The PressBox

Promo courtesy of BOXXER.

A quiet week is starting to bubble with the announcement of former undisputed world super-lightweight champion Josh Taylor relinquishing his IBF title, the first of the world straps he picked up, to secure a rematch with Jack Catterall.

Taylor is aware he needs to put a wrong right by convincingly winning any rematch. Despite him thinking he won the first fight the weight of boxing opinion was on him squeaking through to retain his belts, many thinking the Lancastrian Catterall deserved the nod. No date has been announced yet but November 26 in Manchester is looking favourite. The Ring and WBO titles will likely be on the line.

Tyson Fury continues to toy the public over a world heavyweight unification fight with Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk. His claims of only taking the fight if someone would stump up £500 Million are ludicrous but at least he’s now come out of retirement and talking up the fight. The likely destination in early 2023 is on the Persian Gulf either in the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia. This will irk most British fight fans but is the new reality of big heavyweight title fights.

Meanwhile top rated heavyweights Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker home in on their September 24 date in Manchester. Both are top ten ranked by The Ring magazine and highly by the WBO, and the contest looks to be a humdinger. Both come to fight and a world title shot is on the line.

We’re only eleven days out from the massive unification contest between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall to be contested at London’s O2 Arena on September 10. This middleweight contest between two fighters who’ve graduated from the London 2012 Olympics and remain undefeated as professionals is probably the best in women’s boxing at the moment. It promises and will likely elevate the female code to unprecedented heights in the UK. A sell out of the 20,000 venue is expected for all female card promoted by BOXXER and shown live on Sky Sports.

Former three-time world champion Duke McKenzie was honoured last weekend with the unveiling of a blue plaque above a former residence in his honour. An array of ex-British champs attended including brother Clinton McKenzie, former IBF world light-welterweight champion Terry Marsh among others. It was an honour a long time coming and well deserved.

Finally, preparations continue for the big Liverpool bill on Saturday September 3 featuring former WBO super-welterweight champion Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith. Local hero Smith has recently gone over to the BOXXER promotional company and he tops the bill at the M&S Arena against tough Tanzanian Hassan Mwakinyou. The bill also features another local favourite Natasha Jonas, British light-heavyweight champion Dan Azeez and big punching super-lightweight prospect Adam Aziz. Full preview to follow on Friday.

The Weekender

Gennadiy Golovkin (left) and Saul Alvarez in combat.
Photo: Getty Images.

With a break from the hectic schedule of recent world title fights we look forward three weeks to the big super-middleweight contest in Las Vegas on September 17.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez versus Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin really is one for the ages. Their scheduled third contest for the undisputed and Ring magazine 168lbs/12st title is up there with any trilogies of the past. Think Tony Zale v Rocky Graziano in the 1940’s, think Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in the 1970’s, think Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward, Eric Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez and, more recently, think Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder. Trilogies rarely fail to deliver, that in essence is why there’s a third fight in the first place, because the previous two have been so damn good.

Both fighters are currently deep in training camp, ‘Canelo’ in San Diego, USA close to his native Mexico, and Kazakh Golovkin in Big Bear high up in the Californian mountains. They will soon cease sparring and enter the tapering phase. Positive news filters out from both camps via social media as they hone their bodies to a state of perfection and readiness for the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas strip.

Golovkin, at 40 years, has the bigger challenge. First to defy the attrition of ‘Old Father Time’, but also to devise a game plan that puts right the wrong of September 2018 when he lost a majority decision to the more aggressive Alvarez. ‘GGG’ won the first fight in 2017 on most people’s cards, apart from the three men that mattered, the judges, who ruled it a controversial split draw.

The Kazakh knows he will not win a decision by outboxing Canelo. He will have to meet the Mexican head on and is likely preparing for the intensity and power necessary to prevail. He is the bigger puncher of the two, with a significantly highly KO percentage, but; and this is a big but, those have all been at 160lbs/11st,6lbs as a middleweight. The big unknown is can he take that power up ?

Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KO’s) is dropping down after sorties in the light-heavyweight division, fighting a duo of Russians in Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol, registering a 1-1 record. At age 32 he is the younger and theoretically the bigger man, but only stands 5′ 8″ and will he be weight drained coming down ?

Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KO’s) at 5′ 10″ although campaigning exclusively at middleweight does have the height advantage and an almost identical 70 inch reach. He also has the superior amateur pedigree, although Canelo matches this with 61 fight professional record. It’s a match up made in heaven with many intangibles.

Alvarez exudes bad blood between the two claiming in a BBC interview “I don’t like the guy…When he’s in front of me, he doesn’t say anything – ‘I respect him, I respect his career and this and this’ – but what about what he’s been saying in interviews and in other places ?”. He alludes to Golovkin’s criticism of him for the Mexican’s sixth-month doping ban back in 2018 prior to their rematch. He claims the rivalry and third fight is “personal” and predicts a stoppage to end Golovkin’s career.

