On the ropes’ elimination reminds us of what real boxing is: skill, passion and community

Two weeks ago Anthony Joshua defeated Joseph Parker in front of 75,000 people in Cardiff’s Principality stadium. Joshua reportedly earned up to £20 million for his night’s work. It was a spectacular national event, but it wasn’t boxing. At least, it wasn’t representative of the sport that takes place up and down the country each week.

That sport, real boxing, takes place in community halls and sports centres. It’s protagonists are not millionaires seeking astronomical rewards. Their broken bones and cuts aren’t compensated by huge purses and sponsorship money. These extraordinarily brave men and women fight because they love the game, testing their skills and entertaining their communities. And we had the pleasure of attending one of these real boxing nights on Saturday at On The Ropes’ Elimination show.

As you approached the Stanrigg Community Centre in Greengairs you knew you were entering a battleground. Glamour was left at the door as fans packed the converted barn hall and surrounded the ring. Every shot, thump and crack was heard by the crowd. And, conversely, the fighters could hear every word of encouragement and abuse hurled at them. Interspersed with thumping dance music between fights, this made for a terrific atmosphere.

Jamie ‘Ginnie’ McGinnis headlined the evening against England’s Jak Johnson. And McGinnis should consider changing his name to The Miracle Man after getting a knockout win only months after major surgery. It was the latest in a number of operations that the former world kickboxing champion has endured. And, in all honesty, most fighters would have heeded doctors’ orders and walked away from combat sports. But not Ginnie. He walked confidently into the ring, knee strap visible to all, and obliterated his opponent in little over a minute. Johnson fell to the floor after a flurry of painful shots attacked his ribs. He beat the count but could not convince the referee that he was in a condition to continue. It was probably the correct decision by the referee as more punishment was likely. Elite Kickboxing Gym’s McGinnis received rapturous applause from his home support and may be tempted to extend his fight career further on that showing.

Some fighters are gifted comfortable professional debuts. A straight forward match to welcome them to the pro-game and get their first win. That wasn’t the case for Coatbridge’s Paul Brannen. The Lanarkshire man was involved in a gruelling contest with Wales’ Danny Tinklin.

Tinklin made sure Brannen knew he was in a real fight from the opening bell. Confident movement and sustained aggression arguably secured Tinklin the first round. There was a risk that the Welshman was turning the fight into a brawl, and Brannen would be tempted to abandon his boxing skill and game plan to engage.

However, Brannen had a huge second round, displaying superior boxing ability, and landing sharp combinations to the head and body. Tinklin was becoming increasingly frustrated as Brannen’s class was shining through. So much so that he was deducted a point for landing well after the bell. When Tinklin charged, Brannen more often than not countered and pivoted away out of trouble.

Brannen continued to impress in the remaining two rounds, demonstrating both boxing technique and bravery. He both boxed and brawled, and was a convincing winner in both areas. Tinklin remained dangerous, and would be a headache for any fighter in his division, with his aggression and durability. But his repeated offences of low blows and late strikes were indicative of a fighter who was being outclassed on the night.

Brannen’s hand was raised victorious and after the contest explained: ‘It felt great to get the win. It was a mix of sticking to the game plan and also showing grit and determination. I can’t wait to get out again, I’ll fight anyone put in front of me.’

A common phenomena that occurs across all levels of boxing – from small halls to stadia – is incorrect decisions. And we witnessed baffling score cards on Saturday in the contest between Xander Savage and Robbie Graham.

Graham showed courage and determination throughout the fight. He was arguably the stronger puncher of the two. There is no taking away from his commitment. But, for the vast majority of people in attendance, it was clear that Savage won the bout. Savage employed a sharp, probing jab that dictated the pace and allowed him to follow up with powerful shots to the head and body. He seemingly was unable to miss with the jab, repeatedly snapping Graham’s head back and following up with combinations. Graham’s nose was bleeding heavily from the second onwards.

The first three rounds were particularly impressive as Savage moved well and landed the cleaner, more effective shots. He was perhaps guilty of complacency in the fourth, and neglected the jab for periods in the round. Graham was applying more pressure and, whilst he didn’t land anything of significance, may have nicked the round with his aggression. But shock filled the room as the referee lifted Graham’s hand in victory. Few, perhaps even the fighter himself, had predicted that outcome.

