Frontline diary: Mad Men on Merseyside
Photos: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Danny Winterbottom reports from ringside in Liverpool on a crazy night that saw an upset, a ridiculous scorecard, a heavyweight bite and much more drama besides...
We’ve all been on the dance floor of our favourite nightclub absolutely loving the DJ’s choice in music when suddenly he or she drops a tune straight out of left field that sends everybody to the bar.
It was a bit like that on Saturday night inside the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Fowler had just produced an engrossing ten-round battle of skill and will topped off by a thrilling final round knockdown that gave a battered and bruised Fitzgerald, now unbeaten in 13, an unexpected victory over his arch nemesis and the crowd were loving it. Especially the 1,000 or so who had travelled down the M6 from Preston to watch their ‘Mad Man’ overcome the odds.
Then came Liam Smith vs Sam Eggington.
The world class veteran against the too-brave-for-his-own-good young warrior had mis-match written all over it before the first bell had sounded in a quickly emptying arena.
A couple of shrewd ringsiders commented that Fowler vs Fitzgerald had felt like the main event all along - from the backstory of their bitter rivalry, social media spats and press conference taunts. It was simply the better, more compelling fight on paper between a pair of unbeaten prospects and tha'ts how it turned out in reality.
The fact that Smith was making his return to the M&S Bank Arena (formerly the Echo Arena) for his new promotional team, was a more seasoned ‘name’ and that the spurious WBC ‘Silver’ title was on the line afforded his contest ‘main event’ status.
Sadly Eggington offered nothing more than serving as a moving punch bag for Smith and the bout descended into farce with Smith practically begging referee Bob Williams to intervene in an act of mercy. Eggington had started the bout enthusiastically but quickly found out the gulf in class between a solid domestic operator and one who’s picked up a wealth of experience fighting the likes of Canelo Alvarez after clearing out the domestic light middleweight division is massive.
Once Eggington’s eye was closed by Smith’s rapier left and rights the fight was over as a competitive spectacle. As Smith tattooed a helpless Eggington upstairs and then smashed his body like a demolition expert wielding a sledgehammer the man known affectionately as ‘Beefy’ summoned Bob Williams to end the slaughter. Cries of ‘stop it ref’ came from ringside but referee Williams seemed unsure of what to do, not for the first time. Finally Jon Pegg launched his towel into the ring and Williams rescued Eggington from his own bravery in round five.
“I wanted the fight stopped because I have too much respect for Sam,” said Smith at the post-fight press conference.
It was an easy night's work for Smith who revealed his team had used Eggington for sparring prior to his fight against dangerous Mexican Jamie Munguia in July last year.
With this new promoter ‘gimme’ out of the way, Smith will now be looking to land another world title shot later this year.
Anthony Fowler smiled from ear to ear for the entirety of his ring walk but it was Preston’s ‘Mad Man’ Scott Fitzgerald that left Liverpool beaming like a Cheshire Cat following his split points decision victory over the Liverpudlian.
Both men came into the fight sporting unbeaten records but there was a sense that Fitzgerald had faced, and learned from, the harder fights and his fair share of adversity during his career following his 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal at 69kg. Being dropped by journeyman Adam Jones in 2016 and behind on the cards against Craig Morris last year before pulling out a final round KO seemed to have hardened the Preston man’s resolve to the pro game. Not to mention being kicked out of the gym by trainer Mike Jennings, forcing him to come to terms with problems he had outside the ring.
Fowler, on the other hand, had eased past his preliminary opposition since he too turned over from the unpaid code after a highly successful stint that culminated in a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics and, as a result, hadn’t quite gained the same level of professional experience as his rival.
It must be emphasised that neither man had to take this fight. Eddie Hearn could have easily guided the pair in different directions so credit must be given to the two fighters for putting their reputations and unbeaten records on the line at this stage in their respective careers.
Anticipation for the impending fight began to build at ringside as Natasha Jonas went through the motions against hapless Tanzanian Feriche Mashauri. Boxnation’s John Evans, a man who I’ve spent many an hour with at ringside over the years, had been close to Fitzgerald in the build-up and said he’d never seen a fighter so focused on the task at hand.
“I’m picking Fitzgerald to win,” he said, going out on a limb.
It was strange to hear the crowd chanting Fitzgerald's name in Fowler’s backyard as the 1,000-strong contingent from Preston made their voices heard, seemingly from pockets of 10 or 20 dotted all over the arena.
Fowler began the fight well as he found a home for a solid jab in the face of Fitzgerald from the off. By round two the Preston fighter's eyes were already beginning to mark up and Fitzgerald appeared to be trying hard to stay with his rival as Fowler upped the pace, looking for an early finish.
However Fowler visibly slowed down around the halfway mark of the scheduled ten rounder and Fitzgerald began to get his own jab working, whilst he also made a concerted effort to target Fowler’s body which paid dividends later in the contest. Round eight saw Scott really begin to grow in confidence, however that confidence was almost shattered in round nine as Fowler let it all hang out as he went for the finish.
Cut under his left eye and under mounting pressure it seemed at one point as though Fitztgerald wanted to go down, but suddenly he seemed to remember how important this fight was to his reputation and his career. He simply refused to lose and that will to win bore out in the final round as he dropped Fowler with a left hook following a stunning left uppercut that froze the Liverpudlian in his tracks.
It was a stunning finish. The official scorecards were as follows: 95-94 Fitzgerald, 96-94 Fowler and 95-94 Fitzgerald. BM scored the contest 96-93 to Fitzgerald.
