Frontline diary: Brown flash proves ‘touchable’

Chris Williamson
28/02/2018 9:53pm

East London offered Chris Williamson expensive beer, a £6 cheese toastie and a couple from 'Celebrity Love Island' on Saturday night, as well as an entertaining night's boxing, including an upset victory for Ronnie Clark against Zelfa Barrett...

The east London haunts of Whitechapel and Bethnal Green were popular drinking destinations in my days as a poor student in the mid-to-late 1990s. It was cheap - about £2 a pint in the days when Stella Artois was considered premium beer - and the girls in our social circle usually wouldn’t join us because it was rough and dirty, which was exactly the point.

Prior to Saturday night's Frank Warren promoted show at Bethnal Green’s York Hall - which was in part a rearranged version of the cancelled 'Untouchables' show from 10 February - a small fight crowd gathered at The Dundee Arms, a new-ish pub on Cambridge Heath Road at the intersect with Old Ford Road. It’s the closest watering hole to York Hall and a good one, but times have changed. The mostly craft beer selection starts at £5 a pint and there are at least as many smartly dressed young women as men. Perhaps most strikingly, the only food served is an ‘artisan’ toastie filled with cheeses, onion and truffle-oil. A £6 cheese toastie!

Social observations concerning gentrification to one side and on to the boxing then. Easily the best match both on paper and on the night was 24-year old Mancunian Zelfa Barrett in his first real test against Dundee’s uncompromising former kickboxer Ronnie Clark. It turned out to be even better than we hoped as a classic prospect versus tough-as-nails fringe contender unfolded in front of a raucous, involved crowd.

The Scot settled down to business from the offset, not giving the skilled Barrett room to box. The younger man did punish Clark to the body in the second but ended the round with a welt over his right eye. Clark simply smiled at Barrett as he landed a couple of rights in the third - a signal he was beginning to win the mental battle.

Clark is a tough and intimidating man while Barrett is still to fully develop his ‘man strength’. It certainly can’t have helped that the weigh-in on Friday revealed that Zelfa had needlessly shed two extra pounds. The Scottish fans - giddy from watching their team repel England's rugby team that afternoon - draped the national flag over the top balcony chanting “Clarke’s gonna getcha”.

During the sixth we witnessed the defining moment of the contest as Clark closed the distance and landed a terrific right uppercut, dropping Barrett heavily. I wrote that we were witnessing a contest reminiscent of George Groves vs Kenny Anderson in 2010, and that a real gut check was ahead for the young man. Young Zelfa’s options were further compromised as he was warned several times for low blows, hampering one of his more formidable attacks, a sweeping long right uppercut to the body.

The two marched into the championship rounds and delivered the session of the fight in the eleventh. Referee Phil Edwards was technically in the wrong replacing Barrett’s displaced gum-shield because there wasn’t a single break in the action. At the climax of a gritty, absorbing match, Clark was judged the winner by majority decision, a verdict most of us at ringside agreed with.

Former Clark opponent and British featherweight champ Ryan Walsh said the winner earned his respect in and out of the ring (the two men fought a draw back in 2012), and Clark's journey certainly felt like a real feel-good story as he posed with his newly acquired IBF regional belt alongside children and fans, really soaking up his achievement.

A couple from something called ‘Celebrity Love Island’, Camilla Thurlow and Jamie Jewitt, were present to see their friend Anthony Yarde, seated immediately behind the press. They seem like a good couple, for what it's worth, and from a brief exchange know a little about boxing.

Motivational speakers often suggest doing one thing every day which scares us. Looking up at the towering 6' 5" figure of Daniel Dubois on Saturday it was clear that DL Jones had ticked this particular box. To make the image even more intimidating Dubois had chosen all black shorts and matching boots, an unsubtle nod to a heavyweight terror of the 1980s.

“That’s Daniel Dubois, don’t even look at him,” the chap from 'Celebrity Love Island' warned his girlfriend with mock jealousy. Dubois enjoyed some rare and much needed experience with Jones lasting into the third round, the furthest Dubois has gone as a professional. ‘DDD’ looked a little stiff and lacking some of his usual smoothness but overall the sessions will have done him good. Thankfully Jones was safe and well after taking Dubois’ clubbing punches, clear-headed enough to joke to the crowd that “he’s hard”. Indeed.

Heavyweight contender Dereck Chisora watched closely, seated just behind us and wearing a superb ‘Rocky’ cap as Nathan Gorman (now 12-0) took out Morgan Dessaux in a two-round mismatch.

Word passed enthusiastically around ringside that would be showing Superfly 2 in the U.K. later that night as we prepared for the nominal main event.

Anthony Yarde (now 15-0) did what he always does against Frenchman Tony Averlant (26-10-2) for not one but two minor WBO belts, with the visitor's corner retiring their brave charge after seven hard-to-watch rounds. It really was tough viewing after the third round and from my vantage point referee Steve Gray could have stopped it much earlier.

Averlant offered durability, bravery and smarts and did land on Yarde, notably with a couple of right hands in the second round, but was totally outgunned. As Yarde climbs the ladder towards an inevitable ‘world’ title shot - he’s already ranked number three with the WBO - he will want to work on evasiveness and he would also be advised to tone down the showboating. Vicious body shots from Yarde floored the Frenchman twice in the sixth before the massacre was mercifully halted and not a moment too soon.

With the evening's boxing complete, a surprisingly eclectic fight crowd streamed out to complete their Saturday night with celebrity nightclubs, Superfly 2 streams or ludicrously expensive cheese toasties.