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Sport

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy

It’s been a weird few years for Kell Brook. Brook’s victory over Shawn Porter in 2014, a then undefeated American who looked as if he may become the man in the welterweight division following Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, should have been his coming out party. He was now a proven elite welterweight and the division may have been his for the taking. It also looked as if he may finally gain a domestic super fight against Amir Khan, and maybe fights against Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia.

Instead, he was badly injured in an alternation whilst on holiday in Spain, in which he was stabbed, and then boxed underwhelming names in Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. Bizier was arguably the nadir, because Bizier had already been beaten by Jo Jo Dan twice and Dan had been blitzed by Brook with ease.

It was clear that Brook needed a big fight and a big name, yet Gennady Golovkin was literally big in comparison, causing a career welterweight in Brook to fight a career middleweight in Golovkin. To the surprise of really nobody, the Kazakh wrecking ball broke Brook’s eye socket, all though Brook did land some eye-catching shots along the way.

Brook is now set to go from the frying pan into the fire when he meets another unbeaten young American in Errol Spence Jr. Spence is another wrecking ball in a sense, having gained 10 knockouts from 21 fights, but he is a career welterweight. He is also a southpaw, and stopped the likes of Chris Algieri and Leonardo Bundu, tough professionals who aren’t often stopped, highlights his pedigree.

Kell Brook vs Shawn PorterThe two are set to meet in Sheffield, Brook’s hometown. It feels like a 50/50 fight, with the more experienced champion in Brook having home advantage, but Spence has the momentum and punching power to cause anyone issues.

The fight actually shows a sea change in the boxing world, as Spence is one of a few young Americans now willing to travel to the UK to win or defend a world title. Terrence Crawford and Timothy Bradley have both made the trip in recent years and 2017 will see Spence and Mayweather prospect Gervonta Davis do it as well.

Whilst it was the norm for ‘world champions’ to almost literally tour the world in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the 90s saw much fewer elite level names willing to travel to the UK to box. But the UK is now arguably the boxing capital of the world in terms of live gates and television converge, so the likes of Davis and Spence are now willing to take the risk of boxing on away soil.

For what it’s worth, I think Brook will win on points, just, in a nick and tuck fight. He may even touch the canvas at some stage. But his nous and experience will see him through. It’ll be controversial, and maybe a return fight will be made.

Whatever happens, with Brook, anything is possible.

 

by James Oddy
by James Oddy
Call me Ishmael. Connor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather is sports new white whale. The fight surfaces for air every now and then, and grizzled fight writers and fans, like Ahab aboard the Pequod, sight and, despite our better judgment, set a course for it.

The fight interests and disgusts in almost equal measure. Just like the great white whale could be the death of Ahab and his whole crew, the fight could generate obscene amounts of cash yet land a telling blow to the integrity of both MMA and boxing. For MMA, what happens if its figurehead, McGregor, famed for both his jab in the octagon and his gab outside it, was outclassed? For boxing, what if Mayweather generates his fabled 50-0 against a fighter who had never had a professional boxing match before? What does that say about the lack of stars in boxing? About the talent pool?

I say with certainty Mayweather would get his 50-0 against McGregor because to my mind, and the mind of anyone with even a half knowledge of boxing, any other suggestion is absurd.

MMA and boxing are different disciplines. It’s like suggesting a great goalkeeper such as David De Gea could be a great rugby player because he has to catch and kick a ball in both sports. The whole science and methodology is different.

In MMA, you have the feet, hands, knees and elbows to worry about on approach-you have to worry about a take down or Muay Thai style clinch.

In boxing, it may appear ‘easier’ as you only have to deal with two hands. But they are thrown with an amount of speed, precision and power, the likes of which is beyond most people, which is only achieved after a lifetime dedicated to that craft.

I know why people think McGregor has a chance. He knocks people in UFC out for fun and Mayweather boxes people to ‘boring’ points wins.

