|The bell signaled the end of the fight. Clinton Woods walked toward the referee and gestured like a fan seeking an autograph. The referee gave something to Woods alright: his first defeat. It was unfair but not a terrible injustice as David Starie,|
a decent fighter in his own right, won the Commonwealth super middleweight title and took up whatever path Woods intended to journey down at that point. The sound of shattered dreams was one Woods would come to understand well. Perhaps the only solace for Woods in his next loss was that it came not against David Starie, but against Roy Jones Jr. himself. Little hope accompanied Woods to confront then the greatest fighter in the world, and even less returned home to Sheffield, England with him. Woods went on to oblige a cruel procession of elimination bouts, taunting him towards another world championship fight, and when one came, his hopes fell apart once more to the crowning glory of Glen Johnson. Only the most stubborn resolve, and an element of fortune, held Woods towards a last chance, and for once, it was not his, but undefeated Rico Hoye’s grasp that strained for a title and clutched thin air. Woods became champion, and in signing to fight dangerous Mexican Julio Gonzalez in his first defense, he signals the champion he intends to be.
The trials of Clinton Woods make for an inspiring story today, but against the glamour and mastery of Jones, then the accomplishment of Johnson, humble and honest in the face of many apparent ring thefts, it paled. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again is something we instill in younger generations to encourage, to build character; but in the world of boxing and the career of Clinton Woods, admirable efforts do not amount to the ultimate prize. Even now that Woods is a champion, few boxing fans claim to know anything of his achievements or abilities. He is an ordinary fighter and an unassuming personality, a stereotypical product of the gritty, industrialized streets of “The Steel City” responsible for Naseem Hamed. Woods made the best of talents inferior to Hamed’s, but tellingly, Woods’ heart waded through oceans of disappointment whereas Hamed’s broke upon first contact.
No lifestyle contrasts exist between Woods and his opponent, as Gonzalez hardly resembles a glamour boy of the sport, although we should remember him more than we do. Humbly making his way as a fighter while picking strawberries and working bowling alleys, not even Gonzalez himself would likely have envisaged his future accomplishments. Gonzalez survived now deceased fighter Julian Letterlough in a modern boxing classic. He defeated future undisputed champion Glen Johnson, and finally, became a world champion by stopping Dariusz Michalczewski’s unbeaten tear of forty-eight wins; Gonzalez also took the WBO title long used by Michalczewski as a bargaining tool to tempt Jones. A comparable list of feats compiled by a fighter who, unlike many of his peers, will not win a fight and spend six months boastfully regurgitating descriptions of the act to captive audiences.
Boxing’s perennial embrace of those fighters exhibiting bizarre, distasteful, erratic and destructive behaviors means that it has little time for the honest workers of the sport such as Woods and Gonzalez. As fighters, they share striking similarities in height, physique and their respective paths trodden to this point. The acid test for both men came against Jones’ brilliance. Gonzalez fought Jones with swells of determination periodically deflated by Jones’ slashing left hooks; discouraged, Gonzalez ambled to his first loss. In contrast, Woods endured the blazing torrent of Jones’ combinations and insolently pushed the Floridian into the ropes, blasting him with defiant body punches and combinations alike to that which Antonio Tarver would soon replicate in the final stages of Jones’ demystification. Tired yet unbowed, Woods stood dismayed as his corner ended the fight.
Woods and Gonzalez, present and past world champions respectively, enter a world championship contest next week not only to win, but to force their way into the worlds of their more bombastic light heavyweight counterparts. The golden days of the light heavyweight division die slowly in these times, and before they depart, a new ruler can make a play for the ultimate crown. There is no doubt that Antonio Tarver owns the division, and less expectation that Roy Jones can interrupt his reign, though where the division goes when these aged battlers finish their business is questionable. On September 9, when we know the identity of the IBF light heavyweight champion, we may also have a successor to the light heavyweight throne.
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