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BOXING STORIES IN THE OUTLANDS

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The news had almost slipped out into the public sphere, a single changed line on the event page for Boxrec. There was no big fanfare and no big push on the publicity. His name did not even appear on the poster. But it was a fact, for a week or so, when it appeared almost on the eve of the fight, that Joshua Clottey, former WBO welterweight champion of the world, was going to appear in Berlin. And it was obvious what part of his story we were to be in.

If he had taken to the ring that night, at the Verti Music Hall in Berlin, the forty-one year old Clottey’s appearance would have had a dark, heavy sense of inevitability. He was to fight at middleweight and his opponent was a local kid with sixteen fights, and who had finished all but one by knockout. And if we had been missing excitement in the run up, that absence may even have been kind, as if a build-up would have been superfluous and cruel.

But he did not show, and the alarm bells had begun to ring the day before when he missed the weigh-in. The organisers said it was because of transport problems, that he was flying in at that second from Ghana and would touch down the next day. But that is late for a fight if it is one that you reasonably believe that you can win.

As it was, when he was still due to arrive, there was little fanfare for a former world champion coming to a foreign country to take on a young contender. Clottey was there to lose, to a younger foe who may or may not go on to become somebody.

And so he was going to be there, and then he was not, but then he was coming and should be there the next day. But the day of the fight came and the fighters got into the ring and did what they did, and still Clottey did not arrive. And as it all ended, as the ring was taken apart and the lights came on and people began to go home, he had still not arrived and no one knew where he was. But there was a sense that he was not missed, that the stories that needed to be told that night, that had been told, had taken place. And the night was one chapter and what is to come will be another.

What we got instead was other stories. Earlier in the night, somewhere near the beginning, Irineu Beato Costa Junior went into the ring against Hussein Muhamed. He had also been late to the weigh-in and when he had taken to the scale, it was done with the shrug of something that had to be done, the type of routine task undertaken by everyone in routine jobs everywhere. He seemed to limp as he weighed in by himself in a nearly-empty enclosure of a restaurant local to the venue. He had worn a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans, and took off neither for the scale. It had the resigned air of a man on a long path, doing what needed to be done. In another world and dimension, he would have been someone clocking out after a long and hard week, although the hard work was yet to come.

When he was in the ring, he looked like he had always been there. No one saw him walk into the hall and even if they did, they did not remember it. He seemed to fade into himself as if, when you looked at him, he was not quite there, even if stood directly in front of you. There was a slump in his shoulders as he waited for the bell to ring, and he looked down at his feet as he waited for the bell. It did not take much and he went down three times in less than a round, a little longer than when Bobby Gunn had folded him in two back in June 2018. After, he seemed to melt from the ring as nobody watched him leave. 

But he had been there and done what was expected and now was it time to go. To have watched him leave would have been cruel—it was, after all, the type of sacrifice in which the victim is still alive and well afterwards.

There were nine fights on the card, and there was the sense in many that the crowd was seeing fighters whose careers were heading in different directions. Soon after Muhamed—Costa, there was a welterweight bout between Germany’s Justin Schmager and the visiting Aleksandar Marinkovic. The latter’s ring attire suggested that this was someone not given entirely over to a boxing career. He came to the ring dressed in a pair of Muay Thai shorts and wearing a pair of black Nike trainers. His opponent entered with the standard boxing equipment.

Schmager is sound technically and may go on to better things, but Marinkovic looked out of place. Tall and angular, he moved awkwardly, like a giraffe learning to dance. He kept his feet close together, meaning that he lacked balance; held his left hand low; and stood straight instead of twisting his body to the side, robbing his hips of being able to pivot and slip punches. His defense consisted of raising his hands to his face whenever his opponent came near, then dropping them again as soon as he took a step back. In around a minute, Schmager realised this and knocked him down with a right hand. Marinkovic collapsed and lay as if he were a set of balls tied together on a string, then dropped on the floor. He gave a slight shake of his head and the referee counted him out with an air of slight frustration as if his time in the ring had not been the worth the effort of climbing into it.

What may have been the same red-and-yellow Muay Thai shorts that Marinkovic wore made a second appearance later around the waist of Vladimer Janezashvili when he faced Ronny Gabel. They looked a little looser, even if Janezashvili was a division higher, but were the same shorts. They looked as if they had seen better days. They were the type of trunks that were just good enough, the ones that got chosen and worn when there were no better days ahead, just ongoing variations of the current one.

Gabel’s trunks were different—custom-made, white with a pink tinge. He had sponsors on them, too. This was a fighter for whom there might be some sort of future. Not an all-time great, maybe not even a world champion, but the type that might fight for, and pick up, an Interim German International (BDB) Super Welter title, which he did.

It was a fight that went as expected, even if Janezashvili did make it to the second round. But two knockdowns was enough for the referee, who waved it off.

With no Clottey, the main event was Rico Mueller of Germany against Argentina’s Jeremias Nicolas Ponce for the vacant IBO World Super Light Title. Not many were sure about what the title meant, given that it came not long after a match for the same organisation’s Continental Middle Title. The best that could be said was that these were belts that meant something to somebody, even if they do not mean much to most.

It seemed that when the fight between the German and the Argentine started that the crowd had started to thin, although it was difficult to see given the layout of the Verti Music Hall. The main auditorium, in which the event was held, has a large floor area and a steep bank of seating, on one side, that is divided into three levels.

Even though the crowd had thinned and Mueller’s entrance into the ring was not greeted by the same cheering that had been seen earlier in the night for the other German fighters, his supporters made up in volume for what they lacked in numbers. They were to be disappointed.

The first round was technical, and both fighters had seemed to have left their jabs at home. They stood close and threw hooks and uppercuts. But given that they are both so tall and so angular, it was a method of fighting that suited neither. A first round in which they were evenly matched gave way to eleven rounds in which the Argentine pulled slightly ahead and remained there.

The rest of the fight saw Ponce outland Mueller consistently. Mueller’s nose seemed to go early in the fight and his eye followed in the later rounds. And even though he was tough, more was needed to win. He did not have it. At the end, he seemed to have lost clearly every round, apart from the first. The official scoring saw Ponce win a majority decision by way of 118-110, 116-111, and an incomprehensible scorecard from the UK’s Marcus McDonnell that had the fight a draw.

And that was the end. The lights came on and there had been no sign of Clottey. The organisers came out and said that he had never arrived, and shrugged as if there was no reason why. According to BoxRec, he has a fight slated to happen in Ghana against Azizi Mponda on 22 September. Mponda has a record of 15—3—2 (9) and has never fought off of the African continent. Very few of the fighters he has fought have put together more than five victories in their careers. Of those that have, he has had two losses and a draw, against one victory. He also lost, in his eighth fight, to a fighter with a single victory on their record in their second contest. In the fight before that, he drew with a fighter that was 3—2 at the time. Clottey is 40—5. The result of the Mponda fight will change that to 41—5. It will be the type of result that will keep Clottey in the running for one last big-money fight. But after that, if he continues, he will end up as part of the story that we missed Saturday in Berlin. 

This story has also been published on Medium. Connect with the writer on Twitter.

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