Frontline diary: Thrills, spills and Calippos at York Hall

Chris Williamson
12/06/2018 12:04pm

Chris Williamson has Calippo envy at a warm and sticky York Hall as he reports on all the gossip and going-ons at last week's bill headlined by Okolie vs Watkins...

Fight day was warm and sticky in London, which of course means the intimate, packed environment of York Hall in Bethnal Green was utterly stifling. The perks of providing much of the budget for the show meant the Sky Sports crew enjoyed a selection of Calippo ice poles while the rest of us jealously shed cobs of sweat.

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Ring announcer Craig Stephen was found under the lights more than most, with his Scottish blood somehow coping with wearing a grey jacket in the heat. Stephen told BM he’d recently arrived back from the IBF convention in Italy. It was the 35th annual meeting for the organisation, this one held in St Vincent, surrounded by the picturesque Alps.

It sounds like a tough gig but Stephen was there on business rather than pleasure, to announce matches at a small show and to generate contacts and friendships with those who may require his services in future. Stephen’s dream is to announce in the USA and with Matchroom expanding rapidly into the US, perhaps he will get the chance with a promotional outfit based close to home.

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Daniyar Yeleussinov arrived with a formidable reputation following a sensational amateur career which garnered world (2013) and Olympic (2016) titles. An educated crowd was eager to catch a live glimpse of the early stages of the young Kazakh’s professional education. Hungarian Zoltan Szabo operates levels below the quality Yeleussinov had been competing at in the unpaid code and the favourite’s performance in sweeping every session of a six rounder was solid if unspectacular. Szabo was hurt on several occasions, especially with a counter left to end the third.

A couple of friends of mine - one of whom was still smarting about my tip of a Yeleussinov KO - later spoke with the Kazakh star in the bar and liked him a lot apparently, while also shooting an obligatory selfie.

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Eleven-stone prospect Ted Cheeseman was far too good for previously unbeaten Paul Upton, walking him down with intense pressure almost from the first bell. Upton fought back admirably in the second before being badly beaten up to body and head. The end came in the fourth with at least three if not four (one wasn’t officially counted) knockdowns. From my vantage point Terry O’Connor should have rescued the brave Upton before the final knockdown.

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Perennial heavyweight contender and regular show-attender Dereck Chisora looked in fighting shape as Sky Sports' Adam Smith introduced him to friends. There was quite a commotion when heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua - co-promoter of the show - arrived to support Okolie. While on the subject of heavyweights, a press conference had been arranged for the following day to announce Dillian Whyte’s next opponent, with journalist Declan Taylor asking promoter Eddie Hearn for more details. Hearn touched his nose as if to say “see you at the press conference”. Of course, the surprise announcement was later made that Joseph Parker will return to these shores for a third straight contest, this time to face ‘the Bodysnatcher’.

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Commonwealth featherweight champ Reece Bellotti brought loud support from Watford, mainly located on the top balcony where they watched a competitive, well-matched fight play out but missing the result they craved. Bellotti started relaxed, moving around the ring neatly as Doyle pressed forward. The momentum of the match changed when Doyle landed a terrific uppercut in the second before the two hurt each other with right hooks in a sensational third session while attacking each other's bodies for sustained periods. I made a note “nobbins?!”. It really was a cracking round as Belotti rallied back strongly.

The relentless Doyle unsteadied Belotti’s legs in the fourth before closing the show in the fifth with a counter-right which buckled Belotti’s legs before a frantic follow up floored the champion. Referee Howard Foster waved it off without a count: a breathless fight and perfectly staged in this setting.

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Headliner Lawrence Okolie was very impressive as he chalked up his ninth straight win against Luke Watkins, with superior footwork allowing his long jab to head and body to control the pace while retreating smartly when threatened. The two together looked - dare I say it - early Lennox Lewis-like at times. With the ‘KO’ in ‘OKOLIE’ glistening with a shinier shade of gold around his waistband, the 25-year-old closed the show in the third round, stunning Watkins with a left-right combination, an uppercut and then two chopping right hands which floored him. Two further vicious rights, the last to the top of Watkins’ head, and the fight was over.

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The last time I reported on a bill at York Hall, I went on something of a rant about the gentrification of this part of east London. At the risk of sounding like a broken record or a degenerate drinker, I’m not alone in feeling this way.

“How much is that round going to cost you mate?” asked a familiarly scouse accent from one stranger as I ordered five pints at the Approach Tavern around the corner from York Hall (note to Ed: only one was for me).

“Best part of £30 I expect,” I told my new friend.

“F*ckin’ hell, it’s still two quid a pint on the Scottie [Scotland] road mate,” he replied, while shaking his head and referring to a historic and working class part of Liverpool.

Still, it's the fights and the atmosphere we come for and, thankfully, some things have changed very little.