The Monday LunchBox

New European light-heavyweight champion ‘Super’ Dan Azeez.

British light-heavyweight Dan Azeez (19-0, 13 KO’s) can now legitimately count himself among the best 175 pounders in the world after capturing the European title in Paris, France on Saturday night.

Azeez added the continent’s title to his English, British and Commonwealth 175lb (12st, 7lbs) belts. He joins the strong list of champions of yesteryear like Chris Finnegan, John Conteh and Dennis Andries to operate at world level and in a division that is ‘redhot’ in the UK.

The Lewisham, south London fighter, billed out of nearby Croydon, in defeating tall Frenchman Thomas Faure (21-5-1, 2 KO’s), was dominant and tidy throughout. Working off his excellent left jab and following up with strong rights he took the fight to the tall ex-champion and shook him up on a number of occasions. Most notably, in the eleventh, which Faure was fortunate to navigate.

Faure was spirited throughout, but the inevitable stoppage came after 0:50 of the final round when Azeez landed two strong rights consecutively. He was clearly ahead on points at the time and there was no protest from his opponents team.

In a surprise upset, twelve years older Carlos Takam (40-7-1, 28 KO’s) defeated 2018 Rio Olympic champion Tony Yoka (11-2, 9 KO’s) at heavyweight by split decision (96-94, 94-96, 96-94) over ten rounds. The middle card was a travesty on Takam’s dominance throughout. Yoka now has to bounce back from two consecutive demoralising defeats. He does though hold a win over Joe Joyce as an amateur.

Female 2020 Olympic champion Lauren Price (3-0, 1 KO) looked impressive defeating Naomi Mannes (6-2, 4 KO’s) by unanimous decision (80-72 x3) after eight one sided rounds at welterweight. Price is definitely looking one for the future and continues to grow as she steps up in rounds, this being her first eight rounder.

The middleweight contest between Macauley McGowan (17-3-2, 3 KO’s) and Farrhad Saad (8-0-2) on the BOXXER/All Star Boxing promotion ended in a controversial majority draw. McGowan looked to be denied a rightful victory.

Finally, on Sunday in London The Ring middleweight and world champion Natasha Jonas was named British Boxer of 2022 by the BBBofC (Board of Control). It capped a remarkable year for the likeable personality and fighter from Liverpool, England. She became the first female to capture the prestigious British award which has existed for many years.

Fight of the 2022 was the eleven round Leigh WoodMichael Conlan WBA world featherweight contest held in Nottingham, England last March, also voted The Ring magazine’s world fight of the year.

This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Friday Faceup

Promo courtesy of BOXXER et al.

With the ongoing ‘tennis match’ between heavyweight world sanctioning belt holders Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, the avoidance of a world welterweight unification between USA’s Terence Crawford and Errol Spence and, adverse opinions on welterweight Conor Benn’s frank interview on British TV this week, you could be forgiven for thinking the sport has become irrelevant, or in a perennial, incurable decline.

There is though hope tomorrow night in Paris, France as we focus on the big BOXXER/All Star Boxing promotion to be shown live on Sky Sports in the UK and Canal+ in France.

Headlining is the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Dan Azeez (18-0, 12 KO’s) facing Frenchman Thomas Faure (21-4-1, 2 KO’s) for the vacant European crown. Azeez from Croydon, England, threatens challenging for world titles and is now The Ring #10.

A throwback in attitude and appearance to the late, great Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Not folically challenged, but Azeez is working up the hard way from small hall shows to winning progressive titles, and even wearing a copy of his hero’s claret shorts. He should have too much quality for the Frenchman who is workmanlike but not a concussive puncher.

Azeez has recently been training in Florida under the tutelage of former elite welterweight/junior-middleweight James ‘Buddy’ McGirt and this should tell over the contest.

The light-heavyweight division is arguably the hottest in the UK and a number of fighters have either contested or are on the cusp of world honours. Azeez among them.

The co-main event features an all-French affair between 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight champion Tony Yoka (11-1, 9 KO’s) against perennial contender Carlos Takam (39-7-1, 28 KO’s).

