The Bedford Bear

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When you come into the sport of boxing aged 35 you don’t usually expect to get much out of your career, though Matt Skelton tried his hardest to prove that sort of logic wrong. Born in Bedford in January 1967 he first established himself in kick-boxing where he was the IKF world champion having taken the title from Jeff Ford in the Super Heavyweight division. From the IKF’s own website Skelton had a record of 57-8 with 57KO’s an excellent record by any standards, how ever he only ever defended his belt once, against Peter Varga (KO round 3).

He would also fight in K-1 for a while trying to show his kick-boxing was amongst the best for of Martial Arts in the world, though his record there is a rather under-whelming 10-7 (5 KO wins) whilst Sherdog.com lists his MMA record as being 0-1 whilst he fought in PRIDE. This gives him a combined record of 67-16 (62KO’s).

It was after all this that in 2002 he moved to the more traditional boxing aged 35 he was seen as too old to really accomplish anything, having almost wasted his peak years in kick boxing. Having 3 fights in the first 3 months of his professional career looked like he was serious about it especially since he stopped all 3 foes in a total of 4 rounds, his power seemed to go with him to his new sport. Oddly his final fight of the year was on a card which also featured the debut of a young David Haye fighting Tony Booth.

2003 was another busy year with 8 fights, none of them going the distance, only 1 going into the 6th round, the fight with Mike Holden for the vacant British Heavyweight title. Despite having only been in the sport for a year he’d claimed the British title in his 8th fight and at the end of 2003 he was 11-0 with 11KO’s, not bad for a man who was nearing his 37th birthday.

2004 saw him step up in class significantly and being made to work much harder for his wins than facing the fighters that were just falling over when he hit them. First there was Julius Francis who was experienced and had fought some pretty good names including John Ruiz, Axel Schulz, Vitali Klitschko, Mike Tyson, Luan Krasniqi, Oleg Maskaev, Danny Williams (twice, including beating him once). Skelton would be taken the distance by Francis but win 98-92 on the referee’s score card in the first defence of his British title. Michael Sprott followed, coming off his victory of Danny Williams (in the third fight between the two) which had earned him the Commonwealth title. Sprott was stopped for the 6th time in his career meaning that Skelton was now the British and Commonwealth champion, with a record of 13-0 (12 KO’s) it looked like the way he was going about the business was the right sort for a man in his mid 30’s. 2 more KO’s followed (Bob Mirovic TKO 4 and Keith Long TKO 11 allowed him to defend the Commonwealth title twice and British once).

By now he was looking for the next step and though he’d found it in the way of the WBU Heavyweight title, that was then vacant, a fight between himself and Fabio Eduardo Moli followed for the chance to be a “World Champion”. Skelton stopped Moli in the 6th after 3 knock downs in the round, to win the title. Though he’d never make a defence of the belt, it seems no one cared (no one has fought for the belt since).

After this he’d go back to defending his British title, beating decent fighters in Mark Krence and John McDermott, oddly he’d been stripped of his Commonwealth title and on the same day (10th December 2005) he fought McDermott (KO1) Audley Harrison and Danny Williams fought for the vacant Commonwealth title. Williams beat Harrison that night in what could only be described as the 12 worst rounds in British boxing history.

Williams and Skelton would do battle for the Commonwealth title in a gruelling contest that could have gone either way. Williams though got the benefit of the doubt with an incredibly tight split decision to give Skelton his first loss as a professional boxer. After both fighters had a quick stoppage victory in their next fight they met again, with the Commonwealth belt on the line once again. This time Skelton was busier and Williams seemed to be slightly less of a fighter than he had been previously as Skelton took a unanimous points decision to become a 2-time Commonwealth champion.

He would then rematch Michael Sprott who he had KO’d in the 12 round when they met the first time, Sprott talked a big fight going in as Skelton put the Commonwealth title on the line again. Though this rivalled the Danny Williams v Audley Harrison fight for the same title as the least compelling fight in history. It was mauling it was hugging, it was dull as Skelton won a majority decision (though neither of them really deserved to be the winner). Now Skelton’s chance had come, he was 4 days short of his 40th birthday but finally he’d been given a world title fight. He was to face Ruslan Chagaev in a fight for the WBA title (the next British to challenge for that title was David Haye when he fought Nikolai Valuev in 2009). Chagaev was then unbeaten with a record of 23-0-1 though had been coming back from a variety of health matters, from suspected Hepatitis B to ankle injuries. Despite the health worries Chagaev beat Skelton by a fairly wide decision on all three cards to retain his title.

11 Months later and now aged 40 Skelton would attempt to win the European Heavyweight title with a fight against Paolo Vidoz (who was himself 38) in a vacant title fight. As tends to happen in boxing, Vidoz had, in his previous fight lost for the same title against Sinan Samil Sam. Skleton would force Vidoz to quitat the end of the 9th round to become European champion. Guess what folks, Vidoz’s next fight (18th December) will be against Albert Sosnowski for the European title which again…is vacant.

Skelton would then find himself in the right with the modern day Cinderella man Martin Rogan, who was a Belfast cab driver who had found his way into boxing and having won one of the Match Room Prize Fighter events, had managed to also beat Audley Harrison. This had lead to Rogan being eligible to fight for the Commonwealth title that Skleton had. Rogan v Skelton was a war of attrition as the two mean stood toe-to-toe in a gruelling match that saw Skelton dropped for the first time in his career as Rogan rode out the winner by 11th round TKO. Rogan was no spring chicken by this point either, aged 37…it would be the final victory (so far anyway) for the Irish man who would lose his following two contests to Sam Sexton.

Skelton has had one more fight, in what appears to be his final contest. He fought against the then 24 year old Francesco Pianeta from Italy, who was 18-0-1 going into the fight and the European Union title holder. Pianeta would see the brave Bedford Bear retire at the end of the 8th round, an arm injury the cause of it, though the fact was that Pianeta was cruising to victory with out too many problems.

With a record of 22-4 (29KO’s) and aged 42 it looks likely that Matt Skelton may have fought his last fight. For a guy to get into the sport in his mid 30’s he did rather well, becoming British champion, a 2 time Commonwealth champion, a WBU “world” champion, a European champion. a WBA title challenger and a European Union contender in such a short career. Though with the door likely shut behind this chapter of his life, it’d be nice to see him stay in the sport in some way, such as an analyst as he seems to know the game pretty well. A tough brawling fighter did his best with rather limited talent, and for this he must be applauded.

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