Graham cannot be blamed for the decision. He played his part in an excellent fight and deserves respect. But Savage will understandably feel hard done by after his impressive performance was not rewarded. The Glasgow man, who trains out of Glasgow Fitness Gym, said: ‘I’m still trying to wrap my head around the decision. I can’t see how the fighter showcasing more skill, being the aggressor as well as showing good defence doesn’t win the fight. I’d take the rematch but doubt Robbie would. I won’t be letting this bad decision put me off. I have big aspirations for a pro-career and will be back in the gym on Wednesday.’

If there was an award for bravery on the night then it would have undoubtedly been awarded to Chris Ketchen. The man from Misfits Gym was facing Navarro’s Stuart Campbell in a brutal one-sided contest. Campbell looked utterly composed, holding centre ring, stalking Ketchen and unleashing devastating body shots. The hooks to the ribcage were audible at ringside, and even spectators winced as they landed. And land they did, repeatedly, round after round. Campbell was meticulous, rarely putting a foot wrong, relentlessly damaging his opponent. But Ketchen unbelievably stayed in the contest, gritted his teeth, tried to cover up and fight back. Lesser men would have taken a knee and quit, understandably, but that didn’t appear to be in his make-up. Ketchen persevered and heard the final bell, winning respect of the fans in attendance.

But of course there was only one winner, Campbell, who made a real impression in his performance. Speaking after the contest, Campbell explained: ‘The plan was to get inside and break down Chris with solid body shots. I felt like I done that well and caught him with some heavy shots. Respect to Chris as he took them well. I’ll be taking some time away from the sport as I’ve got a shoulder injury that’s flared up again. I’ve also become a father for the second time and want time to enjoy fatherhood for the next few months. But I will be back and I’ll be going after anyone with a belt.’

Matthew Speirs, from Elite Kickboxing Gym, and Scott Rodgers, from Glasgow Fitness Gym, are a terrific advert for Scottish boxing. They are two teenagers with real potential to go far in the sport, and they met for the second time in a month at the Elimination show. Rodgers secured a narrow victory in the first bout, and it was the same fate in the second. Speirs, who is only 15, was passionate and displayed good movement, jab and commitment. But may have been over-eager at times, constantly applying pressure, engaging toe-to-toe rather than exploiting his reach advantage better. Rodgers, 17, looked more comfortable, soaking up pressure and countering with solid hooks and combinations. It was a close fight, and one which we would be happy to see again and again, but Rodgers edged it with cleaner work. We hope Speirs is not deterred by his second defeat, as he impressed all in his efforts, and both lads can be proud of their performance.

Another Elite Kickboxing Gym fighter, Sean Murray, narrowly beat Liverpool’s Alex Edwards in a closely fought contest. Murray clearly has mixed martial arts background as his fighting stance and style was not that of a traditional boxer. In fact, Edwards looked to be the more skilled operator, and landed the better jab and cleaner shots. However, these were too rare as Edwards appeared overly cautious and reluctant to let his hands go at times. In contrast, the physically strong Murray piled on the pressure and was aggressive throughout. The decision could have gone either way, but judges felt Murray’s sustained pressure warranted the decision. Both men will learn from the bout and come back again stronger.

Respect to Edwards who displayed a Justice For The 96 badge on his shorts close to the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

The evening got off to a flying start as Coatbridge’s Craig Breen charged at England’s Danny Costello from the opening bell. In some fights, minutes can be spent trying to get a feel for an opponent’s style. But not in this case; Breen was fearless and immediately secured centre ring , pushing Costello back to the ropes, and firing shots to the head and body. It was effective for the first two rounds as Breen landed some strong left hooks, winding his opponent and marking his face. But the frantic pace could not be sustained and Breen appeared to tire in the last round. Costello also had some success fighting off the back foot, countering with his some slick uppercuts and hooks against the ropes. Costello showed class in patches and spirit throughout, but it was no match for Breen on the night, whose relentless attacks secured the first of two victories for boxers from Coatbridge’s Barn boxing club.

Reflecting on the night, On The Ropes promoter Gerard Boyle Welsh said: ‘We had some tests, real adversity, behind the scenes for this show. But it was also the best boxing we have ever had the pleasure to have on our events. It was literally toe to toe from start to finish. It was superb dealing with all the teams involved – Paul Fellows, Raj Singh from Glasgow Fitness Team and Ginnie McGinnis, Ged Murray and Charlie Parvan from Elite, they’re all top class. I’m proud of all the fighters and thanks to the crowd for getting behind the lads and making it a great atmosphere.’

On The Ropes, and all of the fighters and teams involved, can be proud of playing their part in keeping real boxing alive, and we genuinely look forward to the next show.