Frontline diary: Benn thriller overshadows Taylor showcase

Chris Williamson
19/12/2017 11:08am

Chris Williamson was ringside at York Hall last Wednesday as Katie Taylor topped the bill, Olympian Joe Cordina won again and the drama of a six-round thriller involving Conor Benn stole the headlines...

By the time Joe Cordina walked to the famous old ring at about 7pm, the chill in the December air was long forgotten as we sat in the stickily hot, bear-pit atmosphere of York Hall in Bethnal Green. The place was already packed to the rafters with fans who had draped Irish flags across the balconies on three sides.

This was some change of scene for Rio Olympian Cordina, who boxed in front of 75,000 people in Cardiff in April. The 26-year-old geared through his usual repertoire of punches against late sub Lee Connelly, who was left a bloody mess after three rounds.

Connelly persuaded his corner to allow him to continue, but Cordina continued to brutally thump his body and referee Ian John Lewis stepped in at the right time in the fourth. Incidentally, Cordina had sparred with his favourite fighter, Jorge Linares, in the Venezuelan's camp for the Luke Campbell fight.

Despite Jake ‘The Blade’ Ball walking to the ring to Whitesnake’s iconic rock track ‘Here I Go Again’, he and Miles Shinkwin didn’t produce anything like a classic during their stale ten rounder for a minor regional WBA title at light heavyweight.

Just four days after his flagship fighter James DeGale lost his world title at twelve stone, trainer Jim McDonnell and a decent support who chanted “come on Jake!” guided the former GB amateur to a largely unexciting victory.

During the latter stages of the Ball fight, Martin J Ward’s mother temporarily found herself sat next to me and told of her journey following her son around the world. “I went to all his fights, even as an amateur. He’s come up the hard way,” said Mrs Ward, before describing his team as an excellent one and suggesting promoter Eddie Hearn ought to pay her son more money!

Talking of the Matchroom promoter, Hearn was seen talking intensely to British light-heavy champ Frank Buglioni on the far side of the ring, as Tony Bellew got up to stretch while off screen and TV partner Anna Woodhouse laughed at him. Later on as football results filtered through, Bellew was typically animated as Everton went one up against Newcastle, leading to a gentle telling-off from the TV production crew.

As the son of British boxing legend Nigel Benn, young Conor has attracted far more exposure and sponsorship than a short amateur career and his novice pro status would otherwise have earned. The white-heat intensity of a wildly exciting six-rounder against Cedrick Peynaud certainly reminded us of Benn’s limitations, but it also proved the heart which took his father’s name to the nation’s living rooms twenty years ago is very much beating inside the younger man’s body too.

Benn was down twice in a dramatic opening round (one was a slip from my vantage point) before being badly hurt again on the bell to end the second. I was sat with unified bantamweight champ Ryan Burnett for this one and the Northern Irishman, on the edge of his seat, was shocked by Benn’s lack of defence and head movement.

The third round followed a similar pattern with Benn on wobbly legs at the end of the stanza - it was proving a fight which reminded me of Terry Norris vs Simon Brown I, where the more celebrated fighter was shaken at the end of every single round.

Benn bit down on his gumshield and summoned a comeback of sorts, flooring the Frenchman with a kickboxing background in round five and twice in the sixth and final round. Boxing Monthly editor Graham Houston described it as the most exciting six rounder he has ever seen. Praise indeed and it was certainly a ‘nobbins’ type of clash, albeit marred by ridiculously wide scoring by the referee of 57-54 in favour of Benn.

York Hall was packed with fight faces, with Dereck Chisora - fresh from defeat to Agit Kabayel for the EBU title - among those packed into the snug venue. Chisora had a long chat with former WBA super middleweight challenger Jamie Cox. Cox and his friends seemed a little enamoured with the round card girls and I’m sure they weren't alone..

Josh Kelly enjoyed what amounted to a glorified workout in beating Frenchman Jean Michel Hamilcaro in six one-sided rounds, which referee Ian John Lewis stopped just as the corner was about to throw in the towel.

Martin J Ward produced easily the best performance of his career in adding the vacant European title - the real EBU one - to the British and Commonwealth belts he already holds at super featherweight against the bull like Juli Giner from Barcelona.

It was a tense first few rounds as Ward displayed his excellent boxing skills while the Spaniard stalked his opponent. Both hurt each other in the third but the busy Ward then began to pick Giner off with his jab and quick straight rights.

At the start of the sixth Ward connected with a left hook which left Giner flat on his back. The visitor responded aggressively, pressing forward searching for his own hooks, only to walk right on to a crisp right which had him looking up at the ring lights once again and the referee waving proceedings off.

Katie Taylor was described as a “legend” by MC John McDonald, but her exciting but flawed first WBA title defence against Jessica McCaskill showed such talk is premature.

Taylor showed good footwork, movement and boxing skills which more than offset the aggression of her opponent but the Irish star was caught relatively often and too easily dragged into a dogfight.

By the seventh Taylor had been wobbled a couple of times and had a point taken off by Howard Foster for holding. Taylor took the last round with her edge in finesse and footwork but there remains work to do.

Still, the fans - chanting “ole, ole” - loved it and one hopes a truly blockbusting, even money match can be made, perhaps against impressive English lightweight rival Chantelle Cameron.

With the fighting all finished, the midnight air seemed even colder and a striking contrast to bustling, raucous environment inside the hall.