Frontline Diary: Rumble on the Wear

Andrew Harrison
08/03/2016 11:44am

West Rainton’s Tommy Ward impressed in Tyne & Wear this past weekend. Ward (17-0, 1 KO) comprehensively outboxed the ever-game Robbie Turley (16-6, 3 KOs) of Wales, Saturday, at Rainton Meadows Arena to clinch this 10-round final eliminator for the British super-bantamweight title via scores of 97-93, 98-92 and 96-94. The last of those cards (turned in by Graeme Williams) made absolutely no sense whatsoever – especially considering that Turley’s strong-arm tactics had seen him lose a point in round 7 for holding and hitting (Boxing Monthly scored it 99-90 in Ward’s favour).

Younger brother to former bantamweight world title challenger Martin Ward, Tommy - whose calm and assured boxing belies his 21 years - was as sharp as a needle in dismantling the hard-charging visitor with lightning-quick right hand leads and hair-trigger hooks flashed home with either hand.

Turley’s trainer Tony Borg and cornerman Billy Reynolds went from looking steely-eyed and knowing, to impressed, to pensive throughout the first six rounds as Ward completely outfoxed their man and stymied his marauding approach. After the half-way point, Turley – to his immense credit – managed to drag Ward inside with increased frequency to make a closer argument of it; Ward, though, continued to land the more eye-catching shots – often rocking Turley’s head back on his shoulders with his counters.  

Trained by Neil Fannon, Ward has now positioned himself to face current champion James “Jazza” Dickens for the Lonsdale belt at 122 lbs. It would be a revenge mission for the Wards: in the first defence of his crown in November, Dickens outscored Martin via split decision in this same arena. It would also be an excellent fight.

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Ward arrived into the venue at around 19:30. He seems a modest lad and, with his boyish looks and cheery, bashful grin, he doesn’t look anything like a 17-fight professional prize fighter. Until he fights…

After the result was announced, he made a point of thanking Turley, Borg, Reynolds, his fans, the ringside officials, promoter Phil Jeffries and co. and even press row (if three people can be termed a row). You sense people are really going to take to him as his career progresses.    

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After experiencing car trouble all week, it was reassuring to see a ‘City of Sunderland’ sign loom into view on the A690 from Durham, safe in the knowledge that, should the ‘engine behind our family’ (as it was despairingly referred to mid-week) start to choke and smoke in the slow lane, it would be within walking distance of Houghton-le-Spring’s 2000 capacity Rainton Meadows Arena (thankfully, the 900 capacity car park had one bay left).

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Cameroonian flyweight Thomas Essomba caught the eye. Ambling to 7-1 (2 KOs), Essomba looked far more seasoned than his professional record suggested. ‘Where has this guy been?’ I wondered, until a quick Google search uncovered a remarkable back-story: Thomas is a two-time Olympian who washed up in the coastal village of Ryhope, Tyne & Wear, after London 2012 (Essomba lost out to Ireland’s Paddy Barnes in the final 16). Though he was able to do as he pleased against weathered Estonian import Sergey Tasimov (10-55-2, 2 KOs), he was skilled and composed and flashed a lovely, arcing right hand and a sturdy left uppercut.

There’s a natural ‘derby’ match to be made against Commonwealth super fly champion Anthony ‘Babyface’ Nelson (11-0, 2 KOs) of South Shields and Jeffries (father to former Olympic silver medallist Tony) has built a good reputation for staging even-money fights (which the main event had looked to be on paper).

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Wearsider Isaac Macleod (6-0, 2 KOs) was winning at a canter in a 4 x 3’s workout against Czech Michal Vosyka (5-25-1, 2 KOs) until a bolt from the blue levelled Macleod in the final frame. The only surprising aspects of the bout up to that crunching right cross had been: a) when a bottle was tossed into a bottle bin behind the bar mid-round to replicate the sound of the bell and b) that a fleshy-looking Vosyka could ship as much punishment as he did.

Suddenly, though: Macleod was splayed out in the middle of the ring, the Sunderland man’s trainer, Anthony “Arnie” Farnell, was nipped into action and Vosyka – who’d lost his own gum-shield in the exchange – was grasping desperately at the canvas in a bid to pick it up before Macleod could gather his wits. Macleod recovered sufficiently to win 39-37 but it had been a real scare.

“He nearly took the side of me heed off!” Macleod chuckled, as he made his way back to the changing rooms.

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Popular light welter Glenn Foot (17-1, 6 KOs) and cruiserweight Warren Baister (3-0, 2 KOs) and Simon Vallily (8-0, 1 KO) all coasted to victory further down the bill. Baister recorded the only stoppage of the night in a one round blast out over Eriks Kalasnikov - which was announced as ‘Kalashnikov’ (7-3-1, 7 KOs) while Durham’s Darren Surtees (2-0, 1 KO) underwent the Youseff Al Hamidi experience (Surtees winning easily over four) and didn’t appear to enjoy it one bit.  

A fiery Surtees looked like a man in receipt of a parking ticket after having his hand raised and, after the Dewsbury spoiler repeatedly complained about being manhandled to the canvas in the final session, referee Andrew Wright had to insist that Surtees “calm down”. His management might do well to get him out again as quickly as possible.

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Though the crowd was impeccably behaved, one elderly gentleman showed some maddening ringside etiquette. After electing to stand directly in front of the press section during one of the prelim bouts, he followed that up by tapping Farnell on the shoulder for a chat while Arnie’s fighter was in the middle of a round! Thankfully Farnell, wearing O.J. Simpson-style tiny, black (latex) gloves has mellowed since his days as a wild-eyed middleweight.

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