The Weekender

London cruiserweights promise fireworks Saturday.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

There’s some interesting match ups in British rings this weekend.

On the BOXXER promotion (Sat 26 March) shown live on Sky Sports from the OVO Wembley Arena is a cruiserweight contest between undefeated Brits Richard Riakporhe and Deion Jumah. Both men have reason to be confident having answered most questions on their way up to this point.

Riakporhe (13-0, 9 KO’s) is world ranked and impressed last time out against Olanrejawu Durodola at the same venue. Jumah (14-0, 7 KO’s) has turned a good amateur record (former ABA champion and English international) into the pro’s and, although the older of the two, offers an excellent challenge.

Both boxers talked a good contest at Thursday’s spicy final press conference and it promises much. Riakporhe looks to have the better power and upward trajectory but the southpaw stance of Jumah will cause him early problems. After a competitive first eight rounds we predict a late stoppage by the younger and fresher Riakporhe.

Chief support will be new British light-heavyweight champion Dan Azeez against former amateur nemesis Matthew Tinker. The latter holds a victory against the champion and Azeez has revenge on his mind. Londoner Azeez looks to have all the tools to compete in a stacked British 12st 7lb (175lb) division and is improving with each fight. His title victory over Hosea Burton by seventh round stoppage last November at Wembley was an excellent contest and performance. We expect him to win Saturday’s fight again by mid-round stoppage.

The BOXXER event is further enhanced with the return of promising brothers Adam Aziz, in a lightweight contest, and Hassan Aziz at welterweight. Tokyo 2020 Olympian Caroline Dubois also features in her second professional contest. Bright futures are expected for all three and they should come through their contests comfortably.

Up in Leeds, north England, is an intriguing contest between Spain’s returning ‘world’ featherweight champion Kiko Martinez (43-10-2, 30 KO’s) against hometown favourite Josh Warrington (30-1-1, 7 KO’s). This is promoted by Matchroom Boxing and available on the DAZN streaming channel.

Martinez, now 36, came from nowhere to regain a version of the world title when ‘sparking’ Kid Galahad late last year in what many regard as the upset of the year and The Ring magazine voted their comeback of 2021. The Spaniard had fought consistently at world level for over a decade but was thought a spent force going into the Galahad fight. However, the one punch knockout was nothing short of sensational.

The contest with Warrington is his first defence of his IBF title and a rematch. The Leeds challenger holds a victory over Martinez just under five years ago.

The key to this contest will be who has the most left as both in different ways are still on the comeback trail. Warrington, a former IBF champion himself, after losing his title to Mauricio Lara, has failed to restart his career to date, some of which has been due to enforced absence over successive COVID lockdowns. Martinez more recently has a win some-lose some record, but is always in splendid condition and comes to fight. It’s likely though the younger Leeds man will prevail in a tough contest to regain his title.

The title fight is also well supported with an excellent domestic match between Maxi Hughes (24-5-2, 5 KO’s) and Ryan Walsh (27-3-2, 12 KO’s) at lightweight. This could be a pick-ems with either fighter likely to emerge victorious. The card also features a potentially good female contest between Maria Cecilia Roman and Ebanie Bridges for the IBF ‘world’ bantamweight title.

Enjoy your fight weekend.

The Monday LunchBox

An ecstatic Leigh Wood after punching Michael Conlan out the ring.
Photo: Matchroom

Wow, what a fight !

How did Leigh Wood come back from that devastating first round knockdown to defeat Michael Conlan by stunning knockout in the final round of their WBA world featherweight title fight Saturday ? Through sheer guts and determination, that is the answer.

Wood, the champion from Nottingham, England was making the first defence of his title ripped from China’s Can Xu last year. Fighting in his hometown before a rabid local crowd, buoyed by a big Irish attendance backing the challenger, the fight and Wood’s victory was nothing short of sensational.

Irishman, Conlan, a double Olympian and undefeated, was the favourite going in. Compiling an undefeated 16-0 record. It was expected this would be his coming out fight to finally capture his first ‘world’ title, since turning pro amidst much fanfare in Madison Square Garden back in 2017. Wood had other ideas.

For much of Saturday’s contest Conlan dominated with his superior boxing skills; switch hitting and ending exchanges with a long looping left that kept detonating on the champion’s head. Wood simply couldn’t avoid it.

Right on the bell to end the first round a massive left dropped Wood and his legs stiffened. Fight over ? Not on your nelly. The champion somehow dragged himself up, and on shaky legs taking the nine count, was allowed to return to his corner. If the fight had been stopped there and then, disappointment would’ve followed but few argued.

For much of the opening rounds Wood just couldn’t get in the fight. Conlan showing a wonderful array of his superior skills gained from his highly successful amateur career. Then as the rounds clicked over the champion got more into the contest with his mental toughness and higher workrate, but not really making a dent in the Ulsterman.