‘GGG’ has kept his counsel and not criticised his foe directly before the media. In an earlier press conference to launch the fight he epitomised the consummate professional. “I don’t think it’s personal, I think it’s a sport…if he has something against me that’s fine…I’m confident”. This seems to rub Canelo up the wrong way and will be surely fuelling the Mexican’s fire in training camp.

Legacy is what they are both searching for. To be considered the best 160-168 pounder in their generation. On September 17 we will establish who is the better fighting man. We can’t wait !

The September event is promoted by Matchroom Boxing in association with the two fighters promotional companies and will be shown on DAZN pay per view worldwide.

The Monday LunchBox

Oleksandr Usyk’s dominant jab tells the story of the fight.
Photo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Usyk v Joshua II – What we learnt

  1. Oleksandr Usyk is an exceptional fighter and human being – The Ukrainian champion in the build up to the fight, through twelve completed rounds and in victory showed the true class of an elite champion. With his country still ravaged by war he gave his compatriots the brief respite of a night to remember. He insisted they be able to see him fight and to that end subsidised the broadcasting of the fight free to his nation. He never bad mouthed his opponent, sold the promotion and on the night displayed the skills and bravery of an exceptional champion. His split decision victory was the least he deserved, largely dictating the fight for it’s duration. The class he showed on the final bell and after the decision announcement, when Anthony Joshua took his limelight by unbelievably taking to the microphone, was exemplary. When finally getting his moment to thank God, his country and team he never made a mention or took issue with the preceding ten minutes. As a fighter he now stands alone as the heavyweight champion of the world (despite what Tyson Fury and his supporters may think) and is arguably boxing’s pound-for-pound king. His standing is already established and should he choose to retire, which is unlikely, then his legacy is secured as an elite champion and man.
  2. Anthony Joshua took the rematch too soon – How can you say that about a man who’s reputedly just earned £31M ? Well, setting that staggering amount aside we have to look at his attempt to regain the titles he lost in September 2021. He and his camp knew the challenge that Usyk presented. Joshua had shared twelve hard rounds with him trying to crack the Rubik’s cube of the Ukrainian southpaw. All his camp knew what to prepare for. This preparation though required more time and a better game plan. Ultimately, Joshua adopted the same tactic as he did in the first fight, albeit slightly more successfully. He was always in the fight but was second best.
  3. Saudi Arabia has had its boxing moment – The state backed promotion was a success, both nationally and globally. Then again it should have been for the outlay made. The Kingdom has in the last four years hosted three major boxing promotions, including two heavyweight championship fights, which have showcased the sport in that country and hopefully provided a legacy for the population to aspire to. Because of the substantial sums of money on offer and the state of the world economy big sporting events will continue to gravitate towards the Middle East. We have no issue with boxing being part of that, but enough is enough for now.
  4. Anthony Joshua is still a championship fighter – Despite on our card being a wide loser of the fight (116-112) his performance in light of the challenge before him was a good one. He competed throughout with an exceptional champion, but could never really find his way inside the southpaw stance and Usyk’s excellent jab to get any sustained success. His body attacks were significantly better in this fight and his best round was the ninth, when, for the first time there was doubt on the eventual outcome as Usyk retreated under the Brit’s onslaught. Joshua saw the final bell, which we admittedly didn’t predict, and in defeat showed he still has a lot left. He’s now boxed twelve rounds with a generational heavyweight champion and not been dropped or stopped. There are many marquee fights still out there for him (Fury, Wilder, Joyce). For now though he will remain at contender status, possibly settling a few domestic scores over the next 18 months, but if he can keep his motivation will undoubtedly fight for a title again. Rumour is December in London is the likely first step of Joshua’s rebuild.
  5. Usyk will fight Fury or retire – That was the main revelation from his post fight interview. The Ukrainian clearly sees only one challenge remaining to cap an outstanding career. He knows he will never be totally accepted as the champion from this era unless he meets and beats the ‘Gypsy King’. If Fury does indeed come out of retirement, as we expect and Twitter posts in the last 24 hours indicate, then it’s full steam ahead for a unification bout and the road to undisputed. Sadly though any protracted negotiations and fight staging issues will result in the titles becoming splintered again. Usyk holding the WBA, IBF and WBO titles will have mandatory obligations to all three sanctioning bodies to meet their #1 contender within a stipulated time. If the fight fails to be agreed then he will be stripped of their belts one by one. There’s also the larger matters of the Ukrainian being 35 years old and the continuing chaos in his home nation. If Fury delays terms we may not see the contest or Usyk fight again. That’s unlikely but a distinct possibility. This would be sad for him and boxing in general and let’s hope for the best outcome.

