Steve Bunce has got his crystal ball at the ready to look ahead to what is already a fascinating year
THERE was once a truly sad run of clairvoyant shop fronts on the Atlantic City boardwalk, each with dirty windows, bad lights and a woman hovering by the door offering to tell you your future.
In the days before Lennox Lewis and Andrew Golota fought in 1997, I paid a Russian woman 10 dollars in one of those fortune-telling palaces for the result of the fight.
“Lets me see, honey,“ she told me from her seat behind a curtain, as her hands hovered with heat over her very own crystal ball. “I see a big nights for the Polish mans. He is winners.” Thanks for that, her prediction lasted longer than the 95-second fight.
Poor Golota looked so shocked that night that I did wonder if he went to see the same woman. It was a look that never left Golota’s face after that fight.
Anyway, I have 10 bucks to waste on a bit of gazing. And not all of it will be fun and in many ways that is the very essence of our business – not all of it will be fun, I like that.
In the middle of the fairy tales, nightmares, lies, double-crosses, failings, blood and guts there will be great fights. Not much of a prediction, I know, but let me explain my thinking and in no particular order.
We will see Joshua Buatsi tested, we will watch Joe Joyce start as an underdog again, we will see the British super-welterweights write some new history, if the Olympics collapse then the invasion of the 30 or more GB boxers will bloat our business. And the invasion will give us real champions from early 2023 – the squads are exceptional.
More unbeaten prospects will get exposed by men with real jobs and just enough ambition to overcome the hype jobs, the British women will have a hard year fighting each other early in their careers and plenty will lose, but bounce back better; the move is a side-effect of both Covid restrictions on importing hopeless victims and the lack of depth. It is, I admit, not fair, but it will help the women’s sport. Women crawling away on their hands and knees after copping for a single right hand must never become a regular sight in our sacred British rings. It is not a good look, trust me.
Liam Williams will get his chance, Amir Khan is not finished, Hughie Fury will have to take another hard fight, more fighters will leave their trainers, loyalty will diminish and a massive defection will rock the sport. There will be talk of disloyalty, of a fighter being ungrateful, but somewhere, somehow the voice of Mickey Duff will settle the argument: “If you want loyalty, get a dog.” That axiom lives in any year.
And there will be more strength and conditioning coaches elevated from delivering date shakes and timing the interval sprints, to taking control of seasoned boxers in important fights. It is accepted now and fighters, especially the experienced ones, remain convinced they can train themselves. That is tricky and not true. There will be some conflict in the growing debate about just what qualifies a man or woman to be able to take control of a training camp and the corner on the night of a big fight. It seems that money is a factor, which even by our crazy standards seems both dumb and dangerous.
My crystal ball is glowing red hot right now, but I have more.
We will wait for Callum Smith to mend before his inevitable move up, for Daniel Dubois to get a doctor’s clearance to fight again and for Anthony Yarde to get his hunger back and agree, with his head slightly bowed, to a rematch with Lyndon Arthur. Is Lyndon Arthur the most Seventies fighter we have at the moment? I think he is, look at his movement, his style – he looks like a contender from 1978. I’m not sure all of those things will happen.
Felix Cash against Denzel Bentley would be nice for two titles. I still want Conor Benn against Chris Jenkins for the British title. I know that Nigel believes Conor has gone beyond the British, but I disagree. I like the fringe welters, really like the fighters. And don’t even get me started on the super-featherweights – that’s a tournament and not just a promotional collaboration.
So, back to Atlantic City and the morning after Lewis beat Golota I was having breakfast with ringside photographer Mick Brennan (Mick’s new book of boxing photographs, They Must Fall, is quite brilliant). The waitress shuffled over. She looked familiar; she was my personal mystic. I told Brennan and he shook his head. “You paid her 10 bucks?” She arrived and asked what we wanted? And with perfect timing Brennan said: “You tell me, you’re the clairvoyant!” It was not the best breakfast.
The memory of that Atlantic City fortune teller reminds me of the great Romark’s role in the fall of Richard Dunn against Muhammad Ali in 1976. Brennan has a beautiful picture of Dunn outside the boxer’s hotel in Scarborough in the book.
Big Richard needed a bit of help to beat Ali and Romark, a man adored at the time by the tabloids in Britain, was sent to Munich with his wizardry. Romark had dubious magic powers and put a spell on Ali and anointed Dunn’s fists. “I have seen Richard’s victory,” he told the press before the fight. When it was over, a distraught Romark went to comfort Dunn.
“Richard, I let you down,” Romark said. “I made your fists turn into iron – but I forgot about your chin.” Dunn had been down five times. They were the last knockdowns of Ali’s career and the last time Romark helped a boxer.
I never got an apology from my egg-serving fortune-teller and I made Brennan leave a big tip.