Eyes back on the prize
Prizefighter is back and Adam Smith can't wait. Whether he can pick a winner is another matter entirely...
Last Updated: 26/02/10 9:53am
It's always an enthralling week when we're building up to a Prizefighter.
There's just something so fresh and fun about this tournament. We get tremendous camaraderie between the eight fighters, there's a real electricity during the evening, and a new type of boxing audience are being drawn in to the fast and furious nature of the nights.
I think it's this enticing mix which has injected a different feel to these shows and has broadened our appeal. People want to watch Prizefighter - largely for the knockdowns, non-stop action, and twists and turns through the dramatic nights.
Most have had thrilling moments, some haven't quite lived up to the hype, but Prizefighter's definitely brightened up the scene. Highlights over the last couple of seasons have included Martin Rogan steamrolling through the heavyweights, Martin Murray topping the middleweights after that extraordinary punch up with Cello Renda, Ovill McKenzie coming from nowhere to beat the naturally heavier cruiserweights, and Danny Williams falling at the first hurdle to The Fridge, Carl Baker!
This Friday, it's the 10th Prizefighter, and the light-middleweights step up to the plate for the first time. They all came in for their promotional day at Sky last week, and are both a super crop of fighters, and some of life's real characters. They all feel that their show will see the most entertaining blend yet, and seemed surprised that it had taken so long for the 11-stone pack to get their turn.
I must admit that when I first saw the list, I wasn't as excited as I had been by some of the previous line-ups. Yet having interviewed them all and taking a closer look at their strengths and frailties in the ring, I actually think this could be one of the most explosive yet.
There's bundles of raw, potent power being thrown in; there's also a fair few leaky defences, while some do possess slick boxing skills. They are a right sort; all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of experience, but all with a common goal. They all want to give the fans serious value for money.
Every time I interview the Prizefighter combatants, they tell me they're going to win. All of them! Yet this latest bunch talked at length about how much they are going to put into this. There's bucket-loads of ambition, heart and determination. So combine that with their arsenals - and the fact that they are on more of a level playing field than some of the previous Prizefighters - and I think we may just be in for a treat!
It was great to see our recently crowned European light-middleweight champion Ryan Rhodes making the draw. What a roller-coaster career the hugely likeable Sheffield fighter's had; lately it's been real fairytale stuff for Ryan, and I know he can't wait to watch the Prizefighter story unfold in his division on Friday.
The opening quarter-final sees enigmatic cockney puncher George Hillyard tackle Manchester's tall, rangy, stylish youngster Prince Arron. I have watched both of these talents develop, and they have showed plenty of grit to overcome some real problems. They share a common bond in that it all came a bit too soon for them.
George really impressed me the other day. Weight-making problems and lazy, lethargic performances have hampered his progress. He's also suffered indescribable personal family pain - including his son Oscar being born virtually blind. The family are throwing all the money they can at helping his cause. Personally, it was heart-wrenching to hear the story. I have a son, also called Oscar and he's also two.
Now George looks sharp, fit, focused and right back with it. There was an added maturity about him, and I like his new attitude. When I looked at the odds - George was 33-1. Wow!
The draw's a problem; the one fighter who I felt Hillyard wouldn't like to face was Prince Arron. The 6ft 3inch 22-year-old has got such an enormous reach, which means he can be a nightmare to fight. Arron's been active; he'll be supremely conditioned under Bob Shannon, and is fancied to do well.
However, I'll put my neck on the line and go for Hillyard. I've always felt he has potential - it's now time to deliver!
The second clash could very well be the fight of the night. Many hoped that the two pre-fight favourites and heavy hitters Bradley Pryce and Neil Sinclair would meet in the final. I actually like the fact that they have been pitched in early; it will get the night off to a flyer. This just can't help being a dramatic nine minutes of action. It has everything.
Sinclair has 25 knockouts, Pryce 17, and yet they have been stopped sensationally themselves. They have tonnes of big-fight experience, both know this is a bit of a last-chance saloon, and if that wasn't enough there's added needle because this is a rematch. Sinclair stopped Pryce in eight - but that was way back in 2003, and came early for the Welshman.