On the stacked Jeddah card there were also significant wins for light-heavyweight contender Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KO’s) in halting Mathieu Bauderlique with a devastating left hook in the fourth round, heavyweight Filip Hrgovic in defeating Zilhei Zhang narrowly on points in a gruelling and entertaining fight and, the second appearance of prospect Ben Whittaker in a six round decision win. Light-heavyweight Whittaker was the silver medallist in the Tokyo Olympics and continues his upward trajectory.

Stateside, the big news was WBO world featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KO’s) defending his title by sixth round knockout of Eduardo Baez. Huge unification fights await the hard hitting Navarrete.

Expect further developments in the heavyweight mix this week as the Jeddah drama and results shake down.

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

The Weekender

Usyk v Joshua II – The final face-off.
Photo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

It’s one of those weekends.

One, where boxing elevates itself from, to some, an occasional view minority sport, to a gargantuan monolith. Whenever the heavyweight championship of the world is up for grabs it pulls in all sports fans and the average Joe (or Jane) in the street. This weekend is no exception and today everyone is a fan or expert. And, we love it.

What that means is additional pressure on the sport to capture hearts and minds and also protect it’s product and integrity.

Tonight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, undefeated world champion Oleksandr Usyk will take on Anthony Joshua for the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring magazine championships and the right to be called the best ‘active’ heavyweight in the world. The shadow of Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury still looms over both fighters, though apparently he’s now “officially” retired. Nuff said.

The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ is a fantastic contest on paper and, in these pages (see earlier posts) the quality of both fighters is exceptional; London 2012 Olympic champions, having a combined professional record of 43 wins (35 by KO) and 2 losses (both those sustained by Joshua).

At yesterday’s weigh in before the world’s sports media, patriotic Ukrainian, Usyk scaled 15st, 11lbs, and Joshua 17st, 6lbs. The British challenger is 4.5lbs heavier than in the previous contest between the two back in September 2021, Usyk a mere 0.25lbs heavier than before. The differential 23lbs in Joshua’s favour.

However, it’s unlikely to be a contest determined by respective weights, but by skills, tactics and eventually durability. The Undisputed has thought long and hard about the outcome, from the first moment Joshua invoked the rematch clause after losing the first fight, through February’s Russian invasion of Ukraine – thinking how that might impact on Usyk’s mindset and his training camp, to the fight night countdown and the rumours emanating in between.

After much deliberation we revert back to our first thoughts and gut instinct. Stylistically, Usyk is all wrong for Joshua – an elite, crafty southpaw, able to pivot in throwing punches from all angles and step away diagonally to avoid counters. He aligns this with exceptional infighting skills and respectable ‘heavyweight’ power.

We see Joshua starting fast behind a solid jab and looking to offload his big right crosses followed by left hooks to the body in an attempt to overwhelm his opponent. Forcing the pace as he does. An early onslaught is widely considered his only route to victory, and we expect him to revert back to the street mentality and threshing machine he was as an amateur and in his early professional career. This took him to the top of the mountain and with new trainer Robert Garcia he will adopt a more aggressive approach than in recent fights.

The thinking fighter that he’s attempted to develop into, by trying to repeatedly ‘outbox the boxer’, has not cut it in recent contests and, knowing he can’t do this with Usyk, he’s likely hardened himself for a ‘firefight’. The pre-fight nervousness that he hinted on yesterday is likely an indication of what he’s in for; expecting an extremely tough dogfight in which he’s the man who’s going to have to change approach and really go for it.

‘AJ’ has the size, power and hopefully mindset to prevail on the night by adopting these tactics and we expect knockdowns in the first three rounds. However, we predict that Usyk’s dexterity, toughness and motivation will enable him to navigate this early period, possibly lifting himself off the canvas, and taking a more selective approach in the middle rounds.

We expect Joshua to have further success landing big right hand shots and hooks to the body as Usyk steps in, but the superior southpaw skills of the Ukrainian and the early intensity of the contest to take it’s toll on Joshua, with the Ukrainian to settle the score by stoppage victory in the seventh round.

This won’t be the end of Anthony Joshua at the elite level, if anything add to his entertaining list of fights, further projecting his power at the box office. However, Usyk will prevail and this will overnight, bring one certain Tyson Fury out of his retirement.

The card also features former unified super-middleweight world champion Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KO’s) against Frenchman Mathieu Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KO’s) in a light-heavyweight contest, hot Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KO’s) versus Chinese Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KO’s), promising Tokyo 2021 silver medallist Ben Whittaker in his second pro outing at light-heavyweight and perennial contender Badou Jack at cruiserweight.

