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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 33: After the Storm Comes the Deluge of Fights

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After days of rainfall pummeling the coasts of California now it’s boxing’s turn to take a few swings of its own.

In three days five fully loaded fight cards take place mostly in Southern California with the Sunday punch erupting in Northern California. Those who love boxing may never be the same again with Gervonta Davis, Alberto Machado and Jose Carlos Ramirez coming through the pike.

From small promotion powerhouses like Thompson Boxing Promotions to older established mega monster outfits like Top Rank, fans in the Golden State will be able to watch world title fights, classic clashes and good old fashion club fights from Friday to Sunday on television, streaming or in person.

Let’s begin the tour.

Thompson Boxing

On Friday, Feb. 8, Thompson Boxing brings its usual impressive array of prospects to the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, Calif. The boxing company that introduced Timothy Bradley, Josesito Lopez, current world champion Danny Roman and many others will be showcasing several new prospects.

Over the years matchmaker Alex Camponovo has shown a keen eye in picking prospects from the pile. Who will emerge as its next star?

Bantamweights clash in the main event with Mario Hernandez (8-0-1, 3 KOs) facing Luis Saavedra (7-6, 3 KOs) in an eight round contest. Several other solid matchups are planned. Doors open at 7 p.m. and action starts at 8 p.m. For tickets and information call (714) 935-0900. The fight card can also be seen via stream on Thompson Boxing Promotions page on Facebook. Commentating for the first time will be Doug Fischer who replaces Steve Kim. Remaining as a lead commentator is Beto Duran.

Golden Boy

On Saturday Feb. 9, Golden Boy Promotions presents possibly its best boxing card in years though many may not see it that way. Top to bottom the lineup led by WBA super featherweight titlist Alberto “Explosivo” Machado (21-0, 17 KOs) defending against Andrew Cancio (19-4-2, 14 KOs) promises to be riveting at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

And it should be. All of the cards will be streamed by DAZN and it’s in a battle for boxing relevancy with Showtime, Fox and ESPN. Nothing less than excellence will ensure its survival.

Facing Machado (pictured on the left) will be Blythe, California’ s Cancio who’s known for giving any aspiring superstar a run for their money. Many a title challenger has been toppled by Cancio who is like an NFL safety making a shoestring tackle on a running back heading for daylight. If you don’t have the goods Cancio will let you know.

“I know he hits hard but he’s been put down too,” said Cancio. “We’re going to see what he can take because after I feel him out we will see what happens. I’ve fought guys that hit hard before like Rene Alvarado and Dardan (Zenunaj).”

It was the fight against Zenunaj that caught the attention of fans as the two super featherweights put on a performance that many claim was the true “Fight of the Year.” It caught many by surprise at the ferocity both fighters showed that summer night last August.

Zenunaj is another fighter that should be brought back but that’s a topic for another time. Hopefully we see Zenunaj again.

On Saturday, Cancio expects Puerto Rico’s Machado to come out blasting.

“He likes to start fast and see if you can take it,” said Cancio. “I’m ready and thankful for this chance at a title.”

Another world title fight matches WBC super bantamweight Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) a tall, long and angular fighter from Mexico City who has made three world title defenses since snatching it away from Britain’s Gavin McDonnell in England two years ago.

Venezuela’s Franklin Manzanilla (18-4, 17 KOs) gets his crack at Vargas and has that hunger you can’t teach.

“He’s a really good kid and works hard,” said trainer James Gogue who works with Manzanilla in Colombia. “There are a lot of hungry fighters in Colombia who want their chance.”

Manzanilla is making his first visit to the USA and says his family and friends in Colombia and Venezuela are ecstatic about his opportunity.

“I know Vargas is a very good champion and I’m just happy for this opportunity to fight him,” said Manzanilla who is almost as tall as Vargas. “I’m very prepared for this fight.”

A third marquee fight features featherweight title contender Jojo Diaz (27-1, 14 KOs) facing local legend Charles Huerta (20-5, 12 KOs) in a fight set at 130 pounds instead of 126. Could the difference in weight make a difference?

Huerta, now 32, has a vast amount of experience that he can unfurl on any fighter regardless of talent. One major question mark is rust. He suffered an Achilles Heel injury and was inactive for more than a year. But he’s one of the most intelligent fighters in boxing crazy Southern California and can topple anybody on any day.

 

“We’ve sparred before,” said Huerta, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “We know each other very well. I like these kind of fights that mean something.”

Back in the 1980s this type of fight between Southern California hotshots would have sold out the Olympic Auditorium. Expect fans of both fighters to travel 100 miles to see this fight at Fantasy Springs Casino.

Huerta and Diaz are not the only Southern California rival fight. A pair of lightweights are set to clash with San Diego’s undefeated Genaro Gamez (8-0) meeting L.A.’s Ivan Delgado (13-1-2) in an eight round contest. I guarantee this fight will light it up.

