Frontline diary: Upsetting the odds

Paul Zanon
14/10/2018 9:20pm

Chantelle Cameron moved closer to a Katie Taylor showdown, Lee McGregor came through a thriller and Michael Hunter upset Martin Bakole on a dramatic night at York Hall. Paul Zanon reports from ringside...

I’m a huge fan of the York Hall. The second you take your seat you feel like you’ve been sucked into the latest instalment of a boxing slipstream which dates back decades.

Almost a year ago to the day that I was ringside reporting on a cracking night of championship boxing hosted by Cyclone Promotions, Saturday evening brought a similar blend of excitement, shock and good old-fashioned scrapping.

First up was Jack Hillier against Kamil Jaworek. The Southampton resident stopped his super-bantamweight opponent in the third round, overpowering the Pole from the get go before finishing the job with a crunching body shot. Hillier moves to 3-0. Straight after was Martin Hillman against Russ Midgley, with Hillman grinding out a points win of 40-36, taking him to 11-6.

The third fight of the evening was at welterweight between the extremely talented Louis Adolphe and William Warburton. The 2012 ABA champion took the fight to the highly respected road warrior Warburton, controlling the fight as he wished and using the six rounds to hopefully move him one step closer to a domestic title fight. Adolphe moves to 9-1. (A brief FYI – this was Warburton’s 179th fight and the pair had previously met in January 2016, with Adolphe also winning on points on that occasion too).

The next fight at light heavyweight between Grant Dennis and ‘The Pocklington Rocket’ aka Harry Mathews, lasted a mere 48 seconds. Dennis detonated an overhand right which put Mathews on the canvas and despite making the count he was in no condition to continue.

The first title fight of the evening was between the IBO lightweight champion, Chantelle Cameron and Jessica Gonzalez from Mexico. With the WBC silver title also on the line, Cameron came flying out the traps in her usual slick, yet aggressive manner putting the pressure on her 30-year-old opponent. Despite a scrappy second round, with Gonzalez intent on holding, Cameron managed to open a cut over the left eye of the Mexican, which then had her holding on even more for dear life.

Into the seventh round and Cameron floored Gonzalez with a crunching right uppercut, but it was too late in the round for the Northampton favourite to capitalise. Add to that a point deduction later in the fight and it was no surprise that Cameron won a very wide points decision of 100-89 and 100-88 (twice). Surely Cameron is now ready for a mouth-watering clash with Katie Taylor for a unification dust-up? In the meantime, the Northampton favourite moves to 8-0 and eyes 2019 with higher honours in mind.

The sixth contest of the evening, for me, was the fight of the night. Scotland’s ‘Lightning’ Lee McGregor took on the former Commonwealth flyweight and English bantamweight champion Thomas Essomba (originally from Cameroon, now residing in Tyne and Wear).

The 21-year-old Edinburgh favourite has had to deal with a barrage of losses within his family over the last 12 months and went into the ring looking to bring back the vacant Commonwealth bantamweight strap belt for more than just himself. However, the wily Essomba (8-4) had not come to roll over and that, twinned with his ring experience, became visible from the opening bell.

With huge support behind him, including A-list celebrity James Cosmo sitting ringside, McGregor went to work at a furious pace, living up to his moniker of ‘Lightning’. The Scot had only amassed seven rounds in his first four wins, all by stoppage, with the longest of these contests extending to a mere four rounds. It was obvious that he was looking to finish in a similar fashion with Essomba, who was evidently smaller and slower, however, the two former two-weight champion showed his form by responding to McGregor’s attacks with well-timed counters and some terrific work on the inside.

Come round seven, McGregor started to load up with some heavy single shots and had Essomba holding on in obvious distress. McGregor’s stablemate Josh Taylor was on his feet ringside urging his fellow Scot to finish the job in hand, but the bell saved Essomba from an early shower. At that point at least.

Rounds eight, nine and ten saw some terrific to-and-fro action from both fighters, usually with McGregor finishing ff the stronger, sharper and more confident. Going into the final round, it looked like Essomba was going to last the distance of what was going to be a comfortable, but not ludicrously wide points victory for McGregor.

That was until 'Lightning' unleashed a barrage of punches which forced his opponent on to one knee. Seconds later his corner threw the towel in. At one minute and 38 seconds of the 12th and final round, McGregor became the Commonwealth bantamweight champion in his fifth pro contest. Props to both fighters for an absolutely thrilling fight.

Next up was Chris ‘The Gentleman’ Billam Smith against Robin Dupre in a title eliminator for the Commonwealth cruiserweight strap, with powerhouse Billam Smith looking to extend his unbeaten record to 7-0. Despite a game effort from Dupre, Billam Smith was simply too powerful, accurate and suffocating to allow his opponent the opportunity to cause him any problems.

At the end of the fifth round, Dupre’s corner had seen enough and did the right thing to pull out the Dagenham resident from any further punishment. It’s worth noting that Dupre was a genuine step up for Billam Smith. He’d only lost once before in 14 outings and that was against Luke Watkins for the Commonwealth title.

Aaron Collins and Dylan Draper put on a good four-round scrap in advance of the main event of the evening, with southpaw Collins extending his welterweight record to 3-0 with a 40-36 points victory.

Now for the headliner.

According to the bookies, American, Michael ‘The Bounty’ Hunter was the underdog against the highly touted Martin Bakole (from the Democratic Republic of The Congo, now training in Airdrie under the tutelage of Billy Nelson.) Hunter was not seen as cannon fodder, but a sacrificial lamb of sorts for the taller and over three stone heavier Bakole.

The pair were fighting for Bakole’s IBF Intercontinental heavyweight trinket and the odds of the Congolese giant winning in under six rounds were pretty much standard at ringside. However, I think it’s fair to say that anyone who had dismissed Hunter, a 2012 Olympian whose only loss was a unanimous points [117-110 three times] decision against pound for pound cruiserweight maestro, Oleksandr Usyk, was not thinking clearly.

From the opening bell, Hunter, who let’s be honest, is a cruiserweight, imposed his speed, power and agility. It was obvious he could not match Bakole for one-punch power, but I believe it was never his intention to take out the bigger man with a single shot. It took Hunter a couple of rounds to find his range comfortably, after getting in tune with Bakole’s counter response time, by which point the American was comfortably landing with two, three and four-punch combinations. Five rounds in and I had it 4-1 for Hunter.

When Bakole did land with his jab or right hand it did so with evident damage, as Hunter’s left eye was starting to show at the midway point of the fight. However, Bakole looked the more clumsy of the two and Hunter, despite blowing heavily, was in total control.

Going into the eighth round I had Hunter a country mile ahead, when suddenly the big man decided to shift up two gears, imposing some hurtful blows on the American, one of which opened a nasty cut over his right eyebrow. Towards the end of the round, Hunter looked in plenty of trouble. You got the impression the end was very near. However, what had gone unnoticed during Bakole’s attack was that one of his punches forced his right shoulder to dislocate.

It was now a matter of time before Hunter was able to capitalise. Despite a brave attempt from Bakole to try and pull off a Danny Williams (versus Mark Potter) style comeback, Hunter unloaded his tank and forced a tenth-round stoppage. The American contingent, which included a man also famous for upsets, Hasim Rahman, were evidently very pleased that their man had come through challenge in the face of adversity with a positive ending.

No doubt Bakole can regroup. There’s a number of fights in the UK still crying out for him to be a part of.

All in all, then, a cracking night of boxing.