The Saudi Arabian state and Matchroom co-promoted card should be entertaining, topped by an intriguing main event that will reset the heavyweight picture.

The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ will be available in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office from 6pm and the main event on TalkSport radio later in the evening. Ring entrances are expected from 10pm UK time.

It will also be available on DAZN worldwide and on YouTube in Ukraine.

Usyk v Joshua II – Same again ?

The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’
Photo: courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Article originally posted on 18/6/22

This week’s confirmation of the rematch for the heavyweight titles held by Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, due to be re-contested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 20 August, has been met with the expected writing off to former champ Anthony Joshua’s chances. Almost to the extent that it’s not worth the Londoner entering an arduous training camp to attempt to win back his WBA, IBF and WBO titles. Usyk’s just too good they say, his style’s all wrong for Joshua, the Brit is chinny and will get sparked clean out.

Although this is an appreciation of the Ukrainian’s undoubted class, it is almost disrespectful to the Brit.

Joshua, is an Olympic super-heavyweight champion (ironically at the same London Games Usyk won the heavyweight title), is a two-time heavyweight champion, still young for the division at 32 and possesses the physical attributes at 6ft 6in, an 82 inch reach and 92% knockout rate, to trouble his significantly smaller foe.

Oleksandr Usyk is good, extremely good, but not unbeatable. No fighter, aside from a few exceptions (Marciano, Mayweather Jr, Calzaghe) who remained unbeaten as pros but arguably beaten along the way on some judges and experts cards, and Usyk is likely to be no exception come the end of his career.

The 35 year old Ukrainian currently boasts a 19-0 (13 KO) record, which includes only three fights in the heavyweight division, albeit bookended by his impressive title win against Joshua last September.

The big Londoner, will granted, have to change a lot from his poor performance in the first fight in which although competitive in losing a twelve round unanimous decision, he was thoroughly outboxed by the surprisingly aggressive southpaw. Usyk has the long and elite amateur experience, Joshua; they say like his fellow countryman Frank Bruno is a manufactured boxer, too musclebound to compete at the real elite heavyweight level.

Whilst Usyk will go into the rematch as a heavy favourite, rightly so, there are a few other things to factor in when predicting the outcome:

1) The Ukrainian has had the trauma of the invasion of his homeland to contend with, serving some of his boxing layoff in the Ukrainian home defence regiment. Whilst this may be extra motivation to put his country further into international consciousness and attention, and illustrate his nation’s strength, the layoff and psychological impact may have an influence,

2) a change in strategy combined with Joshua’s size may be an irresistible force – the Brit has been accused of being gunshy since his shock defeat to Andy Ruiz in June 2019. This was evident in the rematch as he boxed his way to victory, knowing he had the skillset to do that against the out of condition Mexican-American. It’s widely known in the first Usyk fight he tried to ‘outbox the boxer’ which was ultimately never going to happen. His strategy for the rematch will be critical, one that will be compiled by new trainer Robert Garcia who will support Angel Fernandez. If Joshua can combine that explosive power with a more aggressive approach the outcome could be different,

3) the Brit’s motivation, although will not be dictated by external world events and patriotism, it is the motivation of a fighter who is being written off and will be desperate to win back his titles and the status that comes with it. That is a dangerous cocktail when combined with his size and athleticism.

As we edge closer to fight night the pendulum will heavily swing towards the Ukrainian with most fans and pundits predicting an easy repeat victory. But, heavyweight history has shown many times that ‘a good big un’ will always beat a good little ‘un’. We know Usyk is exceptional, but Joshua has been good and may still be. Heavyweight history is littered with one punch or heavy KO’s changing the lineage of titles – think of a certain James ‘Buster’ Douglas v Mike Tyson.

Before you totally write off the Londoner’s chances just consider the above.

The PressBox

Heavyweight history awaits Usyk or Joshua.
Photo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 16:15 local time

The final press conference has been held for the big heavyweight title showdown, the ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, scheduled for Saudi Arabia this Saturday 20th.

The main talking point in the conference was around competition.

British challenger Anthony Joshua, in response to Head of Matchroom Promotions Eddie Hearn said – this is “Must win, I like the pressure. Lets get the job done, stay focussed”. On the challenge ahead “It’s competition, I’ve got goals I want to achieve in the ring on the night”. When asked about the prizes on offer (The Ring magazine championship, IBF, WBA & WBO heavyweight titles) he responded “The belts mean something, but that’s all at the end…I wanna compete and I’m looking forward to it”.

Ukrainian champion Oleksandr Usyk, outright favourite for Saturday’s contest and wearing a traditional cossack suit said “It’s true, we learned (from) each other in the first fight… this Saturday night will be a great, great fight…We were born to compete, for life, for belts for anything…all our lives are competitions”.