The eleventh round swung the fight when Wood landed a short left hook to end an exchange towards the round’s end and a combination of the impact and slip saw Conlan hit the canvas. All of sudden we had a question mark over the challenger. Conlan, protesting to the referee that it was indeed a slip, the count was however administered, and he was not so far ahead now. The points were getting closer with each man scoring a knockdown.

The twelfth was a slugfest which you could’ve given to either fighter by mid round, then, with Conlan seemingly going to victory BOOM ! The champion landed and the Irishman disappeared out the ring between the second and third rope. By now the crowd noise was deafening and amidst the panic all ringside concern was for the welfare of the challenger.

Medical supervision was immediate and after a tense and worrying fifteen minutes the challenger was taken safely from ringside. Michael Conlan was safe, had played his part in an epic fight and literally left the ring ‘on his shield’.

Leigh Wood was denied his opportunity to truly celebrate due to concern over his opponent but paid the Irishman ultimate respect in the post fight interview on DAZN. He described his toughness saying he’d hit him with everything. In the early hours Conlan tweeted his improving condition, much to the relief of all who witnessed this amazing contest.

It truly was one for the ages and will be a strong contender for 2022 fight of the year.

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

The Monday LunchBox

Legend Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.

The small Central American country of Nicaragua sits in the neck of the Americas between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. It has a population of roughly 6.5 million and for much of the 1970’s and 80’s had world notoriety for revolution, being ravaged by a civil war and, the resultant US intervention.

From amidst the chaos of the country at the time emerged one of the greatest fighters in boxing history Alexis Arguello. ‘El Flaco Explosivo’ (the Explosive Thin Man) is the benchmark against which all Nicaraguan fighters are measured, and to a degree all Hispanic fighters. He was that good and a gentleman to boot.

Alexis narrowly failed in his attempt to become a four-weight world champion in 1982 in his epic loss to Aaron Pryor. Their first fight in the Orange Bowl, Miami being voted the fight of the 1980’s. Some achievement given this was the era of the Four Kings – Hagler, Leonard, Duran and Hearns.

On Saturday night in San Diego we witnessed the heir apparent and someone who can rightly claim to be in the hearts and minds of all Nicaraguans of this generation. Though much smaller in physical stature Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (51-3-0, 41 KO’s) is an exceptional fighter. Where Arguello fell short, albeit in a stacked era, ‘Chocolatito’ has eclipsed the great man’s achievement.

Gonzalez is the first, and only fighter, to gain versions of the world title in the four lightest weight classes – strawweight, light-flyweight, flyweight and junior-bantamweight. This reads from 105lbs – 115lbs (7st,7lbs to 8st,3lbs). He stands a mere 5ft,3in (1.60m) and is now 34 years old. Following his unanimous points victory over Julio Cesar Martinez on Saturday he spoke of possibly moving up to 118lbs (bantamweight) and having another 3-4 fights before retiring.

He is quite simply a living boxing legend already and will be a first ballot hall-of-famer when he does finally hang up his gloves. He’s been The Ring magazine #1 pound-for-pounder (recognised as the best in boxing) and although no longer holds that title, will likely re-enter the top ten again after Saturday’s victory.

Gonzalez’ performance on the Matchroom show was a boxing masterclass against a 27 year old who currently holds the WBC world flyweight title. He systematically schooled his younger foe, breaking him down from the opening bell with balance, precision and the superior punch output.

Martinez tried to pressure Gonzalez and stand toe to toe winging wide right hands and left hooks, but the Nicaraguan legend simply stood in the pocket firing in straight right hands that repeatedly exploded on the Mexican’s chin and landed murderous left hooks to his body.

The fight should arguably have been stopped in the ninth, tenth, eleventh or twelfth but Martinez somehow managed to see the final bell. The Mexican’s corner were massaging his legs inbetween rounds and attempted to galvanise him as he somehow summoned the energy to last the championship rounds.

‘Chocolatito’ by contrast was a picture of composure and control as the final bell approached. The returned scores of 118-110 and 117-111 were a true reflection of his dominance, 116-112 being generous to Martinez. Comparisons were made by the DAZN network commentary team to the third and fourth coming of Roberto Duran when he defeated Davey Moore and Iran Barkley after repeatedly being written off in the 1980’s.

Gonzalez continues to silence those who wrote him off in 2017 after losing twice to Thai Sor Rungvisai (the second a shocking KO loss) and last year narrowly to Ring magazine junior-bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada. A third fight with the excellent ‘Gallo’ Estrada beckons with the scores currently 1-1.

Try to catch ‘Chocolatito’ while you can, this is a special fighter who despite what he says may not reach his four fights before retirement. The Estrada trilogy fight will be one for the ages.

In a London luncheon yesterday (Sunday) organised by the British Boxing Board of Control the current unified world junior-welterweight champion Josh Taylor was awarded the 2021 British boxer of the year for the second time. This followed his standout year capped by defeating Jose Ramirez in Las Vegas to become the undisputed champion. Taylor’s trainer Ben Davison was voted British trainer of the year.

