Time For Watt to Call It A Day?
Between now and Christmas many of British boxing’s leading lights are involved in career defining fights, to the extent that by spring next year we could have as many as eight world champions on these shores.
Whilst British boxing has not had so many exciting nights on the horizon for many years, the name of the sport is hardly in prime condition with recent prizefights ending in ignominy and derision.
Sky,Britain’s premier boxing broadcaster has been involved with sme of the less palatable incidents over the last six months. After, quite rightly, downgrading the status of Amir Khan’s battle with Paul McCloskey from pay-per-view, the network again damaged their ties with the Khan camp by opting not to pick up his July showdown with Zab Judah.
The network then uneasily welcomed WBC super-middleweight champion Carl Froch back to its bosom for the first time in four years and did little to whet the appetite of bemused fans by showcasing his least exciting fight since becoming a world champion in 2008.
Finally, a previously loyal Sky Box Office contingent were subject to a massively disappointing night’s work from a negative David Haye as he surrendered his WBA heavyweight strap to Wladimir Klitschko and blamed all on a contentious toe injury. Combine this with the Audley Harrison farce from last winter and the network could really do with some top level marquee fights.
At a time when every Sky boxing broadcast is placed under scrutiny, it is the duty of the channel to give fans as clear a picture of proceedings as possible. However in recent years I am sure I cannot be alone in finding the work of summariser and expert scorer Jim Watt as having a major negative impact on the way the casual fan is attracted to the sport.
Controversial perhaps but the way in which Watt struggles to gauge the mood of proceedings, particularly in marquee fights, causes real problems and has a real influence on how watching observers see a fight.
I am a big admirer of the work Ian Darke and John Rawling do on the network as lead commentators but Watt is often too negative and his opinions swing wildly mid-round as he tries to cover all bases.
Consider David Haye’s WBA title tilt against Nicolai Valuev in November 2009. After all of Haye’s pre-fight boasts of violent knockouts, everyone was taken aback by the former cruiserweights cautious, disciplined game plan.
Watt, however, clearly did not appreciate the tactics. Whilst Steve Bunce on BBC radio correctly surmised that Haye’s in and out approach were impressing the judges Sky’s resident scorer had Valuev several rounds up as the Londoner’s fans and BBC commentary team were toasting a comprehensive if uncomfortable night’s work.
More recently Matthew Macklin’s brave but unsuccessful middleweight title tilt against Felix Sturm, once again inGermany, was another fight to suffer from Watt’s odd brand of scoring.
There was no doubt that Macklin had started the fight the better of the two, however Watt treated the Birmingham fighter like the home favourite- giving four of the first five rounds to the European champion.
Perhaps Watt was learning from his mistakes and criticism received after the Haye fight, but no. As the fight wore on, his scoring criteria changed completely, as he marked the second half of the fight as if he were the hardest of home decision judges- giving four of the last five rounds to the resurgent champion to leave the bout level on his card.
For the lay boxing fan, hearing the judge’s scorecards at the end of the night, the sense of injustice inflicted on Macklin was completely removed- the insistence of Watt that the challenger’s inferior stamina had cost him glory made the whole event much easier to digest.
It wasn’t until the broadcast returned to the Sky studios that the general indignation of the watching boxing fraternity was fully realised with both Johnny Nelson and Glen McCrory having Macklin a full three rounds ahead of Sturm.
As a pundit Watt remains a strong authority on the fight game and is obviously well loved amongst the ‘Ringside’ team. However, as John Motson found towards the end of his football commentary career, fast moving sports of this type are notorious for making those covering them look foolish.
When Carl Froch steps into the ring for the final of the ‘Super Six Boxing Classic’ at the end of October Sky will be there attempting to establish if Froch is a man to carry a pay-per-view package in Britain next spring. However, during that night in Atlantic City it may well be the role of Watt that comes under scrutiny, particularly if he struggles on another marquee night for the broadcaster.
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