Rock of ages Carruth in Stone battle
SOUTHPAW By KARL MacGINTY MASTER craftsman Michael Carruth is ready to chisel a new beginning out of Saturday's showdown with Adrian Stone.
MASTER craftsman Michael Carruth is ready to chisel a new beginning out of Saturday's showdown with Adrian Stone.
Carruth's Olympic medal should have given him the keys to professional boxing's golden circle but the past eight years have yielded more frustration than fanfares for the Dubliner.
While Wayne McCullough, his Irish teammate in Barcelona, turned his Olympic silver into yankee gold, earning an estimated $2m from his six world title fights alone, Carruth vanished up boxing's equivalent of a blind alley.
Yet, at age 32, he still firmly believes that fame, fortune and a place alongside Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad in the professional firmament can still be his.
And, starting on Saturday in Bethnal Green, East London, Carruth plans to prove it to the rest of the boxing world.
Fighting Stone at the top of a Sky TV bill promoted by Panos Eliadas and Frank Maloney, the men behind undisputed world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, represents an enormous opportunity for the Irish light-middleweight.
An impressive victory against the hard-hitting Stone will earn not just the IBO title but, more importantly, international recognition for a fighter desperate for fulfillment.
``This is my chance to get back into the limelight,'' said Carruth.
``Where my own national TV stations wouldn't back me, Sky are going to tell the world that I'm still here. That I'm still alive,'' he adds.
``I firmly believe that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That's what keeps me going!
``Politics have a huge part to play in boxing but I do believe I will get to fight the likes of Fernando Vargas (IBF champion), David Reid (WBA title-holder), Henry Simon (WBO) or Trinidad. I don't fear any of them.
``I may not be fighting for the WBC belt on Saturday but it is still a world title.
``Hard as it may be to get fights against the big names - and having a reputation as an awkward southpaw hasn't made it any easier - I have every faith in the ability of Brian Peters, my manager, to pull it off.
``After all, he came within a hair's breadth of getting me into the ring against WBC champion Javier Castillejo last month before the Spaniard caught a dose of yellow-itis.
``I've since heard that Castillejo has signed with Don King and will soon fight Trinidad, so I suppose that was a chance he couldn't afford to let slip,'' Carruth admits.
Losing that WBC title shot was a sickening bodyblow for the Dubliner. After three fights in the first six months of last year, all won by knockout, he had been sustained through the long months of winter by the prospect of a clash with Castillejo.
Yet, as his preparations reached a climax in his Jersey training base, Carruth got word that the Madrid date was off on the dubious grounds that the Spaniard had sustained an injury in sparring.
``There were just two weeks to go and hearing that news tore the guts out of me. I was so frustrated when I got the news that I nearly put a sand iron through the wall,'' explains golf enthusiast Michael.
``But you have to put things like this behind you. You can let emotion eat away at you.
``Then, literally within days of coming home, the chance to fight Stone on top of a Sky TV bill at the York Hall came up. It truly was a God-send. I was back on the plane to Jersey and full-time training the very next morning.''
Carruth certainly was due some good news.
SINCE accepting a lucrative three-year deal to turn professional with Frank Warren at the start of 1994, he has fought only 20 times and has been in the ring only five times since his spell with the British promoter effectively ended with his points defeat in an ill-advised challenge to Michel Loewe's WBO belt in the German's home town Aachen in September '97.
Hindsight suggests that Carruth would have been wiser to turn professional soon after the Olympics in '92 and follow McCullough on the fast-track to stardom in the United States.
But the Dubliner counters: ``Going pro wasn't really an option for me after Barcelona because I had the hand operation at the Blackrock Clinic, which took six months to get better.
``I was also in great demand after winning the Olympics and went here, there and everywhere in '92 and '93 making a fair living out of it.
``The only thing I do regret sometimes is not going to America but you make your bed and you lie in it.
``While Wayne's manager Matt Tinley had a major television company behind him, the offer I received from the States wasn't suitable. They hadn't even got the gym set-up where I was supposed to train.
``Sometimes I regret signing with Warren, though I have to admit that, financially, he looked after me superbly,'' adds Carruth.
``I just felt things could have been done a little better but a fellow called Naseem Hamed signed six months after me and once the whole Naz think took off, Warren didn't need anything else.''
Carruth's career ground to a halt after Aachen. He fought just once in 1998, against Scott Dixon for the WAA `title' in Dublin and was sliding back into anonymity when Peters came up with those three quick dates early last year.
VICTORY against 28-year-old Stone, a Bristol-born boxer who has cultivated a reputation as a big puncher in the United States where he has won 26 and lost three of his 31 professional contests, will be the signal for a hectic bout of activity by the Irishman.
``I'm not doing to disappear into the wilderness for another six months,'' he insisted.
``I will make this title available to every fighter in the British top 10 and if I have to fight men like Anthony Fernell and Wayne Alexander to keep myself in sharp for when the big day comes, then I am prepared to do it.''
The fact that most of the world's attention will be focussed on the monster Las Vegas clash between Vargas and Ike Quartey on Saturday serves as a poignant reminder to Carruth where his career should be taking him, even at the age of 32.
``People keep talking about this age thing but 32 is only a number and I am feeling stronger and fitter now than at any other stage in my life,'' he insists.
``Stone is not in my class and I refuse to even consider the prospect of defeat on Saturday. I am on my way back into the limelight. I'm going to get up there where I belong.''
* DUE to extreme pressure on space we have had to hold over Thursday Talk and our regular motorsport, basketball and men's and women's hockey columns.
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