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Thank you, Fabio Wardley and Frazer Clarke – how boxing needed a night like this

Referee Steve Gray raises the arms of both Fabio Wardley (left) and Frazer Clarke after announcing a draw at the O2 Arena on Sunday  (Getty)
Referee Steve Gray raises the arms of both Fabio Wardley (left) and Frazer Clarke after announcing a draw at the O2 Arena on Sunday (Getty)

They came from different boxing worlds and fought each other to a bloody standstill in a heavyweight fight for the ages.

Nobody watching Fabio Wardley against Frazer Clarke will ever forget the 12 rounds of absolute hell they put each through on Sunday night at the O2. Wardley and Clarke will live with the memories for the rest of their lives; the rest of us will just get to talk about being there or watching it live. Some might even lie.

At the final bell, Clarke sat drained and exhausted on the bottom ropes and Wardley fell into the arms of handlers as 12,000 people gave them a standing ovation. It was not a good scrap, a hard fight, or even a war; it was none of those simple things. It was far more, it was a heavyweight classic, a fight comparable with any fight, at any weight for the coveted Lonsdale belt.

A temporary silence finally descended over the ring as Big Mo, the MC, took the microphone to read the result; Steve Gray, the referee, stood between the two weary boxers and his white shirt was pink from blood. Wardley’s nose had been carved open early in the fight. They each looked in danger of not being able to lift their hand high if it was raised.

The first score read was 114-113 for Wardley, the second 115-112 for Clarke. In the ring, the fighters and their many handlers started to talk, shake their heads, look for people at ringside for some type of help and assurance.

It was real drama in that packed ring, and then the third score finished the night and the wait; it was a draw, 113-113, meaning the fight was a split draw and that Wardley, as the champion, would retain his British heavyweight title. It was brutally obvious that each thought he had done enough, suffered enough and survived enough to have won. The arguments are not empty, both have a valid point; it was a fight of such intensity that separating the men at the bell to end each round was close to impossible.

Blood splatters onto the white shirt of the referee, Steve Gray (Getty)
Blood splatters onto the white shirt of the referee, Steve Gray (Getty)

Wardley fought four times on the white-collar circuit, an often notorious hybrid of genuine novices and confirmed hard men, and Clarke for over a decade was a leading contender on the international amateur boxing circuit. At times, their previous disciplines showed; Clarke often boxed like a dream and Wardley, when stunned, often threw punches that started at his waist. It was captivating as they adapted, recovered from heavy rounds and so often stood toe to toe in breathless exchanges.

The cut across Wardley’s nose was starting to open in the third, Clarke was dropped heavily at the very end of the fifth and in the seventh, the fight’s pivotal moment took place when the referee deducted a point from Clarke for a low blow. Clarke had won the round, the punch was low, but certainly not wicked. Clarke shrugged it off; Wardley had the extra point that would mean the drawn card and that meant the title. All fights can turn on a flash moment, a tiny incident that has giant repercussions. Clarke had been warned that round for a low blow, the second led to the warning. It was not an intentional and damaging shot, but it was low.

Wardley suffered a cut to his nose as he fought Clarke (John Walton/PA Wire)
Wardley suffered a cut to his nose as he fought Clarke (John Walton/PA Wire)

They swapped round after round, leaving the other covered in blood and sweat when the bell sounded. There were so many moments late in the fight when Wardley was hurt, looked finished and would then find a punch from somewhere. Clarke still tried to box and hold his shape in the desperate late rounds, but they were each in unknown and dangerous territory as they went 12 savage rounds for the first time. They were fighting on instinct and the last two rounds were heroic from each; their total collapse at the end was expected.

Some in the game will insist that Henry Cooper vs Joe Bugner was better, that Lennox Lewis would have knocked out either or that Anthony Joshua would have beaten the pair, but that misses the point. They were not fighting each other for convenient comparisons, they were fighting each other for pride and that ancient Lonsdale belt. And, by the way, in 12-round slugfests, all bets are off.

There were long debates on the midnight trains leading away from the fight, but there was no robbery in the ring, no scores requiring investigation and instead of searching for negatives, the fight just needs to be celebrated for the purity of the action and the extent of the sacrifices that both Wardley and Clarke made. Have a break, heal, and sign for the rematch. Thank you, fellas.