When a boxing ring becomes a time machine: Abass Baraou vs Macaulay McGowan is an old-fashioned fight

The European boxing championship is still a hard title to win in a world where glamorous belts, made from snakes and diamonds, seem to carry more weight than the traditional versions.

On Friday night in Bolton, an old-fashioned fight will take place on terrestrial television when Channel 5 screens the European super-welterweight title clash between Abass Baraou, the champion from Germany, and Macaulay McGowan, the challenger from just down the road in Manchester.

In the Eighties and Nineties, there were dozens of fights like this between good men trying to secure a fight for one of the rare world championship baubles; British boxers went on the road on lost causes to get closer to their dream. It seldom worked, trust me.

Baraou won the title in Telford, defends in Bolton, and might just be the rarest of modern boxers in this increasingly protected age, with his willingness to travel for fights. His win over the local boxer Sam Eggington, in Telford in March, was a genuine fight-of-the-year contender. His scrap with McGowan will be similar.

There was a time when just about the only way to a world-title fight was through the EBU championship, and that often meant a risky trip to Spain, France, Germany or Italy. They were dark days in many ways, but the best British boxers invariably went on the road. They were feared and dangerous locations in the Seventies and Eighties – locations where robberies in the ring were matched by larceny and violence outside the ropes.

British world champions Alan Minter, Charlie Magri, John Conteh, John H Stracey, Maurice Hope, Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis, Lloyd Honeyghan and Barry McGuigan all won the European title before finally getting a chance and winning the world title. It was the hardest route, and the only route – and patience on the safe side of the ropes was as necessary as stamina inside them.

At a time when British boxing was lucky to have two world champions, both would certainly have won the European title first; right now, there are 12 British men and women holding a version of the four recognised world titles, and only two had previously held the European title. Some, however, have fought for four or five different belts, and they are belts that simply never existed 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Abass Baraou (left) and Macaulay McGowan will vie for the Europan super-welterweight belt (Getty)
Abass Baraou (left) and Macaulay McGowan will vie for the Europan super-welterweight belt (Getty)

McGowan is an eccentric, a throwback fighter to the days when men had to take great risks for tiny rewards in fights in forgotten European boxing cities and towns. They travelled to places like San Remo on the faded Italian Riviera, knowing that there was no chance of winning on points. In 2022, McGowan went on an impossible mission to fight Spanish boxing idol Sergio Martinez in Madrid. Martinez, who is originally from Argentina, had won world titles and beaten the best Americans in America nearly 15 years ago. McGowan was dropped twice and lost on points.

In May last year, he lost to Tyler Denny in Birmingham on a split decision, for a version of the European title. The fight was at full middleweight; the fight with Baraou is down at light-middleweight. Denny, incidentally, then won the proper and respected European title, and defends against an unbeaten Felix Cash later this month. It is good sometimes to remember that there is a British boxing business away from the glare and the millions of the top 10 or so earners.

McGowan knows that a win moves him closer to something; he also knows that it will not be easy, and that has been the steady pattern of his career. McGowan, now 29, has lost four of his 26 fights. This is the type of fight that will be talked about in boxing circles for a long time. It is an old-fashioned fight in a very modern business.