Jose Ramirez (27-1, 17 KO’s) returned Saturday night in California with a unanimous points victory against Jose Pedraza and all post-fight talk was of him regaining his titles. Ramirez won 116-112 on all cards but laboured to victory against the slick Pedraza, a former two-times world champion. A Josh Taylor rematch at 140lbs (10st) would be another potential fight of the year should that be mandated by the WBC. This is assuming that England’s Jack Catterall does not receive an immediate rematch after his standout performance against Taylor last weekend. There’s plenty to ponder in the ten stone division in the coming weeks.

Tokyo Olympic super-heavyweight silver medallist Richard Torres Jr. had a successful professional debut at heavyweight stopping Allen Melson in the second round on the Top Rank show from California.

Finally, tickets for the WBC world heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte went on sale last week selling out within hours. A extension to raise the gate from 90,000 to 100,000 at Wembley Stadium, London has been applied for by co-promoters Queensberry and Top Rank. The bout is due to take place on April 23, St. George’s Day in England.

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

The Weekender

Jose Ramirez (left) and Jose Pedraza weigh in Fresno, California.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

As the world continues to revolve on its fragile axis we try to seek some refuge from world events with a packed boxing weekend.

First up tonight (Fri 4 Mar) from Fresno, California, USA is the excellent junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) contest between Jose Ramirez and Jose Pedraza. Promoted by Top Rank and shown live in the US on ESPN+ this is a continuation and welcome addition to the perennial Mexico v Puerto Rico fistic rivalry.

Up until a year ago the Californian-Mexican, Ramirez was the WBC world champion until he was dethroned by Scotland’s Josh Taylor in a massive unification fight. This remains the sole defeat on his 26-1 (17 KO’s) record. Puerto Rican, Pedraza (29-3, 14 KO’s) is a two-times world champion and having recently recovered from long COVID is confident of victory.

Ramirez is the bigger puncher of the two and until the Taylor fight was looking the next big thing. Pedraza is more a box-puncher and technically very astute on the back foot. It’s an excellent match up between two world class operators and we expect the busy Ramirez to eventually catch up with Pedraza somewhere around the 10th round and win by stoppage.

Main interest on the undercard is the pro-debut of Tokyo 2020 silver medallist at super-heavyweight USA’s Richard Torres Jr. He faces Allen Melson over six rounds and should come through unscathed.

Saturday night (5 Mar) sees the return of modern boxing legend Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez against Julio Cesar Martinez.

Promo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Gonzalez (50-3-0, 41 KO’s) is a four-weight world champion and former Ring magazine pound-for-pound #1. Now in the twilight of his career he’d been scheduled to face Juan Francisco Estrada in a trilogy fight at junior-bantamweight for the Ring magazine title. But, with Estrada contracting COVID and having to pull out, he’s been matched quickly by Matchroom Boxing with the WBC world flyweight champion Martinez (18-1, 14 KO’s).

Nicaraguan ‘Chocolatito’ at 34 is the older man but has a wealth of big fight experience to draw on. The Mexican, Martinez at 27 is an excellent operator and will pose his challenger plenty of problems.

If Gonzalez can use his superior experience and guile, along with his heavy punching we see him winning on a close points decision and then moving onto the third fight with Estrada and boxing immortality.

The fight and full card will be available on the DAZN streaming site in the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time).

Have a great boxing weekend and keep safe.

Inside the Jab

Lineal world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
Courtesy: Queensberry Promotions

The current shocking events in Ukraine show that we live in very troubled times. The response across Europe and around the world shows our thoughts and hopes are with all those that have been, and continue to be affected by this human tragedy.

To discuss and critique the sport of boxing at this moment seems an irrelevance, but if nothing else provides temporary distraction to our readers and some relief from the ongoing situation.

Our sport, through its world appeal and reach, and the immense bravery of its protagonists, has been at the forefront of a number of stories this last week. Most notable is the involvement of four of our finest champions – Vitali Klitschko (the former heavyweight champion of the world and current Mayor of Kiev), his brother Wladimir Klitschko equal achiever in the ring, the current WBA and IBF world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and, double Olympic champion and former undisputed world lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko.

All four champions are extremely proud Ukrainians who’ve held their country’s flag with pride in boxing rings around the world, and represented their nation with honour and distinction. In different roles, and to varying degrees, they’ve been in the world news in the last week and our thoughts are with them as they take an active role in defending the freedom and liberty of their sovereign nation.

In addition, there are other less known boxers and sportsmen across Ukraine (and by association Russia) plus their families who are affected by this tragedy and our thoughts are also with them.

Now that we hopefully have some perspective I will try to summarise an eventful week in boxing:

Scotland’s Josh Taylor (19-0, 13 KO’s) remains in name the unified junior-welterweight champion of the world but for many watchers of last Saturday’s (Feb 26) contest in Glasgow the word ‘undisputed’ can no longer be applied. The stink from the split decision in his favour has been emanating from the sport for the last four days.