Five other bouts are scheduled including Armenian warriors Ferdinand Kerobyan and Azat Hovhannisyan in separate bouts. Plus, Durango’s Oscar Duarte and Coachella’s Rommel Caballero in two other separate bouts. Middleweight contender Tureano Johnson is also scheduled to fight on the ultra-stacked boxing card.

It’s absolutely the best boxing card Golden Boy has staged in years from top to bottom. If you can’t make it to Indio you can view the boxing card via DAZN.com.

PBC

WBA super featherweight southpaw slugger Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) defends his world title against last-minute replacement Hugo Ruiz (39-4, 33 KOs) on Saturday Feb. 9, at the Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center) in Carson, Calif.

Davis was slated to face Abner Mares in a top notch matchup but an eye injury forced a cancellation. Now, Ruiz, fought last month in Las Vegas and won by decision against Alberto Guevara, is the replacement opponent for the mighty Davis. It’s just one of those quirks of fate that happens in boxing.

“All I know is that he is fast, he has some speed. It looked like he has some power and good timing,” said Davis about Ruiz. “I actually think that this is not a walk in the park, like people think.”

Ruiz knows what to expect.

“I think this is going to be an explosive fight. We’re both known for our knockouts and this is a fight that can end at any moment. It’s going to be by a knockout,” said Ruiz of Mexico.

Another fighter to watch is Mario Barrios.

The undefeated Barrios (22-0, 14 KOs) meets Mexico’s Ricardo Zamora (19-2, 12 KOs) in a 10 round super lightweight clash. It’s another step-up fight for the 23-year-old from San Antonio, Texas. Last summer, Barrios clipped Jose Roman in a similar battle for legitimacy as a contender.

“This is going to be one of my toughest fights but I put in all the hard work in camp and I’m going into Saturday night with no doubts,” said Barrios who trained with Virgil Hunter in the Oakland, Calif. area for this fight. “I was getting great work, sparring with Devin Haney. We got about two or three weeks of great work just going at it. That was tremendous experience just keeping up with him. He’s a very explosive fighter and ahead of the curve for his age. I finished off camp sparring with Amir Khan, who is getting ready for his Terrence Crawford fight.”

Showtime will televise the main card and the undercard fights can be seen on the Showtime page on YouTube.com

Roy Englebrecht Events

Super bantamweights Humberto Rubalcava (9-0) and Jonathan Torres (8-6-1) clash in the main event on Saturday Feb. 9, at Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. The fight card is promoted by Englebrecht Events and features several local fighters.

Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information call (949) 760-3131.

Top Rank

Because of the Saturday afternoon crush of fights Top Rank pushed its boxing card to Sunday afternoon where the sports calendar is free especially now with NFL football finished.

“That’s the beauty of working with ESPN,” said Bob Arum of Top Rank. “We can have a Sunday show and not have to deal with other competition.”

WBC super lightweight titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs) defends against Jose Zepeda (30-1, 25 KOs) in the main event at Save Mart Arena in Fresno, Calif. ESPN will televise.

Ramirez, 26, is making his second defense of the world title since winning it nearly a year ago in March 2018 against Amir Imam. His last fight was a firefight against Antonio Orozco that ended in a unanimous decision win. But for 12 rounds the two fired relentlessly nonstop. It was a riveting performance and considered one of the top fights of 2018.

“Yes it was a pretty good fight for the fans and I give all respect to Antonio Orozco, but this is what I love to do,” said Ramirez while in L.A. recently. “I want to unify the world titles and this is the first step toward doing that.”

Ramirez also has dedicated his fight toward the war against cancer and will be donating part of his boxing wardrobe for an auction. The proceeds will go toward the local Community Cancer outreach.

Zepeda, 29, is a southpaw knockout puncher who has been around the Southern California fight scene for a while. He always presents a danger.

“I can’t underestimate Zepeda especially because he’s a lefty,” said Ramirez who trains with Robert Garcia in Riverside, Calif.

Also on the fight card is former champion Ray Beltran (35-8-1) who meets Japan’s Hiroki Okada (19-0) in a super lightweight contest in the semi-main event.

“It’s more of a challenge at 140,” said Beltran the former lightweight world titlist at 135 pound lightweight division. “It’s about that time in my life for another challenge.”

Saul Rodriguez, the super featherweight prospect out of Riverside, has his second fight under the Top Rank banner since returning. His next foe is a Brazilian knockout artist named Aelio Mesquita.

Rodriguez (22-0-1, 16 KOs) meets Mesquita (17-3, 15 KOs) in a 10 round contest at the lightweight limit. Both are hard-hitting fighters with speed. Mesquita has faced Shakur Stevenson and was stopped in two rounds. It’s an important test for Rodriguez who was among the top prospects before signing with Mayweather Promotions more than two years ago. But an inability to place Rodriguez in marquee fights forced the California fighter to return to Top Rank. Now he’s poised to break into contender status. This is step number two for Rodriguez.

ESPN will televise some of the fights and ESPN+ will stream the other fights on the streaming service. First streamed bout begins at 1 p.m. PT.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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