’s favour, signaled how Matchroom Promotions were billing this fight. Fowler has forever been in the conversation of a “future headliner” or an “up-and-coming star” whenever Eddie Hearn is pushed to commit on his new breed of fighters; his pedigree as a fighter and lifestyle in and outside of training camps underlined the faith that his promotional team had in him.
Fitzgerald was considered the antithesis to Fowler’s professionalism, with the Mad Man becoming known for not taking the sport seriously enough since turning professional. It turned out that Fitzgerald was more the antidote than anything else.
This fight had everything. Brilliant technical ability from both fighters, tactical nouse, contrasting gas tanks and ninth and 10th rounds that will live long in the memory of the 8,000 in attendance, as well as the millions around the world.
As the dust settled, the praise for both fighters, deservedly, began to flood in. Congratulations on a top quality 10 rounds of boxing were frequently followed by a sentiment that needs closer and careful inspection. The number of times I read or heard both fighters being congratulated on taking the fight in the first place was a little puzzling.
We’ve become so used to seeing prospects eased into life in the paid ranks without ever dipping their toe into dangerous waters, that when a well-matched domestic level fight comes knocking, it is seen as a treat, rather than an expectation.
In all honesty, Fowler vs Fitzgerald was a lucky mistake. Fowler could be found at 1/8 pre-fight to get the victory over the Fitzgerald, with many experts and pundits believing the Preston fighter had talked (typed) his way towards this shot. It wasn’t being billed as a 50/50, it just happened to turn into one.
There are enough success stories in boxing to emphasise the need to be pushed early in a career, with a disregard for potential setbacks. Ricardo Mayorga, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Juan Manuel Marquez, Johnny Nelson and even Bernard Hopkins all had struggles adapting to life in the pros, but found a way to adapt after defeat.
The tide may slowly be turning. Pressures to find the UK’s next big star have seen fighters in their infancy tested sooner than expected over the last couple of years, with Issac Chamberlain, Ted Cheeseman and Lewis Ritson joining Anthony Fowler in being forced to re-build. The quicker we can divert away from the narrative that an undefeated record is paramount for success, the more accustomed we will become to well-matched fights earlier in fighter’s careers.
A comparison can be made with George Groves and James DeGale. The British super middleweight rivals met early in their careers when many claimed it would be better to wait. Can anyone recall if either guy turned out to be a success?