This afternoon (Weds) on talkSPORT radio British Boxing Board of Control General Secretary Robert Smith agreed that the image of British Boxing had been tarnished. This follows an announcement earlier in the week that the Board would be carrying out an investigation into the scoring of the contest. Smith confirmed today this will primarily consider the card of English judge Ian John-Lewis.

The twelve round decision in Taylor’s favour (112-113, 114-111, 113-112) was not the homecoming he expected, and quite frankly one of the worst decisions in a British boxing ring for many a year. Judge John-Lewis must have had ‘Flower of Scotland’ ringing in his ears from the pre-fight festivities to return a card of 114-111 in the Scot’s favour. This being the main bone of contention, among some disputable cards.

English challenger Jack Catterall (26-1, 13 KO’s) gave the standout performance of his career and should have returned south with the undisputed title rather than a first defeat on his record. A heavy underdog going in he clearly won the fight on our card 115-112.

True, the early rounds were close, but we struggled to give the champion anything other than a share of the second. The Lancashire man dominated the pace of the fight with excellent boxing out of his southpaw stance. The much lauded champion just couldn’t get going as he continued to miss and be stung with strong counters. There was a lot of clinching when the two southpaws came together making for a scrappy contest and not easy on the eye, but Catterall dictated the tempo of the fight throughout.

Taylor marked under and cut over the right eye by the seventh, dropped by a chopping left after a minute of the eighth and then deducted a point after a blow after the bell in the eleventh. Catterall was deducted a point for continual holding in the tenth but was clearly ahead by then on our card.

To his immense credit BOXXER founder and CEO Ben Shalom who co-promoted the event with Top Rank did not hide behind the scoring. On the contrary. In a refreshing post-fight interview on Sky Sports he said “I’m embarrassed tonight, because I promoted this event….that’s heartbreaking for Jack….I’m embarrassed….there should be an inquest”. This was not a promoter trying to angle for an immediate rematch to fill his coffers, but rather an honest assessment of the outrage felt by most observers.

One of the most staggering things on the night was the champion declaring “One hundred per cent I know I won the fight”. He admitted it wasn’t his best performance, had started slow and put a lot of pressure on himself, but then referring to Catterall said “He know’s he never won the fight”. The challenger has explained his devastation since the decision was announced throughout this week and the terms “gutted” and “sickening” have been regularly used.

We predicted a Taylor victory on points, giving Catterall pre-fight benefit of the doubt based on his undefeated record and the pressure expected on Taylor given this was his homecoming fight since becoming unified champion. We would ordinarily boast our accuracy in this but frankly it’s embarrassing to suggest we got it right. The new champion should be in Chorley, Lancashire, no doubt.

Co-star of the BOXXER card was double Olympic champion Robesiy Ramirez who stopped Eric Donovan inside three rounds. His performance was excellent, showing all his former amateur pedigree and he should now move towards a world title.

On the Matchroom Boxing card Sunday night (27 Feb) in London, WBO world cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie came through a tough examination from Poland’s Michal Cieslak winning an ugly unanimous decision 117-110, 116-111, 115-112. Okolie dropped his challenger in the fifth but was unable to capitalise as the fight went the full twelve. This was the Olympian’s second title defence and he looks now to unification fights or ultimately a move up to heavyweight.

Big news yesterday (1 Mar) was the no-show by Dillian Whyte to promote his up and coming WBC world heavyweight challenge against Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury. It was the first official press conference to promote the event to be held at Wembley Stadium, London on Saturday April 23rd, promoted by Queensberry and Top Rank. Exclusive coverage in the UK will be on BT Sport Box Office and on ESPN pay per view in the US.

The fight will be a massive domestic contest in front of a 90,000+ outdoor crowd with worldwide relevance. The destiny of the ‘lineal’ heavyweight championship will be decided with the winner being ‘the man, who beat the man, who beat the man..’ and regarded as the true heavyweight champion on the world.

The hopeful safe passage and returning Oleksandr Usyk may have something to say about that and we pray that we get the opportunity to witness that.

Tickets for Fury v Whyte are now on sale on Ticketmaster.

Finally, our thoughts continue to be with our Ukrainian neighbours and we wish them immediate peace.

The Friday Faceup

Undisputed world champion Josh Taylor shows what’s up for grabs.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The big fights keep coming.

A sensational weekend of boxing awaits with the overdue return of undisputed world junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) champion Josh Taylor against undefeated Jack Catterall in Glasgow, Scotland on Saturday night (26 February). It’s a complete sellout at the atmospheric OVO Hydro Arena and live and exclusive on Sky Sports in the UK and ESPN+ in the United States.

This will be followed Sunday night from the wind battered O2 Arena London with the WBO world cruiserweight (200lbs/14st, 4lbs) fight between champion Lawrence Okolie and challenger Michal Ciesak being shown live on the DAZN streaming platform.

