Saturday Night's Main Event
Any card featuring Anthony AJ Joshua is no longer mere sporting event - now it is a cultural one. Anthony Joshua fights are spectacles of the highest order - last night’s super stacked card was no different. Promoter Eddie Hearn gave fight fans what they wanted - popular domestic fighters gave the chance to shine and by in large they did! Eddie and company have staked their claim that boxing at the highest level belongs to Britain and all roads lead to his fighters!
Working his way up the card is Joshua Buatsi, one of my favourite boxers to watch right now, in only his fifth fight last night, Buatsi has shown incredible ability and ring IQ well beyond his years. He does have to go through the gears however and coming off a sensational dogged TKO win last month over Jordan Joseph, Buatsi was paired with experienced Polish journeyman and Polish champion Bartlomiej Grafka.
Buatsi was surgical from the opening bell, accurate and crisp with his punches. He varied his attack from body to head landing hard left hooks to the body and head and two very well placed rear uppercuts that he forced Grafka to walk on. In particular, his piston jab impressed me which is among the best at 175 pounds already.
Grafka was quite crude and was off balance for many shots, his poor technique looking all the more pedestrian next to a young quality operator like Buatsi. One wonders if Buatsi will be fast-tracked like fellow amateur phenoms like Lomachenko or countryman Josh Kelly. There seems to be no reason to - Buatsi will need to be challenged a bit like he was against Joseph to see the absolute best he has on offer.
No surprises here; Buatsi improves to 5W-0L winning all six rounds on the referee’s card.
Million Dollar Baby
Popular Manchester-based fighter Anthony Million Dolla Crolla is a man on the way back clawing to retain his position as a top domestic draw and hang at the elite level of a stacked Lightweight division.
Nearly three years after winning the WBA title knocking out Darleys Perez Crolla has struggled to keep a sure footing. After only one defence he was eaten alive by current WBA champ Jorge Linares twice and nicked a unanimous decision win in a lacklustre, underwhelming fight against rival Ricky Burns six months ago in October.
Crolla was matched with young and relatively inexperienced Edson Ramirez. The Mexico City-based fighter is 18W-3-1 (8 KOs) so was brought in to keep Crolla active and hopefully give him a much-needed win.
The story went off script when Crolla sustained a nasty gash in the third round that did not stop bleeding for the entire contest and the ref and doctors took a close look in the 7th round and Crolla appeared to be in danger of being stopped due to the cut.
Ultimately the third act of this feel-good story ended happily with Crolla winning by a landslide; 100-90, 100-91 and 98-92. Crolla improves to 33W-6L-3 and might be on a collision course with Coolhand Luke Campbell later this year.
Moving up the card, my pick for 2017 prospect of the year - the UK version of the Matrix Fighter The Pretty Boy Josh Kelly. Out of the Adam Booth stable, Kelly has been on a fast track to greatness since debuting less than one year ago.
Despite his relative inexperience at the pro level, Booth, Hearn and company have enough apparent confidence in the young man that he took a quantum leap in competition being matched with veteran and former IBF champion in a weight class above Kelly. Molina is known for a aggression and pressure and has gone life and death with Kermit Cintron, Ishe Smith and Erislandy Lara among others.
Here, in just his 6th professional fight Kelly dismantled Molina over 10 rounds - winning them all showing a patient adroit attack. Kelly has been a predator in these early few fights providing highlight reel KOs, in this fight, Adam Booth likely wanted to see maturity from Kelly, don’t hunt for the KO - which against a fighter like Molina likely will not come, instead, Kelly boxed beautifully in the trademark style of an Adam Booth fighter.
For his troubles, Kelly picked up the vacant WBA International Welterweight title and is climbing up the world rankings. Despite Keith Thurman sitting atop as the unified champion, Errol Spence and now Bud Crawford there is a ton of daylight between the very top 147 pounds and “everybody else,” meaning - Kelly has the chance to parachute into the top 20 or even top 15 by years end! David Avanesyan, Carlos Ocampo even the fading Brandon Rios are all realistic matches in my opinion ad could slingshot Kelly into a title shot over the next two years.
Hearn and Booth have placed a lot of faith in Kelly and faith have been rewarded with another sublime performance.
