Woods retains IBF light-heavyweight title

02.09.06 - By William Peden: Clinton Woods, 34, won a hard-fought decision in what may well be the fight of the year. Bolton played host to the third fight between Woods and his Jamaican born opponent, Glencoffe Johnson, 37. Their first fight had been a draw, although many observers felt that Johnson deserved the nod. Their second fight was a one sided beating in which Johnson made Woods look like an amateur..

It was third time lucky for Woods, however, who prepared for the fight by watching tapes of his loss to Johnson. Before the fight, he admitted that "he (Johnson) beat me" but felt a need to deal with the "demons" that the loss had stirred in him. Woods has been on a streak of impressive wins since then: he got up off the floor to beat Jason DeLeslie, showed astounding form in beating the undefeated Rico Hoye for the IBF Light-Heavyweight title, and has defended the belt twice before tonight. This was undisputedly the best Woods we have ever seen, as he overcame adversity to unexpectedly execute a classic come-from-behind win.

The first round was all Johnson, as Woods' early attacks were met with superior punches from the Roy Jones Jnr. conquering Glen Johnson. Woods made the mistake of coming in aggressively into the path of Johnson's shots. The second saw some low punching from both fighters, but was mostly a quality back and forth brawl which seemed more or less even. What was already an exciting fight became even more exhilarating in the third, as Woods showed some flashy combinations and solid uppercuts to secure his first round of the fight. However, in the fourth the tide turned towards Johnson's favour, as he landed magnificent rights and lefts which forced Woods onto the ropes. There Johnson grunted and pummelled with tremendous fervour to Woods' body. Woods- who has in the past been accused of poor conditioning- seemed to be shipping the punishment that would prove to be his undoing. The beating continued in the fifth and sixth; Woods' defence was too wide open for the veteran Johnson, and despite a brave attempt at rallying in the sixth by Woods, Johnson's combinations were better and harder than the local fighter's.

A more definitive rally by Woods occurred in the seventh, as he showed uncharacteristically smooth lateral movement. Regardless of the outcome, it was clear at this point that Woods was raising his talent to levels that were previously undisplayed. In the eighth, both men showed incredible desire, placing it all on the line. In a give and take round, Woods' superior defence gave him a slight edge. By this point, both boxers had been forcing out a stunning pace that had no signs of relenting.

It almost seemed that Woods' good work would go to waste during the ninth. Johnson showed the world class form that we have come to associate with the "Road Warrior". Woods seemed out on his feet as Johnson exploited holes in Woods' highly orthodox defence. In a subtle yet awe-inspiring piece of skill while he had Woods hurt on the ropes, Johnson feinted with his right in such a way that could have been either a right uppercut or overhand right, but then threw a clipping left hook. Woods showed enormous heart by not only surviving the onslaught, but also throwing a few counters to prevent any chance of the referee stopping the fight.

The fight could have ended in the ninth and been considered a brilliant fight, but neither man was willing to give up. The tenth was a very close round which saw the quality hard shots coming from Johnson, but the greater quantity of shots coming from a gutsy Woods. Instead of looking like a fighter who had been ready to go in the previous round, Woods showed the stamina that his erstwhile self had never had, and seemed to edge the round. More excellence was to come, as he clinched a tough eleventh by again showing a workrate that he would have once struggled to put up in the early rounds, let alone the championship rounds. Woods had promised to be a different kind of fighter tonight, and he was clearly a man of his word. The final round was as thrilling as those before it, with both boxers throwing a large volume of punches. Woods however threw slightly more, and threw slightly sharper shots than Johnson.

I had it 115-114 for Woods, but I can understand anyone who scored it for Johnson. Aside from the ninth and third rounds, almost every round was close. There was little clinching or fouling, and as expected from two workmanlike boxers like these two, there was a blessed absence of show-boating. This is exactly the kind of advertisement that boxing needs: two world class boxers who both present a challenging prospect for each other, and who are both willing to rise to the challenge. Johnson's stock won't go down far, although there will surely be those who will claim that he had somehow aged overnight. For Woods, the sky is now only just the limit. With Tarver discredited, Hopkins retired and Johnson conquered, Woods stands alone as the most obvious number one at light-heavyweight.

Present, but by no means stealing the show (which would be hard enough for Mike Tyson to do), were Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe. Hatton worked as a corner man for Clinton Woods in the fight, whilst Calzaghe offered his thoughts both before and after to the ITV presenter Jim Rosenthal. Calzaghe, who looked fractionally lighter than Hatton, voiced his willingness to fight Woods if their respective promoters would make the fight. Woods also expressed a keenness to meet his fellow British fighter.

Yet another good fight was on display, as Souleymane M'baye (now 35-1) of France scored a fourth round TKO of Raul Horacio Balbi (now 54-8-1) of Argentina in a short yet entertaining WBA Light Welterweight title match. In the first round, M'baye's defence looked somewhat leaky, and Balbi connected with quality left hooks. In the second round, however, M'baye discovered the groove for his work, and scored a knockdown with a vicious chopping right hand. M'baye showed his awareness of his limited punching power by systematically taking Balbi apart in the third round. He displayed a wide variety of shots from all angles to both head and body, but never appeared wild or stressed. Balbi came out fast in the fourth, and was knocked down from a counter-right that caught him as he threw an overly aggressive left hook. He never really recovered, and the referee stopped it as M'baye backed Balbi into a corner with surprisingly hard shots. The stoppage could almost have been called premature, were it not for the blood streaming both from Balbi's nose and cuts.

This was M'baye's best opponent since his sole loss to Vivian Harris, and he showed his best form yet against a fighter with a style that many thought would be too much for him. With Hatton returning back down to the division, Castillo coming up, Miguel Cotto still around and Junior Witter hungry for success at the top, the light-welterweight division still looks to be amongst the best in boxing.

On the same card, Amir Khan made his return to his hometown of Bolton with a stunning first round knockout of the southpaw Ryan Barrett (12-2-1 with 3 knockouts). Barrett came out looking as if he might even be in the same class as Khan, as he connected with two straight lefts and only just missed with a wilful right hook. Khan however is well-suited to dealing with the southpaw stance, and demonstrated this by throwing two hard straight rights in succession to drop Barrett. As expected, Barrett never recovered and was floored twice by flurries of punches. This was Khan's seventh knockout in nine wins. Being modest for Khan, therefore, has got that little bit more difficult. After the fight, he announced his intention to take a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia prior to returning to the ring in December.

For Frank Warren, this was the card he desperately needed to maintain the credibility of his adventure in putting boxing back onto terrestrial UK TV. By using Khan's name to draw fans in, and then impressing them with all-action fights between evenly matched opponents, Warren can continue the resurgence in boxing's popularity in Britain. The bad taste of Harrison-Williams is as forgotten as the content of the fight itself, and Warren has all the ingredients for a delicious boxing pie if he is willing to continue dealing with fellow UK promoters and pushing European talent like M'baye onto ITV. All that is needed is the kind of willingness to put everything on the line that tonight's boxers have shown.

Article posted on 03.09.2006

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