People tell themselves that McGregor only needs ‘one’ punch. They underestimate the complete artistry Mayweather has over his craft. If Manny Pacquaio, Marcos Maidana, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alverez, Shane Mosley, Juan Mannuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, all fine boxers, some all time great boxers, couldn’t land a knock out blow, what makes you think McGregor could do so?

Ultimately, McGregor should concentrate on the legacy of his own career, which is a wonderful one in it’s own right. He is a ridiculously talented MMA fighter. He could be, if not the Ali of the sport, the Mike Tyson, the love him/hate him figure which consistently puts eyes on the sport.

As for Floyd, if he must come back, then I would rather he fight Keith Thurman, or Gennady Golovkin. To be frank, I’d rather he fight anyone who is an active boxer.

But the problem, as Ahab discovered, is that once you have that white whale in your sights, it’s impossible to forget about it, no matter how disastrous the consequences may prove to be. Call me intrigued.

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by James Oddy

Ronda Rousey’s 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes was spectacular, sad, and shocking. Seeing one of the UFC’s more iconic figures dismantled so quickly was not what anyone expected, even those who felt Rousey was a ‘hype job’. Ultimately, it is one thing to lose, it’s another thing entirely to look completely out of your depth, as Ronda did as she ate shot after unanswered shot from Nunes. It’s very hard to see where Rousey goes from this point.

b6f95b1e6c1f334a86c370fdd44b786fBut whilst Rousey athletically can perhaps be criticised, her cultural impact should be recognised and celebrated. Five years ago, UFC was nowhere near the popularity of today, and what’s more, female MMA was barely noticed by the mainstream media. Now, when athletes like Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Paige VanZant fight, people sit up and take notice. The women’s divisions in UFC all have good fights to be made, and now that Rousey has blazed the trail, expect to see them kick on.

Contrast the attention and prestige of women’s MMA with that of boxing. The likes of new professionals Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams, brilliant athletes, are relegated to fighting foes way below the standard they would face in the amateurs. In the past, great female boxers such as Anne Wolfe have boxed for small purses on the undercard of more heavily promoted male boxers.

Regardless of how her in-octagon legacy is viewed in the future, I hope Rousey is recognised for being the cross over star female combat sports was crying out for.

Speaking of boxing and MMA, the tiresome ‘feud’ between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr rumbles on. Both men are superb showmen and brilliant media manipulators. But the fight is unlikely to ever happen, and seems to be attracting comments from the most odious of fight fans.

MMA and boxing and two distinct disciplines, for a start. In an Octagon, McGregor would defeat Mayweather with ease, and vice versa should they meet under the Queensberry rules in a squared circle. Not to mention the discrepancy in ages, activity (Floyd hasn’t fought since September 2015), monetary demands, venue, who’d promote the fight. It’s a non-starter.

I hope McGregor concentrates on UFC and takes on Nate Diaz in a rubber match. How about a super fight with a returning George St-Pierre? How about defending his new lightweight crown? The possibilities are endless.

As for Floyd, I hope he remains retired. Not because I don’t think he is a beautiful boxer and one of the very best (but not THE best) to ever lace up the gloves. I just want him to enjoy his money and retirement, and concentrate on his burgeoning promotional and managerial ventures.

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National Basketball League Division One championship contenders, Derby Trailblazers, visited the Dragons Den on Saturday evening but took a dent to their title credentials, as the Bradford Dragons took an impressive victory, 103-93.

The two teams last met on the opening day of the league season, with Derby holding off the Dragons to clinch the victory by a single point. That was the first of many wins for the Trailblazers who, prior to last night’s fixture, held a tally of ten wins and only two defeats. Only last weekend, Derby recorded an important victory against league leaders Team Northumbria, leaving Bradford under no illusions regarding the size of the task facing them on Saturday.

With a number of teams queuing up to take the Dragons’ fifth spot in the league table, it was also a must win game for them particularly as they fell to defeat in London last weekend. However, it was Derby that opened the scoring, with their first assault on the basket and it wasn’t long before they had opened-up an eight-point lead. However, slowly but surely the home side clawed their way back into the game and by the time the buzzer signalled the end of the first quarter it was them that held a two-point advantage, 31-29, thanks in part to an incredible shooting performance from Rafi Saipe.

