It's a lottery but Adam Smith says Courtney Fry might just be the winning ticket when Prizefighter returns...
Last Updated: 18/02/09 6:27pm
My last six days have been split between Hollywood and Mexico City, as we have spent quality time around our bright young hope Amir Khan, and the Mexican master Marco Antonio Barrera. Both exciting fighters are really hard at work ahead of their tantalising clash back home on March 14th.
I can't wait to return to London this Friday because it's Prizefighter! Time once more to take our seats at the traditional old York Hall, Bethnal Green, for another roller-coaster ride of fast and furious action, as our eager eight fighters aim to be the last man standing. I'm sure you're aware of the format by now - 3x3 round fights contested at a hectic pace on one high-octane night, with £25,000 cash for the winner.
It's different, it's exciting and it's freshened up the domestic scene. No one is saying any of these men are - or possibly ever will be - world-beaters. Many may never even capture a Lonsdale belt. But it's a terrific concept with a solid formula, and the fans are most definitely the winners.
So too the fighters. It is a real opportunity for many good prospects, former champions, fringe contenders and loyal domestic servants to have their 15 minutes of fame. Some see it as a one-off; others as the opportunity to really launch (or re-launch) their careers.
So far the heavyweights, the welterweights and the middleweights have entertained us. Time for the light-heavyweights to have their crack at Prizefighter. There's another enticing blend of unbeaten talent, seasoned competitors and fiery aggressors, and many believe this could be the best one yet. It certainly looks the most competitive on paper.
The eight combatants and the two reserves came to our studios for a promotional shoot the other day, and that's when the fun and games start.
It's really terrific to see the fighters bond together. They know that they will be going to war during the tournament, but they conduct themselves in such a professional, and excellent manner beforehand. They all loved the day, and seem to have become friends too - as they spend time together to make the evening as successful as possible. There's been some fabulous banter.
After he was pipped in a pulsating middleweight final, Cello Renda, the amiable Peterborough puncher, told us that he had made seven friends for life. Great to hear. On Friday, we have another mix of fascinating characters including a fast-food delivery driver, a university student, a one-time Liverpool goalkeeping protégé, a former paratrooper, and a man who works tirelessly with disadvantaged children.
They are all coming to fight and they promise fireworks. The draw is always crucial and this often gives the best indication as to who will power through. Pre-Prizefighter favourite is Liverpool's Courtney Fry; a tremendous amateur, who has had an infuriating and slow-burning professional career. Still, he's tall, talented and almost certainly the best pure boxer in it.
Fry was also first out of the hat and must defuse the outsider Shon Davies. The Welsh youngster is the baby of the pack, but says he will be the surprise package. A good rugby player in his teens, Davies is little known, but packs a punch, and believes he will be the fittest on display. Styles should blend well, but Fry must be tipped to come through the show opener - possibly by stoppage.
What a cracking brawl we should have in the second quarter-final, as the former British and Commonwealth Champion and everyone's favourite come-forward attacker, Tony Oakey (pictured). begins his Prizefighter challenge. Oakey may have slipped from his prime, but must be fancied to do well here. The Portsmouth cult hero has bags of experience, and is a former double ABA champion - so he was once very familiar with three-round fights.
But will all those tough 12-rounders leave him fresh enough? Plus will he be able to start quickly enough? Oakey will certainly need to, against a fiery type who told me that he's the new Tony Oakey! Sheffield's Billy Boyle was hardened in the army and is an all out aggressor, who pays little interest to the use of any technical skills!
Boyle has also amassed a tidy run of 11 straight wins, so will be confident going in. Expect an all out tear-up in this one, but you have to think Oakey's extra quality and ring knowledge will get him a place in the semi's. It might though take a fair amount out of him.
The other side of the draw looks easier, but then many fighters don't like being in the bottom half. They don't have as much recovery time as the night progresses - and it can get hard.
There is an intriguing meeting of two unbeaten young hopes - and someone's '0' is going to go. Darlington's crafty southpaw Bob Ajisafe has been quietly turning over fancied fighters around the country, and says he's the dark horse of this Prizefighter.
