BLACKPOOL fighter Brian Rose is today the proud and permanent owner of the most coveted prize in British boxing, the Lonsdale Belt.
But he had to dig deep in the face of a spirited challenge by Londoner Sam Webb, who pushed the local hero all the way for the British light-middleweight title over 12 close rounds at the Winter Gardens last night.
For Rose there were some tears and no little relief at the end, and although all three judges quite rightly scored the contest in his favour, there were scares aplenty in the final round as Webb made one desperate attempt to turn the fight his way.
For Rose, it was the pinnacle of his achievement - three defences of the Lonsdale Belt, enabling him to claim it as his own for life.
For Webb, it was the end game as he announced his retirement straight afterwards.
But what a way to go, as Rose will rightly testify.
Former champion Webb, a true warrior, came out with fierce intensity in the final session, rocking Rose with a couple of booming rights. They hit home, but to his credit Rose stood up to the barrage.
Two of the judges, Howard Foster and Steve Gray, scored it 116-112, while Davis Parris had it 116-113.
For what it’s worth, this observer had it 117-114, and a lot of the rounds were close and hard to score.
In fact, the clearest round was the 12th, which Webb won hands down.
Rose started the better and took the first, and by the sixth looked a good two rounds ahead.
The Londoner had closed the margin to a single round by the eighth before Rose took the next session. The pace and the intensity of the contest was unrelenting, and it told on both boys.
Crucially, the Blackpool man won 10 and 11. He showed superb skill in the first of those sessions, seemingly trapped on the ropes he switched defence into splendid attack with some lovely footwork to turn the tables on Webb and land scoring shots of his own.
The 11th was perhaps the clincher for Rose as he logged that, but then came the scare in the 12th, when Webb went for broke and at times had Rose in all sorts of strife, the final bell coming as music to his ears.
It was yet another tough defence for Rose, who now emulates the feat of Blackpool featherweight Ronnie Clayton, who made the Lonsdale Belt his exclusive property 61 years ago.
It was certainly a night to remember for Rose and an eclectic mix in the Winter Gardens crowd, which included Rampage Jackson (aka Mr T), Tyson Fury, Blackpool FC manager Michael Appleton and several members of his squad, plus darts exponent Wes Newton, who witnessed an all-or-nothing spectacle that was a credit to both boxers.
n ROSE’S win over Webb came seven years to the day since he made his professional debut in Blackpool.
His trainer Bobby Rimmer said: “We have come a long way.We’ve had our ups and downs. Now we are going to get the ups, we have said goodbye to the downs.
“The future’s bright. There are all sorts of titles - Commonwealth, European, worlds - but we are going to go away, have a nice Christmas and rest up.”
Reflecting on the points win, Rimmer said: “It was a close fight but Brian was always winning it. We knew it would be one of those fights where Brian would not win every round. From the word go, I knew he was going to lose some.”
Rimmer admitted to giving his fighter wrong information going into the 12th round. He said: “I hope Brian will forgive me because I had to tell a few lies in that corner and that he needed to win the last round.
“Sometimes Brian has a tendency to go to sleep and you have to keep on him all the time. I am really pleased for him. There was a lot of pressure on him because of having to win to keep the belt.
“Brian fought the best Sam Webb we’ ve seen in a long time. He comes forward, he moves and he’s hard to hit.
“But Brian was hitting him cleaner and hurting him. Brian fought a great fight, but at this level you are not going to win every round.”