Throughout the second quarter, both teams matched one another shot-for-shot, with neither team being able to take a firm grip on the game. With the scores tied at 52-52, evergreen Jason Swaine, who celebrated his forty-second birthday earlier in the week, stepped up to the free throw line, sinking both shots to send the hosts back to the locker rooms ahead, 54-52.

The game followed a similar pattern throughout the penultimate quarter and with a little over four minutes of the period remaining it was Derby’s turn to take the lead, 67-69, from the free throw line. Jermayne Laing, who had brought his own fan club to the game, in the form of twenty-five children from Cliffe Hill Community Primary School, levelled the game with a two-point drop shot. The visitors immediately regained the lead, but Bradford wouldn’t let them pull away. With the game again tied at 77 apiece, Saipe bagged a three-point shot, to restore home advantage and Laing then dunked right at the death of the quarter, although the referees adjudged this to be after the buzzer sounded.

The final quarter started, therefore, with the hosts ahead by three points (80-77) and it looked as though the game was going to go right to the wire. However, with less than a minute played the gap had been opened right up to eleven points (88-77) as the game started to slip away from the visiting Trailblazers.

image1With 3:38 remaining on the clock, Derby called a timeout, with the Dragons leading by fourteen points 95-81, but there was nothing that they could do to stop Bradford from registering an important victory. As the final buzzer sounded, Bradford celebrated the win, 103-93.

Saipe registered 21 points, as did American power forward, Ricky Fetske, whilst both Rihards Sulcs and Jermayne Laing bagged 18 points each.

Dragons coach, Chris Mellor said, “It was a tight game throughout and I thought both teams played some good basketball. The run we got in the fourth quarter to open up a double figure lead was the difference really, where we managed to get some stops and convert at the other end. I was happy with the way we moved the ball and rebounded down the stretch.”

The Dragons travel to Lancashire Spinners next weekend in the first of a string of away fixtures. The action doesn’t return to the Dragons Den until February 18th when the visitors will be league leaders Team Northumbria.

In other news, Dragons under 16’s beat Durham Wildcats on Saturday by a convincing scoreline, 85-23 to further reinforce their position at the top of their table. Then on Sunday the under 18’s faced Sheffield Junior Sharks II, narrowly losing out 66-89 to their South Yorkshire rivals. Also on Sunday, the under 14’s travelled to Manchester Giants Green, travelling home with the points following a 51-68 victory.

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy
The biggest, most lucrative fight of this generation will surely come on 29th April 2017 at Wembley stadium. IBF heavyweight belt holder Antony Joshua (18-0. 18 KOs) will meet Wladimir Klitschko 64-4, 53 Kos) with the vacant WBA and IBO belts also on the line. Effectively, the fight is to crown the new (almost) undisputed king of the boxing’s premier division.

Watford’s Joshua is a crossover star. The Olympic gold medallists has created a huge buzz on both sides of the Atlantic due to a potent mix of talent, charisma and intelligent promotion. However, it was clear that he was in need of a step up in opposition- Eric Molina, Joshua’s last opponent, provided little test or excitement as he spent most of the fight attempting simply to survive.

That test will come via the form of Klitschko, the cerebral and vastly experienced Ukrainian who ruled the division for the best part of a decade alongside his now retired brother Vitali. That reign came to an abrupt end however, in November 2015, as the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury sensationally upset Wlad in Dusseldorf.

With Tyson Fury’s enforced absence away from the squared circle, this is a meeting of two of the top three heavyweights in the world. It’s a 50/50 fight and that is something which all boxing fans wish to see.

anthony-joshuaJoshua is young, exciting and explosive, but valid questions surrounding his stamina, boxing IQ and chin remain. He has never gone the full 12 rounds, can look lost if his opponents don’t wilt to that jackhammer right hand early on and rumours within boxing suggest he has been knocked out in sparring sessions. Yet the simple fact is, if he lands, he will hurt Wlad.

