Boxer crowned British champion in upset

Shane McPhilbin
Shane McPhilbin

BRAVE Bulwell boxer Shane McPhilbin is the new British cruiserweight champion after springing a sensational upset against all the odds.

McPhilbin (26) was only pitched into the title-fight at the last minute as a substitute challenger to the defending champion, Leon ‘Solid’ Williams.

And for most of the 12-round fight, staged at the York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, he played second fiddle, suffering two knockdowns.

But then, in a dramatic final round, as the Streatham-based Williams tired, McPhilbin somehow conjured up a surprise stoppage-victory.

And it triggered wild scenes of delight in the camp of the likeable fighter they call ‘Mr Block’.

“This is brilliant!” exclaimed McPhilbin, whose family is steeped in boxing. Four of his uncles fought, as did his late father, Mick, who died in 2006.

As one of his supporters told him: “Your dad would have been proud,” McPhilbin said: “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

“I need to thank everyone who has helped me in the past.

“I have not got a clue how I lasted 12 rounds. I stuck it out the best I could.”

Cruiserweight is a weight class between light-heavyweight and heavyweight.

McPhilbin was given a crack at the Lonsdale belt when Williams’s original opponent, Tony Conquest (27), of Romford, Essex, was ruled out after contracting shingles.

But it meant he had only three weeks’ training in which to prepare — and forced him to forgo all his usual Christmas and New Year celebrations.

In McPhilbin’s favour was the fact that he had made a solid start to his professional career, winning seven of his nine bouts, including five knockouts.

He had also made a big impact when appearing in the prestigious Prizefighter tournament, live on Sky Sports TV, at the end of 2009. And this had followed a successful amateur career, comprising 29 wins from 45 fights.

Manager and agent Carl Greaves accepted that the call-up came as “a shock” but urged McPhilbin to take advantage of “a once-in-a-lifetime chance”.

Greaves also predicted that the fight would “bring out the best” in McPhilbin — in stark contrast to Williams, who said he knew nothing about ‘Mr Block’, except that “he’s just an opponent for me to beat up”.

Williams, who was making his first defence after defeating long-time former champion Rob Norton in October, looked like being proved right when a right-hand punch put McPhilbin on the floor in the opening round.

But the Bulwell boxer battled back in the second and third rounds of a contest that seemed to develop into a battle of brawn over brains.

The strategy of Williams was based on getting McPhilbin in range for more right hands. But that was easier said than done because ‘Mr Block’, who has spent much of his career at heavyweight, had the advantage of natural strength.

Williams got his jab working again in the fifth round, and McPhilbin had to take his second count from the referee in the sixth when knocked down by a left-hand, with the help of a bundle towards the ropes.

By the ninth round, the champion was well ahead on points and it was clear that McPhilbin needed a knockdown to take the title.

The locals’ problems intensified when he was deducted a point in round ten. And although Williams was docked a point in 11, few could have foreseen what was about to happen in the final three minutes.

Launching a vicious do-or-die assault, McPhilbin floored Williams with a short but powerful counter-left. And with Williams visibly wilting, the Bulwell hero summoned everything he had left for the most important minute of his career.

Down went the champion again after a right-hand blow that caught him on his ear and as McPhilbin continued his barrage with another right-left combination, the referee, Marcus McDonnell, stepped in to stop the contest with just 70 seconds remaining.

The decision sparked anger in the Williams camp, particularly as it later transpired that the judges had their man up by at least four points.

But by contrast, McPhilbin’s corner danced into the ring in jubilation to cap a night of fascinating drama.

Now, once the dust has settled, and the 26-year-old has come down to earth, preparations will be made for his defence of the title later this year.

It seems almost certain that Williams will seek a re-match. But McPhilbin will get the chance to prepare properly this time, and it is hoped that he will be able to find a local venue to stage the fight.