The Price is Wrong
We’ve cracked the main card, next up is a heavyweight bout with legit implications for Joshua’s next mandatory challenger.
If you’re like me, you rooted for big David Price. A decorated British boxer at the amateur level winning Bronze for his country in 2008 and one of the few people to give AJ fits in sparring, in fact, AJ freely admits to being knocked down by big Pricey.
David Price has had several shots at making a go at the elite level already and whether it is down to conditioning, motivation or simply lacking the killer instinct needed to make a mark his career stopped before it ever got started. That is until he came out of his brief year-long retirement to give it one more go. He sought out former fighter Derry Mathews as his new trainer also based in Liverpool and after winning a tune-up fight in December Price suddenly found himself in an eliminator fight against Anthony Joshua, a chance to finally fulfil his potential and by the way - earn life-changing money.
Across the ring - Alexander Povetkin, two-time drug cheat.
Povetkin has a wealth of experience at world class level even if those accomplishments come with an asterisk next to them. That said it was a fast and furious start. Price seemed to fall into his old form; passive and awkward as Povetkin let his hands go. Price had a momentary lapse in defence allowing Povetkin to land a clubbing left hook that sent the 6’8” giant down to the canvas in the 3rd round. Price fired back scoring a knockdown of his own in the 3rd with a counter left hook of his own.
Price seemed back in the fight, it didn’t last long unfortunately as Povetkin landed a looping right hook that caught Price on the temple scrambling the big scouser’s hard drive and for a moment Price dropped his hands - defenseless - Povetkin lined up a perfect gazelle punch - left hook ala Iron Mike and Big Pricey hit the deck forcing the stoppage in the 5th round.
With the win, Povetkin retained the WBO International Title & picked up the vacant WBA Intercontinental heavyweight title and is now the likely mandatory for Joshua’s WBA belt.
The good guys don’t always win folks, I wish Big Pricey the best.
From the heavyweights, we move back down to the Bantamweights - and a huge stage for Ryan Burnett! The lovable kid from Belfast Northern Ireland defended his WBA title he won off of Double ZZ Zhanat Zhakiyanov last October in a bell to bell slugfest.
His challenger was the Venezuelan, Yonfrez Parejo. It was an even matchup on paper with both men at or near 20 professional bouts.
In spite of that Burnett showed his class easily outboxing Parejo over the 12 round distance and doing so with essentially just one hand!
Trainer Adam Booth revealed in a post-fight interview that Burnett thought he broke his hand in the 3rd round though he didn’t start to complain until the after the 5th while sitting in the corner. A trademark of the Booth fighter seems to be a mental flexibility, never over-committing to one game plan should it fail. A one-armed Burnett cruised to a wide points win with the final scores of - 120-108 (twice) & 116-112.
That’s fair enough, Burnett will heal up that hand and be ready for the next instalment of the World Boxing Super Series: Bantamweights. The tournament is heavily rumoured to begin in September and Burnett has to be considered the #1 seed. The other top seeds would likely be countryman and WBA (regular) champion Jamie McDonnell. However, McDonnell himself has a difficult defence ahead of him in late May when he travels to Japan to face the Monster Naoya Inoue.The long-reigning WBO Superfly champion gets a crack at McDonnell in his first fight at 122. Also waiting in the wings for Burnett is Zolani Tete who was thought to be less than in comparison to either Burnett or McDonnell but delivered a shocking 11 second KO of Siboniso Goya last November in defence of his WBO title.
Burnett fights like a hungry kid who takes nothing for granted, his performance on arguably the biggest stage of his career yet - chief support to a heavyweight unification bout - fighting three quarters of the bout essentially one-handed - one has recognized the heart and quality of Burnett - even if it appears he has to do it the hard way every time.
Now finally, the Main Event.
For the first time on British soil - a heavyweight unification fight with two undefeated boxers.
The pride of New Zealand Joseph Parker vs. the cultural phenomenon that is Anthony AJ Joshua.
I had gotten a lot of flack over social media for saying that it would be a stayed and protracted affair - that these two heavyweights would go the distance, however, Joshua would win decisively.
Thanks to Mike Tyson, whom I’ve mentioned once already above, the expectation is that boxing matches should end with a knockout - particularly heavyweight fights - and certainly any fight with Anthony Joshua!
