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Boxing: FIGHTING TTALK; Gilmour, Maloney vow to bounce back off the ropes and give boxing fans a knockout year.

Byline: Hugh Keevins

THE New Year will be the time when boxing comes back off the ropes and goes toe to toe with critics who say the sport is facing a count of 10.

Promoters and managers like Tommy Gilmour and Frank Maloney have come out of rival corners to present a united front on the question of boxing's ability to survive in the face of criticism it is a sport out of its time.

Sceptics see the sport isolated on one satellite television channel and shunted to a graveyard slot on a Friday night because football coverage must come first.

And they argue that fight fans have grown weary of over-protected champions meeting under-qualified opponents, resulting in recognised ticket sellers like Scotland's world featherweight champion Scott Harrison struggling to shift seats.

Harrison's one-round blow-out of Ethiopian Samuel Kebede in October was poorly attended but a match against someone like Injin Chi would present an irresistible attraction.

Maloney doesn't dispute that or contest the reduced figures for Harrison's last fight in Glasgow. But he does deny any attempt to portray boxing as a sport that is blood stained and unable to defend itself properly.

He said: 'I am trying to make the big fights everyone wants to see for Scott in 2005. But it takes two to tango and you want to avoid making backward steps by getting him into the ring with someone who won't advance his career.

'In the meantime, Scott will fight Victor Polo at the end of January and that will be a meaningful defence.

'Only the fittest will survive in the boxing world of the future and we will need to put on more of the fights the public want to see.

'Scott's biggest challenge would be a world featherweight unification bout and that's what I'll be striving to provide.'

The domestic fight boxing fans in Scotland would most like to see is the British super-featherweight clash between Alex Arthur and Craig Docherty that feeds on the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Gilmour, who is Docherty's manager, has signed his contract for the fight and lodged it with the British Boxing Board of Control.

He said: 'I can now state that if this contest does not go ahead as planned it has nothing to do with me because I have kept my part of the bargain on behalf of my fighter.

'Some fighters are protected unnecessarily because of politics but I don't think that's a criticism which could be levelled at my stable.

'Craig has been nurtured carefully and his popularity has grown accordingly.He sold500more tickets for his European title fight with Boris Sinitsin than he did for his previous contest.

'If the fight with Arthur does go ahead it will bea sell-out.'

Gilmour has been promoting fights for the last 30 years and is acutely aware social conditions have influenced the way the game has changed from its original state.

He added: 'When my grandfather started to promote fights, he was able to put 30,000 fans inside a football ground for a boxing match.

'That happened at a time when everyone lived in the inner city and now social conditions have changed dramatically.

'If you wanted to fill Hampden to double its present capacity for a game of football, do you think it would be possible? I don't think so because times change.

'People don't live up tenement closes any more and 15,000 fans will never gather inside Ibrox to see a boxing match the way they did when Jim Watt defended his world title against Howard Davies in the 1980s.

'But I have spent three decades working through times that were good, bad and indifferent and boxing always comes through in the end.

'What people will do in this day and age is follow a certain boxer and lend him their support. I took John Simpson, from Greenock, to fight Dazzo Williams for the British title in Hereford and the place was totally sold out because the crowd knew it was a good match-up.

'By the same token, I've sold loads of extra memberships for my St Andrew's Sporting Club on the back of having signed a former amateur heavyweight, Ian Millarvie, because people want to see how a big hitter fares when he begins his professional career on January 31.'

Gilmour does not dispute the fight boxing faces to retain the audience it currently has while trying to create fresh business at the box office.There is also the question of interesting a new generation in the sport.

He said: 'Football remains the top spectator sport in this country. And football has done terrible damage to boxing over the decades.

'We need to work hard to re- educate the public and convince them boxing is value for money.

'Boxing needs enthusiasts, those who are positive thinkers about the sport and have ideas on how to promote it.'

If Millarvie starts the New Year with a bang, quite literally, and Kevin Anderson can take the inaugural Celtic welterweight title from Irishman Glenn McClarnon, that will be a fighting start.

If Arthur and Docherty finally get it on next March that would be another significant date. Harrison's next opponent will also be eagerly awaited as he seeks the defining moments of his career.

Amir Khan's progress on the pro-am circuit devised by Frank Warren will captivate followers of the Olympic medalist.

If Warren could also get the phenomenal Ricky Hatton a long- awaited light-welterweight unification fight there would only be a difficulty in finding a venue big enough to satisfy interest.

And it's a make-or-break year for Joe Calzaghe as he seeks to move up to light-heavyweight and take a second version of the world title.

The Welshman's win over Egyptian Kabary Salem last October was efficient but not what he should have been looking for at this stage in a career that has still to win him the recognition he believes he deserves.

A match-up with IBF light-heavy champion Glencoffe Johnson would be the kind of meaningful contest 2005 needs to re-ignite the boxing scene.

CAPTION(S):

FIST-CLASS ACTION: Scott Harrison, main pic, is looking to build on his victory over Samuel Kebede while fight fans eagerly await a British super-featherweight clash between Alex Arthur, top, and Craig Docherty, middle. Also keen to make an impression this year are heavyweight Ian Millarvie and welterweight Kevin Anderson, above; BIG HITTERS: Rivals Gilmour, left, and Maloney present a united front in boxing's defence
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 31, 2004
Words:1081
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