AS participants in a sport which has consistently delivered its fair share of medals to the country’s Commonwealth Games cause ever since it was first staged back in 1930, there is always both pressure and high expectation on the shoulders of Scottish boxers.
On the first day of competition at the SECC, which saw three of the host nation’s ten fighters in action, a man mountain in the shape of 6ft 5in Ross Henderson and a pocket rocket in all 5ft 1in of Reece McFadden lived up to those hopes to give the home crowd the victories they craved.
While welterweight hopeful Lewis Benson fell at the first hurdle, Scottish super-heavyweight champion Henderson dug deep to put himself just one win away from a guaranteed medal, before teenage flyweight McFadden produced a stunning performance to defeat world No 1 and tournament favourite Andrew Selby of Wales.
The roof threatened to lift off Hall 4 of the Games HQ when McFadden shocked two-time European champion Selby, who was so rattled he was deducted two points by the referee as he either lost or spat out his gumshield four times.
That handed McFadden a 29-26 verdict on all three judges’ scorecards, meaning the 19-year-old from Motherwell would have won regardless of the official’s intervention. Rightly so, as he boxed supremely well and never allowed Selby to settle into a rhythm. McFadden will next face Charlie Edwards of England in the last 16 tomorrow.
“I will beat him as well,” said the exuberant youngster. “Let’s hope he keeps his gumshield in. That gold medal is mine. Tonight was the hardest fight I’ve had and when the draw put me in with Selby, I was initially nervous. But then I told myself he’s only got two arms and two legs like me. The Scottish crowd were brilliant and I couldn’t lose with that backing.”
It was a great day in the ring all round for Motherwell boxers, with 26-year-old Henderson earlier securing a hard-earned but merited unanimous points decision over Parveen Kumar of India. It set up a mouth-watering clash against his nemesis Joe Joyce of England in next Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Henderson, who was eliminated at the first stage of competition in his debut Games in Delhi four years ago, has dedicated himself since to claiming a place on the podium at Glasgow 2014. He will have to produce the performance of his career so far if he is to overcome Joyce, having lost twice previously to the 28-year-old from London, who stands an inch taller than him.
Since the most recent of those defeats in the prestigious Tammer tournament in Finland two years ago, Henderson has discovered a fresh source of motivation which he hopes will help him make it third time lucky against Joyce.
“I’ve got a wee boy Jacob who is only 17 months old,” said Henderson. “I’ve been on the road and in the gym a lot preparing for these Games and his Mum has had to do a lot of the work on her own with him. It’s been hard.
“To win a medal for that wee boy would be amazing. I miss him terribly. But I know it’s all for a good cause. When he’s older, he can watch these Games back and see what I did. If I can win a medal for him, I know he will be proud of me one day. As soon as I win it, it’s going round the wee man’s neck.
“Four years ago in Delhi I was only really there for experience. I’d only been boxing for two years and nerves got the better of me. But I showed today I can grit my teeth and really go for a medal this time. That’s what I’m here for.
“It’s a Scotland-England quarter-final which is great for the competition. I’ve fought big Joe twice before and they were both close fights, although I lost them. He beat me in the British championships and then again in the Tammer tournament in Finland.
“He’s a big strong man, but I know what to expect. With the crowd in Scotland behind me this time, it can make a difference.”
While Joyce was a comfortable winner over Keddy Agnes of the Seychelles in his opening bout yesterday, Henderson had to battle all the way against stocky Indian southpaw Kumar. The first round was close, two judges scoring it for Henderson and one for Kumar, and the Leeds-born Scot was caught with some left-hand counters at the start of the second round.
But Henderson came on strong in the second half of the fight, his greater workrate and aggression gaining him the verdict over his tiring opponent.
“It was a hard bout but the crowd spurred me on to the win,” added Henderson. “I didn’t know what to expect from Kumar – we didn’t even know if he was southpaw or orthodox before the fight. No-one likes southpaws and he caught me by surprise a few times. He caught me a few times with the backhand but we sorted that out in the corner and went on to get the win. I’m a fit, fit guy. Along with the crowd, it was my fitness that pulled me through in the latter stages of the fight.”
Earlier in the afternoon session, it was despair for Edinburgh’s much-touted Benson as he lost a split decision to Bowyn Morgan of New Zealand. The 22-year-old, who came through a controversial box-off against Connor Law of Glenrothes in March to claim the final place on Scotland’s team, started well and won the first round on all three judges’ scorecards.
Morgan turned the contest around, however, with a big left hand in the second which had Benson staggering onto the ropes and forced to take a standing count. The Scot stayed out of trouble in the final round, using good movement against the busier Morgan. Only one judge – Siarhei Asanau of Belarus – scored the fight in Benson’s favour. Yasar Cinar of Turkey and Nishantha Dharmadasa of Sri Lanka both preferred the Kiwi, who moves into the last 16.
“I’m devastated,” said Benson. “I put everything into that. After the first round, I was happy with my performance. I was boxing nicely on the back foot. They told me to keep my hands up in the second round but I got caught. That was the turning point, he won that round big.
“I definitely feel I won the last round, though, and it’s tough to lose on a split decision. I’d put everything into trying to win a medal here and I’ll need to think about what’s next.”