Yoka controversially declared the victor over Joe Joyce in the Rio Olympic final is now trying to bounce back from a first defeat as a professional to Martin Bakole last year. He needs to get back into winning ways and a Joyce rematch is a natural meeting of top heavyweight prospects further down the line.

Yoka is only 30 years old compared to Takam’s 42, and although it will be interesting if Yoka tries to stop his foe, he should prevail over the distance. Takam has mixed in good company in the splintered heavyweight division; is very durable, but age and ambition should be the telling factors here.

The card also features Team GB 2020 Olympic gold medallist Lauren Price (2-0, 2 KO’s) who faces German Naomi Mannes (6-1, 4 KO’s). Price, from Wales and a welterweight, is facing a step up in opposition with a former European title challenger, but should be too classy and win convincingly.

British middleweight Macauley McGowan (17-3-1, 3 KO’s) also faces undefeated French prospect Farrhad ‘The Professor’ Saad (8-0-1) on the card.

It should be a good night’s viewing all round. Enjoy.

The Weekender

Promo courtesy of Queensberry Promotions.

After the hype and passing interest by hardcore fans in the Jake Paul-Tommy Fury contest last weekend, and with no major event this weekend, regular readers in the UK have been asking me “what’s coming up ?”. This shows there is a genuine interest and hunger for quality matches to be made and broadcast.

Well here goes…

It’s disappointing that the Matchroom Boxing promotion scheduled for Liverpool, England next weekend (11th) has now been reduced somewhat by the injury of hometown headliner Callum Smith (29-1, 21 KO’s) who was due to fight proven Pawal Stepien (18-0-1, 12 KO’s).

‘Mundo’ Smith is one of the top light-heavyweights (175 pounders) in the world, ranked by The Ring magazine #3 and surely in line for a shot at one of the sanctioning body ‘world’ titles. Although the remaining bill should be of interest, now headlined by local men Robbie Davies Jr. and featuring Team GB 2020 Olympian Peter McGrail, it should be worth a watch.

On 11th and 25th March BOXXER has major promotions in Paris, France and Manchester, England respectively. In Paris, the British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Dan Azeez (18-0, 12 KO’s) faces Frenchman Thomas Faure (21-4-1, 2 KO’s) for the vacant European crown. Azeez from Croydon, England threatens challenging for world titles and is now The Ring #10. The bill also features Rio Olympic super-heavyweight champion and victor over Joe Joyce, in the shape of Frenchman Tony Yoka (11-1, 9 KO’s). He needs to get back into winning ways and a Joyce rematch is a natural down the line.

Then, in Manchester, WBO ‘world’ cruiserweight champion and The Ring # 1 Lawrence Okolie defending against undefeated New Zealander David Light. The 200lb division is arguably the hottest in the UK with world ranked Richard Riakporhe (The Ring #6) and Chris Billam-Smith (The Ring #10) also lying in wait for world title opportunities. Both will be interested observers in Okolie’s performance and result.

Team GB Olympians Lauren Price, Frazer Clarke, and Kariss Artingstall will also feature over coming weeks.

Both BOXXER events will be televised in their agreement with Sky Sports live on Saturday nights.

Then coming into April it’s over to the heavyweights. On the 1st Anthony Joshua (24-3, 22 KO’s) and The Ring #3 has a date at London’s O2 Arena with American Jermaine Franklin (22-1, 14 KO’s). Allegedly tickets are selling slowly, unusual for a Joshua show, but this is a fight he must win, and win well. The bill also features world ranked light-heavyweight Craig Richards (17-3-1, 10 KO’s) and Felix Cash for the European title.

Finally, the biggest foreseeable contest to be held in the UK, certainly in terms of world significance regarding the big men, will be on April 15 at the Copperbox Arena, London. The Queensberry Promotion sees Joe ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce (15-0, 14 KO’s) and The Ring #4 facing Chinese contender Zilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO’s). This is sure to be ‘bombs away’ with one likely winning by knockout. It will be supported by the usual array of Queensberry talent and broadcast live and exclusive on BT Sport in the UK.

