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Colin Hart: Boxing snobs can slam Commonwealth Games as inferior… but just try telling ring legend Barry McGuigan that

COMMONWEALTH GAMES boxing is often referred to as a minor competition that doesn’t compare to the European Championships, World Championships or the Olympics.

You certainly won’t get those who have spilled blood taking part in them agreeing with that rather snobbish view.

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Try telling Barry McGuigan his Commonwealth Games medal isn’t prestigiousCredit: Getty

It’s true it can’t be considered a global event.

But having covered eight Commonwealths starting in Edinburgh in 1970 and finishing in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, I can assure the doubters everyone who ended up proudly standing on the winners rostrum had to battle hard for their medals.

And at Birmingham’s NEC the fans will see enough talented Africans – plus those from the Southern Hemisphere and Caribbean – as well as ambitious boxers from the four-home countries fighting in front of their families, to be impressed with the talent on view.

And there’s no one more qualified than Barry McGuigan, one of Britain’s greatest fighters to verify the quality and importance of what we shall be watching during the next nine days.

Barry claims it was his experience at the 1978 Commonwealths in Edmonton, Alberta, that made him realize he had what it takes to go all the way to the top.

The man who became known as the Clones Cyclone – worshiped on both sides of the Irish divide during the worst of the Troubles – flew to Canada 44 years ago to represent Northern Ireland.

He was Barry the baby bantamweight then because he hadn’t long passed his 17th birthday and looked as if he should be back in Clones doing his homework.

Fortunately putting kids into international tournaments against experienced men hasn’t been allowed for some time.

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Yet astonishingly McGuigan – inspired by wearing the green vest – showed the fighting qualities that was to later endear him to millions of fans.

Despite his youth, he returned home with the gold medal round his neck.

Chatting to Barry this week I asked him – as it was so long ago – if he could remember the name of the opponent he beat in the final.

Wincing at the memory he said “Remember him? I’ll never forget him!

“His name was Tumat Sugolik and he came from Papua New Guinea. He’s imprinted on my brain forever.

Barry McGuigan won gold in 1978

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Barry McGuigan won gold in 1978Credit: AP:Associated Press

“That’s because he hit me with a right hand that nearly took my head off. Nobody throughout my amateur and professional career hit me harder.

“Anyone who puts down Commonwealth Games boxing as second rate has no idea how tough and competitive it is.

“My experience and victory in Edmonton made me realize if I trained hard and lived the life I was capable of turning pro with the prospect of a successful career.”

McGuigan went on to win the world featherweight title and become a legend.

In my time four other Commonwealth gold medalists were good enough to win world professional titles – and that’s confirmation of just how high the standard can be.

John Conteh (Edinburgh, 1970), Chris Pyatt (Brisbane, 1982), Wayne McCullough and Richie Woodhall, (Auckland, 1990) are the others.

Anyone who puts down Commonwealth Games boxing as second rate has no idea how tough it is

Barry McGuigan

Woodhall, a Birmingham boy who will be one of the BBC’s commentary team, said “Competing at the Games will do wonders for the youngsters’ morale.

“I was 22 when I won my gold and it gave me a tremendous amount of confidence knowing I could be a force internationally.”

Conteh was a brilliant 19-year-old middleweight who electrified the crowd when he became the Commonwealth champion.

Typically my favorite Scouser – when I asked if he could remember who he beat 52 years ago – said: “I’m 71… if I could remember that I would be asking for my pro license back!”

For the record it was Titus Simba of Tanzania.

The England team four years ago in Queensland led the medal table with six golds, one silver and two bronzes.

This England squad of eight men and six women is expected to emulate that total.

Russian-born super-heavyweight Delicious Orie and Leamington heavyweight Lewis Williams could well be the stars of the show and household names by finals day on August 7.

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