Despite such an illustrious career, questions also swirl around Klitschko. The man nicknamed ‘Dr Steelhammer’ will have been out of action for well over a year and will be over 40 years of age when stepping in with the 27-year-old Joshua. He looked old and gun shy against Fury. But it’s worth pointing out that he looked very good against Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev in both his previous defences preceding the Fury fight. He is physically imposing, vastly experienced, never out of shape and carries serious power himself. If he lands, just like Joshua, he will do damage.

If forced to pick, I’d go for the vitality of Joshua to triumph, via a surprisingly wide points win. I believe his power aligned with Wlad’s inactivity will allow him to force the pace and be in the ascendency for most of the fight.

Hopefully then we could see Joshua meet undefeated WBC champion, Deontay Wilder. Wilder is a brash American knock out artist and a meeting for all the straps in the heavyweight division in a transatlantic showdown would smash all kinds of box office records. And then, perhaps we will see the return of Tyson Fury. Make no mistake about it… we are in for a wild few years in the heavyweight division. Enjoy!

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy

Conor McGregor’s victory over lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on the November 12th UFC 205 card was significant for a number of reasons. For a start, it caused McGregor to become the first UFC fighter in history to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously, as he was already holding the featherweight belt.

The fact he did so in such a destructive, definitive way, knocking out Alavrez out with his vaunted left hand, also led to McGregor proving once again that he is more than just a charismatic talker. The Irishman can fight, and his skill set is second only to perhaps Demetrious Johnson in the MMA world.

It was also a huge financial success for the UFC as a whole. The event allegedly drew almost $18 million in gate receipts alone, along with around about 1.9 million PPV buys, an astronomical amount. Add to all that, it was also the first ever UFC event to be held in New York, after the controversial MMA ban was overturned earlier in 2016. The latter is as much symbolical as anything else – for much of the 20th century NYC was THE home of boxing. Increasingly however, small time promoters within boxing are being priced out due to the extremely high insurance rates now required to promote combat sports.

cdwvhalwoaavrofThis event built upon UFC 202, when McGregor beat Nate Diaz at welterweight. That fight seemed to have the all-important ‘casual fan’ talking, and the interested in the charismatic McGregor only built for his showdown with Alverez. McGregor, and Ronda Rousey (despite inactivity), are the cross over stars which have helped propel MMA/UFC into the mainstream, and it doesn’t look likely to be going away anytime soon.

Contrast UFC 205 with the recent Sergey Kovalev/Andre Ward boxing match. The latter was two elite, undefeated pound for pound boxers battling it out, yet its crossover appeal was not huge. McGregor is a one off, and Kovalev and Ward are more introverted characters, but neither man has the global reach and presence of the Irishman. That isn’t either man’s fault, but boxing as a whole has been damaged severely with the plethora of governing bodies, warring promoters, blatant score card robberies, and fighters pulling out last minute.

In contrast, the UFC model ensures the best fight the best for the most part and cards are made up of competitive fights, rather than in boxing case, which are mostly made up with one sided ‘keep busy’ fights. I love boxing, and Kovalev/Ward was a wonderful contest. And, it must be added, boxing has been supposedly on its way out for years, and always found a way to survive. On an amateur level at least, boxing remains by far the more popular combat sport.

But it is impossible to see how the juggernaut UFC has become can be stopped. McGregor alone can have blockbuster contests against Diaz In a rubber match, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rafael Dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley and Robbie Lawler. Add in the return of Rousey, and the records are likely to keep on breaking.

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Bradford Bulls have announced that the club has been put into administration. The five-times Challenge Cup winners club chairman, Marc Green has a released a statement on their website.

“I have been talking to a number of serious investors and purely the pressure from HMRC has forced the club to be put into this position to save its future,” explained Chairman Marc Green.

“There is a dispute between ourselves and HMRC which we have been working hard to resolve since the winding up petition was issued and despite two adjournments from the courts to resolve this matter we have been unable to do so. We were concerned over the ability to secure a third adjournment and therefore this action became unavoidable to protect the club.

