Frontline Diary: 'Let's go, Richard, let's go!'
Luke G. Williams
In a Frontline Diary with a difference Luke G. Williams and Year 9 students Francis and Eroms report from ringside at York Hall, as nine pupils from Sacred Heart school in Camberwell aged between 13 and 15 experience live boxing for the first time.
Every boxing fan remembers their first experience of a live boxing event. Mine came at Earl’s Court on 31 October 1992 when, aged 16, I watched Lennox Lewis demolish Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock in two brutal rounds.
For nine pupils from Sacred Heart school in Camberwell, their unforgettable first taste of live boxing on Saturday 1 October was just as thrilling, as they joined me at York Hall for the ‘Annihilation’ bill, promoted by Mickey Helliet’s Hellraiser Boxing.
The bout pupils were eagerly anticipating was between cruiserweights Richard Riakporhe and Aaron Lacey. Richard is a former Sacred Heart student, and since he visited the school a couple of weeks ago to give a talk in assembly, pugilism’s playground popularity has soared, with the student and staff body eager to see how his professional career progresses.
Saturday was just the 26-year-old’s second professional fight thus far, after an amateur career of much promise. However, with Richard not scheduled to appear until seventh on the bill, his newest fans would have to be patient.
On entering the atmospheric York Hall, the first sight that greeted our group was that of cruiserweights Robin Dupre and Ross Henshaw slugging it out for eight rounds.
For a group of youngsters who had never seen boxing live before, the initial impact and shock of watching grown men – and big men at that – exchange spiteful shots was striking.
“This is live!” declared one pupil open-mouthed. “They’re really hitting each other hard!”
Throughout a spirited eight-round contest, pupils lived every punch - wincing, groaning and cheering every significant shot as it landed or was blocked. Impressively, their analysis of both fighters extended to assessing fundamentals such as footwork and shots to the body, as well as a critique of some rather wild haymakers.
Just as thrilling as the fight action for several pupils whose teenage hormones are raging right now was the sight of the ring card girls in between stanzas.
Impressively, though, none of the group lost focus for long enough to distract them from their scorecards, with the group agreeing unanimously that Dupre easily did enough to take the contest on points – a decision which tallied perfectly with referee Lee Cook’s scorecard, which made the Dagenham man a 79-75 winner. Dupre may now get a shot at Richard Riakporhe’s stable-mate Isaac Chamberlain’s Southern Area cruiser title.
While a stacked card continued, we moved to the bar for a few minutes, where pupils sipped their pints of coke alongside the varied punters who make up the York Hall’s ever eclectic audience. The gnarled East End characters sipping their pints, the Turkish fans of Onder Ozgul wrapped in ‘al sancak’ flags and the peroxide blondes sipping their G&Ts were thus forced to rub shoulders with our Year 9s and Year 10s as they sipped their pints of cokes, some with strategically added Haribos to provide that extra sugar kick.
Dotted around ringside as we wandered back from the bar to take up our seats in 'the gods' were numerous former Sacred Heart pupils who had come along to support Richard, including his brother and several close friends who were clad in black with Richard’s nickname ‘Richy Rich’ emblazoned on their tops in sparkling red. With a smattering of staff members also in attendance, at times it felt like something of a school reunion.
The final fight before Richard took to the ring provided the watching pupils with their first knockdown of the evening - eliciting a mixture of gasps and cheers - as Mario Petrov floored Paul O’Brien en route to a four-round points win.
As for Richard, he had no need for the scorecards. Cheered to the rafters by the Sacred Heart posse as he entered the ring to a chorus of “Let’s go Richard, let’s go!”, he was in control from the start.
Displaying a razor sharp jab, Richard patiently waited for an opening, avoided his Welsh opponent’s spirited lunges, and then struck in the final minute of round one, landing two clubbing rights which made Lacey’s knees buckle as he made contact with the canvas.
Although the Welshman regained his footing, the unsteadiness of his legs rightly convinced referee Chas Coakley to terminate the contest after just 2 minutes 14 seconds of round one.
The Sacred Heart contingent exploded with joy, having seen their hero do the business, commencing a chant of "champione, champione, ole ole ole". Richard soaked up the applause while footage of his impressive stoppage was soon buzzing around SnapChat and other forms of social media.
Post-fight Richard had a taste of the media attention that will surely escalate if he carries on winning in such splendid style by conducting a quick interview with Ryan Songalia of The Ring magazine, who compared his slender but muscular frame and “serious power” to that of WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder.
Former WBC and WBA champ Tim Witherspoon, whose heavyweight prospect Kash Ali won his contest against Hari Miles later on the bill, was also on hand to make the Wilder comparison and extend his congratulations to ‘Richy Rich’.
As for the Sacred Heart contingent, we embarked on a joyful and excited jaunt to Bethnal Green McDonald’s prior to a lively minibus ride back to Camberwell, with every single pupil chanting and shadow-boxing their way home.
Francis and Eroms (Year 9) report on their night at York Hall
‘Let’s go Richard, let’s go!’ we chanted on as the sweat dripped down Richard’s face …
My experience on Saturday’s boxing trip was amazing and I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to take part in the boxing programme at school. When we saw Richard enter the ring we all became very enthusiastic and we decided to start a chant for him: ‘Let’s go Richard! Let’s go!’ Eventually his team joined in with the chant which made us even more eager to continue.
Richard threw a great right hook and won by a TKO (technical knockout) which is when the opponent is too dizzy and disorientated to continue. Once Richard had won we changed the chant and shouted: ‘Champion aye! Champion aye! Champion aye!’
This experience was very good and gave us a chance to improve our bonds with the teachers as we saw a new side to them. So far my experiences with boxing have taught me discipline and self-control. I am going to continue with the programme as it helps me channel myself when I have anger and is also a very helpful sport to keep me fit.
I was given the privilege of witnessing boxing for the first time on Saturday 1 October. It was phenomenal.
As we entered York Hall the atmosphere was immense, absolutely everyone was engaged with every hit as the boxers brawled and soon so were we. Every boxer had a different physique yet they all possessed awe-inspiring unique abilities. With every punch dodged or landed the crowd were electrified with passion and, as each new challenger entered the ring, the crowd roared with excitement. Finally the match we had all been waiting for came to fruition.
Despite having only met Richard Riakporhe not long ago we all already look up to him and finally the time arrived when he was about to have his bout. We stood up ready to cheer and soon the fight had begun.
Richard was relentless, not giving his opponent even time to breathe and every second of it we loved.
And he won! After two minutes and 14 seconds Richard had knocked out his opponent.
Overall, this trip was amazing, as not only did we enjoy it but the bonds we already had with our teachers increased immensely. I completely loved this trip.