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British Boxing 2019 in Review

Matt McGrain

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2018 was an astonishing year for British boxing and for all that 2019 didn’t quite measure up, there were some notable names and some astonishing moments, not to mention some astonishing fights.

Here we take a closer look, naming a British Boxer of the Year, a British Fight of the Year, the British Prospect of the Year, the British Breakthrough of the Year and finally the British Trainer of the Year.

This one is in the bag; I’ll see you this time next year for another yearly appraisal.

British Boxer of the Year: Josh Taylor

A lot has been said about the terrible emotional turmoil inflicted upon Josh Taylor in this past year, which should have been the best year of his life. Suffering a death in the family makes going to work in an office extremely difficult, so we can, some of us, imagine the terrible difficulty in putting your health on the line in one of the most emotionally wrought professions a person can chose. But set that aside. Strictly in sporting terms, Taylor has a head a year for the ages.

Set aside, too, just for a moment, his October meeting with Regis Prograis and look instead to his May clash with Ivan Baranchyk. Baranchyk was and remains absolutely real, a light-welterweight of prestigious strength and formidable durability. His 2018 walkdown of Anthony Yigit was painful to watch and saw Baranchyk ensconced in the top ten. This was the man Taylor had to overcome in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series.

He did so, and in doing so he fitted the last piece of the puzzle in his stylistic jigsaw, repeatedly slipping and ducking Baranchyk’s wild hooks, hooks he threw with both hands as he aggressively pursued a Josh Taylor that seemed happier on his toes than at any point in his career. It was a demonstration of stylistic flexibility unlike any seen on these shores for a number of years.

In the fourth, Taylor started to come down, to meet his more aggressive foe in the pocket. He was dominant here too, his more varied offense crowned with two-handed uppercuts and a sneaky trailing left from the southpaw stance.

Hit and hurt in the fifth he went to war in the sixth and twice dropped Baranchyk, who had never been down much less beaten in his 19-0 career. This was the round that determined his wide points victory.

Still, Prograis was something else again. Skilled, quick-witted and seemingly faster than Taylor he was a genuinely menacing opponent and at 24-0 was also more experienced. Expectations were that Prograis would box and move and that Taylor would have to assume the Baranchyk role in trying to hunt a more mobile fighter down and take it away from him. When Prograis elected to hold his ground, the result was a fight of the year contender and the result, a narrow decision victory for the Scotsman, made him the only reasonable choice for British fighter of the year.

It also saw him crack the TBRB pound-for-pound list at number ten.

So, Taylor had a hard year but a good one. It ended though, on a sour note. Scotland is not an easy place to be famous and Scottish blood runs hot come the weekend. In December, Taylor appeared in court having been involved in an altercation with a nightclub bouncer in the early hours of a Sunday morning during which he threw homophobic and racial insults. He pleaded guilty to the latter of these while charges relating to possession of cocaine were dropped.

If 2020 is to be as outstanding for Taylor as 2019 was, changes need to be made.

British Fight of the Year: Lewis Ritson UD12 Robbie Davies

Nowhere in the UK does big time sport quite like Newcastle. As a Scotsman, that’s not easy to admit and while I’d argue Glasgow a close second, Newcastle remains number one.

Lewis Ritson (20-1) is that city’s favorite fighting son and Robbie Davies (19-1) showed guts even agreeing to make the match there. What followed was as fine a demonstration of heart and intestinal fortitude as was seen in Britain this past year.

Brutal exchanges in the first foretold a knockout, but it was not to be. Despite Davies switch hitting impressively and scoring with either trailing hand, Ritson came roaring back in the final minute; they re-joined in the second and fought as though tethered. Ritson, ostensibly the puncher in the fight, couldn’t hit hard enough to get Davies off him. The referee was a mere spectator – clinches were as rare as retreat.

Both men were exhausted by the sixth but had gone to that strange place boxers visit when they know if they don’t hit, they’ll get hit. Every truly great fight of any length sees the combatants visit that netherworld, I think, and the man who copes with it better emerges triumphant.

And that man was Riston. This fight was, perhaps, a little too wide to be immortal, Ritson winning by valid scores of 117-112 and 116-112 twice (my score), but the twelfth round gives pause for thought.  Davies strength of character in coming back over and over again from Ritson bombs in this round was the highlight of both the fight and the British boxing year.

British Breakthrough of the Year: John Ryder

John Ryder (28-5) traveled out to Las Vegas in May and blasted out the unranked Australian puncher Bilal Akkawy in three. This put him in line for a shot at the world’s number one super-middleweight Callum Smith. This was awkward for Smith, who believed he was ready for box office. Ryder wasn’t that. He was, on paper, merely a solid contender, and with a 5’9 frame and 72” inch reach, probably a middleweight one. Smith, at 6’2, 78”, could perhaps be forgiven for taking the fight a little lightly.

If he did, it was in error.

Ryder slipped Smith’s very first jab beautifully. He then nicked a desperately close round on generalship. His plan, to wait, wait and wait, then punch his way in and aggressively smother Smith on the ropes with busy hands, resulted in a fight that was, although not electric, poised, absorbing and fascinating.

