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A Night To Remember

Yesterday – 18 hours after the heatwave had broken in London courtesy of a very welcome thunderstorm whose best/worst effect somehow seemed to pass Mon Repos – I was faced with a still airless weekend and not much more upon the agenda than a food shop, a visit to my local bank branch (assuming, of course, it was still there on the high street … you never can tell as most banks seem to be shutting them every time they discover one on their books) and a half-hearted self-promise to take some exercise.

It was thus that, passing idly through the backwaters of my Virgin Media cable box in search of something more edifying to watch than Saturday Kitchen – the relentlessly cheap-and-cheerful studio-based cooking show based around short cuddly back-slapping ‘celeb guest’ in-fills between ancient repeat recipes culled from cooking TV programmes from the past featuring the likes of ridiculously young versions of Rick Stein and Keith Floyd – I came across a promotion for the ‘Live Event’ Sky Box Office coverage of last night’s Eddie Hearns’ Matchroom promotion of Dillian Whyte versus Joseph Parker heavyweight clash at the O2 Arena.

At all but £21 it wasn’t cheap but hey you know what, contemplating an otherwise laidback weekend, it seemed worth taking a punt upon.

I’m very glad I did.

Revisiting hazy memories of regularly attending boxing events nearly four decades ago – I’m talking the era of Astaire and Mickey Duff, Harry Carpenter, Reg Gutteridge, Tony Sibson, Herol Graham, Frank Bruno, the early Nigel Benn and then later the upstart thrusting promoter Frank Warren who teamed up with ITV – the truth is that one was immersed in bills of variable quality that allowed the careers of ‘bright young things’ to be carefully built up towards title fights and half-decent pay cheques. It’s the nature of the boxing business, or rather was.

In 2018, happily, things are significantly different. There’s a big-time revival going on in British boxing, from the ground up. These days there are even regular ‘white collar’ amateur events being staged at which whipper-snapper City-type belt seven bells out of each other in sold-out halls.

Much of the credit goes to the likes of Eddie Hearn, who has just re-signed a three year promotional deal with boxing’s hottest property Anthony Joshua. It seems to me that Hearn’s ‘secret’ is a new and fresher approach to match-making: put bluntly, he and his team put together bills that feature a more open and entertaining rationale in which customer ‘value for money’ is king.

Modern promotions are slicker that their 1970s, 1980s and 1990s counterparts – and bigger and brasher too. Never mind spending as little money as possible in order to maximise the upside (as used to be the case), in today’s world of social media and selling TV rights around the world the art of marketing is king.

And one of the watchwords is the quality of the bills. I’ve taken an active interest in the last three or four Eddie Hearn televised promotions and a common denominator is the simple but commercially-attractive one that, on the face of it, every bout on the bill is a genuine contest.

I should stress here that I certainly hold no brief for Hearn, but it seems to me that his attitude is “I’ll pay top money for genuinely exciting fighters who are prepared to avoid taking easy fights and instead put themselves under pressure by accepting bouts with similar ambitious up-and-coming pugs on (if you like) a ‘winner takes all’ basis”.

In short, he’s offering good money to put on genuine ’50:50’ (or perhaps ’60:40’) contests.

The boxers ‘get it’ because – in a relatively short space of time, if successful – they can make big money, enough maybe to put away a nice pile and retire to live in relative comfort after a career of maybe just four or five years, rather perhaps than a lesser stash after one of double that length. And – if you think or the rigours of the trade, a greater chance of having retained more of their marbles at the end.

Plus, of course, the punter also gets greater value for money.

As we did last night.

The boxing began shortly after 6.00pm and the main bout (and its aftermath) ended just after midnight. I dipped in and out until about 7.15pm but after that tuned in without a break.

There was only one clash that ended almost before it began – young light heavyweight prospect Joshua Buatsi took down his tough, well-conditioned older opponent Andrejs Pokumeiko inside a single round – but this was both totally unexpected and spectacular.

The loser was both much more experienced and keen to fight but overwhelmed in a flurry of exchanges.

Elsewhere the fare was excellent. Welterweight Conor Benn – son of the Dark Destroyer – had a hell of a task subduing the French/Belgian Crdrick Peynaud in a return match six months on. In the first the 21 year old Benn had survived two knockdowns over six rounds to gain a lucky verdict and this time certainly didn’t have it all his own way as he ground out a plucky points win over ten.

Next we had the Irish talismanic legend and double world champion lightweight Katie Taylor, who had the rafters rocking with acclaim as she stopped USA’s Kimberley Connor in three stanzas, before perhaps my choices for ‘best bouts of the evening’.

First up came English heavyweight Nick Webb versus Dave Allen in a British title eliminator.

Webb spent four rounds schooling his rock-hard opponent before the plucky Yorkshireman suddenly put his lights out in round five with a lightning-fast haymaker. In a delightful ringside interview afterwards the winner cheerily offered “I’ll never win a title, but what happened tonight is a life changer, literally …” It took his career record to about five wins, five losses.

It was revealed that both fighters had taken the bout at a weeks’ notice and both had come to give their all.

Next was an absolute classic, again at heavyweight – Derek Chisora versus the Frenchman Carlos Takam.

Chisora in a notorious fighter, mad as a box of frogs – and, as it happens, a bit like the French rugby team, you’re never certain which Chisora will turn up – the overweight clown with his mind seemingly elsewhere or the dynamic one who’s focused and teeters on the edge of world class.

Takam was a tough, musclebound operator – no fool, either. Both had losses to Anthony Joshua on their record and both were in the last chance saloon. Beforehand the pundits had Takam as a big favourite and he started fast, flailing away at Chisora, trapped in his own corner.

But Chisora – the best part of 19 stone – has also been in the gym and inside 2 minutes 30 seconds it had become an out-and-out, toe-to-toe, no quarter, slugfest.

It was mayhem from start to finish – and ended with a spectacular two-punch, two-knockdown, kayo victory to Chisora in the eighth round. How it lasted that long I shall never know.

An early candidate for ‘Fight of the Year’, someone suggested in the post-fight analysis.

Fight of the Year? More like ‘Fight of The Decade’ if you ask me.

An excited and magnanimous Chisora gave a warm-hearted ringside interview afterwards and then, out of the blue, wandered over and joined the Sky Box Office punditry team as they picked over the entrails ten minutes after the bout, laughing and joking with David Haye and Tony Bellew.

Almost as big a character as he is a boxer. He’ll have another big payday in him, for sure.

The main (heavyweight) bout was another epic – Whyte seeing off Parker, the Kiwi ex-world champion who most recently succumbed to Joshua, over 12 action-packed rounds.

Parker seemed overawed and subdued for the middle rounds as Whyte built up a healthy lead but then – when all hope seemed lost and gone – Parker suddenly ‘went for it’ in Round 11 and rocked Whyte to his boots.

How Whyte survived the final second of the bout – he went to the canvas under a heavy shot, exhausted and out on his feet, with 34 seconds to go and somehow got up and stumbled around to survive and take the decision by four or five rounds – I shall never know.

More please – and soon!

About James Westacott

James Westacott, a former City investment banker, acquired his love of the Noble Art as a schoolboy in the 1970s. For many years he attended boxing events in and around London and more recently became a subscriber to the Box Nation satellite/cable channel. His all-time favourite boxer is Carlos Monzon. More Posts