Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Decade dawns for Boxing's new Gladiators

Frank Warren says British boxing is in great shape as it enters a new decade - and he's got 10 fighters to prove it. Warren hosted a press conference yesterday in London, where he was joined by the young professionals he's backing to make it to the very top. All 10 have had less than 10 fights in the paid ranks, and are yet to challenge for honours. But Warren believes that the youngsters have massive potential and could become as big as any of the stars he has worked with. The 10 fighters are Olympic Gold Medallist James DeGale, Amateur World Champion Frankie Gavin, as well as amateur standouts Billy Joe Saunders, Thomas Costello, Stephen Smith, Liam Smith, Ronnie Heffron, and Norfolk's trio of Walsh brothers, Ryan, Liam and Michael*. "I've been involved in boxing for the best part of 30 years and this crop of youngsters matches any that I have promoted," said Warren. "There is some much talent around at the moment that we are in for a very exciting couple of years watching these guys develop, and then a very exciting decade as they go beyond domestic level and start challenging for world honours. "The last few decades as far as British boxing is concerned have been defined by a couple of fighters - Naseem Hamed, Chris Eubank, Frank Bruno Lennox Lewis and Nigel Benn in the 1990s; Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton in the 2000s. "I'm confident that one or more of the big names of the 2010s is going to come from this group of fighters. We're also going to have some massive fights as well - lots of these boys are in and around the same weight divisions, so there are some great matches to be made." As well as his 10 for the 2010s, Warren's bulging stable includes a host of other young talents hoping to make it big on the world stage. "Everyone at the press conference was chosen because they are at the formative stage of their professional careers and have had less than 10 fights," he explained. "But I've also got lots of fighters who are just as exciting but a little more experienced - Kell Brook, Kevin Mitchell, Nathan Cleverly, Paul Smith, Tony Bellew, Sam Sexton and Derek Chisora are all at championship level right now and will also be really big in the coming years." Those fighters present at the press conference are relishing the chance to shine in the next decade. DeGale said: "I grew up watching the likes of Naseem Hamed, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, and the chance to become as big a name as one of them is unbelievable. "They were my heroes but now I have the opportunity to become a hero for the next generation." Gavin said: "I was Britain's first amateur world champion but now I want to be a professional world champion as well. I've had a good start to my career, but it's only the beginning really. By the end of the year I want to be fighting for titles." Saunders, who like his fellow 2008 Olympians is unbeaten in five professional fights, said: "It's good to be flagged up by a great promoter like Frank as one to watch, but all his praise will mean nothing unless I produce the goods in the ring. That's what I have to do over the next few years." Costello said: "I'm from Birmingham like Frankie Gavin, and there's a real sense that big time boxing is coming back to the Midlands. We've got a lot of talented fighters in Brum and over the next few years there are going to be some massive shows here." Similar sentiments were expressed by the Walsh and Smith brothers, all of whom want to see big shows in their respective areas. "Liverpool has been neglected as a fight city for the last decade or so," said Stephen Smith. "But I think we showed the support that's out there when we did a show up there at the end of last year. "The Echo Arena was sold out and it will be in March as well. Liverpool can become a rival to Manchester and London as the capital of British boxing." Liam Walsh said: "Norfolk's got a great heavyweight champion in Sam Sexton, and we'll be flying the flag as well. Michael, Ryan and myself are desperate for big fights and for them to be held in Norfolk, and I know Frank Warren will deliver. "We all want to be challenging for British titles by the end of the year, and then we all want to go on and create history by holding world titles at the same time. The Smith brothers have said they are going to do it quicker than us and it's great to have a bit of rivalry and spur each other on." Ronnie Heffron, who made his professional debut last month, added: "I've been compared to Ricky Hatton and hopefully people saw how exciting I can be when I fought up in Newcastle. "There's some quality young talent out there in the pro game at the moment and I'm very excited about what the future holds." The Walsh brothers, Gavin, DeGale and Saunders will all feature on the undercard of Warren's February 13 show at Wembley Arena, while the Smith brothers, Heffron and Costello all fight on March 12 in Liverpool. *Michael Walsh was not in attendance due to an illness.


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