Both are excellent match ups promoted by BOXXER/Top Rank and Matchroom respectively. The fans are the winners, with the latter opting to promote on the Sunday rather than go head to head with BOXXER. Hopefully this will become a growing trend.

The Taylor-Catterall match marks the return of big time boxing to Scotland with the first defence of an undisputed world title by a domestic fighter since Benny Lynch in the 1930’s.

Taylor, the Prestonpans, Edinburgh champion has cleaned up the ten stoners over the last three years defeating six fighters with a pre-fight combined record of 136 wins and 1 loss. This illustrates the elite company he’s mixed in, capped by beating Jose Ramirez in the US last year to win the WBC world title and unify the belts.

At 31, the Scottish southpaw has looked the ‘real deal’ having compiled an 18-0 (13 KO’s) record and is currently ranked #5 pound-for-pound by the esteemed Ring magazine. The ‘Tartan Tornado’ aspires to, and has shown ability to date to become a future hall of fame champion.

Catterall by contrast, aged 28, and from Chorley, Lancashire has made steady progress through the ranks to secure a mandatory position to challenge for the title. He boasts a 26-0 (13 KO’s) record and is an excellent boxer.

Interest on the night is further fueled by this being a classic Scotland v England match and the atmosphere in the Hydro is sure to be electric, a throwback to former WBC world lightweight champion Jim Watt’s title fights in the early 1980’s and those of undisputed champion Ken Buchanan a decade earlier.

In terms of a result, there are levels in boxing and the home fighter has shown he’s a class above Catterall at this juncture. With that expectation though comes pressure and that will all be on Taylor on the night. Fighting in front of his home crowd for the first time since 2019 on a massive promotion and one in which everyone expects him to win convincingly.

The Undisputed sees this as a much more competitive contest than it may immediately look, any boxer who boasts an undefeated record has to be respected. Catterall is technically sound and on the up, but when the dust finally settles we see the champion retaining his title by a convincing points decision.

In London, Sunday night, local Olympian Lawrence ‘Sauce’ Okolie (16-0, 13 KO’s) will be making the second defence of his WBO world cruiserweight title and has looked impressive to date. In Michal Cieslak (21-1, 15 KO’s) he faces a solid 32 year old contender who’s fallen just short in his previous attempt to win the WBC title. He’s as tough as they come and the Londoner will do well to stop him.

Okolie (29) with his long and rangey jab should though find a way to prevail and can be explosive when holding his ground. At 6ft,5 he’s big for a cruiserweight and known to be on the cusp of moving up to the heavyweights. We see him winning by a late stoppage.

Both main events in both promotions should provide excellent entertainment and will give us a much better understanding of the long term futures of the main protagonists. It caps an excellent month of UK contests with big live crowds.

Enjoy your fight weekend.

The Monday LunchBox

Kell ‘Special’ Brook celebrates his victory over Amir Khan.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

Khan v Brook – Five things we learned:

  1. Big time boxing is back – A 22,000 sellout, Michael Buffer getting ‘ready to rumble’, Liam Gallagher and Premier League footballers ringside and hundreds of thousands of pay per views sold. The BOXXER/Sky Sports Box Office promotion was an immense success. Right from day one when the AO Manchester Arena sold out within ten minutes on announcement of the fight and the subsequent weeks of build up, the weekend marked an emphatic return to British boxing post-COVID.
  2. Kell Brook has closure – when the dust finally settled it wasn’t even close. The Sheffield man dominated from the opening bell to the referee stopping this one sided contest in the sixth round. Amir Khan promised much in the lead up but was simply outgunned and by all intents and purposes outclassed. This was as dominant a performance as Brook has delivered in his 18 year professional career. Any rumours of a potential rematch pre-fight, outcome depending, have now been firmly extinguished.
  3. Amir Khan’s boxing career was a success – Though nothing has been announced to date, Saturday should have brought an end to Amir’s boxing journey. Despite all the damning reports of his performance on the night let’s re-cap on what the Bolton-kid, turned man, has given British boxing. He was the sole British representative at the 2004 Athens Olympics and came home with a silver medal further securing the lottery funding for the success we now see at amateur level today. He won, lost and regained a version of the world junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) title, and whether in victory or defeat has entertained us royally. We’ve shared his journey through brutal stoppage defeats by Breidis Prescott way back in 2008, his numerous standout wins against Marco Antonio Barrera, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah and Devon Alexander and marquee fights against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Terence Crawford. He’s also done much to raise the positive profile of the British-Muslim community and raised millions for charity on the back of his sporting success. If he inevitably calls it a day he can hold his head up high to reflect on a stellar career.
  4. Opportunities open up for Brook – It’s a shame that at 35 years of age the big domestic paydays have suddenly become available for the Sheffield man. After his excellent performance and raising his record to 40-3 (28 KO’s) the temptation will be to continue and possibly take up the challenge of Chris Eubank Jr. in another domestic ‘catchweight’ contest. This would be a big risk from a fighting perspective as Eubank Jr. is the larger man, campaigning exclusively at middleweight (11st, 6lbs/160lbs), but would be a very lucrative domestic showdown and even in defeat not harm his legacy. On the positive side, a win would further elevate his now secured status. However, with his history of eye injuries would it be worth the risk ? The sensible option would be to call it a day, but since when have boxers always taken the sensible option ?
  5. You can’t beat a domestic dust-up – There are so many ‘world’ titles available from differing sanctioning bodies that they’ve now in many cases become an irrelevance. Saturday’s turnout and interest showed that most importantly it’s the fights that matter, not the fake ruby belts. British boxing is resplendent with historic domestic contests (Cooper-Bugner, Bruno-Lewis, Benn-Eubank, Froch-Groves) and this brings the fans out in their thousands. Whatever is up for grabs, and Saturday being noteworthy that no title was on the line, if the rivalry and contest is perceived good enough the fans will come. Despite the inevitable steady decline of both fighters, this was a genuine 50/50 fight for that very reason. Competitive contests make boxing greater, whoever the protagonists are. If that’s between two boxers from the same nation with a history of mutual contempt all the better.
Natasha Jonas shows off her new title.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.

