Ringside report: Back with a bang

Paul Zanon
09/03/2019 7:21pm

Photos: James Chance/Getty Images

Professional boxing returned to the Royal Albert Hall with a bang last night, as Liam WIlliams, Anthony Yarde and Daniel Dubois put on explosive displays, while Chris Jenkins ended Johnny Garton's British welterweight title reign. Paul Zanon reports from ringside...

From the moment the date was announced for this show, there was a justifiable social media frenzy. Boxing fans recounted tales of who’d they’d either fought or seen fighting at the iconic Royal Albert Hall and the excitement of boxing being put back on the map at one of West London’s most famous event venues was positively overwhelming.

The build-up was huge and the night delivered to its full expectations.

First up was Kent’s Jake Pettitt against Bulgarian Stefan Slavchev [10-31-1], over four rounds at super bantamweight. From the opening bell, Pettitt was calm, methodical and sharp with his approach, picking his shots carefully. Slavchev made the Erith favourite work in the mid rounds, but the winner was never in question. A 40-36 points win for Pettitt moves his record to 5-0.

The next contest, at cruiserweight, was between James Branch Jr and Kieran Pitman [2-1]. Both fighters came to battle and from the opening round there was a non-stop flurry of exchanges. Branch would eventually have cuts and swelling around both his eyes by the final bell and Pitman’s face also told a few tales. Branch won 39-37 after a very entertaining scrap, which moved him to 4-0.

Lucien Reid [7-0] and Indi Sangha [9-1] stepped into the square cirlce next, for a featherweight contest scheduled for six rounds. The fight was warming up nicely, when a nasty clash of heads caused a horrible gash over the right eye of Reid. Unable to stem the flow of blood at the end of the second session, the referee halted the contest soon into the third. The decision, to the disappointment of both fighters, was a technical draw.

GettyImages 1134528280The next fight epitomised everything the Albert Hall represented in bygone eras of boxing. The cheering, the domestic toe-to-toe scraps and two fighters willing to leave it all in the ring. Johnny Garton [23-1-1], put his coveted British welterweight title on the line against the gritty Welsh underdog, Chris Jenkins [20-3-2].

The opening session started off with both men exchanging their highly efficient jabs, but it didn’t take long for the orthodox pair to follow up their primary tool with the straight right and clubbing hooks. I had Garton pulling away slightly in the opening three rounds, of a very close contest, but from there on, the well-schooled Jenkins seemed to figure out Garton’s routines, countering the self-proclaimed ‘Pexican’ with hooks and straight rights.

By the eighth round, Jenkins' left eye was swelling up from Garton’s jabs and right-hand attacks while Garton had a substantial swelling below his left eye, which Jenkins soon managed to open a cut under. For the balance of the fight, Jenkins took control. It wasn’t a one-sided contest, but the Welshman was technically more proficient and was landing the more accurate and damaging shots.

The final round was a barnstormer, with both men unloading their tanks. When the final bell rang, there was a standing ovation from the crowd. Win, lose or draw, if you received that level of appreciation from onlookers, then you've been part of something special.

The final scores, all in favour of the new British welterweight champion, Chris Jenkins, read as follows: 119-109 [terrible score], 116-112 [about right] and 117-112.

Blink and you would have missed the next fight. Standing at 6'2", the 19-year-old Londoner, Hamzah Sheeraz knocked down Rod Douglas Jr [2-1], three times in just over a minute of the opener to extend his record to 7-0.

GettyImages 1134533270The sixth contest of the evening was between one of the hottest prospects in heavyweight British boxing, Daniel Dubois [9-0] and a man standing at 6'7½" inches, Romanian Razvan Cojanu [16-5]. Nathan Gorman, who had beaten Cojanu over 12 rounds in December last year, watched eagerly as his fellow Brit took to the stage.

It’s worth noting that although Cojanu had lost his last three fights [Gorman included], all three were against good opposition. In addition to the affable Nantwich resident, losses came at the hands of Luis Ortiz [stopped in the second round] and a challenge for the WBO world heavyweight title against Joseph Parker [loss on points]. This was certainly a step up for Dubois.

As the bell rang, Cojanu threw and landed an impressive jab - a move that turned out to be like throwing petrol onto an open flame, as Dubois went into destruction mode, throwing every punch with bad intentions and landing most of the time with his spiteful blows.

In two minutes and 48 seconds of the second round, the fight was over after a heavy artillery assault from Dubois. Picking up the WBO European heavyweight trinket for good measure, Dubois’ stock rises yet again. The Gorman fight surely has to happen soon. Styles make fights and I’d certainly like to see these two young guns mix it up very soon.

The build up to the Liam Williams [19-2-1] versus Joe Mullender [11-2] fight was quite simple. Williams said he’d smash Mullender and the loveable Essex man agreed. That’s kind of what happened. Mullender barely landed a punch as the Welshman unloaded barrage after barrage of vicious onslaughts.

In the second round, Mullender was put to the canvas and in all honesty, the fight should have been stopped at the count of eight. It was obvious he was on unsteady legs and very soon after being allowed to continue was on his back again, but with an oxygen mask over his mouth. Thankfully he was ok after a few minutes.

What’s next for Williams? He’s obviously a cut above domestic level, so perhaps he can earn his stripes at European level before having another crack at a world title again.

GettyImages 1134545785The other big fight of the evening was between Londoner Anthony Yarde [17-0] and Travis Reeves [17-3-2], at light heavyweight. With a big Maryland entourage, including former world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, Reeves walked in with an air of confidence.

This evaporated, however, within a matter of seconds of exchanging blows with Yarde. Fast hands, quick reflexes, hard hitting, trap setting, what’s not to like about Yarde? It took the Londoner five rounds to dispose of the American, with a calculated, risk-free performance, which was like watching an organised fireworks display. You knew you were safe watching, but also knew there would be explosions throughout the display and that’s exactly how he delivered.

There was detonation after detonation, until the show came to a halt. Is Yarde ready for that all-important world title shot? Kovalev, Bivol, Beterbiev? He’s certainly on the right trajectory.

Two fights were still in the balance before the doors of the Albert Hall closed for the night. Battersea’s super slick Denzel Bentley extended his unbeaten middleweight record to 9-0 [8KOs] against Poland’s Adam Grabiec [6-24], by way of a second-round stoppage and super flyweight Harvey Horn stopped Czech fighter Patrik Bartos in the first round to move his record to 5-0.