Both fighters then took up a tasty face-off in front of the mass assembled media. The event will be broadcast live in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office, DAZN worldwide and free to air in Ukraine.

Look out later today for a re-post of our earlier article originally released when the rematch was announced.

The Monday LunchBox

Promo courtesy of Matchroom.

With no action in British rings over the weekend we’re into a ‘monster’ week in the build up to the big world heavyweight rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday 20th.

The contest will be for The Ring magazine championship after last week’s retirement announcement from former lineal champ Tyson Fury. This adds significant lustre to the fight that was already for Usyk’s world IBF, WBA and WBO titles.

Fury’s retirement should also render the WBC title vacant, although despite their president Mauricio Sulaiman congratulating ‘The Gypsy King’ on his career and announcement, it’s uncertain as to the exact status of this at the moment. What is certain is Saturday’s contest is a blockbuster and effectively between the two best active heavyweights in the world.

The Ukrainian, Usyk, (19-0, 13 KO’s) is the #1 ranked heavyweight and Joshua (24-2, 22 KO’s) #2, as recognised by The Ring, and their ratings policy states that when their champion retires the title will be awarded to the winner of contest between their #1 and #2 contenders.

On this basis The Ring and lineal championship is legitimately up for grabs. It’s also worth noting that Usyk is now recognised by them as their #2 pound-for-pound – ranked second best fighter in the sport behind Japanese sensation 118lb Naoya Inoue, an honour given regardless of weight class. This illustrates what the Londoner, Joshua, is up against.

‘AJ’ has to fight the psychological demons again and attempt to regain the heavyweight title for a third time, something only Muhammad Ali has achieved in the past. The similarity ends there because the nature of his defeats to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, and Usyk last September, show that as good as Joshua is he stands in Ali’s shadow as far as being a dominant heavyweight as a professional.

However, let’s accept the Brit’s accomplishments for what they are. A two-time heavyweight title holder who’s appeared in, and won, some of the biggest fights in a British ring in recent years. His pulling power and fanbase is staggering and has made him a rich man. To regain the title on Saturday will be a monumental task and a significant achievement should he pull it off. He should be commended for going straight into the rematch.

Usyk, now 35, was so dominant in the first contest that few give Joshua anything other than a puncher’s chance. The 32 year old challenger deserves more consideration than this. He has a sound technique, as the London 2012 Olympic champion at super-heavyweight, has superb conditioning and concussive power to match. He also enjoys height and weight advantages, although rumour is that Usyk has put on 19lbs of muscle since the first contest, bringing this discrepancy closer.

Usyk, is a boxing beast, able to box out of his southpaw stance to a game plan and engage with significant power when sensing a weakness in his opponent. He has immense amateur experience as the London 2012 Olympic champion at heavyweight and is attempting to be the first to be recognised by The Ring magazine as their cruiserweight and heavyweight champion.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have paid a significant eight figure sum to stage the fight and the event billed as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ by promoters Matchroom is sure to deliver. Joshua knows his main chance of victory is to blow away Usyk and this will surely make the fight exciting in the early rounds. Usyk is unlikely to meet the Brit head on in the first six minutes, but having wobbled him last September, knows he has the power to hurt his opponent. Joshua’s chin is considered suspect and he will have to address that.

Over the coming week there will be much talk of the legitimacy of holding the contest in Saudi on the basis of their human rights record. Looking specifically at the sporting contest, our focus will be on the aligning of the weights, the motivation of Usyk (in essence a freedom fighter representing a proud nation under siege) his boxing IQ, and the fallibility of the challenger. This will all be added into the mix as we move towards the first bell. Watch this space for further updates as we move through the week.

Ultimately, the victor will rightly take their place at the forefront of the sport, and then, all eyes will switch to ‘The Gypsy King’ and the legitimacy of his so called ‘retirement’.

The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ will be available in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office as a pay-per-view event at £26.95 from 6pm Saturday. It’s also available world wide on the DAZN streaming channel (excluding UK, Ireland and Ukraine).

Main news over the weekend was the continuing traction on the Chris Eubank Jr v Conor Benn catchweight contest which has now officially sold out the 20,000 London O2 Arena. This is remarkable for a fight that has no title on the line and is not until October 8th. Matchroom Boxing CEO Eddie Hearn has cited this as being the biggest fight he’s promoted, due to it’s generational draw. Early evidence suggests he might be right.

Finally, the weekend also saw the successful return of former undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (17-1, 13 KO’s) who successfully stepped up to junior-welterweight (10st/140lbs) with a seventh round stoppage of Pedro Campa in Las Vegas, USA. He immediately called out Scotland’s Josh Taylor, Regis Prograis and Jose Zepeda in his new division. Exciting match ups all.

