Craig Woodruff comes close against clever Gary Cully who wins on points

Craig Woodruff comes close against clever Gary Cully who wins on points

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: Newport’s Craig Woodruff (10-6, 4KO) launched a rocket right hand that nearly demolished Gary Cully (11-0, 5KO) but the Irish champion managed to pick himself up from the debris and navigate his way to a decision win.

Referee Phil Edwards scored the eight rounder to Cully, courtesy of a 77-75 tally, to kick off the televised segment of MTK Global’s second show at the Park Production Studios in South Kirby, Yorkshire.

Woodruff was supposed to be the first Welsh boxer in action after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. He accepted an offer to travel to Belarus and face world title challenger Isa Chaniev as part of Siesta Boxing’s ‘Kold Wars’ series in July. However, the opportunity was lost when the BBBoC wouldn’t allow Woodruff to leave the country and risk spreading COVID-19 on his return. Richie Garner, Woodruff’s manager, queried the decision and later felt ‘marginalised’ when the BBBoC decided to accept applications from foreign boxers to appear on UK-based shows.

Pontypool’s Kieran Gething was originally set to fight Cully. A recurring elbow injury plagued Gething for a number of years and it continued to deteriorate during training. An MRI scan showed floating material in the joint and it required surgery. The Welsh champion, also born with club foot (talipes), was ruled out for the rest of 2020. That opened the door for Woodruff, an ironic circumstance given that the benefactor lost a disputed decision to Gething a year ago.

Taking on Cully, a stylish southpaw who stands well over six foot, was not an enviable task. Garner conceded that the challenge was ‘a bit of a nightmare’ and that was because the 24-year-old always made full use of his physical frame. Cully keeps opponents at the end of his extended reach and he established that barrier early. It was messy when they threw at the same time, mainly because of those lengthy leavers but Woodruff managed to land straight rights to the stomach. Cully responded with his trademark check hook, a hallmark of the Irish amateur team, and it was thrown as he turned away from Woodruff’s work.

The pattern was set and Cully improved his lead in the following rounds. Awkward southpaw spurts were hard to avoid and they got through more often than Woodruff expected. Containing Cully’s stream of constant feints became difficult and Woodruff’s frustration was visible. Woodruff, in between the insights to his plateauing patience, was able to escape the single shots but Cully’s more sustained combinations earned him the first half of the fight.

“Anyone who fights Cully is going to struggle,” said Garner, who witnessed the skills from the comfort of the away corner. “Cully’s footwork is absolutely outstanding, particularly for a southpaw. Southpaws can often appear messy and a little bit unorthodox. I didn’t feel Cully fought that way at all, his footwork was outstanding. Some of the best [footwork] I’ve seen for a long time.”

Woodruff wasn’t far behind in any of the action, he just needed to shorten the gap. Cully always recognised the need to instantly reply and he did it consistently enough to cancel out Woodruff’s work. It was easier to spot Cully’s quality because Woodruff would retort by dropping hands and angrily calling for Cully to join him in reckless exchanges. Like any smart boxer, Cully resisted the temptation and instead took the chances to cement his lead.

“Ultimately, I’m responsible for a fighter’s long-term health,” reasoned Garner, well aware of his duty of care. “I certainly don’t like to see fighters taking shots unnecessarily and I think he did take a lot of shots that night because he became frustrated.

“He [Woodruff] was trying to walk Cully down with his hands down to show how tough he was… I’m not really interested in how tough fighters are. I’m interested in them having a good career, preferably winning titles, making a few quid and retiring healthy. If you continue to fight like that, it’s not going to happen but the positives that I can take out are the fact that he never gave up.”

Garner was just direct in his instructions to Woodruff on the night and he called for more urgency at the halfway point. Cully had measured the range and stayed away from danger up to the fifth round but he slipped up by overcommitting to a long left hand. It was easily parried by Woodruff, so the Welshman quickly reacted with his own backhand. A chopping right cross smashed into Cully’s temple and it sent the unbeaten contender crashing backwards, horizontal like a log hacked by a lumberjack. Suddenly Woodruff, kitted out in the black and amber of his native city, threatened to cause a completely unexpected turnaround.

“I was just trying to motivate him [Woodruff] to throw more punches,” Garner revealed. “The one thing he really needed to do to win that fight, when it became obvious Cully wanted to keep it long, was to punch with Cully. Throw with him and throw some more when he’s in the pocket. I couldn’t get Craig to do that [enough] but when he did, he had success.

“On the night, I was a bit disappointed with his discipline because he did allow himself to be frustrated but I wasn’t disappointed with his power. He proved that in the fifth [round] when he decked Cully with an outrageously powerful overhand right. I think that most fighters in the division would’ve struggled to get up from that.

“I think, and you see this quite often in boxing, what woke him [Cully] up was the impact of hitting the floor.”

Over two minutes remained in the round and Cully used an assortment of grappling techniques to kill the clock. At first, he bought time by crudely bear hugging Woodruff from behind. Then the referee was needed again because the next attack was thwarted by an uncoordinated headlock. Woodruff’s swings became wild as he wrestled with Cully, who completed his recovery a minute after hitting the deck, and the moment was gone. It was confirmed when Cully finished the round by unleashing his own accurate volleys.

Garner, no stranger to BBBoC disciplinary hearings, risked another appearance with his complaints from the corner. “I was highly critical of the referee. Even before the knockdown, the referee was letting Cully get away with holding. Craig was the stronger guy inside. Cully tried to keep things long and at a distance and then as soon as Craig came near him, he was grabbing and clutching.

“When Craig dropped him in the fifth, the holding was just absolutely outrageous. He literally clung to Craig until the end of the round and there wasn’t a single warning, much to my disappointment and I let the referee know it in between rounds.

“I was screaming at the referee, to the point where I had a couple of warnings from the supervisor.”

Woodruff’s intent remained but the poise was removed from his punches. Instead, he swung so hard that he spun 360 degrees and gave Cully the space to skip away. Whenever Woodruff found the target, it was more of a cameo than sustained success and Cully’s consistency stayed as the main difference. The eighth round followed a similar pattern and the eventually wide score didn’t reflect the competitiveness of the fight.

Ever since the former Welsh lightweight champion turned professional in 2012, Woodruff had been on the outside looking in. The difference in 2020 was that he was no longer ill-prepared or being thrown to the wolves, facing the likes of Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell on short notice as he had in 2014. In this phase of the 27-year-old’s career, he was equipped with a strong support network in both his training and management. It’s true that defeat to Cully, the sixth of Woodruff’s career, definitely hadn’t advanced his standing but, in reality, at least it didn’t set him too far back either.

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by MTK Global.

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