- Steve Bunce
Skelton a necessary annoyance for PriceSteve Bunce November 27, 2012
If you thought Ricky Hatton's comeback fight with Vyacheslav Senchenko was a big night for British boxing, with 19,000 people at the MEN Arena bearing witness to the end of his comeback dream, then this weekend could be even bigger - not least given the size of the men stepping into the ring.
David Price takes on Matt Skelton on Friday night, honouring an agreement that he reached with the veteran a few months back. Skelton was meant to be Price's opponent six weeks ago, but stepped aside when an opportunity for Price to fight Audley Harrison came up. Taking the fight was a sensible move, because stepping into the ring with Harrison boosted the Liverpudlian's profile. Skelton agreed to be pushed to the sidelines on the understanding that he would fight Price before Christmas. That's why Price is fighting the former British, Commonwealth and European champion.
Pricey talks a lot about learning his craft, and there should be plenty for him to take from what will be a hard fight - starting with some valuable lessons about not getting involved in a wrestling match. Skelton is a wrestling expert - he spent 20 years on the K1 circuit in Japan, and has also fought other types of mixed martial arts for different organisations. In short, if he gets close to you, and starts grappling with you, it has the makings of an ugly night.
But that is all part of what championship boxers have to endure on their way to titles. It's no good fighting the same type of boxer every single fight. Matt Skelton is a necessary annoyance in David Price's career - Price will win, and could win ugly, but it will not be easy.
On the same night, Freddie Flintoff makes his much-hyped heavyweight boxing debut in a four-round fight against Richard Dawson. There are plenty of people who doubt Flintoff's commitment to his new sport, but they've not seen him in the gym. They've not seen him spar. They've not seen him struggle to improve slowly - and the process has been slow.
Flintoff was not granted a boxing licence the first time he applied. He managed to get a licence the next time around, but even then the BBBC did not reach a unanimous decision, and the McGuigans - Barry and Shane - both know that there is a long way to go, and that it will not be easy.
However, this is not - I repeat, not - a publicity stunt, and certainly not a joke. Flintoff could have made more money and had an easier life had he not taken up boxing and instead taken up an invitation to join David Haye in the jungle.
Flintoff will beat Dawson, an American journeyman with just two professional fights to his name, and win fairly comfortably this time out. The real fun for Freddie - from the fans' point of view, though not necessarily in the eyes of those who love him - will come if and when he steps up in class.
On the following night in Belfast, David Price's nemesis Tyson Fury tops the bill in a very serious - and very real - heavyweight fight against former contender Kevin Johnson. This is certainly the most serious fight of the weekend and is arguably the hardest fight of Fury's career.
A defeat would not be the end of the world, and a defeat is possible - Johnson has form and has been in with much better fighters. It is a bold and hopefully successful risk that Fury, and his promoter Mick Hennessey, have taken in accepting Johnson.
We saw a calculated risk backfire at the weekend when Hatton's return was cut short in the ninth round by a sickening body punch from former world champion Senchenko. Hatton knew he had to take the risk and he took it - he was aware that, at 34 years of age, he did not have time to mess around fighting non-entities.
At 24, Fury does have time on his side - which makes his decision to fight Johnson all the more impressive. A win, sadly, will not move him any closer to a much-anticipated domestic dust-up with Price, but will help his campaign - with the help of his big mouth - for a fight with a Klitschko brother next year.