Again and again Smith seemed to find the range but again and again Ryder, using a deep stance but bracing his weight across alternate legs depending upon Smith’s position, continued to upset his rhythm and his work with rushing, mauling attacks. It was comical at first to see the little man bury himself on Smith and whale away but by the fourth it was clear that Smith was in a fight.

After eight they looked dead level and when Ryder crashed out of his corner in his tenth and eleventh the fight seemed in the balance. With a torrid twelfth too close to call any one of three results seemed possible.

With so many close rounds – and the first, second, fifth, eighth, tenth and twelfth were all desperately close – it is always possible that the official scorecards will seem unsatisfying and this was such an occasion. 116-112 twice and 117-111 seemed off. I had it a draw – many had Ryder the winner.

The reaction to this result was fascinating. Sympathy for Ryder was almost universal and it is interesting to me that the TBRB, Boxing Monthly and Boxing News all continue to rank Ryder among their top ten in the division. Even more unlikely, Eddy Reynoso, who coaches Canelo Alvarez, has mentioned Ryder as a possible future opponent. He made an impression in defeat that many fail to make in victory.

Ryder lost the only truly meaningful fight he boxed in 2019 but he’s the breakout star from the UK with some massive fights a possibility in his future, not least a possible rematch with Smith.

British Prospect for 2020: Daniel Azeez

Daniel Azeez (11-0) had a busy 2019, boxing thirty rounds across five different fights, all victories, four of them by knockout. But it is another number which makes Azeez my British prospect to watch for the coming twelve months and that number is “30”, his age.

Azeez took up boxing as an amateur late and after a respectable if unglamorous unpaid career, turned professional in 2017. A light-heavyweight, he’s not in a desperate hurry, but his apprenticeship should be truncated given his years.

As to that inglorious amateur career, Azeez is sure his style is more suited to the paid ranks.  This is a bell often rung by amateurs who met with limited success, but Azeez is a little more specific than most, picking perhaps the most “professional” fighter of all as the one his style most echoes, Marvin Hagler.

Azeez is built a little like the great middleweight, defined but with a certain litheness, and he favors the same attire for the ring: old-school ring-robe, knee-high socks, even the maroon colored trunks Marvin favored.

As to his style, there are some similarities. Azeez stepped up this past June against the stoic Charlie Duffield, who he did away with in six. What most impressed me about this performance was the steady manner in which Azeez broke his man down. He started off confidently, no small matter given that he was on the undercard of the Dillian Whyte-Oscar Rivas pay-per-view card, and by the fifth was exhibiting total dominance. That speaks of a layered offence rather than athletic superiority, though he enjoyed aspects of that too.

What made Hagler a genius was economy; he wasted almost nothing and that is perhaps the hardest skill to master in the ring because it combines so many elements of other skills and abilities. Azeez has the beginning of excellent timing in the ring and if he displays one third of what Hagler had in that department he has the makings of a very good fighter.

azeez

In the plus column: his uppercuts are already wonderful, he has two very different right hands, one short, one over the top and both of them are very good punches; his jab is hurtful; he has footwork and balance of a much more seasoned fighter and sudden attacks don’t seem to compromise it.

In the minus column: he doesn’t use his jab nearly enough, though his use of upper-body feints mitigate that somewhat from a defensive perspective; his chin, of course, is unknown; I’m interested to see how he does against top drawer hookers; he’s in a very tough division.

It all adds up to very interesting and with an English title under his belt courtesy of his clear points victory over the awkward 9-0-1 Lawrence Osueke earlier this month and the man himself hinting at a shot at the British title in 2020, it is likely to become more so in this coming year.

British Trainer of the Year: Robert McCracken

Yes, that Robert McCracken, the one that oversaw Anthony Joshua’s disastrous knockout loss to Andy Ruiz before, admittedly, overseeing a victory in the return – the Rob McCracken everyone thought Anthony Joshua should have fired. The truth is that no British trainer has moved me to any great extent in 2019 so I am taking the opportunity to pay tribute here to McCracken’s wider work.

As the performance director at the English Institute of Sport, McCracken has worked at some point with not one, not two, but all six of the current British fighters to hold an alphabet title. Alphabet titles are murdering boxing, but getting one isn’t easy. So, it is worth noting that while he may not have worked directly this year with the likes of Callum Smith or Kal Yafai, he had a hand in the development of each and every one of them as well as any number of decorated amateurs.

And with 2020 being another Olympic year, he may just get the nod again in twelve months’ time.

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Tyson and Jones Box to an Unofficial Draw in a Predictable Stinker

Arne K. Lang

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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an American institution, went belly-up in 2017, but a different kind of circus played to an empty house at the Staples Center in Los Angeles tonight. The main attraction wasn’t Jumbo the elephant but Iron Mike Tyson in his first ring appearance in 15 years. In the opposite corner was Roy Jones Jr, who at age 51 was the younger man by three years.

Tyson vs. Jones was the main piece of a 4-hour boxing and music festival live-streamed in the U.S. on the TysononTriller.com app at a list price of $49.95. This was the first live event on “Triller” which allows people to create their own music videos and was designed as a rival to China-owned TikTok, one of the biggest recent success stories in the internet world.