Special mention for Natasha Jonas (11-2-1, 8 KO’s) who gained the WBO world super-welterweight (11st/154lbs) belt with a superb second round stoppage of Chris Namus (25-7, 8 KO’s). This was the Liverpool lass’s third attempt at a world title and she took it emphatically.

Saturday also marked the successful pro debut of Tokyo 2020 Olympic heavyweight bronze medallist Frazer Clarke who stopped Jake Darnell inside the opening round. A bright future should await this welcome addition to the heavyweight ranks. Clarke was an elite amateur who’s shared the ring with compatriots Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce and a host of other international names. It will be worth tracking his progress.

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

The Friday Faceup

Promo courtesy of BOXXER and Sky Sports.

Finally.

After 17 years operating as professional boxers in separate but parallel universes, finally clustering around the 10st,7lb (147lbs) welterweight division, two planets (or should I say English counties) will collide.

The war of words across the Pennines which separate Lancashire from Yorkshire and boxing’s version of the ‘War of the Roses’ will reach its conclusion on Saturday night (19 February) before a sellout crowd in the AO Manchester Arena.

Promoted by BOXXER and available live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK (ESPN stream in USA) it should bring an end to the perennial debate as to who is the better fighter – Amir Khan or Kell Brook.

The match is made at a ‘catchweight’ 149lbs and although has little jeopardy on a world level with both fighters now ranked outside the top ten and in the twilight of their careers, is highly interesting and full of backstory and intrigue.

In the intervening years both have operated regularly at the elite level, captured world titles in momentous stateside victories, suffered defeats in losing their titles – sometimes in damaging and devastating circumstances – but, always been relevant. They’ve fought in championship fights and lost to some of the modern greats of the game in big box office/pay per view events. In the UK they are proven operators and well known by even casual fight fans.

One constant has been they’ve disliked each other for a long time and both made it known over the years.

It is a fight long overdue, but remains a mouthwatering domestic match up in the vein of Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank, David Haye v Tony Bellew or even dating back to Frank Bruno v Lennox Lewis. Many still argue it has come way too late, five years to be generous, that both are shot and mere shadows of the fighters they were. However, as Brook said in an early press conference it’s “better late than never”.

Whilst respectful of each other’s accomplishments, they at this juncture, plainly don’t like each other. That usually makes for a great fight.

Khan (34-4, 21 KO’s) cites Brook’s jealousy of his accomplishments and riches as his opponent’s prime motivating factor. In yesterday’s final press conference he referred to him as a “fanboy” and that he’s been living in Brook’s head for a long time. He went on to say “I think it’s more jealousy than anything”.

In truth, the Bolton man (Khan) has always been the marquee name, turning professional in 2005 in a blaze of publicity after capturing Olympic silver in the 2004 Athens Games in comparison to Brook who turned pro in September of that year largely under the radar.

The Sheffield man responded “I don’t like him, he don’t like me, we’re going to see an excellent fight…it goes back to the amateur days”.

Both were excellent in the unpaid ranks, turned pro simultaneously, then worked their way up through domestic, European and world competition to capture titles and subsequently lose them. With each success or defeat came further media speculation of their impending meeting and an exchange of words that further fueled interest in the outcome, if and when that happened.

Problem is, it’s just taken so damn long.

Both are 35 years old, but their skills are still there to see, albeit tempered somewhat. Khan was always lightning quick, from the seventeen year old who lost to Cuban great Mario Kindelan in the Athens final, right through to his effort against pound-for-pounder Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2016. He’s never been a big puncher but carries respectable power.

Brook (39-3, 27 KO’s) has been a quality operator for most of his career; technically sound, able to switch hit with his slick boxing skills, and aligned with good KO power. His 2014 victory over Shawn Porter to win the IBF ‘world’ welterweight title was a standout performance.

Leading into the fight the million-dollar question is Who has most left ?