Enjoy the build up from Jeddah.

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

The Weekender

Chris Eubank Jr (left) and Conor Benn pose in London.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” so said Conor Benn in yesterday’s London Bridge press conference to formally announce his forthcoming fight with Chris Eubank Jr.

That, in essence is what we have in the 157lbs (11st, 3lbs) ‘catchweight’ contest at London’s O2 Arena on 8 October. Billed as ‘Born Rivals’ and co-promoted by Wasserman Boxing and Matchroom it’s a match up between two carbon copies of their parents; in confidence, physicality and boxing style, and with some attitude thrown in for good measure.

The early 1990’s fights between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank Sr. were a couple of the most iconic fights in British boxing history, the sequel played out to a terrestrial TV audience of 17 million on a peak time Saturday night. That is why this fight has been made.

Not, because either need it at this moment in time. Both are world ranked in their natural and respective weight divisions – Benn at welterweight (147lbs) and Eubank at middleweight (160lbs). Both are close to securing a title shot with one of the world sanctioning bodies, but their promoters are struggling to get a champion to fight. Conor Benn summed up “This is a fight that makes sense at this time”.

More relevant to the promotion and public interest is the family history and that both need to settle a score for their respective family honour. The log currently sits at 1-0 to the Eubank’s, the second fight a hotly disputed draw at a sold out Old Trafford football stadium on 9 October 1993. This autumn’s contest will fall one day short of 29 years on. The original fight was a nine round epic stopped in Eubank’s favour. Both cemented the legendary status of the families in British sporting history. This will be Act III.

In a tetchy press conference Eubank Jr. who’d pressed his promoter Kalle Sauerland to take the ‘Benn route’, to settle what the promoter referred to as a “Monster family feud”, was repeatedly dismissive of his opponent.

Whilst noting “He’s undefeated, he has momentum, he has highlight KO wins” Eubank summarised “I’m gonna take you back to school, sit you down in class”. He toyed that he would only need to be 60% prepared on the night, and then added “If I’m 100%, it’s a public execution !”.

On the family rivalry Eubank said “I don’t dislike Conor, but at the same time this fight is personal…I watched the mental stress and injuries (of my father) as a child…I can’t forget, I can’t forgive…I can’t let the Benn name get on top”.

Potentially, this has all the makings of a classic confrontation. Eubank (32-2, 23 KO’s) is the taller man, technically sound with respectable power and at 34 has greater experience having fought at championship level for the last decade. Benn (21-0, 14 KO’s), stocky with powerful shoulders has shown in recent fights the power inherited from his father’s genes. At 25, he’s entering his peak but lacks the experience of his opponent.

The fight provides the greater opportunity for Benn, he will be the man moving up in weight to test the waters, if he loses he will return to welterweight. Eubank will have to boil down to make the agreed 157lbs and being the older man, more is on the line. On the unacceptable prospect of losing the fight Eubank said “If I lose to Conor Benn…I’m finished”.

The Brighton fighter confessed he won’t make 157, a weight he claims he hasn’t been at since 18 years of age. He will take the substantial six figure penalty clause for every pound over 157, he won’t “kill” himself for this fight in training camp. Summarising “I just need to show up”.

Benn was more circumspect “Each fight I treat as a world title fight. I’m a young, hungry and motivated fighter…I will prepare the same way I prepare for everyone else, full steam ahead”. He referred to Eubank’s repeated bravado as being his “ego talking” and got particularly animated when Eubank claimed he was in his “father’s shadow”. An insult sure to stoke up further the fire in the younger man’s body.

It was left to Eubank’s trainer Ronnie Davies, a man who’d seen and done the first two contests in the family feud to sum up the significance and potential in this fight “The first fight was brutal…this fight will be brutal as they’ve got the same passion – their fathers”.

The hype will build significantly up to 8 October, with the main stories being the family feud and weight discrepancy. It promises to be an exciting journey to fight night. Look out for further updates on this site.

Tickets for the 20,000 seater O2 Arena have just gone on sale and the fight and supporting card will be available live and exclusive on the DAZN streaming platform as a pay per view event.

Update 14 August – the event sold out within 30 minutes.

The Monday LunchBox

Isaac Chamberlain (left) and Chris Billam-Smith exchange blows.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

On Saturday (30th), at a rockin’ Bournemouth International Centre on the English south coast, local favourite Chris Billam-Smith successfully defended his European and Commonwealth cruiserweight (200lbs/14st, 4lbs) titles against London’s Isaac Chamberlain over twelve hard fought rounds.

The contest, a contender for British fight of the year, topped an excellent night of action on the BOXXER promotion shown live on Sky Sports in the UK, with the main event also broadcast in the USA.

