John A. MacDonald
Last Saturday, Lee Haskins made the first defence of his IBF bantamweight title with a wide points victory over Ivan Morales, live on Channel 5. Haskins performance was relatively dominant, but failed to capture the imagination of those in attendance or the viewers at home.
Those who stayed behind and kept tuned in after the main event were rewarded with and action-packed cruiserweight contest between Craig Kennedy and Joel Djeko. Too often foreign imports are overmatched, under-ambitious or looking to find the canvas at the first available opportunity. This wasn’t the case for ‘Big Joe’ who came out throwing power shots from the first round – being credited with two knockdowns in the process – and can feel slightly aggrieved to find himself on the wrong end of a split decision. It was a fight the fans loved, but may have resulted in the matchmaker getting a stern talking to.
Inspired by Djeko, Boxing Monthly bring you the top five unheralded away-corner fighters we’ve had in a British and Irish rings, over the past five years:
1. Zolani Tete
It may seem contradictory to deem a world champion as unheralded, but Tete was certainly underrated when he defended his IBF super flyweight title against Paul Butler last year in Liverpool. The challenger was the favourite with the bookmakers and even those who were backing the champion were expecting a close affair. Butler’s then-trainer – Arnie Farnell – had questioned Tete’s heart in the build-up and felt he would quit under pressure form Butler. This wasn’t the case, as Tete took the fight away from Butler from the opening bell, controlling distance and picking of his opponent with excellent shot variety. If Butler had a Plan B, Tete simply didn’t allow him to execute it. A dominant performance was punctuated by a brutal uppercut from the southpaw stance to bring the fight to an end in the eighth round.
2. Dejan Zlaticanin
The Montenegrin wasn’t a complete unknown when he faced Ricky Burns in June 2014, having previously beaten Petr Petrov – who would go on to win ESPN’s Boxcino tournament – but few realised just how good he was. It became abundantly clear in the opening round, as he dropped the home fighter with a monstrous left hook. The diminutive, power-punching, southpaw was an aggressive buzz-saw, routinely forcing Burns to cover up whilst pinned against the ropes. Once more, John Keane turned in a bizarre 115-113 card in favour of Burns, but was cancelled out by matching 115-113 scores from Predrag Aleksic and Gerald Ritter, for Zlaticanin.
3. Yvan Mendy
It was billed as the first real step up in class for – Olympic Gold medallist – Luke Campbell, by promoter Eddie Hearn, but fans where under-whelmed at the announcement. The Frenchman was without a standout win on his ledger, and had previously lost to Edis Tatli and Viktor Postol. Campbell had made light work of his previous 12 opponents but failed to get Mendy under control at any point. Mendy applied educated pressure for every minute of every round and floored Campbell – for the first time as a professional – in the fifth. John Keane believed that Campbell had done enough to win, thankfully he was overruled by Massimo Barrovecchio and Robin Dolpeirre to award Mendy one of the biggest upsets on British shores in 2015.
4. Emiliano Marsili
The Italian southpaw was somewhat of an unknown quantity when he faced Derry Mathews for the vacant IBO lightweight title in 2012, having never fought outside of his home country. The then 35-year-old was relentless, looking to land hurtful shots at every opportunity. Mathews – as ever – showed great bravery, but was second best throughout. Cut, and dropped in the sixth round, Howard Foster called a halt to the contest in the seventh. Marsili has found himself firmly in the “Who Needs Him Club” since, but finally gets his chance on June 11 as he fights for the WBC lightweight title
5. Junior Granados
When Granados came to Dublin last July to face Jamie Conlan, he brought with him a (13-3-1, 8 KOs) record. Closer inspection of that slate showed that two of those defeats were stoppage losses against fighters with 1-1 and 1-8 records, respectively, and Granados himself was 1-3-1 in his last five fights. A routine victory was expected for Conlan, instead the pair served up a Fight of The Year contender. The Mexican dropped his opponent with body shots twice in the seventh round. With an excruciating grimace, Conlan rose to his feet on both occasions and came firing back. Grandos may not have done enough to get the nod on the judges’ scorecards but he won over the crowd and forced Conlan to dig incredibly deep.