Frontline diary: No hype required

Chris Williamson
09/10/2019 9:25pm

GettyImages 1179066121Photos: James Chance / Getty Images

Chris Williamson reports from ringside as the MTK Golden Contract featherweight tournament begins with a bang...

Adrenaline was still coursing through the British featherweight champion’s veins a few hours after registering a dramatic ninth-round stoppage victory over Cuban Hairon Socarras that booked a place in the semi-finals of MTK Global’s Golden Contract tournament.

It was 5am when Ryan Walsh sent a message telling BM that excitement had acted like an anti-sleep drug.

“I loved every second,” Walsh wrote, before hinting at being a little affronted over being chosen by the previously unbeaten Socarras, “they watched my last fight [a split decision win over Lewis Paulin] and thought I was toast!”

Walsh vs Socarras was a high quality technical match between boxers who could grit down and fight hard. The Cuban (now 22-1-3) probably won the opener with a body attack that presumably targeted a perceived weak spot given Walsh had narrowly made weight.

Walsh boxed better in the next couple of sessions, displaying terrific feints and hurting Socarras with a right hand once the Cuban turned southpaw. Suddenly Walsh (25-2-2) looked the boss, a status underlined when a right hook stunned and a beautiful left in the fifth round propelled the visitor against the ropes, correctly judged a knockdown. Socarras sought to buy time with a flurry of low blows that infuriated a hungry Walsh who angrily shouted “prick!” at his desperate rival.

During the eighth a right uppercut wobbled Socareas, who was cut by this stage and being hurt repeatedly to the body. The Cromer man glared at his opponent at the end of the round before finishing matters in the ninth with a two-handed barrage that left the Cuban helpless against the ropes.

Interestingly, Leigh Wood was also present at the underwhelming Walsh performance vs Paulin and had been afforded first pick of the field. Walsh wants the Wood fight badly and is keen to add Wood’s commonwealth belt to his own collection.

“It would 100% have been sanctioned,” Walsh told BM, “and I’d finally have that Commonwealth [title].” Presumably such an outcome would require MTK to tweak the format to allow a 12-round match within the tournament structure.

Perhaps it was fitting in settling up the potential clash that Wood (23-1) himself delivered a similarly exciting ninth round stoppage against the previously unbeaten David Oliver Joyce (now 11-1), dropping the brave and straightforward Irishman in rounds two and seven.

It speaks to the allure of the competition that quality operators like Walsh, Wood and Jazza Dickens have entered the fray motivated and thriving. Of course, the extra £5k offered for stoppage victories adds a blunt reward for quick victories. As Lennox Lewis might put it, contestants get paid for not doing overtime. In another welcome touch, winners were invited to add colour commentary to the broadcast for later contests.

If there were innovations in evidence, there seemed to be a strange embargo on taking chewing gum into the famous old hall, which meant that security had literally dozens of packets piled up. “I’ll sell them all on ebay,” one amused guard said.

Tyrone McCullagh (14-0) posted a fairly straightforward decision over Razaq Najib. Najib (11-4) is trained by former British champ Ryan Rhodes who has clearly worked the Sheffield fighter into peak fitness but with nowhere near the finesse the ‘Spice Boy’ exhibited in his prime.

McCullagh’s ‘Teenage Kicks’ entrance accompanied by a ‘panda’ was in truth more entertaining than the fight itself as McCullagh displayed neat and tidy boxing skills to win all but a couple of rounds. The Northern Irishman dubbed ‘White Chocolate’ had bloodied Najib’s nose with a couple of solid straight lefts.

When two southpaws clash it often makes for an untidy contest, but Scouser James ‘Jazza’ Dickens (28-3) and gutsy Spaniard Carlos Ramos (11-2) put on a well-matched, entertaining scrap. Ramos’ left hook to the body in particular was a nasty shot and it looked an even contest until a right-left combination floored the visitor.

As Ramos tried to battle back in the middle rounds, shouts of ‘vamos’ and the slang ‘perro’ emanated from the corner. Ramos did indeed recover well and in the 8th round his straight left even started to hurt the Liverpool man, before going down by six, four and two points on the cards.

As Dickens and Ramos duked it out, we became aware that Ohara Davies was involved in a scuffle with fellow ten stone Golden Contract entrant Tyronne McKenna.

“He came at me!” Davies claimed as promoter Lee Eaton settled him down. Despite reading cynical posts on social media later I seriously doubt it was staged.

On the evidence of this night, the competition doesn’t need manufactured hype.