Derry Mathews brought a pair of knives to a gunfight Saturday night at Liverpool’s Olympia, halting rough and ready Curtis Woodhouse in the 4th round of their Commonwealth lightweight clash with a machete chop of a right hand. Rarely could Liverpool action man Mathews be associated with the term “buzzkill;” however, in scything down Woodhouse at the very point the match had come to the boil, that’s exactly what he accomplished here. And both he and his team will have been delighted as a result.
Woodhouse, a former £1 million professional footballer, club manager and hellion, has managed to craft himself into a crowd-pleasing bruiser in the seven or so years since he exchanged kicking leather for the opportunity to throw it professionally. Without an amateur grounding, the Driffield man served his apprenticeship on the job -- a domestic gatekeeper who has pushed everyone that has tangled with him to the wire.
Mathews, 34-4-2 (19), is about as value-for-money as a prize fighter gets. A preying mantis of a lightweight with an unusually broad-shouldered frame, he possesses one-shot KO power, a face clothed in parchment paper and a street scrapper’s bent. After Woodhouse bulled him into the ropes only seconds after the off, Mathews span him before firing back with interest – and continued to thrash him for the majority of the session.
Trundling forward from behind a crouch, Woodhouse, 19-6 (13), would dip his shoulders prior to launching a punch, which allowed Mathews to time him, take half a step back and then unload straight one-twos and terse follow-up hooks – punches that were whipped home with real devil. In addition, his upright stance allowed Mathews to get the jump on his hunched challenger, who returned to his corner looking reddened and suitably admonished.
The pair traded meaty left hooks in the 2nd, yet Mathews kept Woodhouse in his box largely with extended, slashing attacks. One wag had termed Mathews “the British Arturo Gatti” earlier in the week, yet stylistically, even if we’re not in the same ball park in terms of quality, Erik Morales would have been more fitting. Woodhouse, unperturbed, swung a left hook into the pit of Mathews' gut as the bell sounded that seemingly left its mark.
Finally settled, the visitor came on in round 3 -- timing Matthews’ jab before cracking him to the ribcage. The Sheffield man’s urgency and greater output arguably carried the round.
The brawl that everyone had been anticipating revved into life in round 4. Woodhouse scored with a lead right hand followed by another fiendish left hook which buried its way into Mathews’ midriff. Sensing he’d made a dent, Curtis mauled Mathews along the ropes only for Derry to instinctively roar back at him with an angry burst of hooks and uppercuts. Woodhouse, now in his element, responded in kind – steaming Mathews into the ropes once again and, as the pair stood in together in mid-ring, Mathews struck home with the finisher.
Woodhouse had dipped down to his left and away from a left hook, and as he moved to regain his position, Mathews chopped a short, angled right down the side of Curtis’s jaw -- turning his fist over to maximise its effect. Woodhouse fell like a velvet curtain from an unveiled plaque before dragging himself -- semi-conscious -- to his feet. As he tottered across the ring and into the ropes like a man trying to walk with his trousers down around his ankles, referee Mark Green had no option but to pull the plug at 1:14.
“For six weeks we’d worked on a left hook and right hand and it was right on the money,” Mathews explained post-fight. “The lightweight division at the moment is the best in Britain…you only have to look at the rankings, who’s there and surely I’ve gotta be in the top four, I think, with the power I’ve got.”
In a division that already boasts the likes of Ricky Burns, Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Crolla, Gavin Rees, Terry Flannigan, Martin Gethin and Tommy Coyle -- with former European king John Murray poised to return and junior lightweight Gary Sykes ready to invade -- 135 lbs. is the It Class of the moment in the U.K. Woodhouse, 33, who once played for Sheffield United (nicknamed The Blades”), will look to sharpen up before making another run at the Commonwealth belt. Mathews meanwhile, 30 years old tomorrow, would make an ideal foil for Londoner Mitchell. In truth, “Dirty” Derry matches up well with just about anybody.