“I will be working closely with the Administrators over the coming weeks and it is my intention to regain this club from them within the shortest practicable time frame.”

He further stated: “Regardless of whether I remain at the helm of this great club, I will ensure all memberships already purchased for next season will remain valid, as will the offer under which they were purchased. I believe the future of Bradford Bulls is still strong.”

 

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy

November 19th sees that most rare of events. Two unbeaten, elite, pound for pound contenders in the same weight class, meeting in a squared circle.

The fighters in questions are Andre ‘Son of God’ Ward, (30-0, 15 Kos) and Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs). Kovalev currently holds the WBA, IBF light heavyweight titles, whereas Ward the WBO strap, all of which will all be on the line in the T-Mobile arena on the Las Vegas strip.

The fight is a mouth-watering clash of styles. Kovalev is a brutal boxer puncher, who throws concussive straights, hooks and uppercuts. Despite carrying legitimate knock out power in both mits, he is also an accomplished boxer, although not a stylist by any means. Instead, he uses his power, basic yet effective footwork and high guard to work his opponent into corners, where he unleashes huge shots. The ‘Krusher’ also has a definite mean streak, seemingly prolonging the beating he handed out to rival Jean Pascal (36-4-1) in there 2016 rematch. Even when he can’t land those big shots, he can still win wide on the cards, as seen by his complete domination of living legend Bernard Hopkins (66-7-2) in late 2014.

untitledWard is more of a boxer than a pure puncher, but what a boxer he is. He is wonderfully athletic; a defensive wizard who can also rough house with the best if the fight goes to the trenches. His defence is similar to Floyd Mayweather’s ‘shoulder roll’, and from that he spears out jabs and back hands. Although plagued with inactivity due to promotional issues, Ward still has a superb resume, especially at previous weight of super middleweight. He won the innovative super six tournament in 2010/11, beating the likes of Mikael Kessler, Carl Froch, Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham, all of whom offered different stylistic challenges. His win over Kessler, the pre-tournament favourite, was particularly impressive, and he completely nullified Froch in the final. Ward then added light heavy weight king Chad Dawson to his list of wins, although it’s worth noting he made Dawson come down in weight for the meeting. Since making the move the light-heavy after a two year layoff, he has beaten an overweight Paul Smith, an undefeated Sullivan Barrera and a solid Alexander Brand.

This is a true super fight, and unlike many we have seen lately, both are more or less at the peak of their powers. Both have some of the game’s best strategists in their corner, ex world champ John David Jackson for Kovalev and the enigmatic Virgil Hunter for Ward. It’s a very tough fight to predict. If Ward restricts Kovalev and prevents him from landing those crunching hooks, I can see him winning a fairly uneventful unanimous decision. If Kovalev lands at any point, but particularly in the early rounds, it could upset Ward’s rhythm and equilibrium and I could see the fight becoming much more open.

Ultimately, if I were forced to make a prediction, and I am, I’ll pick Ward. He is slick, still fresh and his partnership with Hunter is one of modern boxing’s best.

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Bradford Dragons’ rich vein of form continued with wins at Westminster Warriors, 87-98 and against Reading Rockets, in the Dragons’ Den, 102-96. The victories take Bradford’s winning streak to seven games, a feat that the club has not achieved since the 2013/14 season.

The Dragons made the journey to London, on Saturday, to face Westminster Warriors, just two weeks after the two had met in the reverse fixture in the Dragons’ Den, which Bradford had won comfortably, 121-93.

It was the Dragons that held a slight advantage at the end of the first quarter, ahead by a single point, 15-16, a lead which was extended to eight points, 34-42, when the teams left the court at half time.

Image courtesy of Alex Daniel Photography
Image courtesy of Alex Daniel Photography

The Dragons turned the screw in the third quarter, extending their lead to eighteen points and despite Westminster winning the final quarter, they could not prevent Bradford from taking the victory, 87-98.

Ricky Fetske led the scoring for Bradford with 21 points, ably assisted by Jason Swaine with 18 points and Marcus Gooding adding another 17 points.

