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North-East boxing future is bright
FOR almost 68 years the North-East has waited for an occasion like last night. Two of the region's boxers, battling it out in front of a packed crowd for the right to be crowned British champion.
Reigning champion Jon-Lewis Dickinson, from Birtley, was always expected to defend his crown against his old sparring partner David Dolan, Sunderland's former Commonwealth gold medalist, and did so.
Where Dickinson goes now depends on how far he wants to push himself, with his colourful and eccentric manager Frank Maloney keen to drive the 26-year-old cruiserweight as far as he can go.
This could be an exciting year for North-East boxing and last night's Double-D duel between Dickinson and Dolan should merely mark the start of a ten-month period which should highlight if this area is set for a boxing renaissance at the highest level.
Anyone who turned up at Thursday's weigh-in for last night's main event would have struggled to get excited. With less than 20 spectators in the reasonably sized hall, the most striking thing was the sight of Maloney, strutting around in a cream cardigan to match his two Labradoodles.
But the fact Lennox Lewis' former manager is back in the area to continue his growing partnership with Wearside promoter Phil Jeffries suggests he senses good times are on the horizon.
"I like working up here, the boxing fans appreciate good fights," said Maloney, who worked alongside Lewis when he became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
"There are some good fighters up here and it's worth getting excited about. I have got a number of promising boxers myself from around here.
"As well as the Dickinson brothers, Jon-Lewis and Travis, I also have Glenn Foot and he is a very good fighter, plenty of potential, which showed when he won the Prizefighter series last month.
"Paul Archer was also on this show and is only young, now seven fights in (after his narrow points win over journeyman Kevin McAauley) so there is talent up here. They just need to be helped along.
"What's good though is that these boxers don't have to keep travelling down to London like they might have once had to. That's what is helping build boxing up again around here. As long as they keep winning then boxing can only go from strength to strength in the area."
Even when Sunderland-born Billy Thompson, who had moved to the South Yorkshire village of Thurnscoe at the time, defeated South Shields' Stan Hawthorne back in 1945, the pair had to meet outside the North-East.
After Ronnie James had vacated the British title, Thompson stopped his opponent inside three rounds in front of thousands at the home of Liverpool Football Club, Anfield.
The Silksworth-born lightweight went on to defend his British crown on two more occasions while also adding the European belt to his list of successes by beating Roberto Proietti. On his return to his hometown he was greeted by hundreds to mark his achievement.
And while the North-East remains short of a boxer reaching such heights at this stage, there is undoubtedly strong evidence that points to improved fortunes being not too far around the corner.
The Dickinson-Dolan affair - between Britain's two most worthy cruiserweights - might have been witnessed by a 1,400-strong crowd inside Rainton Meadows last night, but Maloney thinks it is only a matter of time before a boxer from this part of the country commands a bigger venue.
"I would like us moving from here to the Newcastle Metro Radio Arena," said Maloney. "It's the same as what we did with David Price (Liverpool's British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion). We moved from the Olympia over on Merseyside, which held 1,400, to the Echo Arena, which is now holding 7,500.
"It's like a football team, you start at the bottom and develop upwards. That's what Phil Jeffries has been doing - and the Dickinson and Dolan match-up is the first major title fight in a while. Hopefully there will be plenty more to come.
"A lot of the credit has to be put down to Phil. Tommy Conroy (Sunderland promoter) did bits and then dipped off the scene. Then Phil got me involved through his son, Tony, before he retired, and we have kept it going."
As sport consultant for Loaded TV it was Maloney who was instrumental in getting last night's card shown on Sky channel 200. It was the biggest show Loaded have paid for so far and the latest of three.
For that sort of attention to develop into greater pay-days - and interest from not only Loaded but other channels - it will require one of the North-East's most promising talents to increase their profile by taking a division by storm.
In the not too distant past Hartlepool's Michael Hunter enjoyed such highs on his way to an unsuccessful IBF superbantamweight shot after claiming British, Commonwealth and European belts along the way.
And the likes of Billy Hardy and Glenn McCrory - who remains the only North-East fighter to hold one of the more prestigious world titles - both put County Durham and Wearside on the boxing map in the 80s and 90s.
And while all eyes will focus on whether Dickinson can go on to achieve his targets the focus must also turn to other promising fighters.
Tonight should have been when Middlesbrough's Paul Truscott entered the ring with Crawley's Ben Jones for the vacant WBO European championship.
Weight problems have forced the contest to be scrapped, but Truscott is a nice technician and, with the right mindset, remains young enough to hold one of the more coveted belts after becoming Commonwealth champion in 2009. He has lost just three of his 21 pro fights.
Then there is 32-year-old Stuart Hall. Age may not be on the bantamweight's side but Darlington's first ever British champion - until he lost to Doncaster's Jamie McDonnell in 2011 - has designs on hitting that perch again once he has defended his Commonwealth crown on March 9 against Isaac Nettey.
Welterweight talent Foot, with a straight ten wins since turning pro and five by knock-out, has already made people sit up and take notice.
The 25-year-old, from Sunderland, was a top amateur and Maloney had hoped to put him on last night's show but it arrived too soon for after his Prizefighter success.
Then there is Rainton's English bantamweight champion Martin Ward. His trainer Neil Fannan believes the southpaw - and younger brother Tommy - is destined for the top and, crucially, so does the silky 24-year-old who has just one defeat from 17 outings.
And if Fishburn's Bradley Saunders continues at the rate he has shown so far then it is only a matter of time when his manager, Frank Warren, gives him a crack at the title he is already craving.
The 2008 Olympian has made light work of the early stages of his professional career, including three stoppages from his five wins. He is already being shown on BoxNation and is eyeing up a fight in his native North-East in 2013.
And then there is Peter Cope, the only fighter among this most promising group to be in action last night. Despite it being only his seventh fight, the Hartlepool southpaw already looks assured and capable of developing into a real title contender.
Trained by his father, Peter Snr, he made light work of his first five contests even though his sixth at the Stadium of Light in July highlighted a need to improve his endurance when he went ten rounds for the first time with Gavin Reid.
It is important that at the age of 21 he takes his time and does not get too far ahead of himself but he undoubtedly has the style and backing to make significant progress in the next few years at super-bantamweight level.
Whether or not any of the above will go on to hit the world stage like a Hardy or McCrory is very much uncertain. At least, though, there is hope once more.