Frontline diary: A night to remember

Paul Zanon
29/07/2018 6:30pm

Paul Zanon reports from an electric and emotional O2, as a stacked card of non-stop action saw dramatic wins for Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora among others...

Back in January, I stated that the Mairis Briedis versus Oleksandr Usyk fight in Riga, Latvia was one of the best world title fights I’d ever seen live, and I still stick to that. However, I’d now like to add that in terms of a stacked card of non-stop action, last night a the O2 was top of the leaderboard - and I say that having attended hundreds of boxing shows in a number of countries.

First up, shortly after the doors opened, was cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe against durable journeyman Elvis Dube. It’s worth noting that in Dube’s 63 losses, he’d only been stopped five times, so Riakporhe made a statement with his power, with Dube refusing to come off his stool for the third round. The Walworth favourite moves to 7-0. The fight we want to see is Riakporhe against Lawrence Okolie - ASAP please!

Light heavyweight Charlie Duffield was up next as he took on Latvian Reinis Porozovs. Similar to Riakporhe he outgunned his opponent comprehensively, forcing him to retire ahead of time, at the end of the third session. The 30-year-old Rainham resident moves to 6-1.

The affable Frank Buglioni was in against Cameroonian Emmanuel Feuzeu, [based out of Barcelona]. The fight was intended to get Buglioni back into the confidence groove and show he’s still a force to contend at within the light heavyweight division. Although Feuzeu was limited, he came to fight and Buglioni displayed great skill and power to break his opponent down, forcing him to retire on his stool at the end of the sixth. Bit of a trend building up here in terms of fights not going the distance…

The fourth fight of the night was between super welterweights - namely prospect Anthony Fowler and Ireland’s Craig O’Brien. From the opening bell, Fowler out-hustled and out-muscled the game O’Brien, who certainly didn’t come to make up the numbers. The Irishman looked like he was having some success in the fifth session, Fowler unleashed a huge left hook only eight seconds into the sixth round, knocking O’Brien out. After a worrying minute, the Irishman made it up from the canvas to a well deserved applause. Fowler impressively moves to 7-0, with six stoppages, in a tasty division, both domestically and internationally.

The fifth fight was our first of three heavyweight blockbusters for the night. Heavy-handed Nick Webb entered the contest with an unblemished record of [12-0], with ten stoppages to his credit. His underdog opponent, Dave Allen [13-4-2], aka ‘The White Rhino’, aka ‘The Darlington De La Hoya’ [almost as many nicknames as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies], was coming off a stoppage loss only a month ago, against Tony Yoka.

Despite boxing off the back foot for the first two rounds, Webb was the busier and more accurate. He was picking his punches with ease and it was hard to tell whether Allen even fancied being in the ring. In the third round, though, Allen seemed to wake up and come round four he let lose a huge overhand right which left Webb lying over the bottom rope and unable to continue. Hats off to Allen. An endearing and warming character who hits challenge in the face of adversity head on.

Next up was the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Joshua Buatsi against Andrejs Pokumeiko [17-4-1] from Latvia, for the WBA international light-heavyweight strap. Nobody was expecting Buatsi to go the distance, but I don’t think anyone was expecting him to knock Pokumeiko down twice in the first round and end the contest in under two minutes. A good clinical finish from the affable Buatsi who moved to 7-0. Big domestic light-heavyweight fights await the Croydon resident in the shape of the likes of Buglioni, Anthony Yarde and Callum Johnson, but for the moment, the 25-year-old needs to work through the best of the rest. British boxing just keeps getting better.

The seventh contest of the night was a rematch between Conor Benn and the teak tough Frenchman Cedrick Peynaud. The last fight left doubt in many people’s minds as many thought Peynaud should have prevailed on the scorecards and Benn’s battered face told the tale of a hard night’s work.

Fighting for a scheduled ten rounds for the WBA continental welterweight trinket, both pugilists set off at a furious pace, with the Frenchman imposing his flat-on southpaw stance, putting Benn on the back foot. I gave the first round to Peynaud but come the second round a more composed Benn started to dictate the pace. Using the jab, good footwork and excellent counter punching skills, Benn progressively started looking stronger and more confident. The demons from the last fight were well and truly gone by round five.

As the rounds progressed, it was obvious that Benn had the better tank and he even managed to clip Peynaud with a big right hand, forcing the Frenchman to take an eight count along the way. Despite a gallant effort from Peynaud in the final session, Benn won a very comfortable points decision. 98-91, 98-90, 97-90, moving his record to 13-0. In his first fight to progress beyond six rounds, he also showed he’s a durable fighter.