Billam-Smith (16-1, 11 KO’s) won on all three cards 117-111 but this didn’t tell the full story of the competitiveness of the contest. Chamberlain (14-2, 8 KO’s) from Brixton, London, gave the thick set champion all he could handle and left the ring with his head held high. In a fight that was brutal throughout and captivated the rabid local fanbase The Undisputed scored it 116-112 in the home fighter’s favour.

Both fighters met toe to toe from the opening bell and the champion tried to bull charge his way to an early stoppage. The slick boxing Londoner withstood the early assault using a ramrod jab to set up his own attacks and shared some of the early rounds. Mid-fight it was apparent the contest was going to be a war of attrition, as it ebbed and flowed with each boxer gaining the ascendancy and then retreating into defence. With both fighters visibly tiring due to the relentless pace of the contest they supplemented sorties with periods of rest on the ropes and the exchanges of body attacks were intense. Billam-Smith just put in more work than his adversary over the full distance, seeming to get a second and third wind and covering up when needed.

Despite the fight having no knockdowns and only Chamberlain sustaining a cut late it was an all action contest that’s up there with any recent all British encounters. It certainly brought a continuing impetus and focus to the highly competitive cruiserweight division.

Billam-Smith had to dig deep to retain his titles and moves onto potential British blockbusters against WBO champion Lawrence Okolie or a revenge match against hard hitting Richard Riakporhe, the only man to defeat him.

It was also a night of prospects with Team GB Olympian and Tokyo silver medallist Ben Whittaker making his professional debut at light-heavyweight, fellow Olympian and female Londoner Caroline Dubois having her third contest and, the return of Tokyo bronze medallist Frazer Clarke at heavyweight for his second fight after a long layoff due to a hand injury.

As expected, all the Olympians came through easily with matchmaking befitting the embryo of their professional careers, however, all impressed in so doing.

Pick of the bunch was the entertaining and flashy Whittaker, who having returned from a training camp in the USA with well respected trainer SugarHill Steward, showed an array of confidence and variety that bodes well for a successful and possible box office pro career. Rare it is for a debutant to start with a six rounder and exude the self confidence shown against a solid domestic opponent in Greg O’Neill (6-7-1, 1 KO) who went hell for leather from the opening bell.

From the 25 year old Whittaker we saw multiple bolo punches, looping uppercuts, punching whilst looking the other way and ducking under big counters by the slimmest of margins as he glided around the ring. Apart from a few shots on the referee’s call of break it was as impressive a debut as you will see. He ended the contest emphatically with a jab followed up by a heavy right hand after 21 secs of the second round.

Caroline Dubois (3-0, 2 KO’s) at a mere 21 years old stopped brave but outgunned Happy Daudi on 0:46 in the third and Frazer Clarke bludgeoned 22 stone Ariel Esteban Bracamonte into submission with a brutal left hook after 2:57 of the second round. The 6 foot 6 and nineteen stone Clarke boxed well and refused to get drawn into a slugfest with the totally out of shape Argentinian and the finish was clinical efficiency.

Clarke rises to 2-0 (2 KO’s) and joins the rich talent pool of UK heavyweights backed up with elite amateur experience. At only 30 years old, time is on his side.

Promising welterweight Hassan Azim (4-0, 2 KO’s) had to work hard in an excellent learning fight to overcome tough Jacob Quinn (4-2) winning on the referee’s six round decision 59-55. On another night this would’ve been the fight of the night but such was the talent on offer and the competitiveness and significance of the main event that it featured way down on the card. However, this is well worthy of mention here.

There were also impressive stoppage wins in the last contest of a packed night for big punching Joe Pigford (20-0, 19 KO’s) halting Ghanaian Raphael King after 1:49 of round three to win an eliminator for the Commonwealth super-welterweight title, plus earlier, cruiserweight Mikael Lawal who stopped Crispulo Javier Andino after 1:25 of the second.

Elsewhere, on a Wasserman promotion up in Newcastle, north east England and shown live on Channel 5 in the UK, super-welterweight Josh Kelly (12-1-1, 7 KO’s) continued his positive comeback with an emphatic ten round unanimous decision against Lucas Bastida (18-2-1, 10 KO’s) to win the WBO international title. Returned scores were 99-92, 98-92, 96-95 in favour of the 28 year old from Sunderland. Kelly is now on the cusp of a title fight and has good amateur pedigree to draw from.

The Commonwealth Games continue in Birmingham, England and updates will follow as we approach the final stages.

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

The Friday Faceup

Chris Billam-Smith (left) and Isaac Chamberlain face off on Bournemouth beach before Saturday’s big cruiserweight clash.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The cruiserweight division (200lbs/14st, 4lbs) has never been glamorous. Stuck between light-heavyweight (175lbs/12st, 7lbs) and the unlimited enormity of the heavyweight division it has suffered a bit of a middle-child syndrome. Despite having some elite champions emerge from it such as Evander Holyfield and Oleksandr Usyk, it’s been difficult to love.