Following the long journey home, on Saturday night, the Dragons faced Reading Rockets, back in the Dragons’ Den, on Sunday afternoon. In comparison to the home side, Reading had made the slightly shorter journey from Newcastle, where they had been on the wrong end of an 87-75 score-line against Team Northumbria the previous evening. Nevertheless, Reading would provide Bradford with their toughest test yet, since the opening day fixture at Derby Trailblazers, a game in which Bradford lost by a single point (83-82) against the current league leaders.

In the opening quarter of the game, it was the Rockets that had the better of the play, quickly opening a five-point lead. However, the home side kept themselves in contention and pulled the score back to within two points (25-27) at the end of the initial period.

The visiting side continued to press, however, in the second period and quickly reopened the gap to seven points. But, the hosts refused to let them get away and in the closing minutes of the half they turned the game around in their favour, going back to the locker room with a four-point lead, at 49-45.

The Dragons took control of proceedings in the third quarter and had soon extended their lead to eleven points. However, Reading refused to let go and at the end of the penultimate period of play, they had pulled the gap back to seven points (76-69), leaving their hosts still will with plenty of work to be done in the final ten minutes.

As hard as Reading tried, they just couldn’t get within reach of the home side and with less than 90 seconds remaining on the clock, Bradford were ahead by nine (98-89). Rihards Sulcs stepped up to the free throw line, but couldn’t sink both shots, leaving his team one point short of the ton, however Gooding put that right, taking Bradford over the one-hundred-point mark for the sixth time in seven games. The contest ended with a seventh straight victory for the Dragons, 102-96.

Gooding capped a fine shooting performance, by topping the home sides scorers with 29 points, whilst Sulcs contributed 25 points to the cause and Fetske a further 23 points.

The victory sees Bradford move up a place, to fourth, in the National Basketball League Division One table, just one victory behind leaders Derby Trailblazers.

Dragons’ head coach, Chris Mellor commented on the weekends action, saying, “Westminster are always dangerous, especially at home and it took us ‘til midway in the third before we got any kind of grip of the game, but it was another good collective effort.”

“Against Reading, once again it was another even game and, like Saturday, we just managed to put four or five stops together in the third and convert at the other end to get a double figure lead, which was the telling run in the game.”

Bradford face a tough away trip to Team Northumbria next weekend, a side that currently sit second in the table and the Dragons will be keen to make amends for the defeat in the National Trophy earlier, in the season.

The action returns to the Dragon’s Den for another double header weekend on the 19th and 20th of November, when the Dragons take on newly promoted Team Solent Kestrels on the Saturday evening (6:15pm) followed by a National Cup quarter final fixture against Team Northumbria the following day (4:15pm).

Dragons’ under 18s travelled to Durham Wildcats on Saturday, taking a heavy defeat, 82-46. On Sunday, the under 16’s also lost at neighbouring Leeds Force, 104-85, whilst the under 14’s beat Stockport Falcons II, 45-41, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College.

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Bradford based MJK Sports are proud to bring you an audience with boxing great SUGAR RAY LEONARD at the Richard Dunn Sports Centre, Bradford on November 28.

Regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time, Sugar Ray competed from 1977 to 1997, winning world titles in five weight divisions, the lineal championship in three weight divisions; as well as the undisputed welterweight title.

image1Along with Roberto Duran, Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns, and ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler, Leonard was part of “The Fabulous Four”, a group of elite fighters who all boxed each other during one of the sport’s greatest eras.

At this unique sporting event in Bradford, you will hear all about the rivalries from SUGAR RAY, the man who was at the forefront of it all.

On the night you will see highlights from all of the legendary fights on our giant screens and hear from the man himself about what it was like starting at the Montreal Olympics right the way through to the golden era of boxing.

VIP guests are guaranteed to meet the man himself and have a picture with the boxer, who is arguably second only to Muhammad Ali on the list of history’s greatest pugilists.

Tickets are available from just £20 per person

Avoid online booking fees by calling 07414 960 956

 

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