By Elliot Worsell

WHEN it’s easy to doubt both what you are told and the quality of what you are being sold, there is a certain comfort to be found in the sight of a British title fight set to begin. While no guarantee that the fight will deliver, seeing a British title on the line is still as close as you can get to a sure thing in the unpredictable and at times unruly world of professional boxing.

Take the events of Saturday, for instance. On Saturday in Birmingham, middleweights Nathan Heaney and Brad Pauls headlined Frank Warren’s latest “Magnificent Seven” card and did so with aplomb, producing not only one of the best fights in the UK this year but also offering a reminder of why the British title is so important. Indeed, that a fight like Heaney vs. Pauls headlined Saturday’s show, one littered with various other titles (some more prestigious than others), was in itself a serious statement. Yet for Heaney and Pauls to then deliver the way they did only strengthened the belief that British titles carry with them a quality guarantee unmatched by any other belt; even so so-called bigger and better titles; even world titles.

It’s true. On the whole a British title fight tends to be more competitive than fights with lesser-known international belts at stake. This is because the fights are usually ordered by the British Boxing Board of Control – therefore taking them out of the hands and plans of promoters – and also because domestic bragging rights remain arguably the most potent ingredient added to any fight. This has been evident throughout the sport’s rich history and would appear to still be the driving force for men like Heaney and Pauls; two boxers for whom defeat is devastating regardless of the nationality of the opposition, but never more devastating than when it comes at the hands of a countryman.

This dynamic is vital and will forever be a selling point of the Lonsdale belt. What is more, by restricting the field, and thus the ability to cherry pick, what you find is that British champions are often left with a shortlist of very hungry and very capable challengers. This is not always true of world champions, however. Instead, the pool of contenders for a world champion is that much deeper and therefore a lot easier to exploit and control. Throw into the equation, too, the sheer amount of world and international titles these days and it becomes plain to see why lots of young boxers are now advised to swerve the British title and seek simpler paths to riches in the sport.

The British title, after all, is a hard belt to win and an even harder belt to defend. Meanwhile, if they want to keep it, a British champion must successfully defend the belt not once but three times, which, given the level of opposition, is no mean feat. In fact, if you look at the boxers who have been able to achieve this, and now have a British title on their mantelpiece, you will invariably discover men who have more often than not been able to then go on and achieve greater glories. For these fighters, winning four British title fights means a lot more, both in terms of prestige and as a mark of their ability, than winning one fight for an international belt or some spurious version of a world title. It teaches them patience. It forces them to progress the right way. It makes sure the eventual jump in class isn’t quite so daunting.

Mostly, though, when you watch a fight with a British title on the line, all you know is that it will be action-packed and hard to call. Fights like Heaney vs. Pauls, for example, should really come as no surprise in 2024. They should come as no surprise because we have seen their kind before. We have seen what the belt means to British boxers and we have seen the lengths to which they will go to possess it.

Brad Pauls and Nathan Heaney exchange punches during their British middleweight title fight at Resorts World Arena on March 16, 2024 in Birmingham, England (James Chance/Getty Images)

One of the very best British title fights – and fights, full stop – I have ever had the privilege of watching from ringside involved featherweights Martin Lindsay and Paul Appleby in 2009. Aided no doubt by the fact it took place at Belfast’s iconic Ulster Hall, a venue capable of elevating any fight, the six rounds shared and endured by Lindsay and Appleby were some of the most ferocious, violent and compelling rounds I have witnessed while working in the sport. In each of those six rounds there were numerous jarring shifts in momentum, as well as plenty of blood, pain, and disfigurement. It was then soundtracked, this action, by an unrelenting din created by fans inside a venue built for sound and, for one night, carnage. There were Irish fans for Lindsay and Scottish fans for Appleby and together, although divided in one sense, they combined to create the loudest atmosphere I have heard at a boxing match.

Afterwards Martin Lindsay, sitting in a changing room with a Lonsdale belt on his lap, said, “The fans played a massive part,” when I asked him what had inspired his stoppage of Appleby in round six. Before that, though, he had said this: “The British title means everything to me. There was no chance I was not winning that belt tonight.” At which point it all started to make sense. The fight made sense. The violence made sense. And the enduring power of a Lonsdale belt made sense.