Bradley's hoping to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Gavin Rees, who was crowned king of the light-welterweights last December. He's got the advantage of having Enzo Calzaghe in his corner, and it would be good to see Joe ringside again willing his charge to victory.
Pryce is, though, a slow starter and Sinclair isn't. Neil's a bright, laid-back type, but he's quick out of the blocks, and can really bang... perfect ingredients for Prizefighter! He's also trained by John Breen who steered Martin Rogan to the inaugural trophy.
However, Belfast's Sinclair's the oldest in it at 36, and may have struggled with the weight. Pryce's speed and angles might get the job done. It's a pick 'em. Don't write either off, and one thing it might do is take a fair amount out of whoever progresses. I tentatively go with Pryce to exact revenge over the shorter distance.
The other half of the draw looks easier, and offers real opportunities for unsung heroes.
Danny Butler's the only one in the mix who has been here before. The Bristol battler made it to the semis of the middleweights, only narrowly losing out to the eventual winner Martin Murray. Danny's been very busy but he's been matched hard and is not in great form. He could have his work cut out against former soldier Brett Flournoy.
The southpaw from the Wirral's unbeaten, and was also an ABA champion. He's a classy boxer, and the format could really suit him. This might be a real chance to get his stop-start career motoring. I lean towards Flournoy to advance.
The final quarter-final pits the other undefeated boxer, West Drayton's Steve O'Meara in with the big-punching Leicester favourite, Martin Concepcion. O'Meara's been brought on well by Jim McDonnell and has benefited from sparring stablemate James DeGale. Steve even had a dream session in Las Vegas with Floyd Mayweather!
He is, though a bit easy to hit, and one shot from Concepcion can put your lights out. Martin's a touch susceptible around the chin himself, but O'Meara's not a knockout specialist.Concepcion booked his place in Prizefighter after a terrific fight with Kevin Hammond (a reserve here) and was a little fortunate to get the decision.
It's this bit of luck that helps in Prizefighter too and provided he's had time to recover from that Midlands Area tussle, Concepcion could go well. He showed more boxing skills against Hammond, and could get the blend right for Prizefighter. Martin's very confident about his chances. For me it's the more seasoned Concepcion to make the semis.
If those results go according to my predictions (highly unlikely, but you never know!), then George Hillyard would meet Bradley Pryce in the first semi-final. This could be another really tasty affair - especially if Pryce has had a humdinger with Sinclair. Hillyard is fresher, fiery and a handful over three rounds for anyone, but Pryce should have the knowledge to progress. Something's hanging with me about Hillyard for Friday night... but the sensible choice is Pryce.
If Prince Arron has made it through, that would be an awkward tussle for Pryce, but one I think he'd deal with too.
My second semi-final would see a good blend of styles - with the orthodox banger Concepcion meeting the slick southpaw Flournoy. This would be a real 50-50 affair. I'm not 100 per cent convinced that Brett really believes he can win this, but if he starts well, and gets into a groove, he may be tough to beat.
I, very tentatively, go with Flournoy. (If Concepcion wins, he might end up tackling Pryce again. Their first encounter ended when Pryce blitzed the Leicester man in three rounds in 2007).
My prediction is for a Pryce-Flournoy final... and a really interesting one. You would have to fancy Pryce on everything he's achieved in the game, including the way he's bounced back from difficulties. I've always rated him when he's on his game and I'm going for the Welshman to follow the recent Prizefighter success of Gavin Rees - and Nathan Cleverly's rise - to continue the Welsh boxing revival.
My lively outsider's George Hillyard; my surprise package Brett Flournoy, but I think the bookies may have this one right. Bradley Pryce to become the champion of Prizefighter - The Light-Middleweights.
That said, this is Prizefighter - so you never ever know! Eight fighters, seven three-round brawls for £32,000 cash. Plus it's in the home of British boxing - the York Hall, Bethnal Green.
So, sit back and enjoy. We all will! Bring on the next instalment of Prizefighter!