An amusing moment shortly after Fitzgerald’s victory saw a fan donned head to toe in a ‘Mad Man’ tracksuit and slightly worse for wear chewing the ear off former British flyweight champion Paul Edwards who was presumably supporting fellow scouser Fowler. Edwards, now sporting a beard and weighing slightly more than during his fighting days, was accommodating to the last but couldn’t shake off his newly acquired ‘friend’ for several minutes!
One of the most anticipated fights of the evening turned out to be one of the most bizarre contests I’ve ever witnessed from ringside as heavyweights David Price and unbeaten Kash Ali traded blows for four rounds before Ali decided to sink his teeth into the stomach of Price resulting in an instant disqualification.
There had been a back and forth shouting contest at the final press conference as Price lost his rag with Ali and his small entourage, but nobody expected the fight to end the way it did, in such shocking circumstances.
Just before the first bell sounded John Evans leaned over to me and said “I hope we see another [Richard] Towers vs [Gregory] Tony,” a reference to the wild heavyweight brawl we witnessed from ringside back in 2012 at the Manchester Velodrome. Well, it turned out to be even more bizarre than that!
Price, a heavy pre-fight favourite, began the contest well as he showed an improved jab and more measured approach to his work as Ali plodded around the ring uncertain how to react to being speared in the face by a heavy handed puncher. Despite this, and to his credit, he did show a decent set of whiskers and at times seemed to unsettle Price with some illegal blows to the back of Price’s head before he was badly wobbled in round four.
The actions of Ali in round five, sinking his teeth into the stomach of Price whilst both men lay on the floor in a heap, have rightly been condemned by all corners of the boxing media and fans alike. It was the act, perhaps, of a man who suddenly found himself out of his depth and quickly wanted out.
Referee Mark Lyson was quick to act but at first, from my vantage point at ringside, it wasn’t clear what had happened until Price stood up and revealed a fair-sized bite mark to the left-hand side of his body.
The realisation of what he had done soon dawned on Ali as the Liverpool crowd suddenly turned nasty. Fans, young and old, male and female, hurled abuse. Beer out of plastic pint pots descended on Ali and his team as they were hurried towards the safety of the changing rooms by worried security teams. A man was dragged out of the crowd by police officers for trying to attack the boxer. It was a shocking scene but thankfully it was over quickly, whilst Ali had his purse - reported to be in the region of £20,000 withheld and will face a BBBofC hearing in due course.
Thankfully we saw a beautiful exhibition of boxing from defending Commonwealth super lightweight champion Phillip Bowes earlier in the evening as he easily defended his title by overcoming home favourite Tom Farrell by a lopsided decision. 118-110, 117-112 and 118-111 whilst BM scored the bout 118-110 for Bowes.
As I made my way to ringside via the bowels of the M&S Bank Arena expertly escorted by Matchroom’s head of security Simon Roberts, Bowes was waiting patiently in the corridor. Shadow boxing, with a look of concentration etched on his face that was only partially visible under his red and black robe.
We caught each other's stare for a split second and Roberts wished him good luck. A moment later we were inside the arena and being held up by security as Bowes made his way to the ring, that same look of concentration on his face. It was this concentration coupled with excellent boxing skills that enabled the Leon McKenzie trained fighter to implement a game plan that frustrated Farrell.
“Whitaker!” came the cries from the champion's corner. Presumably a reference to the boxing god, Pernell, as Bowes dipped at the knees with his hands low down by his waist and popped out a series of jabs that rocked Farrell’s head back. This set the pattern for the fight as the Liverpool fighter simply waited far too long to get his shots off and gave Bowes room to show off.
Cries from the crowd of "He’s getting tired, Faz!" were more in hope than based on the evidence in the ring and the rounds began to form a familiar pattern, with Bowes moving and slipping shots whilst Farrell tried in vain to tie him down and as a result it was an easy fight to score
This was Farrell’s second career defeat following his stoppage loss to Ohara Davies and he will need to go back to the drawing board if he is to get any further in his pro journey. As for Bowes he will be looking to cash in on his success following years on the small hall circuit, perhaps against another scouser, Robbie Davies Jr.
Speaking of Davies Jr, he seemed extremely fortunate to annex the European title from the clutches of Joe Hughes and add it to his British title with a unanimous decision victory. Scores of 115-113 and 115-114 whilst Terry O’Connor carded a frankly ridiculous 118-110 for Davies. BM scored the bout 116-114 for Joe Hughes. Others at ringside had it much wider for Hughes.
Hughes’ story is remarkable. Born with Erbs Palsy that seriously limits the use of his right hand, he has somehow battled his way into contention for major honours. In November he travelled to Italy to defeat home favourite Andrea Scarpa via a spilt decision to claim the European 10st title - an away European title fight that brought back memories of some of British boxing’s best moments.
Against Davies he began brightly and his left hand bloodied the nose of the home favourite in the second stanza. Hughes slipped into a nice rhythm working well both to the head and body as Davies looked for answers to the compacted ball of energy in front of him.
Round six saw Davies try to turn the screw on Hughes with a concerted effort to force the defending European champion back on his heels. Inside exchanges favoured Davies due to Hughes’ limited use of his right hand but the Malmesbury man is extremely tough and he fought tooth and nail during some gruelling rounds.
BM had it closer than most at ringside as the fight went into the championship rounds but Hughes edged ahead on my card by sweeping the final three stanzas. At the end of the contest the pair embraced and Davies was announced as the winner. O’Connor’s card didn’t do justice to the skill and bravery Hughes had shown but he can re-group and come again.
At the end of a long night as I made my way out of the arena Liam Smith passed a group of fans eager to get a glimpse of their champion. “Well in Beefy lad!” shouted one as Smith headed towards the changing rooms, another fight won and one step closer to another shot at the big time.