By Matt Christie

LATE on Saturday night Nathan Heaney and Brad Pauls delivered a cracker for the British middleweight title that ended in a draw. Even if you scored it by one or two points to either fighter, it was a contest fought with such passion and courage that a draw, in the end, was probably the fairest result.

Less than 12 hours later, Heaney – the champion – could be found in a pub near Barbican station in London, 103 miles south of the Birmingham venue in which he’d fought, wearing a smart black suit, that by now famous moustache, and all the bumps and bruises from the night before. Heaney was one of 450+ guests at the annual British Boxing Board of Control Awards, which was taking place just over the road.

Heaney had been shortlisted for the Boxer of the Year award (alongside Leigh Wood, Chantelle Cameron, Chris Billam-Smith and Joe Cordina), and his coach, Steve Woodvine, was in the running for Boxing News Trainer of Year. That neither of them won – Wood was named the leading British boxer of 2023 and Shane McGuigan picked up the trainer award – is irrelevant. What they achieved together, when they upset Denzel Bentley to win the title, was arguably the feel-good story of last year.

As he joked that he could still hear the ringing in his ears from Pauls’ punches, Heaney posed for photos, he signed autographs and sportingly applauded when the award winners were announced. One of the genuine good guys in a sport too often reliant on unsavoury rivalries, Heaney has grown his fanbase the old-fashioned way. Each of his supporters who buy tickets for his fights will feel like they know him because, in a way, they do; Heaney will hand deliver every ticket he sells, which given he is currently shifting more than 2,000 of them is some gesture from the champion of his country.

It was a pleasure to be in attendance on Sunday. The respect in the air was keenly felt throughout the afternoon and provided the theme among the boxers in attendance. That isn’t always the case in this day and age; General Secretary Robert Smith was honest in his assessment prior to announcing the Sportsmanship Award when he stated that, in some years, there simply hasn’t been anything worthy of such an accolade. Not so in 2023, however.

The dual recipients of the award were Sam Gilley and Louis Greene. Not only did they behave impeccably in the build up to their October Commonwealth super-lightweight title fight – we saw footage of them at the pre-fight press conference, refusing to be drawn into a war of words – they delivered a bout of the highest quality before spending the aftermath congratulating each other. It was great to see them on stage, using only their admiration for each other to talk up their rematch, tentatively set for later this year.

How wonderful it would be if this kind of behaviour was so commonplace it was deemed the norm. That it stands out as the most sporting moment in the boxing calendar, however, suggests we still have a lot of work to do in that regard. Though we all understand that grudges sell, and a bit of needle heightens the anticipation, one can also argue that a steady stream of bad language and personal insults do little to sell the sport to those not already invested in it. What the event on Sunday proved was that boxing, in spite of the violence at its core, can still be a noble and honest endeavour. And in 2024, the only way the national media will get behind our sport – rather than swooping in to report only on the scandals but not sticking around for the good stuff – is if there is more evidence of what the sport should really be about.

Nathan Heaney and Brad Pauls settle for a draw at Resorts World Arena on March 16, 2024 in Birmingham, England (James Chance/Getty Images)


The Hands of Stone recovering after having pacemaker fitted

ONE of the greatest living boxers, Roberto Duran, had a pacemaker fitted over the weekend and is on the road to recovery after he reportedly suffered an atrioventricular blockage.

Duran, 72, is always a magnetic character at boxing events, one who very clearly enjoys every moment of his life. No longer the sneering destroyer of his fighting pomp, there is a mischief to the modern-day Duran that has only heightened his legend.

Upon hearing that Duran was in hospital in his native Panama, the likes of Mike Tyson and Canelo Alvarez were among the first to send their hero love. “Roberto, I send you all my good vibes,” said Canelo. “Courage, lots of courage. I know you can do it, like all the battles you have fought, this is one more. I send you a hug and may God bless you.”

Duran is one of those figures who is so ingrained in the boxing furniture, it’s jarring when we realise he won’t be around forever. For now, however, the prognosis is optimistic. “The Duran family is pleased to inform that thanks to God the surgery in our champion, a pacemaker implant, was totally successful.”

All at Boxing News wish ‘Manos de Piedra’ a speedy recovery.

NEW YORK – JUNE 26, 1972: Roberto Duran celebrates with trainer Ray Arcel after his fight against Ken Buchanan at Madison Square Garden, New York (The Ring Magazine via Getty Images)