Frontline diary: El matador prevails

Paul Zanon
03/02/2019 9:20pm

Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

Paul Zanon reports from ringside at Matchroom's O2 show as Sergio Garcia repels the challenge of Ted Cheeseman for the European light middleweight title...

On a cold, wintry evening in east London, 16 boxers lined up to warm the atmosphere of London’s dome-shaped arena.

First up was Dana Zaxo against Bulgarian Tayar Mehmed. Although cited as a cruiserweight contest, at a few pounds north of 13 stone, one feels that Zaxo is most likely a natural light heavyweight.

The Hammersmith man was composed from the outset, landing a big right hand in the second session which put Mehmed on the canvas. Unable to capitalise on the wounded Bulgarian, Zaxo won a 40-35 points victory over four rounds, moving his record to 4-0.

Next up was Scotland’s John Docherty, against Przemyslaw Binienda from Poland, at light heavyweight [although Docherty is a natural super middle who weighed in a couple of pounds over the limit alongside his Polish counterpart]. It was obvious from the first bell that Docherty wanted an early shower. He unloaded a barrage of punches from the get-go forcing a first-round stoppage. Three fights, three stoppages. Definitely one to watch in 2019 and beyond.

The third fight of the evening was at middleweight between Preston’s Scott Fitzgerald and Radoslav Mitev from Bulgaria. Fitzgerald was in control from the first bell. Shortly into the first session he connected with a short right hand through the guard of Mitev and down he went. Second round and he caught the Bulgarian with a corking uppercut which rendered him unable to continue. Fitzgerald moved to 12-0.

Anthony Fowler was ringside and both fighters were very vocal about wanting to lock horns next. Could be a cracker.

The first championship bout of the night was between Wokingham’s Felix Cash and Nigeria’s Rasheed Abolaji for the vacant Commonwealth middleweight title. Eager to impose his strength, after a few hurtful opening blows, Cash delivered a short left hook to Abolaji’s jaw, which had the Lagos man on the canvas. Down, but not out, he arose only to be greeted by an uppercut from Cash which brought the contest to an end in the first round. The Wokingham favourite now stands at 11-0, with an exciting 2019 ahead of him.

Hungary’s Tamas Lodi was up next, challenging Lawrence Okolie for his WBA Continental cruiserweight trinket. Hackney’s self-labelled ‘The Sauce’, has been criticised in recent fights for lacking some spice. More of a mild peri-peri as opposed to a Scotch Bonnet offering... Thankfully Okolie was able to deliver the culinary promise this time round. In the second round he connected with a left hook to Lodi’s head which put him on the canvas. Shortly after he was back down after a rapid one-two.

Despite a gallant attempt to fight on in the third, after two further knockdowns the contest was brought to a halt. Commonwealth cruiser champion, Wadi Camacho was quick to enter the ring, brandishing his belt. Okolie will battle Camacho on 23 March at the Copperbox.

With the series of early stoppages, the heavyweight floater was brought in to bulk out the balance of the time before the last two fights. The problem is, Fabio Wardley doesn’t like overtime.

Managed by none other than Dillian Whyte, Wardley didn’t manage to let go of more than 20 punches, before detonating an uppercut on Frenchman, Morgan Dessaux’s face. With blood streaming heavily from his nose, the referee did the right thing and brought the contest to a halt. The Ipswich man is now 6-0 with five stoppages. He’s 6'5", hits hard, moves fast and is only 24. Let’s see what the future holds for him in a domestic division which is constantly hotting up.

The penultimate contest of the evening was between Surrey’s Jake Ball and London’s Craig Richards for the WBA Continental light heavyweight title. When Max Schmeling fought against Joe Louis in their first fight, the German said, “I see something.” He was referring to a chink in the armour of the legendary American. Every time, he’d throw the jab, his right hand would drop. Schmeling picked up on it, kept throwing the left hook and Louis lost in the 11th round.

On a similar note, Richards seemed to have seen something in Jake Ball. From the opening bell, the popular Crystal Palace fighter kept loading up with the right hand. He noticed a vulnerability in Ball every time he let his right hand go and in the last minute of the first round floored Ball with a straight right.

In the second round, after a succession of further straight rights, he connected with a right hook to the body which sent Ball to the canvas again. Shortly after, it was a right hook to the body which sent the Surrey man to the canvas for the third time.

Into the third round and it was more of the same. Richards put his man down yet again with the straight right and followed up with a barrage of punches after the eight count. Fight over. Richards has earned his stripes. Perhaps a Buatsi contest next?

The headliner was Ted Cheeseman against Sergio Garcia for the EBU strap. The proper European title. In the build up to the fight, it seemed to many of the media aficionados that Cheeseman would steamroll Garcia. Similar to the build up between Lewis Ritson against Francesco Patera. The hype and the results were similar, but unfortunately for Cheeseman, this was a far more one-sided affair.

From the opening bell, the composed Spaniard literally ran over to Cheeseman to let him know his intentions. He unloaded with a series of punches at incredible volume and that didn’t stop for the full 12 rounds. Garcia’s work rate was suffocating, his footwork near on faultless and his technical ability a couple of levels above the Londoner’s.

For every punch Cheeseman threw, Garcia would respond with three or four back and all with incredible accuracy. Anything short of pulling off his cape and goading Cheeseman towards it, Garcia was the matador dishing out punishment under his conditions.

By round 11, Cheeseman’s face was a bloodied and swollen mess, but somehow he managed to unleash a huge left hook to the jaw of Garcia, which wobbled the Spaniard. With experience in his toolkit, Garcia held on, cleared his head and got back to pummelling Cheeseman in what was a landslide victory. 119-109 on two cards while, somehow, Massimiliano Bianco only gave Garcia the fight by one round 115-114. Obviously time for the Italian judge to get an eye test.

Let’s hope Cheeseman comes again. Mentally and physically he took a hell of a beating, but he’s only 23 years old and lives the life. A drop back to domestic level to rebuild and compose himself and he could certainly campaign again at European level.