The fact is at the elite level when two evenly matched fighters lock horns KOs are few and far between and in general hardcore fans of the sport don’t mind either. They are more than happy to let the story of two skilled fighters play out over 10, 12 or in the old days 15 rounds.
While we are on the subject of Mike Tyson though, consider this: when Iron Mike stopped Trevor Berbick to win the WBC Heavyweight title nearly 32 years ago Tyson had already fought 27 bouts, most of those wins against the very limited opposition - James Tillis is probably his best win in those 27 fights.
Tyson did unify the WBA & WBC belts with his very next fight against Bonecrusher Smith - a fairly lacklustre bout that went the distance. After resuming his KO streak by stopping Pinklon Thomas Tyson took on his first undefeated challenger - Tony Tucker. Again, another fight that was well hyped, most people believed Tyson would blow out Tucker because that’s what fans had been conditioned to expect.
That fight also went the distance and underwhelmed fans.
Anthony Joshua became IBF champion in just his 16th fight (say what you will about Charles Martin). He defeated the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world - Wladimir Klitschko in his 19th fight and claimed two more vacant titles along the way.
Now, in his 21st contest, Joshua is taking on a fellow undefeated fighter for yet another title in about 10 fewer fights than Iron Mike himself - not bad.
With that out of the way, yes - Joshua vs. Parker failed to live up to expectations for some. However, I and many, many others were impressed by the cool, calm and collected version of AJ that showed up on the night.
Using his height and reach advantage, AJ worked behind the jab and coming in a stone lighter than his last fight was mobile and never seemed to slow or become weary of the pace he fought at. He boxed comfortably controlling the range for nearly all 12 rounds.
Parker for his part asserted himself in the first round behind his own jab that flicked out furiously but never hit more than air as he suffered from the 6” reach advantage that AJ had over him.
As the fight wore on I predicted that down on the scorecards, Parker would be forced to risk more, he’d have to get inside and muck things up with AJ. He was not able to follow through on that strategy of his own accord lacking the experience to varying up his attack, he did not double or triple up his jab to close the distance and attacked largely in straight lines only, making it a breeze for AJ to half-step away and to the side. Parker’s efforts were not aided by “veteran” ref Giuseppe Quartarone, who gave the appearance of favouritism to AJ by separating the two men nearly every time they became even slightly entangled regardless if they had one hand free to punch or not.
If only Kovalev had Quartarone as the 3rd man in the ring against Andre Ward right?
Parker’s team did lament the referee, however, did acknowledge they were thoroughly outboxed. I initially thought he scores were wide the first time I watched the fight, upon a second viewing I struggled to give Parker more than four rounds.
I predicted a unanimous decision win for AJ in his first trip to 12 rounds and the scores were justifiably wide - 118-110 (twice) 119-109.
The clearest take away from the Joshua-Parker fight is the considerable growth in AJ as a professional fighter, with his last two bouts he has learned an immense amount about the game and his own character further driving a resolve and confidence that was on full display against Takam and particularly against Parker.
Up to a certain level, a fighter can build excitement - build a brand knocking opponents out - any career with sustainability and longevity will require a fighter to grow, adapt and show versatility.
That is precisely what Joshua did. He won with ease and efficiency showing yet another wrinkle to his development as a fighter.
The buzz now is Wilder has nothing to fear from that performance - I strongly disagree. With two times the professional fights it is Wilder who demonstrated less craft, less ability to adapt and though his performance against Oritz in defence of his WBC title was exciting and gutsy 40 fights into a pro career is a bit late to still be in a learning process.
The real question is how will Joshua deal with the emotional side of a potential fight with Wilder since Deontay has a knack for bringing out the worst in his opponents, shrewdly forcing them to expel valuable energy before big fights, not that AJ will be intimidated, but we’d be a fool to think Wilder won’t get under his skin.
The Joshua-Parker super fight is in the books, we continue to see rising UK stars take centre stage in boxing in 2018 picking up from where they left off last year with tempo.
It’s been more than 100 years since the British Isles united to invade the US, this time there is a real chance of the Brits taking over the boxing scene all over the world as well.
And for Eddie Hearn, it seems the sun will never set on his empire.