Frontline diary: Thrills and spills at York Hall

Luke G. Williams
23/02/2017 9:33am

Photos by Bahareh Hosseini

Luke G. Williams soaks in the atmosphere at York Hall as he watches Asinia Byfield, George Jupp, Richard Riakporhe and Robin Dupre among others...

There are few more atmospheric places to watch boxing than York Hall in Bethnal Green, East London and the old venue was in fine fettle once again on Saturday night as it hosted Hellraiser promoter Mickey Helliet’s latest show, a 15-fight extravaganza packed with energy and entertaining bouts.

The extremely healthy and animated crowd provided plenty of noise, particularly during the undisputed ‘fight of the night’, a superb tussle between Asinia Byfield and John Brennan for the former’s Southern Area super-welterweight title, which oscillated one way then the other and featured plenty of meaty exchanges.

Byfield’s flashy switch-hitting was in full evidence, and made a wonderful contrast to Brennan’s more old-school pressure fighting. From the second round onwards the duo went to war, bringing the crowd to their feet and a fever pitch of excitement.

Brennan had his moments, and on my card even nicked a couple of the earlier rounds, but Byfield’s class eventually told as a succession of heavy shots staggered Brennan in the sixth, prompting the referee to call a halt to proceedings, perhaps a tad prematurely.

One of the most interesting contests of the evening saw Belvedere’s George Jupp take on Pole Damian Lawniczak in a warm-up ahead of his eagerly awaited rematch with Mitchell Smith at the Copperbox in May.

Jupp’s unanimous decision victory against Smith in December 2015 was a major upset, and propelled him into a WBO interim title fight against the now hot Miguel Berchelt, which the Londoner lost by TKO in six.

Although Lawniczak is better than his 3-20-1 record suggests, the well-schooled Jupp had sufficient difficulties subduing him on points over six increasingly messy rounds to give Smith confidence ahead of their return match. It will certainly be an intriguing contest, with Jupp likely to once again be the underdog. 

One of the joys of York Hall is the unallocated general seating that enables free access to the majority of the arena, enabling you to pick and choose whether to watch all the fights from one vantage point or move around and enjoy different sight-lines at different times. In my view the best place to be is on the balcony, looking down on the ring from the left-hand side of the hall as you enter, but the views are pretty good wherever you are.

The ‘ringside’ seating is fairly basic and lacks the glamour associated with, say Vegas or the O2. It was also amusing, albeit somewhat charming, to see that a couple of young children had been enlisted to sort out the numbered cards for the ringcard girls.

Outside of the pugilistic activity, the bar area of York Hall is always an interesting source of entertainment. There’s plenty of fun to be had 'people watching' as the rich tapestry of characters that boxing attracts congregate to quench their thirst in between bouts, or during bouts that they can’t be bothered to watch, or have no interest in.

On this particular Saturday night the bar staff were run off their feet, and the reaction of one weary bar-maid on hearing that we were only halfway through the evening’s bouts was the very picture of despair as she poured me a shandy.

Yes, dear reader, I did indulge myself in a drink or two while soaking up the action on Saturday night - my justification being that I was present as a paying punter rather than ‘official BM journalist on duty’.

Incidentally, I view it as an inevitable but still sad sign of the times that drinks can’t be taken out of the York Hall bar and into the main arena. But maybe I’m just old fashioned, seeing as I also miss the unique smell and atmospheric lighting that cigarette smoke used to provide at such venues…

YORKHALL1

Riakporhe warming up - photo by Bahareh Hosseini

I was also present on Saturday in my capacity as a supporter of cruiserweight prospect Richard Riakporhe, who I used to teach as outlined in my interview with the south Londoner in a recent issue of Boxing Monthly.

It was pleasing to see that Riakporhe looked sharp and focused in his latest appearance in British boxing’s most famous ‘small hall’, stopping durable albeit fleshy Hungarian Istvan Orsos in the first round to move to 3-0 (2 KOs) as a professional, all three of these contests having been at York Hall.

After the fight the 27-year-old gave me his assessment of his night’s work. “It went pretty well,” he said. “Early on I was looking to get to him as much as possible but I was forgetting the bread and butter, as you would say, of my jab and right hand.

“So I took my foot off the gas slightly and went back to using my jab, hit him with the right hand and he went down. Then I was just looking for the opening, applied intelligent pressure and got him out of there.”

Turning his attention to the future, Richard added: “For the rest of 2017 I’m looking to work hard, get in the ring, showcase my skills and build up my profile."

To this end he dropped a tantalising hint about a "big announcement" concerning his career which may be on the horizon. Actually, he told me more than that, but the details must remain off the record, for now at least.

yorkhall2

Riakporhe unloads a left, photo by Bahareh Hosseini

An interesting match-up for Riakporhe at this stage of his career - should promoter Helliet be willing to match two unbeaten fighters from his stable - would be Newham born, Essex-based cruiser Robin Dupre, who was also in action on Saturday.

‘Rockin’ Robin’ moved to 12-0 (1 KO) with a somewhat untidy four-round points victory against Athens cruiser Dimitris Neroutsos. The 30-year-old Dupre’s main weapon is his jab and, although it wasn’t quite as sharp as usual, it still proved decisive in securing a 40-36 victory. It was clear from the somewhat muted noise from Dupre's usually very vocal fan-base that he wasn't quite on top form. 

Nevertheless, now that he is skirting on the fringes of the British top ten, Dupre’s durability and solidity would provide a fascinating contrast with Riakporhe’s explosive power.

Such a contest would be, in my view, a small-hall classic that would grace this fine old venue, as so many other pugilists have done since its opening in 1929.