This indifference has been worldwide, but also in Britain, albeit a lesser degree. In recent years we’ve seen Carl Thompson, David Haye, Enzo Maccarinelli and Tony Bellew elevate themselves beyond the masses, but generally no soon has a champion gained some success and momentum than he’s talked of moving up to heavyweight, where the big bucks lie.

Now think re-set. The cruiserweight division in the UK is hot !

First, we have sanction belt ‘world’ champion Lawrence Okolie (18-0, 14 KO’s), as currently recognised by the WBO. Then there’s big hitter Richard Riakporhe (15-0, 11 KO’s) the current WBC#8 and IBF#2 ranked challenger. Closely followed on the rails by European and Commonwealth champion Chris Billam-Smith (15-1, 11 KO’s) and the man he faces tomorrow on a big show in Bournemouth, England, Isaac Chamberlain (14-1, 8 KO’s).

Taking place in the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), the so called ‘Battle on the Beach’, is a crossroads fight between popular local man Billam-Smith against tough Londoner Chamberlain.

The latter is on the comeback trail having notched up five victories since a disappointing showing when competing at championship level against Lawrence Okolie in February 2018. The fight was a stinker and the now 28 year old has had to quietly rebuild. His last outing was in December 2021 blowing out Dilan Prasovic inside a round and looking impressive in so doing.

Billam-Smith, 31, going by the nickname of ‘The Gentlemen’, has taken the gamble to switch from the Matchroom promotional company to BOXXER to secure bigger fights and a world title shot. He’s well placed as a double-belt champion, and has just a sole defeat on his record to Richard Riakporhe on a split decision back in July 2019. That loss looks more impressive with every knockout Riakporhe has notched up since their contest.

A Riakporhe v Billam-Smith rematch is a natural if the latter comes through tomorrow and would sell out a large venue. The local man’s dream is to box at Bournemouth Football Club’s stadium in a big fight, which could feasibly be for a world title further down the line.

In tomorrow’s stacked card, promoted by BOXXER and shown live on Sky Sports from 8pm, Team GB Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ben Whittaker will make his much anticipated professional debut. He meets capable Greg O’Neill (6-6-1, 1 KO) from County Durham in a six rounder. The slick Whittaker has been training stateside with much renowned SugarHill Steward from the Kronk Gym setup and the light-heavyweight from Wolverhampton, England is an exciting addition to the British pro ranks. Much is expected and we are confident he will gradually build and deliver. His launch tomorrow should be nothing but entertaining.

Team GB captain and fellow Tokyo medallist Frazer Clarke (1-0, 1 KO) returns to the ring for his second professional outing following his stunning first-round stoppage win on the undercard of Khan vs Brook in February. The big heavyweight has a wealth of elite amateur experience, having sparred with and competed alongside Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce in recent years.

The third Team GB Olympian on the card is Caroline Dubois (2-0, 1 KO) who aims to impress again in a six rounder against beautifully named and experienced Tanzanian Happy Daudi.

Big hitting Joe Pigford (19-0, 18 KO’s), from Southampton just along the coast, also appears in a challenge for the vacant WBO European super-welterweight championship.  The bill is topped off with cruiserweight Mikael Lawal (15-0, 9 KOs) looking for his sixteenth career win, Hassan Azim (3-0, 2 KOs), brother of Adam, and also local boy Lee Cutler (10-1, 7 KOs).

As to the main event, we expect an excellent contest which should go into the championship rounds (10-12) and we see Billam-Smith with the more complete skillset and, buoyed by his vociferous home support, forcing the referee to intervene and stop the contest in the eleventh. It should be very competitive and the whole card an excellent watch live and on Sky Sports.

Saturday night also features the second return fight of super-welterweight Josh Kelly (11-1-1, 7 KO’s) in a ten rounder against Argentinian Lucas Bastida (18-1-1, 10 KO’s) in Newcastle, England.

Kelly represented Team GB in the 2016 Rio Olympics and after an early setback in the pros, losing to quality campaigner David Avenesyan at welterweight, is now continuing his rebuild. This is a good test for the Sunderland man and will gauge where he’s at. The Wasserman Boxing promotion also features impressive Harlem Eubank (14-0, 6 KO’s) and Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Pat McCormack (1-0, 1 KO). It is available on Channel 5 in the UK, free to air.

With the start of amateur boxing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, the weekend is loaded with excellent action. The Games are available on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) over the next eleven days and the boxing will build towards the finals next weekend with all GB nations individually represented.

Enjoy now, what promises to be a great fight weekend.