Other news of interest will be if, and when, welterweight (147lbs) Conor Benn receives the green light from the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) to resume his professional career in the UK and hopefully challenge for world honours. Also, the votes tallied for the BBBofC awards luncheon for 2022 achievement. Promising junior-welterweight/lightweight (140-135lbs) Adam Azim (8-0, 6 KO’s) should feature high in the best prospect/young fighter category. The other baubles for best all round fighter and best 2022 contest should be up for grabs. This will be held at The Brewery in east London on Sunday 12th and is usually a well attended event.

Plenty to look forward to after a slight abeyance in the UK this weekend.

The Monday LunchBox

New WBA world featherweight champion Mauricio Lara drops Leigh Wood.

Mexico has a rich tradition of diminutive fighting men with punches that kick like a mule. Mauricio ‘Bronco’ Lara (26-2-1, 19 KO’s) lived up to his nickname and enhanced the national reputation. He excelled in sensationally flooring local man Leigh Wood (26-3, 16 KO’s) with a devastating left hook in the seventh to win the WBA world featherweight (126lbs/9st) title Saturday night in Nottingham, England.

The nature of the fight and ultimate victory was compulsive viewing on DAZN. The champion Wood making his second title defence was boxing well, was ahead, and seemingly stretching to a points victory, then BOOM ! Both fighters detonated left hooks on each other simultaneously, but the Mexican’s had the greater impact and Wood hit the canvas.

Rising on unsteady legs, referee Michael Alexander asked whether Wood was ready to continue, and looking as though that was possible the champion’s cornerman Ben Davison saw the danger and compassionately threw the towel into the ring. The fight was immediately waved off after 2:54 of the round.

Davison’s call was deemed by some to be premature and Wood instinctively protested, but no one can ever fault the safety of his fighter being paramount, saving the 34 year old ex-champion to fight another day.

As predicted on these pages it was a gruelling fight with Wood cut in the first from a clash of heads, some heavy exchanges and a knockdown to finish. The Matchroom promotion was enhanced by the electric atmosphere created by the Wood faithful in a sell out Nottingham Motorpoint Arena supporting their local hero with gusto.

The defeated Wood, The Ring magazine #5 coming in, still has plenty of options; a contracted immediate rematch or, a rematch with Irishman Michael Conlan who he stopped in the final round in March 2022 in The Ring Fight of the Year. He also has the domestic option of fighting former IBF world champion Josh Warrington, who was at ringside.

The new champion Lara, The Ring #3, and arguably now the best featherweight in the world also has similar options. He’s obligated to a Wood rematch but also has eyes on a Warrington trilogy fight. The money on offer in the UK may draw the new champion there again, and he will be more than welcome to visit those shores.

At only 24 years old and despite having some technical limitations he has a bright future ahead and that KO power will always be the leveller that may see him through to greater and more victories. At the end of the night you got the sense you’d watched another Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate, Julio Cesar Chavez or Marco Antonio Barrera; a Mexican now showcased to a UK audience, who could go on to be another to add that country’s glorious list of fighters. We look forward to watching his journey.

This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Weekender

World champion Leigh Wood and challenger Mauricio Lara front up.

Nottingham, England is a sports mad city. It has venues for and hosts Premier League soccer, Test match cricket, and is also home to the National Water Sports Centre.  It’s a hard city, situated in the east Midlands, it has a tough underbelly and is a breeding ground for fighters. When they have one, or some of their own to support, they sure as hell get behind them.

In recent years it’s been rare for the city to host world championship fights. This writer though recalls the famous night of 26 May 2012, when local hero and soon to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHoF) Carl Froch, fought Canada’s Lucian Bute for the IBF world super-middleweight title.

Billed as ‘No Easy Way Out’ the Nottingham Arena was aptly a bearpit of intensity and atmosphere that night, which then champion and previously undefeated Bute just couldn’t deal with. Froch, backed by his rabid supporters and ‘The Cobra’s’ stone-like fists, simply overwhelmed Bute and the Canadian-Romanian would never be the same again.

Pre-fight, Froch was perceived to be in too deep with heavy hitting Bute. In five incredible rounds Froch overwhelmed his opponent and was famously crowned the new champion on an emotional night.

Tonight (Feb 18), in the same arena, and ironically also on a Matchroom Boxing promotion, local man Leigh Wood (26-2, 16 KO’s) defends his WBA world featherweight title (126lbs/9st) for the second time against tough Mexican puncher Mauricio Lara (25-2-1, 18 KO’s). It’s a contest between two excellent fighters that promises much, more than likely an intense battle with multiple knockdowns.

Wood, The Ring boxing magazine #6 beat Irishman Michael Conlan last time out in their 2022 Fight of the Year in March by eleventh round stoppage in a barnstormer. If Saturday’s fight is half as good we’re in for a treat.

At 34 years old, Wood is now facing a man ten years younger and with a big knockout percentage. He won his title in July 2021 by unanimously outpointing good Chinese featherweight Xu Can.

Lara, by comparison The Ring #4, surprisingly knocked out former IBF champion Josh Warrington in London in February 2021. A hastily arranged rematch in Leeds that September was adjudged a technical draw due to a cut from an accidental clash of heads. He was subsequently stripped of the IBF title due to inactivity. The Mexican is now seeking redemption by his potential winning of the WBA crown tonight.

The much anticipated contest also marks nearly 38 years from Irish hero Barry McGuigan dramatically defeating Panamanian legend Eusebio Pedroza for the same title in London, England. One that still holds a number of viewing records as it was broadcast live on BBC TV in a peaktime Saturday night slot. Some contest and event to live up to.

So, what can we expect tonight ?

Both men have been talking up a good performance and their victory coming in. Lara seemingly getting under the champion’s skin. Both fighters weighed in 126lbs (9st) on the limit at yesterday’s weigh-in which went without further incident.

The challenger’s greater power on record and being considerably younger is the clear favourite with the oddsmakers.  Wood, although closer to the end of his career than beginning is tough, as he undoubtedly showed against Conlan, rising from a knockdown to be victorious in a firefight. It ending in a twelve round stoppage of the Irishman. He holds more experience, is rugged and has a noticeable height advantage.

Lara still has something to prove that he truly belongs a this level, much of his status being gained from the first Warrington fight.  We expect it to be a gruelling fight with knockdowns, but on the night the size of Wood backed on vociferously by this local fanbase to prevail, and thus making a second successful defence of his title to set up a box office return further down the line with Conlan.

It’s sure to be some fight and the atmosphere electric, which will transfer well to those watching at home on the DAZN streaming site.

Last night at London’s famous York Hall, Bethnal Green on a Queensberry promotion rising British heavyweight David Adeleye (11-0,10 KO’s) scored an impressive technical knockout of previously undefeated Ukrainian Dmytro Bezus. The stoppage came at 1:38 of the second round after the 26 year old Brit had dropped his 6ft 6″ opponent in the first with a straight right jab. The finish was an impressive right hook to the body followed by left hook that flattened the Ukrainian giant before the referee stepped in. Adeleye who has recently been training in Florida, USA is starting to look the real deal and adds to the strong heavyweight mix in the UK.

In a night of good stoppage wins there was also a solid victory for unbeaten British lightweight Mark Chamberlain and junior-welterweight Henry Turner. The former halting ex-European featherweight champion Vairo Lenti impressively to go to 12 wins.

Finally, enjoy tonight’s DAZN world title broadcast from Nottingham which should be a real humdinger.

The Monday LunchBox

Exciting prospect Adam Azim celebrates victory.
Photo courtesy BOXXER/Lawrence Lustig.

He goes by the spine-chilling nickname of ‘The Assassin’. Professional boxing is full of them. Think ‘The Hitman’, ‘Dark Destroyer’, ‘Iron Mike’, a billing to get bums on seats and people to tune in at home. However, with every assassin the gun sometimes jams or they withdraw their aim to seek another day or target.

The reality of the situation here is that Saturday night at Wembley Arena marked the most important fight and performance to date in Adam Azim’s fledgling young career. The Slough, Berkshire-born junior welterweight (10st/140lbs) won his eighth professional fight unanimously on points against previously undefeated Nicaraguan Santos Reyes.

It was Azim’s first ten round fight and in an 8-0 (6 KO’s) record the first time he’d been extended like this. Going into the fight he’d accumulated only nine minutes of action in dispatching his previous opponents, sometimes with ruthless efficiency, befitting of his moniker. It had garnered him British Prospect/Young Fighter of 2022 recognition and he’s sure to be coronated in next month’s British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) awards ceremony.

He is, simply, the brightest prospect in the country. His female boxing equivalent is lightweight ‘Sweet’ Caroline Dubois who was also victorious on the BOXXER promoted card Saturday. Both are being carefully matched and guided through their early careers by that organisation, along with respected trainer Shane McGuigan. Much is expected from both.

The 20 year old Azim was extended by an undefeated, technically cute Reyes, who without a concussive punch, was able to navigate the ten rounds through fistic knowledge and guile. All prospects need this test as early in their careers as possible. Comparisons have been made with ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed and Amir Khan due to the Brit’s Asian heritage and promise. Let’s compare this more fully.

Hamed in this eighth contest beat domestic rival Kevin Jenkins in Mansfield by third round TKO, he would win the European bantamweight title on points in his twelfth fight. His first and only other points victory was in his sixth contest.

Khan beat domestic rival Colin Bain by TKO in July 2006 in his eighth professional contest and be extended to points victories a fight earlier and also in his second contest. Like Hamed, he would go on to win multiple world titles.

In both cases Azim is slightly ahead of the curve and promises similar success. But yet, it is only promise.

So far he’s looked the real deal with an exciting style and knockout ratio. Our view is he learned more on Saturday than in his previous seven contests. For the first time, despite dropping his opponent in round two, he was extended the full distance and although dominant throughout, he was faced with an opponent who could withstand his onslaughts.

To Azim’s credit he answered any questions about his stamina, going into the tenth he was still fresh and didn’t look troubled or unduly concerned by being extended. Whilst Reyes didn’t also bring the threat of power to answer Azim’s advances, he forced the Brit to find a way to navigate his ‘peek a boo’ defensive style. Azim was made to think carefully about his route in opening up the Nicaraguan. This he passed as he regularly landed a strong jab followed up by big right hand crosses. This was supplemented by a good and regular body attack. The education and advancement on the night was perfect and will hold Azim in good stead for future challenges.

He did not become frustrated by repeated failure to stop his opponent and boxed efficiently to a convincing victory. Cards were 100-89 in his favour with the second round being scored 10-8 due to the knockdown. He also ticked off his first headlining of an event at a major boxing venue.

Caroline Dubois was equally impressive in dispatching Tanzanian Feriche Mashaury after 0.47 of round three. She continues to show excellent promise in compiling her undefeated record and will likely challenge for titles in the next 12 months.

There were also impressive wins for Zak Chelli on points over experienced American Anthony Sims at super-middleweight and Viddal Riley halting Anees Taj at cruiserweight on a bad cut. Midlander Tyler Denny also successfully defended his British middleweight title over Cornwall’s Brad Pauls by unanimous decision in the most competitive fight of the night. Denny should soon get a deserved shot at the British title held by Denzel Bentley.

The impressive Adam Azim rightly headlined and stole the show bagging a solid learning fight against an undefeated international opponent. The future looks bright and he will gain much from this experience.

He was also joined in victory by his brother welterweight Hassan Azim on an excellent night of boxing.

This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Friday Faceup

Exciting lightweight prospect Adam Azim (left) shapes up with Santos Reyes.
Photo: BOXXER/Lawrence Lustig

Tomorrow night (Feb 11th), British 2022 Young Fighter/Prospect of the Year Adam ‘The Assassin’ Azim (7-0, 6 KO’s) headlines his second show and first at a major British venue. Recently looking an early equivalent of ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed or Amir Khan due his Muslim heritage, power and overall potential, the Slough-based fighter meets Central American Santos ‘Starboy’ Reyes (12-0, 3 KO’s) at the Wembley Arena, London.

The packed BOXXER promoted card shown live on Sky Sports in the UK from 8pm also features female prospect ‘Sweet’ Caroline Dubois (5-0, 4 KO’s) at lightweight, facing Tanzanian Feriche Mashaury, who’s mixed in good company to date. It’s 2020 Olympian Dubois’ first scheduled eight round fight and we’re confident she will come through well. Super-middleweight Zak Chelli, English Middleweight Champion Tyler Denny and rising cruiserweight Viddal Riley, also feature, amongst others.

Adam Azim, the so-far electrifying 20-year-old promises much after registering his sixth consecutive knockout victory recently, and clearly looks one to watch. He has a steadily growing army of fans after his stunning stoppage victory log and excitement to match, to date.

At today’s weigh-in at BoxPark Wembley, Azim comfortably made the 10st (140lbs) limit for the scheduled ten rounds fight. Reyes made the same weight no problem first time.

Undefeated and hailing from the famous boxing nation of Nicaragua Reyes should provide the Brit’s toughest test to date, but Azim has no concerns. When asked for a prediction he replied confidently “Saturday night you’re gonna see another spectacular knockout” and followed it with “Don’t blink !”.

Despite Reyes good record to date and boxing homeland it’s hard not to predict another early stoppage for Azim, but Reyes should be a test for as long as it lasts.

In the co-main event a war of words developed between British super-middleweight Zak Chelli (5-1-1) and his American opponent Anthony Sims (23-1, 20 KO’s) at Wednesday’s press conference. Chelli’s dislike for his Californian opponent deepened today with him saying “I’m done talking, I just want to hurt this man. His arrogance, his persona, I just hate him”. Sims replied “The Magician is back and I’m going to make a statement baby !” 

A similar heated exchange has developed between Viddal Riley and Anees Taj in the run-up to their fight, largely stemming from Taj.

It promises to be an excellent night’s boxing with a number of potential stars on show and competitive matches.

The full BOXXER card is:

Adam Azim vs Santos Reyes 10 x 3 mins International Super-Lightweight Contest

Zak Chelli vs Anthony Sims 10 x 3 mins International Super-Middleweight Contest

Tyler Denny vs Brad Pauls 10 x 3 mins English Middleweight Championship

Caroline Dubois vs Feriche Mashaury 8 x 2 mins Lightweight Contest

Viddal Riley vs Anees Taj 8 x 3 mins Cruiserweight Contest

Jeamie TKV vs Harry Armstrong 8 x 3 mins Heavyweight Contest

Hassan Azim vs Abdallah Luanja 6 x 3 mins Welterweight Contest

Jordan Reynolds vs Mohamed Cherif Benchadi 6 x 3 mins Super-Middleweight Contest

Razor Ali vs Hector Lozano 4 x 3 mins Featherweight Contest

The Weekender

Promo courtesy of BOXXER promotions.

After two action packed boxing weekends in the UK with the Chris Eubank Jr. – Liam Smith and Artur Beterbiev – Anthony Yarde promotions we head back to a sense of tranquility this weekend with no major event here.

Next week, we look forward to the build-up for British 2022 Young Fighter/Prospect of the Year Adam ‘The Assassin’ Azim (7-0, 6 KO’s) who returns to the ring on Saturday (11th). The exciting lightweight faces South American Santos Reyes (12-0, 3 KO’s) in one of his first step up fights. The BOXXER promoted card will air on Sky Sports in the UK and also features female lightweight prospect ‘Sweet’ Caroline Dubois (5-0, 4 KO’s) facing Argentine champion Yamila Belen Abellaneda (15-5-1, 3 KO’s). Super-middleweight Zak Chelli, English Middleweight Champion Tyler Denny and rising cruiserweight Viddal Riley, amongst others, will also show.

