By Graham Houston
On Saturday we have the fourth installment of Prizefighter: The Heavyweights, with Sky Sports televising from east London’s atmospheric York Hall. Veterans Matt Skelton and Michael Sprott are the joint favourites but anything can happen in this event, with its three-round format. Here’s a look at the quarterfinals.
MATT SKELTON vs ALI ADAMS
Former European champion Skelton is 43 but he’s been stopped in three of his last four fights and his punches looked slow and laboured in his last fight when he chopped down trial horse Lee Swaby in the fifth round. Adams, 29, was born in Iraq, moved to Britain as a teenager to study and work and has been doing quite well with his boxing, winning eight and drawing one of his last nine fights although the longest he has been is six two-minute rounds.
Sometimes, Prizefighter isn’t so much about experience and ability but who can get off quickest and throw more punches for three rounds. Loveable old warhorse Skelton is probably the sentimental favourite but Adams hasn’t had an easy life, working long hours for low wages while studying in the UK, and he has persevered with his boxing — he is the type of young man one would like to see do well. Adams has a well-regarded trainer in Johnny Eames, physically he is the most impressively built of the Prizefighter contestants, and although he is stepping up hugely in class he has a useful left jab and says he has been working on speed. In a three-rounder, I give him a chance of upsetting the odds against the more experienced but 14-years-older Skelton.
KEVIN McBRIDE vs FRANKLIN EGOBI
McBride turned professional 18 years ago in the UK and the big Boston-based Irishman returns to familiar territory to try his hand at Prizefighter. I’m not sure how serious McBride is about his boxing these days. He is 37 and has boxed once in the past three years, when he was well beaten on points by the much smaller journeyman Zack Page. McBride has now lost three in a row, two by stoppage — and his last win was more than six years ago. He did, of course, belabour what little was left of Mike Tyson five years ago, and McBride had a 39-year-old Andrew Golota looking awfully wobbly in the first round of their fight at Madison Square Garden in 2007 before running out of steam to be stopped in the sixth.
Egobi, 34, is a Nigerian who lives in south London and he once looked like a decent prospect, winning 12 successive bouts in South Africa only to lose his way when he moved to the UK — he has lost three of his last six fights, all on points, and on Saturday he will be boxing for the first time in two years. It is tempting to pick Egobi to upset the odds against McBride but in his last fight The Nigerian boxer lost to Edgar Kalnars, a Latvian who has been stopped 16 times, which includes six first-round collapses. Admittedly Egobi’s loss to Kalnars was on his opponent’s home ground in Latvia, but you have to wonder about a boxer who couldn’t get a W against an opponent of such lowly status. Still, Egobi has lost only once in the UK, when he was outpointed by the 6ft 5ins Chris Burton, undefeated at the time and subsequently a Prizefighter semifinalist. On paper, McBride should win, but I see this as an “anything can happen” fight.
MICHAEL SPROTT vs DANNY HUGHES
Co-favourite to win the tournament, 35-year-old Sprott ironically boxed better than he has in years only to get caught and knocked out by Audley Harrison in the final round in his last fight. Sprott has boxed at a high level and although twice a loser to Matt Skelton (a last-round knockout in 2004, then a defeat by majority decision in a dreary rematch three years ago) he is arguably in better form than his old rival.
On paper, Sprott should be able to defeat the far less experienced Hughes, a 6ft 5ins boxer from the north east of England. Hughes’s only loss was on points to Harrison in the last Prizefighter heavyweight tournament, but in his last bout he could only manage to get a draw with a much smaller opponent who had boxed just three times professionally. Still, Hughes won the first round on two judges’ cards against Harrison. If Hughes can do the same against Sprott, and then fight well enough to be competitive in the next couple of rounds, he will give himself a chance of scrambling to a decision in the three-rounder.
DECLAN TIMLIN vs SHANE McPHILBIN
The oddsmakers in the UK have made Timlin the favourite but this is a typical Prizefighter bout that, to me, could go either way. Timlin, from Ireland, is unbeaten but has had spells of inactivity in a stop-and-go career. McPhilbin had something of an amateur background although Tyson Fury was too big and strong for him in the English championships semi-finals. Timlin looks more of the “fighter” type, McPhilbin more of a stand-up boxer. McPhilbin has boxed just three times as a professional, losing once, worryingly, to an opponent who had never boxed professionally and hasn’t boxed since. Still, McPhilbin did stop his last opponent. Some of the British pundits have been talking up Timlin but, to me, this looks an even-money bout.
Full previews of Skelton-Adams; Timlin-McPhilbin are now available in the subscribers’ section. I will also take a stab at picking the Prizefighter outright winner in the subscribers’ section at fightwriter.com.