x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All to play for so no time for gifts

Today, as is customary on the December 26, a substantial sporting schedule will steal the festive spotlight.

There is little chance of the pitch at Melbourne Cricket Ground being frozen over when the Boxing Day Test gets under way today.
There is little chance of the pitch at Melbourne Cricket Ground being frozen over when the Boxing Day Test gets under way today.

ABU DHABI // Today, as is customary on the December 26, a substantial sporting schedule will steal the festive spotlight. From motor sports to basketball, horse racing to ice hockey, the tradition of competing on the day after Christmas is as long-standing as dressing a fir tree in baubles.

One of the sports often missing on the Boxing Day calendar is, ironically, boxing, but, contrary to popular belief, the moniker for St Stephen's Day has more to do with packaging than pugilism, especially in America where it is 11 long years since a fight took place on December 26. Freddie Roach, the former professional boxer and now one of the most respected trainers in the sport, fought American compatriot Herman Ingram on December 26, 1981 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Roach won on points after eight punishing rounds and says he found festive training an enjoyable chore. "I fought Herman on Boxing Day, but I fought four times around Christmas," Roach said. "You just prepare and train normally like you would for any fight, watch what you eat and drink. "The reason I liked those shows was that I'd go to New Jersey and it was close to where I grew up in Boston, so after the fight I'd go see my family. It worked out well for me. I'd miss Christmas by a little bit, but I'd get to celebrate New Year with my family and friends.

"Now, of course, there's just too much going on." Roach, who now trains WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan, certainly has a busy schedule. But the coach, who celebrates his 50th birthday on March 5 - less than two weeks before the proposed clash between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr - says he would consider scheduling a fight for Boxing Day. "My gym is open right over Christmas. We don't have any other life; this is what we do. If someone has a fight coming up, c'mon man, there's no Christmas.

"I think it's good to have fights on Boxing Day because people are at home with their families and that's the audience factor you want. They all want to watch TV over Christmas. Boxing Day is a big American sports day and that's tough to compete with, but there's boxing fans out there that would be happy to see the fights on. "Maybe they could have a special fight on this day in the future to bring it back - I still think people would watch if they didn't attend."

Out of keeping with previous years, there will be no American football this afternoon, yet American boxing will return with five low-key bouts in Denver, Colorado. Also making an appearance today is Irish football's Belfast derby, but it would seem the only gifts that fans of Linfield and Glentoran have enjoyed exchanging in recent years are bricks and missiles. Of course, save for another embarrassing postponement as was witnessed on Monday at Wigan, a busy schedule of Premier League games will take place today and all eyes will be on whether Roberto Mancini can play the role of Santa Claus and provide his new Manchester City side a belated Christmas present in the shape of a much-required three points.

Stoke's Tony Pulis, meanwhile, will be aiming to morph into the Grinch and steal any Christmas joy away from Eastlands. With much of the southern hemisphere basking in beautiful sunshine, there is little chance of the pitch at Melbourne Cricket Ground being frozen over when the traditional Boxing Day Test gets under way early this morning as Pakistan play Australia. Originally held in 1950, the annual game features the Australian national team and whichever country happens to be "Down Under" during the summer.

South Africa became the first team in 10 years to beat the home side during the festive Test last December and Pakistan will be hoping to emulate the Proteas over the coming days. Good cricket is guaranteed, but goodwill not so much. Which will be in direct contrast to the love-in at London's Kempton Park, if Boxing Day's traditional King George VI Chase finishes as expected. In Christian folklore, the three wise men followed a particularly bright star to reach their desired destination. Today, 22,000 very merry race fans will be following their own star - Kauto Star - as jockey Ruby Walsh looks to reach the finish line fastest and create history by claiming the nine- year-old his fourth successive victory.

Whatever fate is written in the stars for today's sporting protagonists only time will tell, but there is certainly enough going on to ensure any premature holiday blues are kept at bay for at least another 24 hours. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae