Alan Hubbard: Silent tigresses, heavyweight Cain and Abels and overturning prejudices...
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
The shy six-footer from Hartlepool (pictured below) may be a woman of few words – that's why they call her "The Silent Assassin" – but her fists certainly do any necessary talking as she demonstrated on her 21st birthday last Saturday when she made history as Britain's first-ever female world boxing champion.
Her victory at middleweight (75kg category) over Elena Vystropova of Azerbaijan indicates she may well be Britain's biggest hit when women's boxing makes its Olympic debut in July in what will be the most significant female fight-fest since girls first swapped lip gloss for gumshields.
Marshall is one of the trio of battling Boadiceas now qualified for the London Games, alongside the Leeds flyweight Nicola Adams who won a world silver for the second time, and bronze medalist lightweight Natasha Jonas from Liverpool.
All three could now reach the Olympic podium. Marshall will start as favourite while Adams is capable of reversing the decision she lost in Quinhuangdao on Saturday as this time she will have home advantage instead of China's Ren Cancan.
Jonas has the most difficult task as she is in the same division as the world's outstanding female fighter, Ireland's phenomenal Katie Taylor, tipped to be the star of the Olympic tournament.
But it could be that Marshall will steal Taylor's thunder – although you won't hear her dare suggest this, because she doesn't say much at all.
It isn't that she is timid or taciturn. She's simply painfully shy, preferring the gift of the jab to that of the gab, a rarity in boxing where the ability to jaw as well as war is inherently part of the game.
Marshall has put on hold a proposed Teesside University course in sports science to concentrate on her boxing career. "I just live for boxing, there's nothing else," she says. "I never did much of going out and that stuff so I don't really miss it now."
For her, this is quite a mouthful. While we might not hear much more from this lanky, likely lass with fire in her fists, we will certainly be hearing quite a lot more about her as London looms. Her silence could be golden.
It is heartening to see how women boxers have punched a hole through old prejudices – even the Boxing Writers' Club, the last remaining all-male bastion in sports journalism, has at last reversed a 60-year ban on admitting women to its annual dinner (albeit on a split decision), something for which, as a former chairman, I have consistently campaigned.
A timely, if overdue, move in Olympic year. Moreover, the club will also have its first female as principal speaker at the awards dinner in October – Tory MP Charlotte Leslie (pictured above), chair of the All Parliamentary Boxing group.
Welcome to the real world, chaps, increasingly a woman's one in sport.
All in all, this has been a pretty good week for boxing after the battering it has taken of late.
Recently we have seen the world's finest fighter, Floyd Mayweather jnr, heading for jail after assaulting a former girlfriend; Lamont Peterson failing a drugs test before a scheduled world title return with Amir Khan; and those ungracious merchants of menace, Dereck Chisora and David Haye, booked to resume their affray in an unwelcome Olympics curtain-raiser at Upton Park, which suggests the professional sport may well be beyond anyone's control, not least that of the Boxing Board.
Thankfully, a few hours after the heartening news from China on Saturday we had another welcome indication that boxing is not just about hooks and crosses, but swings and roundabouts.
Former Olympian David Price, the big Scouser who won super-heavyweight bronze as British captain in Beijing 2008, graduated to the British and Commonwealth pro title and impressively pole-axed Sam Sexton in four rounds at Liverpool's Aintree Racecourse.
This was one of the most significant results in the domestic heavyweight division for some time because, like his promoter Frank Maloney, I believed the Klitschko-sized Price is developing into potentially the best British heavyweight since Lennox Lewis.
Price (pictured above, with Maloney on left), who has now ko'd 11 of his 13 opponents, looks every inch of his six feet eight inches frame as a future world heavyweight champion.
He has the punch, the temperament and the pleasant, clean-cut demeanour to give the bruised old game the makeover it so desperately needs.
Providing he isn't rushed into fighting either of the Klitschkos, with whom he has sparred regularly and who, understandably, would like to take him on while he is still learning the ropes.
The one downside is that it is an indictment of the state of boxing when a British heavyweight championship, the first in Liverpool in over a century, merits little more than a passing mention in the sport-in-brief columns of the public prints whereas Chisora and Haye continue to generate acres of dubiously deserved publicity.
No matter. I can offer another antidote to those sickened by recent events in heavyweight boxing.
On Monday I attended the London premier of one of the most enthralling fight movies ever made.
Called simply Klitschko, it is brilliantly documented story of what makes the Ukrainian brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, arguably the most remarkable sports figures of our time.
Forget Rocky, this is for real, an illuminating insight into the dual world domination of the heavyweight division by the multi-lingual sons of a former Soviet Air Force colonel who combine intellect, sensibility and dignity and, in homeland freedom-fighter Vitali's case a political conscience, with destructive power in the ring.
There's no sex, no sleaze, no scandal – and no actors – but there's poignancy, warm-hearted humour and considerable legitimised violence which, like the blood, isn't faked.
It is the unique story of brotherly glove, their literal ups and downs from a harsh, brainwashed communist upbringing to ring riches in the West via Chernobyl (the effects of which eventually killed their father) and the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, where Wladimir won super-heavyweight gold.
Some of the close-ups are not for the squeamish, notably the cut eye sustained by Vitali against Lennox Lewis which required 180 stitches.
Mobbed on their red-carpet ring walk at Leicester Square, they are the modern Cain and Abel. But unlike the Biblical pugs, they will never fight each other, revealing how they turned down a $100 million (£63.4 million/€78.6 million) offer from Don King do so. "Remember you have the same blood flowing through your veins," their mother had begged them.
So the giant siblings restrict their rivalry to chess, where they invariably fight a draw!
Both have PhDs and unprecedented brainpower to match their brawn and business acumen.
The film, now on general release and available on DVD from next Monday, may not change your mind about boxing – but it will about boxers.
It is in the genre of the Rumble in the Jungle epic When We Were Kings. The difference is they still are.
However, it is back to the bittersweet stuff this weekend, when the redoubtable Carl Froch – whose trainer Robert McCracken also masterminds both the GB men's and women's squads – attempts to become a three-times world super-middleweight champion against undefeated IBF title-holder Lucien Bute.
Hopefully home advantage in Nottingham should give Froch the edge over the unbeaten Romanian-born Canadian in the Sky-televised bout on Saturday.
The night before, 40-year-old Audley Harrison surely reaches the end of a tortuous road that began top of the Olympic podium 12 years ago in Sydney.
He pitches up at Brentwood, Essex, against an Iraqi heavyweight named Ali Adams. No TV cameras there for Audley, last seen on screen trying to stay upright in Strictly Come Dancing. Now he's strictly an opponent. How sad.
But that's blow business for you. Swings and roundabouts.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world titles from Atlanta to Zaire.