Ajisafe must find a way past the lively Scouser Carl Dilks (pictured) if he's going to progress. I like the sound of Dilks - and I loved his confidence and demeanour when I met him at Sky. He is also friends with Martin Murray, the Middleweight winner, and would have received plenty of tips. His speed is going to be important, but he might struggle with strength, because he's not much bigger than super-middleweight.
This one is the toughest to call, but I'm going to go with Dilks to squeeze through on points. However if Ajisafe wins, I could see him definitely getting to the final, because he would find his semi-final opposition more suited to his southpaw skills.
Darren Stubbs or Steve Spartacus will fill that final space, and they are both older battlers, who might struggle with the better boxers in the tournament.
Still their match should be full of fire! Stubbs is 37, and is elated to be given this chance. He told me over and over again that he will be in brutal wars, and Spartacus - who will be decked out in his usual gladiatorial garb - wants to take the fights down and dirty - to good old-fashioned tear-ups!
So this one might not be for the feint-hearted! Expect massive commitment, but Spartacus has fought for the British title, and although he is in a rut in terms of recent form, he should have the extra savvy to emerge victorious.So I predict a Fry-Oakey semi-final - which I think will also decide the winner of the whole competition. I was most impressed with Fry the other day, and he looked really good with that terrific win over the useful Tony Salam at the York Hall last year.
I like Oakey but I think that he will have had the harder first fight, and I think Fry (pictured) will be able to control him, counter him, and also may be even able to discourage him. The one thing that worries me about Fry is complacency. He must be ready to fire from each opening bell. Do that Courtney and you're in the final.
Who will be there waiting for Fry? I'm pretty sure it's going to be the winner of Dilks and Ajisafe. I think both men will have too much for Spartacus or Stubbs. I have gone for a Dilks-Spartacus semi, which could be a real crowd-pleaser.
Spartacus will give it everything, and is dangerous over 3 rounds. Dilks though has been busier, will be fit and ready under talented young trainer Karl Ince - and I think Dilks will be the smarter of the two.
So a Fry-Dilks final for me. Both men are based in Liverpool - Dilks home grown, and Fry has relocated to Merseyside. Expect plenty of passion and pride then!
I am going for Courtney Fry to win Prizefighter - The Light-Heavyweights. He was born in London and will have home support too. I don't think he'll let them down. He has had a stop-start career, but I think he'll really shine on Friday. Of course, the night is somewhat of a lottery, and each fighter needs lady luck too.
The two reserves, waiting in the wings, and praying for cuts, will surely be called on in a Prizefighter soon. The light-heavyweights have Ovill McKenzie, who will be dangerous if he competes, because he can really hit. The former Commonwealth champion's quite a character and is upset he's not one of the starters. It' actually possible he could win it if he gets in.
The other stand-by is Ryan Walls, a clever southpaw, who has been unlucky as a pro. He craves a British title crack, and an appearance here might get him one at some stage.
Fry to win it though for me - and if you want to follow my tip, I'd better share my mixed fortunes in predicting the winner of the previous four Prizefighters!
I went for Martin Rogan (pictured)in the Heavyweight opener and look where his win has taken him. Martin was the second favourite with the bookies. Next time I picked the unpredictable southpaw Lee Swaby. I thought the tournament would really suit him, and he had his chances, but a knockdown suffered at the hands of Chris Burton was crucial. Sam Sexton, again the second favourite, won Prizefighter in the North East.
It was the second favourite who yet again took the trophy when the welterweights came round. I had gone for Nigel Wright, but Michael Lomax, plagued by cuts and scars battled through. I still think Wright was robbed in their semi-final, but Lomax also deserved his success. His big night had been coming...
Last time, for the middleweights I picked Martin Murray, the eventual winner. The strong and sharp north west prospect also broke the curse of the favourites by taking the trophy.
So it's two out of four for me, Rogan and Murray. Time to lump on Courtney then? Is he dependable enough? Is he out of the blocks fast enough? They are my only niggles, but I think - much like when Michael Lomax won his tournament- a big Fry success is due. I'd be fascinated to hear your tips - write in before Friday, and enjoy the show.
Remember the best thing about Prizefighter is that any one of them could emerge as champion, I'll be giving you an inside look into Amir Khan's training headquarters next week, and Marco Antonio Barrera's the week after.
British boxing's getting lively again!
Who do you think will win Prizefighter - The Light-Heavyweights? Let us know by filling in the feedback form below...