Brook has suffered fractured eye sockets on two occasions in defeats to Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr. Both superb fighters in their own right. He then went on to meet future great Terence Crawford in a 2020 defeat and, before being stopped, the evidence suggested he was desperately protecting further damage to this facial weakness. On Saturday, will the significant wear and tear manifest itself again ?

The Bolton man, Khan, has always shown a low punch resistance, right back to his first shock defeat against Breidis Prescott in 2008, lasting a mere 54 seconds. He’s made up for this deficiency by being carefully matched, using his blinding hand speed and boxing ability, and managing to avoid engaging regularly with the biggest of punchers. When he’s got ‘clocked’ though, he’s got clocked. The KO by ‘Canelo’ in 2016 being the most chilling example, similar to Ricky Hatton’s blow out by Manny Pacquiao some years earlier.

The challenge is which boxer can more importantly protect their deficiencies whilst also enabling them to maximise their strengths. It could be said that this is true of all contests, but non more so than this one. Self preservation will be in the forefront of both fighters minds, but the dislike of each other and confidence in their individual abilities will surely make for an exciting fight.

There is no way back for the loser other than to meet each other again, and a rematch has already been mooted. But that will be depend on the quality and result of Saturday’s contest. The public has accepted this once and it’s a fight we all wanted to see happen, but has the marinade turned ?

The Undisputed thinks not, this is still a quality match up, between two once elite fighters, who are not what they were, but on the night that ain’t gonna matter. It’s their fragility that in a way makes it a must-see.

Both will come to fight – Khan cannot do anything other than this after his pre-fight predictions “I’m gonna hurt him and he’s gonna be put in his place”. Brook will want to settle the argument once and for all “He’s definitely gonna sleep Saturday night when I smash him…He’s going on his face or back, either way”

A winner ? Take your pick. It’s probably the most 50/50 contest to be held this year, certainly to date. Brook enters the slight favourite.

After much deliberation we expect the man who carries the white rose of Yorkshire (Brook) to prevail on the night with a sixth round knockout. The red rose of Lancashire will flutter early in the contest but Khan’s chin will fail him when his early speed starts to slow and Brook lands that first really concussive blow. He may have to come through some difficult moments before prevailing.

It will be exciting while it lasts and you never know we may be even be asking for more !

The event features an good undercard which is highlighted above.

Transmission starts at 18:00 GMT on Sky Box Office. The main event is also on TalkSport radio in the UK.

Fight weights – Brook (10st, 8lb/148lbs), Khan (10st, 7lb/147lbs).

The Monday LunchBox

Chris Eubank Jr. moves in on Liam Williams.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The UK boxing year got off to an excellent start with a star studded event at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff on Saturday (5th) promoted by BOXXER and shown live on Sky Sports.

Top of the bill in front of a partisan Welsh crowd, complete with a rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah, was the middleweight contest between Chris Eubank Jr. and hometown favourite Liam Williams. The 32 year old Englishman dominated the contest scoring four knockdowns en-route to a convincing points victory (116-109, 116-108, 117-109).

Williams showed great heart and bravery repeatedly picking himself off the canvas and trying to take the fight to Eubank. The 29 year old Welshman had boasted of his better boxing IQ in the build up to the fight, but on the night was out thought and out fought.

After dominating the fight through the first five rounds, Eubank then frustratingly chose to coast and showboat his way to victory, losing a number of rounds over the second half of the fight but ended the clear winner. Williams bothered by a nasty bruising under his right eye simply couldn’t evade Eubank’s advances or make any lasting impact on his opponent.

It was a contest deemed as ‘must win’ for both boxers going in and Eubank (32-2, 23 KO’s) now sits on the cusp of marquee fights, either domestically against former conqueror Billy Joe Saunders, or on the world stage against one of the 11st,6lb (160lb) champions or main contenders. His immediate desire is to fight Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin but that will depend on the want of the 40 year old champion.

There’s also website gossip of a ‘catchweight’ contest between the Brighton man and top welterweight Conor Benn which would be a throwback to the epic 1990’s contests between their respective fathers. That may be some way off as Benn has immediate business at 10st,7lbs (147lbs) but it’s a mouthwatering prospect.

Williams dropped to 23-4-1, 18 KO’s and will re-build domestically before possibly competing at world level again.

Much of the hype and attention Saturday night was focussed on the appearance and excellent performance of double Olympic champion and multiple world professional champion Claressa Shields. The GWOAT – Greatest Woman of All Time acronym she promotes gained some friction with another dominant performance. Shields (12-0, 2 KO’s) defended her middleweight titles with an emphatic and at times bludgeoning of brave Slovenian Ema Kozin. Scores of 100-90 on all three judges cards confirmed her dominance.

Post fight there was a heated exchange between Shields and former amateur conqueror Savannah Marshall (11-0, 9 KO’s) which was both entertaining and fuels interest for an intended match up later in the year. This is a genuine grudge match and could sell out a number of large indoor arenas in the UK when it happens. The only potential obstacle to this will be Marshall ensuring she successfully defends her WBO ‘world’ middleweight title against Femke Hermans in Newcastle next month.

