Ringside report: Joshua vs Parker undercard
Glynn Evans reports from ringside in Cardiff on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua vs Joseph Parker bill...
In the warm-up act for the Anthony Joshua vs Joseph Parker unification in Cardiff, controversial Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin – now mandatory contender at the WBO – extinguished any remaining embers of David Price’s aspirations at world level by leaving the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist worryingly still and prostrate in round five of a thrilling heavyweight shoot-out.
Many believe that the Russian, who has twice failed tests for PEDs, should be banished from earning his corn in a sport in which, as we’ve witnessed only too recently, honest, honourable athletes sacrifice their lives. The Russian's involvement in this prestigious promotion met with deafening boos from those in attendance.
In a wildly exciting third round, BFG ‘Pricey’ - who has always operated at the opposite end of the industry’s popularity spectrum to Povetkin - came mighty close to achieving what the sport’s sanctioning bodies have failed to achieve…. and remove the rogue Russian from title contention.
Clearly fit and fired for this swill at the Last Chance Saloon, the 6'8" Scouser thumped the canvas in frustration after a lapse in concentration resulted in him walking clean on to a lethal left hook early in the session.
But he hauled himself vertical, weathered the inevitable shower then venomously detonated a left hook of his own that would unquestionably have left Povetkin flat on his back had the ring ropes not cushioned his fall. Referee Howard Foster correctly administered a count but, with the Russian wobbling like a weeble, the bell brought respite before the prowling Price could pounce.
Inexplicably, infuriatingly, Price lacked the devil to ‘bomb’ for broke at the onset of round four and, as the fog cleared, Povetkin inevitably resumed control and dropped the guillotine a round later; a beefy right disconnected Price from his senses and, tottering as a free target, a left hook to his unprotected head sent him deep into the Land of Nod, as the white towel of surrender was simultaneously tossed into the ring from his corner. No need to count.
Once viewed as heir apparent to the Brothers Klitschko, this was surely the last act of a 20-plus year ring career which saw the Mersey giant scalp Tyson Fury in the amateurs and brought decoration in the form of three ABA titles, a Commonwealth Games gold medal, an Olympic bronze, plus English, British and Commonwealth belts in the paid code; not a bad haul for the ‘perennial underachiever’!
Povetkin has now won eight straight since being ceremoniously spanked by Wladimir Klitschko before 35,000 of his compatriots in Moscow five years back. He will now likely be bestowed another undeserved opportunity to regain blue riband titles – held by Joshua or others – in fights that will inevitably be tainted by his association.
After forfeiting his IBF belt recently, WBA (Super) bantam boss Ryan Burnett needs to inject some purpose back into his career.
The pride of Belfast squandered an opportunity to sparkle on this seismic stage when he laboured to a drab but landslide 12-round decision against mandatory challenger Yonfrez Parejo in the evening’s second world title scrap.
But this wasn’t world class fare and the capacity crowd exhaled a collective yawn at the end of 36 minutes that seemed more like 63. To be fair, the visitor from Valencia, Venezuela was chief culprit - capable but overtly cautious – with his sole ambition seemingly to survive the course.
Though a former WBA ‘interim’ champion who had conceded just twice in a 24-fight career that spanned almost nine years, the 31-year-old Latino, farcically styling himself as ‘The Executioner’, was content simply to flick ineffectual jabs then scurry out of range.
During the first half of the fight, you could have driven a bus between the conservative ‘combatants’ then, as Burnett gradually edged closer after the turn, the principals frequently became entangled.
Burnett, a natural counter puncher, did his best to engage, jerking his head back and forth like a rooster, (unsuccessfully) goading pacifist Parajo to depart his defensive bunker. At one stage, he voluntarily retreated to a neutral corner, gloves at waist level, taunting his foe to commit but still the ‘challenger’ refused to play. The judge who accorded the South American four of the 12 rounds was watched something completely different to me. The two who were concentrating gave Burnett every session.
Whilst effortlessly making Parajo miss, too often the unbeaten Ulsterman struggled to make him pay and his deft defensive smarts struggled to get much of a rise out of the disinterested assembly. It was a flat night all round which did little to expand Burnett’s profile. Post-fight claims that he’d broken his right hand in round three bring added misery but perhaps explain and excuse this sub-par showing.
Former WBA lightweight king Anthony Crolla recently penned his autobiography but there could yet be a few additional chapters to be written, regarding his already decorated 12-year career.
Fresh off a meritable win over triple world champion Ricky Burns last October, the ‘Million Dollar’ man made a rare soiree out of Manchester to skate to a clear ten-round points win over Edson Ramirez, a typically hardy hombre from Mexico City who arrived unbeaten in his previous 18.
Crolla, characteristically neat and composed, seldom needed to advance beyond third gear whilst prevailing by margins of ten, nine and six rounds on the official cards. The Manc proved too mobile, too clever and too industrious throughout and was only really threatened by a head induced gash to his right eye lid in round three – which survived a doctor’s inspection four rounds later.
Still only 31, this consummate pro and thoroughly upstanding human being can still prosper on the world 135lbs stage, providing he avoids two-time conqueror Jorge Linares. Belt holders Robert Easter (IBF) and Ray Beltran (WBO) are certainly beatable on British soil. Rumours abound of a berth on a forthcoming WBSS lightweight tourney.
Earlier in the evening, Matchroom’s trinity of 2016 Rio Olympians all enhanced their stats and standing against worthy imports.
Pick of the crop was local lightweight Joe Cordina who lifted the WBA International belt and crashed the world rankings with a classy third-round demolition of Belgium’s two-weight national champion Hakim Ben Ali. The 26 year old Cardiffian showed that he is as spiteful as he is undoubtedly skilful and speedy, sinking the Flanders veteran – stopped just once previously in 24, on a freak dislocated shoulder injury – with scudding body shots the key cause of the carnage.
Joltin’ Joe, a European amateur champion in 2015 who is still to drop a round as a pro, has now won seven straight with six victims falling before the finish and consistently conducts himself with the class and composure of a major champion in the making.
Less explosive but no less impressive was Sunderland shy guy Josh Kelly who collected the same gong up at welterweight by bamboozling faded IBF super-welter czar Carlos Molina over 10 rounds.
This was a matchmaking masterstroke which should elevate the 24-year-old Wearside wonder into the WBA’s top 15 listings, after just six gigs (all against opposition with winning records) and 29 rounds as a pro.
A former World Youth and European Senior medallist who is mentored by Adam Booth, ‘Pretty Boy’ Josh glided to a landslide 98-92 (twice), 99-91 verdict and showed the reflexes and mobility that suggest he can prosper at a far higher level, in time. He is now primed to resurface in his native north-east on 16 June, headlining alongside Tyneside’s reigning British lightweight boss Lewis Ritson at Newcastle’s Metro Arena.
A rung behind but showcasing similar potential, Croydon based Ghanaian Joshua Buatsi delivered a solid and stylish exhibition of the sweet science to secure a six round shutout over 51 fight Polish nugget Bartlomiej Grafka. The AJ managed 25 year old – a sports science graduate and devout Christian - has now won five straight as a pro after bagging bronze in Brazil and is quietly evolving into a formidable all round package in the talent stacked light-heavyweight division.