Promoted as ‘Wild Card’ the event has a number of grudge matches and should be entertaining fare. It will be staged at the Wembley Arena, London. Adam Azim promises much after registering his sixth consecutive knockout victory recently, and clearly looks one to watch.

Over the last week the most significant announcement was the Queensberry Promotions finalisation and media release of world ranked heavyweight Joe ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce meeting Chinese Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang on 15 April at London’s Copper Box Arena.

‘Juggernaut’ Joyce (15-0, 14 KO’s) is coming hot off his September victory against New Zealander Joseph Parker and as ‘Interim’ champion is the #1 contender for the WBO heavyweight title. Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO’s) had his first loss by decision to Croatian Filip Hrgovic in a heavy handed contest in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia last August on the undercard of the Usyk-Joshua rematch.

As a 6ft 6” southpaw, and at age 39, Zhang is also a former top amateur and Olympic medallist like Joyce, and this will give us a greater appreciation of both fighter’s prospects of challenging the winner of Usyk v Fury when it finally happens.

Joyce, age 37, is in pole position for a challenge and Zhang not far behind. It’s an excellent match.

An announcement was also made today by Matchroom Boxing of Anthony Joshua making a comeback against American Jermaine Franklin at London’s O2 Arena on 1 April . This should be a well attended event but surely marking time for Joshua. More to follow.

The Monday LunchBox

World champion Artur Beterbiev corners Britain’s Anthony Yarde.
Courtesy: Top Rank

Artur Beterbiev v Anthony Yarde – 5 things we learned.

  1. The Light heavyweights are back ! – Last Thursday we boldly announced the 175lb (12st, 7lbs) division was back in fashion. Saturday’s excellent contest between unified world champion Artur Beterbiev and contender Anthony Yarde confirmed the division is hot. It was a toe-to-toe contest in front of a captivated sold-out Wembley Arena, culminating in Russian, Beterbiev’s stoppage of the brave British challenger after 2:01 of the eighth round. This contest is added to by current Ring magazine Fighter of the Year Dmitry Bivol (also a 175 pounder), and numerous top British contenders at the weight.
  2. Anthony Yarde belongs – If there was any doubt Yarde was a genuine contender for the world title again, after his 2019 KO loss to Sergey Kovalev, then this was put to bed. He gave the outstanding Beterbiev a heck of a fight. Despite the Russian’s 100% KO record coming in, Yarde took the fight to him from the opening bell, showing a degree of control backed up by power punches belying his comparative little top level experience to the champion. Beterbiev has the benefit of 300+ amateur contests plus a now enhanced undefeated pro fight record. Yarde held his own throughout, winning the early rounds and on two official cards ahead in the fight before his being stopped. He shook Beterbiev with a big right hand cross midway in the fifth and it was only when the champion dug in and drew on his experience from then on in did he ultimately prevail.
  3. Artur Beterbiev may indeed be the best – We knew coming in he was a class act and his now 19-0 (19 KO’s) record supports this, but despite showing some vulnerability to a fighter who tried to out power him, he clearly had the chin and technical ability to prevail. The potential winner take all fight with Bivol (21-0, 11 KO’s) is now more mouthwatering than ever before. His Russian compatriot is coming hot off victories over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and previously undefeated Gilberto Ramirez and riding on a crest of wave as The Ring 2022 Fighter of the Year, but Beterbiev enhanced his reputation in the UK and will not be overpowered by Bivol. Beterbiev can be one paced and at 38 is not going to massively improve, but he would now be a strong candidate for gaining undisputed status.
  4. Quality fights will bring them back – It’s popular consensus that Saturday’s contest is an early candidate for 2023 Fight of the Year, no more so than by correspondents of The Ring -‘Bible of Boxing’. Going in, this had all the makings of a quality match-up but it surpassed expectations. The ding-dong fifth round was superb. Despite no knockdowns until the eighth round finish it continually ebbed and flowed and had enough action to captivate viewers both at Wembley and watching on BT Sport in the UK. A close friend of this writer, who, over recent years has become disillusioned with the sport, summed up Saturday saying the “Fight was brilliant. It restored my faith in boxing”. That must be a good thing if only a message to its champions to take their titles overseas and for promoters to make the matches that matter and are going to bring people back. Non-pay-per-view/box office and including in existing satellite subscriptions or, God forbid, free-to-air, would also help restore the sport to its former relevance and glories.
  5. Wembley Arena remains a mecca of British boxing – The history of Wembley Arena enhanced the sense of occasion on Saturday. The merest mention of Alan Minter v Marvin Hagler and sniff of Henry Cooper v Joe Bugner, Frank Bruno, John Conteh, Herol Graham and Charlie Magri et al, made the evening special. In the modern day of multi-purpose indoor arenas and odd outdoor stadium events it was wonderful to have a genuine world title fight at the old venue. Long may it be considered and it continue in our list of iconic fight site alternatives. A great fight on a thoroughly good boxing night.
This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Friday Faceup