Women’s boxing is on an unprecedented high with news of a groundbreaking contest at Madison Square Garden, New York to be held on April 30 between Ring magazine #1 pound-for-pounder Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KO’s) and multiple champion Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KO’s). A stateside announcement was made last week and the contest for the undisputed lightweight title will be officially launched in the UK by Matchroom Boxing today.

The successful debut of 21 year old British Olympian Caroline Dubois over eight rounds against Vaida Masiokaite in Cardiff on Saturday further showed the current and increasing strength of women’s boxing in the UK and worldwide. A bright future is planned and expected of the London lightweight and it will be interesting to see her develop. She has charisma, a boxing pedigree and undoubted ability.

Main stateside news over the weekend was the upset victory by late substitute Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (15-0, 10 KO’s) to win the WBC junior bantamweight (8st,3lbs/115lbs) title from Mexico’s Carlos Cuadras (39-5-1, 27 KO’s). Rodriguez became the youngest ‘world’ title holder in boxing at age 22 and another bright future is expected from the Texan southpaw.

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

The Friday Faceup

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

Boxing is back in the UK ! And with a bang.

Saturday night at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff sees the much awaited contest between world ranked middleweights Chris Eubank Jr. and Liam Williams. This is a genuine grudge match following months of animosity exchanged on social media and a number of postponements fanning the flames further.

Eubank Jr (31-2, 23 KO’s) from Brighton, England will enter the dragons den of the Welsh capital against the hometown hero. On the surface he seems unfazed by this citing his previous experiences of fighting overseas and with supreme confidence in his own abilities. Williams (23-3-1, 18 KO’s) whilst having the advantages of home recognises the pressure might be on him greater due to the expectations and passion of his compatriots.

The atmosphere is sure to be electric in a contest promoted by BOXXER and being shown live on Sky Sports in the UK.

The contest is the epitome of a crossroads fight with the loser having nowhere to go other than step back down to domestic level. Williams (29) is coming off a loss to Demetrius Andrade for the WBO ‘world’ middleweight title, whereas Eubank (32) has knocked on the door of the elite fighters, but is yet to secure that marquee fight. His two losses have come at domestic level to former ‘world’ champions Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves. The Brighton man quite simply has to win to remain relevant at world level.

In yesterday’s final press conference Eubank Jr. said “I’m going to take him out. All that matters is what’s going to happen on the night and that’s me standing over him and looking down and raising my fists as he gets counted out. It’s going to be a hell of a fight”.

Williams equally confident replied “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to fight here in Cardiff in such a high level fight against Chris. I’m just so excited to put an end to this guy, drop him down a few levels. You’ll realise his level after this fight”.

It promises to be a humdinger with the rough-tough Williams looking to take the fight to Eubank from the opening bell and the Englishman boasting the same. Both predict knockouts, but The Undisputed sees a frenetic opening, leading to a boxing match in the mid rounds before Williams is stopped around the eighth on cuts, as Eubank picks him off.

The main event is supported by an excellent card featuring women’s double Olympic gold medalist and professional world champion Claressa Shields of the USA against Slovenia’s Ema Kozin.

Shields (11-0, 2 KO’s) although rated pound-for-pound #2 by The Ring magazine (behind Ireland’s Katie Taylor) refers to herself as the GWOAT ‘Greatest Woman of All Time’ on the basis of her substantial ring accomplishments. She is a three-weight world champion and currently undisputed in two divisions (middleweight and junior-middleweight).

Kozin (21-0-1, 11 KO’s) cannot boast that pedigree but would appear to be the bigger puncher of the two, although the quality of her opposition is inferior.

Saturday’s contest is an opportunity to showcase Shields’ skills in the UK before setting up a blockbuster contest with Britain’s former Olympian Savannah Marshall; the only woman to beat her in the World Amateur Boxing Championships back in 2012.

There has been a lot exchanged between the two on social media over the last few months. The American summed up her approach and immediate future “I’ll break it down for you quick: one, beat up Ema Kozin and then beat up your [UK] favourite Savannah Marshall and go home. That’s why I’m here. So February 5 is the beginning”.

Shields (26) has all the pedigree and, although Kozin (23) is to be respected and will come to fight, we see the American putting on a boxing masterclass and winning the contest on points to set up that big date later in the year.

The card also sees the much anticipated professional debut of London’s Caroline Dubois, coming quickly off the back of her disappointment at early elimination from the Tokyo Olympics. Dubois is a quality act and expected to suit the professional code and, as sister of world ranked heavyweight Daniel, has the boxing DNA to match. She will be a bright addition to the professional ranks and will be looking to impress from the off. She faces Lithuania’s experienced Vaida Masiokaite (2-14-4, 1 KO).

Transmission starts in the UK on Sky Sports main event at 19:30 GMT and will also be available on Talksport radio.