Thursday, October 1, 2009

British Scene: Prizefighter Heavyweights III Preview

Matt Chudley previews tomorrow night's Prizefighter Heavyweight tournament.

Tomorrow night at the Excel Arena, Sky Sports presents the 3rd Heavyweight installment and 7th overall addition of Barry Hearn's Prizefighter series. With the highest bounty to date on offer, Hearn has managed to entice some of the biggest names in the domestic heavyweight scene to tomorrow night’s tournament – though the withdrawal of former British and Commonwealth champion Michael Sprott has left the field's overall star power somewhat diminished.

The early demand for tickets caused the one night tournament to be moved from the pokey confines of the York Hall to the 5,000 seat Excel Arena which also saw the two previous encounters between the two men expected to meet in the final, Danny Williams and Audley Harrison.

Williams and Harrison's first fight at the venue drew 8 million viewers on ITV with Harrison heading into the bout unbeaten in the pros after clinching a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, and Williams not long removed from memorable victory over Mike Tyson and a world title challenge against Vitali Klitschko. Though the circumstances might be very different this time around, the rivalry remains as hotly contested as ever with Williams risking his British crown to follow Harrison into the 8 man elimination tournament.

Opening the show and tipped as the third favourite, former British Champion Scott Gammer (18-4-1) comes in on the back of four defeats in his last five fights. In 2006, Gammer became the first Welshman to claim the Lonsdale belt in 22 years but was soon relieved of the title by an in shape and motivated Danny Williams.

He then went on to lose fights to John McDermott and unbeaten European prospects Francesco Pianeta and Robert Helenius. Still only 32 and having once shown promise, Gammer could potentially cause Williams problems over the 3 round distance in the semis as he held his own early in their previous fight.

Going up against Gammer in the quarters is undersized Irishman Coleman Barrett, who sports an unspectacular 8-0 record with 2 stoppage wins. The 6'1 southpaw was essentially a cruiserweight through his first 6 fights before taking an almost four year hiatus from the sport and returning as a heavyweight. While there’s little on his pro ledger to signal himself as a threat for the £32,000 prize, Barrett did capture 5 Irish amatuer titles and a bronze at the junior world amateur championships so may be suited to the three round format.

With the presence of Danny Williams, the tournament can boast having a reigning British Champion in the field for the first time – certainly a sign of the event’s increasing appeal among fighters in the British Isles. Williams may have lost his last three fights in the eyes of many but a stoppage defeat to Albert Sosnowski sandwiched between controversial majority and split decision wins over John McDermott have done little to discourage the 36 year old from choosing to continue his career. As ever it’s almost impossible to predict how the mercurial Williams will perform on the night, but should he show up in shape and keen to boost his bank balance, he must be considered the favourite.

Looking to upset the Williams apple cart is the equally unpredictable and bloated Carl Baker (8-3). The 6'4 southpaw from Sheffield, who often tips the scales at over 300lbs has managed to avenge two of his three defeats with the other being to fellow entrant Scott Gammer and has acquired the meaningless 'British Masters' title in the process. Spurred on by the dismissive words of Mike Tyson who said that he had no chance when the former World Champ conducted the draw, Baker is eager to prove a point.

Once again talking of world titles, Audley Harrison gets a last chance to make a mark on the professional boxing ranks after a career of unfulfilled potential and wasted talent. A 6'4 Southpaw with an Olympic Gold Medal and a large contract from the BBC, Harrison seemed set for big things but a series of lackluster performances against weak opposition caused many observers to label him as 'Fraudly' even before he went on to lose to the likes of Danny Williams and Dominick Guinn.

With all the necessary physical advantages but none of the intestinal fortitude, Harrison was given second and third chances after signing with Frank Warren but was then dumped by the promoter after dropping a ten round decision to Martin Rogan. At 37, Harrison could find himself in a fight for the vacant British title by clinching the tournament and could possibly have one last throw of the dice with three wins on the night.

Facing Harrison in the first round of the competition is Northern Ireland's Scott Belshaw. The 6'7 puncher was overmatched last time out against Tyson Fury and while his technique is horrendous, he does possess the kind of size and power that have terrified the Londoner before. Labeled as the Irish George Foreman early in his pro career by promoter Frank Maloney, Belshaw is there to be hit and should Audley show any kind of desire his passage to the next round should be assured.

Yet to face an opponent with a winning record is Sunderland’s Danny Hughes. The fleshy 6-0-1 fighter was set to face Michael Sprott, but with the former British and Commonwealth champion pulling out of the event following the death of his sister, Hughes will now take on Neil Perkins in a battle of unheralded and inexperienced fighters.

Like his opponent, the 4-0 Perkins is yet to post a victory over a fighter with a winning record and the victor is likely to be a massive underdog at the semi final stages. A former ABA finalist and only 4 fights into his pro career, Perkins may benefit from being stuck in his amateur ways with the 3 round distances.