The pride of Ireland, Katie Taylor was up next. The supremely decorated amateur and now IBF and WBA female lightweight champion was up against American Kimberly Connor [13-3-2], over a scheduled 10x2 minute rounds. As expected, Taylor made swift work of her opponent, with blistering hand speed and accuracy. Despite a nasty swelling under Taylor’s eye from a head clash, she brought the bout to a premature ending in the third round with a barrage of punches, forcing the referee to bring the contest to a halt. Taylor moves to 10-0 and has a stiffer test on 6 October against former featherweight WBO world champion Cindy Serrano.

The penultimate fight of the night was, in my opinion, a fight of the year contender. Dereck Chisora [28-8-0] took on Carlos Takam [35-4-1] for the WBA international heavyweight title.

Ding, ding, round one.

Takam came out like a bull. He had Chisora pinned up against the ropes and there was very little coming back from the Finchley favourite. I turned to fellow BM scribe Chris Williamson and said, ‘Chisora hasn’t turned up. This could be over early.’

How wrong I was!

Next round, both fighters went toe to toe in the centre of the ring and short of having the Rocky music playing in the background, it felt like we were watching a Hollywood blockbuster. By the third round, it seemed that Chisora was comfortable with Takam’s power and every time the French resident had success with his left hooks, Chisora was happy to fire back immediately with his own arsenal. By now the fight was looking very similar to Chisora versus Whyte, with neither man showing any quit in them.

Then came round six. Chisora looked finished. With about 30 seconds to go, Takam unloaded relentlessly and it looked like the referee was about to jump in and stop the contest. Chisora, aware of the referee’s intentions, rallied back hard up to the bell, with every ounce of energy he had. When the bell went for the end of the round, the fighters received a standing ovation from the packed O2 arena.

After an epic round seven, round eight kicked off in similar fashion, with both fighters still content to trade punches in a phone booth. Then came the game changer - Chisora fired an overhand right which put Takam on the canvas for an eight count. The second he was allowed to continue, Chisora repeated the same punch and brought the contest to a halt.

What a fight! Hats off to both men for leaving it all in the ring.

The concern when watching such a monumental undercard fight is that the headliner will look flat in comparison. Well – it wasn’t as good, but it was not far off!! Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker took on a fight with a matter of weeks notice. The WBC silver and WBO international straps were on the line, but it was never about the trinkets. This was about two heavyweight warriors wishing to prove their worth and show they were worthy of having another crack at Anthony Joshua…or perhaps Deontay Wilder.

First round I gave to Parker. He was landing his hard straight right hand at will and with great accuracy, while Whyte’s left hand was consistently and perilously low. Although never in trouble, it was not something the Brixton colossus could absorb for 12 rounds. Then, just as I started doubting Whyte, he unleashed a clipping left hook to Parker’s jaw in the second, followed by a clash of heads, which floored the New Zealander for the first time in his career and provided a dose of controversy which would be ignited post-fight. Regardless of whether this should, or should not, have been scored as a legitimate knockdown, the referee's ruling meant it went in the books as a 10-8 Whyte round.

As the fight went on, one thing that really impressed me was the boxing intelligence of both fighters. Their ability to constantly adapt to each others strengths and weaknesses.

By round eight, Whyte started to land with clubbing shots as Parker was breathing heavily through a widely opened mouth. Props to Parker for staying on his feet and also proving his punch resistance, because many other fighters in this division would have either quit or been knocked out by this stage. Picking up on the wounded animal, in the ninth session, Whyte unleashed another trademark left hook and put Parker on the seat of his pants for the second time in his career. This time there was no doubt the knockdown was caused by a legitimate punch.

Round 11. Now the tables turned. Parker, aware that the two knockdowns had definitively put him behind on the scorecards, went for the knockout. A desperate man is often a dangerous one and that was the case here. The New Zealander caught a very tired Whyte with a big uppercut, that put his chin and punch resistance to its full test. The last 30 seconds of the round looked like Parker was about to force the stoppage, but Whyte managed to clinch his way to the bell.

Intent on finishing the job, Parker went all out and managed to floor Whyte in the last minute of the final round. As he hit the canvas, you could see he still had his senses as he turned to someone at ringside and asked how long was left in the round. With about 30 seconds to go, totally exhausted, Whyte took a full eight count, held on and survived until the final bell.

After an absolutely thrilling 12 rounds, Whyte won on the scorecards. 113-112, 115-110, 114-111. Both fighters can hold their heads high in what was a very worthy PPV fight, at the end of an incredible evening.