WHERE do you start? It was a very long weekend in Manchester of fights, tales, tears and the final piece of drama that nobody predicted.
On Sunday, 12 hours after Chris Eubank Jnr beat Liam Smith, armed police surrounded and arrested Brian BoMac McIntyre. He was at the airport and there was a loaded gun in his bag.
It was a bad twist; BoMac is now in the dock, a misunderstanding is still a crime.
BoMac had been one of the good guys in the week and the two nights of championship fights. The few days of conferences, weigh-ins, fights, secret meetings, fallouts and finishes could provide an end of year show. There was so much happening, with so few people in such a tiny corner of the country. It was a boxing joyride for fans and any insiders able to attend both shows live. There was a Jack Catterall conference at Jamie Moore’s gym in Salford in the middle of it all.
In Bolton on Friday night, a show broadcast for two hours and 35 minutes on Channel Five, there was a fight of the year contender, several round of the year contenders and both knockouts have to be considered in any annual review.
The finish, against the run of action, from Lyndon Arthur to win the IBO’s light-heavyweight belt was inch perfect. He salvaged a bad fight. He had been down, hurt and was behind. But he was always in the fight.
The sentimental story of the weekend was, without doubt, the backstory to the win by Sam Antwi in the vacant British super-welterweight fight in Bolton. The final round and the knockout in the final seconds of the Mason Cartwright fight was savage.
In Antwi’s corner was Gary Logan. It was his first champion and it was for a belt he twice failed to win in Manchester. Logan is a throwback, even as a kid of 16 he talked about boxing like an old duffer from the Fifties. He understands the ways of the boxing gods, the oddities, the pain and the sweetest of gains. He lost to Ensley Bingham and Jamie Moore in title fights in Manchester; Moore and Bingham never get the credit they deserve. Never.
Gary Logan was close to tears at the post-fight interview. The win means that he is part of a rich history and part of it as a winner.
Moore, incidentally, picked up a compassion consolation award on the Saturday night when he pulled Dave Allen out against Frazer Clarke. It was the right move; Moore is the right man for a tough call in the corner. Allen was not happy, but he had been hit all over – some were even legal – and Big Fraze was bossing it. Moore is fearless with his decisions and he has history for pulling out his men and I respect that. In that other fighting sport, they have a tap-out and surrender plan, a button for quitting – we need more brave trainers to yank out stupidly brave boxers.
It was not a great end to the week for Joe Gallagher after his return to Moss Side and the gym that Phil Martin built. In the ring in Manchester, Mark Heffron got it all wrong and was stopped and lost his British super-middleweight title to Jack Cullen. More on Cullen and his merry-men in a moment.
A few days earlier, Gallagher had been on graffiti duty at the Champs Camp gym. Two new murals had been sprayed: Ali on one door and Martin on the other. They look very impressive. Gallagher was asked to put the final spot of white in Martin’s eyes; it was just a quick blast of brilliant white. The final touch to a long-term memorial of a man who saved so many and still does not get the respect he deserves.
Can you imagine the impact a black trainer and manager and promoter, with a gym built from the smouldering ruins of the Moss Side riots, would have now. Real boxing talk and stories, not phoney rows between fighters. Phil had boxers with fresh bullet wounds, good fighters. There are just a handful of writers left, writers that interview fighters about being fighters and not social media celebrities.
There had not been anybody like Phil before and there has not been anybody like him since. At one point he had three British champions and promoted all three of them. He deserves far more recognition, he deserves to be more than a cult hero. “The gym is coming back, Buncey,” Maurice Core, one of Martin’s British champions, told me in Bolton.
The shock result on the Saturday was in the Cullen and Heffron title fight. Cullen has been on boxing’s outside for a long, long time. Heffron had found his weight and found a calling in life; Cullen dropped and stopped him with a perfect shot. Perhaps Heffron was too keen, perhaps Cullen was overlooked. It makes no difference, it was a tiny fairy tale in the giant house of fights. And, in nickname tribute, Cullen is quality: Little Leaver’s Meat Cleaver.
Michael Jennings had told me about his Chorley gym, told me about the kids, the seasoned amateurs, told me Cullen would win. Jennings is a man of belief and steel will. He once walked out to face Miguel Cotto and 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden and I swear he was smiling. That takes belief. Cullen and the Jennings gym would get the dedication award any year.
BoMac would get the dumb-act award. Let’s hope his mistake gets cleared up. It was a truly bizarre end to about 100 hours of boxing joy and pain.