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Colin Hart: Boxing snobs may criticize the Commonwealth Games as inferior…but try telling ring legend Barry McGuigan that

COMMONWEALTH GAMES Boxing is often derided as a minor competition that doesn't compare to the European Championships, World Championships or the O


COMMONWEALTH GAMES Boxing is often derided as a minor competition that doesn’t compare to the European Championships, World Championships or the Olympics.

It certainly won’t get those who have shed blood participating in them to agree to that rather snobbish view.

It is true that it cannot be considered a global event. But having covered eight Commonwealths starting in Edinburgh in 1970 and ending in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, I can assure the skeptics that everyone who finished standing proudly in the winners’ box had to fight hard for their medals.

And at the NEC in Birmingham, fans will see enough African talent, in addition to those from the southern hemisphere and the Caribbean, as well as ambitious boxers from all four home countries fighting in front of their families, to be impressed with the talent on view.

And there is no one more qualified than Barry McGuigan, one of Britain’s top fighters, to verify the quality and importance of what we will be seeing over the next nine days.

Barry says it was his experience at the 1978 Commonwealths in Edmonton, Alberta that made him realize he had what it took to make it to the top.

The man who became known as the Cyclone of Clones, adored on both sides of the Irish divide during the worst of the riots, flew to Canada 44 years ago to represent Northern Ireland.

So it was Barry, the baby bantamweight, because he wasn’t too long past his 17th birthday and it looked like he should be back at Clones doing his homework.

Fortunately, boys have not been allowed to compete in international tournaments against experienced men for a long time.

Amazingly, though, McGuigan, inspired by wearing the green vest, displayed the fighting qualities that would later endear him to millions of fans. Despite his youth, he returned home with the gold medal around his neck.

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Speaking to Barry this week, I asked him, as happened a long time ago, if he could remember the name of the opponent he beat in the final.

Grimacing at the memory, he said, “Do you remember? I will never forget!

“His name was Tumat Sugolik and he came from Papua New Guinea. He is imprinted in my brain forever.

“That’s because he hit me with a right hand that almost ripped my head off. No one throughout my amateur and professional career hit me harder.”

“Anyone who considers Commonwealth Games boxing second-rate has no idea how tough and competitive it is.

“My experience and my victory in Edmonton made me realize that if I trained hard and lived life that I was capable of turning professional with the prospect of a successful career.”

McGuigan won the world featherweight title and became a legend. In my time, four other Commonwealth gold medalists were good enough to win world pro titles, and that’s confirmation of just how high the standard can be.

John Conteh (Edinburgh, 1970), Chris Pyatt (Brisbane, 1982), Wayne McCullough and Richie Woodhall, (Auckland, 1990) are the others.
Woodhall, a boy from Birmingham who will be part of the BBC’s commentary team, said: ‘Competing in the Games will do wonders for young people’s morale.

“I was 22 years old when I won my gold and it gave me a lot of confidence to know that I could be an international force.”

Conteh was a brilliant 19-year-old middleweight who thrilled the crowd when he became Commonwealth champion.

Usually my favorite Scouser, when asked if he could remember who he beat 52 years ago, he said, “I’m 71 years old…if I could remember that, I’d be asking for my pro license back!”

For the record, it was Titus Simba from Tanzania.

The England team four years ago in Queensland led the medal table with six golds, one silver and two bronzes. This eight-man, six-woman England team is expected to emulate that total.

Russian-born super heavyweight Delicious Orie and Leamington heavyweight Lewis Williams could well be the stars of the show and household names for finals day on August 7.

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