World title challenger Anthony Yarde (right) fixes gaze on elite Russian world champion Artur Beterbiev at this afternoon’s weigh-in.

The weigh-in’s done and we’ve a fantastic fight ON for tomorrow night at the OVO Wembley Arena, London.

The unified world light-heavyweight title is on the line between undefeated Russian champion Artur Beterbiev and local challenger Anthony Yarde. It’s a match-up with great promise and intrigue, but what can we expect in terms of an outcome ?

Beterbiev is clearly the more experienced and intimidating of the two. His 300+ amateur fight pedigree and 100% KO record as a pro has earned him the favourite tag with the oddsmakers. Anthony Yarde though is a ‘live’ opponent with an excellent KO record and only two defeats, once at world level.

Yarde is the more chiselled of the two being alluded to by Beterbiev as “a bodybuilder”. The Russian having more of a boxer’s physique.

The Londoner can win this fight if he jumps on Beterbiev from the opening bell and lands one of his strong punches, and then follow’s up with regularity, caution and speed.  However, weighing all factors up we don’t see this happening and think that could ultimately be his potential undoing. Beterbiev will be expecting this, and having faced all sorts of styles and intense starts in his lengthy amateur career we see him much too shrewd to fall for it.

Yarde would be better to be more circumspect and use the early rounds to feel his way in, but also carefully offload his heavy shots when the opportunity allows, paying particular attention to counters and in retreat. We expect Yarde, bouyed by passionate home support and understandable nervousness having been stopped before and in with a known puncher to fire things up early. We expect him to mix it up, but, whatever he presents to the champion, him to withstand the early onslaughts.

Artur Beterbiev is 38 years old but still at his peak. Many pre-fight parallels have been made with Ricky Hatton’s victory over Kostya Tszyu in June 2005, but we see this more like Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovokin’s victory over Kell Brook in September 2016. One where class and experience told going down the stretch.

We expect Beterbiev’s class to lead to a systematic unravelling of the challenger, and Yarde’s outstanding physique to be part of the Londoner’s undoing. Muscles like his result in lactic acid reducing stamina, ala Frank Bruno, and we expect him to eventually burn out after nine rounds. There may be knockdowns but we expect Beterbiev to continue to enhance his KO percentage with the referee coming to Yarde’s rescue midway through round 10.

It will though be exciting for as long as it lasts and Yarde’s reputation will be enhanced during defeat.

At today’s weigh-in both fighters checked in at 12st, 6lbs (174lbs) with the champion being 4oz heavier. Both being inside the 175lb championship weight limit.

The event has a second world title fight at flyweight between Ukrainian champion Artem Dalakian and Costa Rico’s David Jiminez, plus a number of British prospects at other weights, including an appearance by the Itauma brothers. Younger brother Moses makes his debut at heavyweight.

It is co-promoted by Queensberry and Top Rank and will be shown live on BT Sport 1 from 7pm in the UK and on ESPN+ in the USA.