The skirl of the bagpipes could be heard from blocks away as we approached the Radisson Blu in Glasgow on Thursday [January 30]. At the doors of the hotel stood the female piper, welcoming revellers to the Burns Night Boxing Supper by St. Andrews Sporting Club. It was also a gentle reminder of how far the club has come as it wasn’t long ago it was a Gentleman’s Only club. Passers-by looked on intrigued as the crowds of black-ties gathered by the door, some even going a step further and bundling out of a parked up limousine. Were they there for the boxing? The Burns Supper? The networking opportunities? Or just a night out? Who knows, but all were in good spirits. There was no need to question the reasoning for the large English contingent’s arrival. The forty-odd northerners had travelled from Wigan to support welterweight, James Moorcroft (13-0), in his British title eliminator as he faced off against the home-fighter from Dumbarton, Martin Harkin (12-0).

The night started with the hustle and bustle you would expect at a wedding, waiters everywhere and busy atmosphere expected from a room packed with tables socialising, certainly one of the busiest nights I have witnessed at the St Andrews Sporting Club’s events. The travelling support and special guest, Josh Warrington were soon treated to some nationalistic traditions as the haggis was piped in, soon followed by a Rabbie Burns inspired toast from guest John Morgan, which might have left some of them scratching their heads.

One speaker that everyone in the room had no trouble relating to was IBF World Champion, Josh Warrington, as he delivered a motivational recount of proving doubters wrong to lift the world championship. Charming the crowd with his support of small hall boxing, love of the Scots and jokes of dancing around the haggis, he proved a fantastic coup that the audience were happy to give an ovation.

The evening’s entertainment continued as the first man entered the ring but it wasn’t for the first fight. Instead we were treated to former-footballer now comedian, John Gahagan who bounced off the ropes, delivering a combination of punchlines that left the audience in stiches. A worthy addition to the night’s undercard, bridging the gap between dinner and boxing perfectly.

The main event of the evening rounded up the Scottish pride perfectly as Martin Harkin sent his opponent, James Moorcroft, homeward to think again. A final appearance from the evening’s piper as she walked the Scotsman to the ring. As Harkin entered to a roaring crowd, he looked as if he was loving every minute of it but as soon it came time to face off, his face changed from smile to scowl.

From the opening bell, the visitor rushed to the centre of the ring and threw his rapid jab, looking for openings to throw out combinations and attempt to keep the home fighter at bay. Martin remained patient and it didn’t take him long to start landing hard-hitting combinations which appeared to affect his man immediately.

The second round started as the first had ended, with Harkin appearing confident that he could land his big shots. It was only a matter of time before he found an opening, pushing his opponent on the back foot with a flurry of varying punches, before eventually dropping him to the canvas with a big overhand right, causing an eruption of cheers in the dinner hall. Between rounds, the lad sat beside had told me he was clueless with boxing and had been invited to the event by his boss, however from his reaction it was clear he was enjoying the action as he bounced to his feet at the knockdown.

To the surprise of many, despite looking wobbled, Moorcroft survived the second round. Harkin was perhaps a tad overzealous in his attempts to finish his opponent, allowing Moorcroft to recover and respond well in the third round with a constant jab, movement and some combinations of his own, even catching the Scotsman with a clean uppercut, snapping his head back in the process, leading to the ‘MOORCROFT’ chants starting again from the away support to spur on their man.

The beginning of the fourth started close with both having their success going jab for jab, but as we neared the end, Martin was returning to his original game plan, with his corners orders paying off: ‘USE THE JAB’…. ‘GO BACK TO BOXING, MARTIN!’

A more relaxed Harkin entered the fifth round, with instructions in tow, and it was only a matter of time before he found his openings again, the same that had brought early success. And he soon finished James with a barrage of punches that sent him into the ropes and over face first. Although the away fighter made it to his feet, the referee waved off the contest, and sent the Celtic champion and his home support into jubilation.

Although Moorcroft’s bravery may have allowed him to continue, the fight was only headed one way and the gutted challenger remained on his corner stool as the winner had his name announced and arm raised.

Speaking with Martin after the fight he expressed his joy:

“It was definitely a night to remember. To do it in that fashion, in front of all my friends and family was a dream come true. The atmosphere and reception I got was unbelievable but it’s given me a taste for it now, I only want big fights! I’ve now got the Celtic title and an eliminator behind me – hopefully if we can get a good opponent, the board will give me a final eliminator and I’ll be another step closer to getting a shot at that British title!”

Over the time of knowing Nathaniel Collins, a regular conversation topic for us has been ring entrance songs, but it wasn’t required for this fight as he traded hip-hop with the patriotic sounds of bagpipes in his bout before the main event.

As two opponents fell through, its lucky there was a ringwalk at all to discuss. But thankfully Jordan Ellison (11-28-2) took the last minute phonecall, just the day before. With Jordan operating as high as light-welterweight in the past, the chance of making a statement win was unlikely for Nathaniel. However, unlike the opening bout it was only the Celtic champion causing a ‘Nightmare’ as he coasted to 7-0 on a points win, using the fight to work on various defence techniques and peppering his opponent with flashy combinations, throughout the six rounds

The first bout of the night was originally supposed to be Andy Tham, however illness led him to have to withdraw just before fight week. I personally love to see a boxer jump when an opportunity presents itself and proving they are all always ready to fight. However on this occasion, young Ryan Gall’s get-up-and-go attitude was unfortunately not rewarded as he wound up matched against the highly experienced William Warburton, in his 202nd professional fight. From the opening bell, the journeyman has no difficulty dodging the 2-0 prospect’s shots. At the end of the first round, Gall was on the wrong end of a left uppercut and was sent to the canvas right before the bell. The rest of the contest, the Dundee-lad was chasing the fight, hoping to make up for the first round’s knockdown. Despite having some success with fast combinations, Warburton would just punish him with his own flurry. At times it appeared the veteran was going easy on his man, allowing him to come into the fight at times but still eased his way to a points victory of 40-36. Warburton’s record looks like a phonebook of names of all the top prospects over the last ten years, the gulf of experience was evident on Thursday night but hopefully doesn’t dishearten Ryan Gall too much. Unbeknownst to us at the time, but the crowd were witnessing William Warburton’s final fight as he has since announced his retirement from the sport, leaving with a record of 27-164-10 and only three fighters managing to stop him. Although at a Scotsman expense, I can’t help but be happy to see him leave the sport on a win. An outsider might look at his record and be baffled by the praise but guys like Warburton remain the back bone of the small hall scene; helping prospects ply their trade, travelling the country on hours’ notice to stop fights or even events falling through and I, like many, wish him all the best in his retirement.

Report by Allen Payne