The California State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the match, insisted that Tyson vs. Jones would be an exhibition. They would fight 8 two-minute rounds with 12-ounce gloves and if there were a knockdown, the referee would not give a count and the bout would or would not continue at his discretion. The rounds would not be scored and no winner would be named.

Of course, the promoter chafed at these restraints and did his best to create the impression that this was a legitimate prizefight. Retired boxers Vinny Pazienza, Chad Dawson, and Christy Martin were lassoed to serve as judges, scoring the fight from a remote location, and the WBC commissioned an honorary belt to present to the winner.

The advance hype was enormous. A clickbait-obsessed media lapped it up including photoshop-enhanced images of Mike Tyson’s physique.

In the second round, Tyson landed a double left hook and that was the only indelible moment in the match. By the third round, both looked and sounded tired and by the sixth round Jones was thoroughly gassed out and took to clinching to make it to the final bell.

For the record, the scores were 79-73 for Tyson (Martin), 80-76 for Jones (Pazienza), and 76-76 (Dawson). On the internet, the clear consensus was that Tyson had the best of it.

Mike Tyson, 50-6, 2 NC (44 KOs) last fought in June of 2005 when he was stopped by third-rater Kevin McBride. Roy Jones (66-9, 47 KOs) was active as recently as 2018 and won his last four, but against hand-picked opponents including a boxer making his pro debut. His last fight of significance came in 2011 when he was brutally KOed by Dennis Lebedev in Moscow.

Jones, who weighed 210 ½ tonight, weighed 157 when he made his pro debut in 1989. In his prime, he was pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world, but that was back in the previous century.

Both fighters were reportedly guaranteed $1 million with Tyson’s take potentially reaching $10 million if certain financial targets were met.

Other Bouts

YouTube sensation Jake Paul, who we reluctantly concede has more than a modicum of talent in the fisticuffing department, knocked out Nate Robinson in the second round and it was a clean knockout with Robinson knocked out cold. The 36-year-old Robinson, the former NBA point guard who was a three-time slam dunk champion during his 11-year NBA career, is a well-rounded athlete, good enough to start as a cornerback in football during his freshman year at the University of Washington, but his athleticism didn’t translate to the squared circle as he looked like a common bar brawler.

Former two-division belt-holder Badou Jack (22-3-4), who said he appeared on the card as a favor to his friend Mike Tyson, was a clear-cut winner over hard-trying but out-classed Blake McKernan in an 8-round cruiserweight match.

At age 37, Jack’s career is winding down. He tipped the scales at 188 ¾, 14 pounds more than in his previous engagement vs. Jean Pascal. McKernan, a natural cruiserweight from Sacramento, was undefeated coming in (13-0), but was in over his head against Jack, a former Olympian and veteran of seven world title fights.

In a good action fight, Worcester, Massachusetts lightweight Jamaine Ortiz, a carpenter by trade, improved to 14-0 (8) with a seventh-round stoppage of Sulaiman Segawa (13-3-1), a Maryland-based Ugandan.

In the first bout on the program, Fort Worth featherweight Edward Vazquez improved to 9-0 (1) with an 8-round split decision over Jamaine Ortiz stablemate Irvin Gonzalez (14-3).

Heavyweight Juiseppe “Joe” Cusumano improved to 19-3 (17) with a sixth-round stoppage of late sub Gregory Corbin (15-4). It was the fourth straight loss for the 40-year-old Corbin who came in at a beefy 291 ¾ pounds.

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Fast Results from London: Joe Joyce Stops Daniel Dubois in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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The historic Church House which sits in the shadow of Westminster Abbey was the site of tonight’s clash in London between unbeaten heavyweights Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce. The bout lacked the gloss of a world title fight, but didn’t need it. The oft-postponed match, originally slated for the 02 Arena in London on April 11 with promoter Frank Warren anticipating a sellout, was fairly hyped as the most anticipated fight since Fury-Wilder II which was the last big fight before the coronavirus clampdown.

Dubois, 15-0 with 14 KOs heading in, was a consensus 7/2 favorite in man-to-man betting, He was younger, faster and punched harder, but ultimately it would be his “O” that had to go. Joe Joyce, an inch taller at six-foot-six and 15 pounds heavier at 259, emerged victorious with a 10th-round stoppage in what was a good back-and-forth fight with a divided opinion as to who had the edge through the completed rounds.

Joyce really didn’t do much but throw a jab, but he landed that jab consistently and it was a hard, thudding jab that caused Dubois’s left eye to start swelling during the mid-rounds of the fight. The damaged eye eventually shut and when Joyce reached it with another hard jab in the 10th, Dubois surrendered by taking a knee. The presumption was that he had suffered a broken orbital bone.

The 35-year-old Joyce, nicknamed Juggernaut, is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. He lost by split decision to Tony Yoka in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympics and had to settle for a silver medal. Prior to turning pro, he was 12-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing with his lone defeat coming at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk. With today’s career-defining win, he upped his pro ledger to 12-0 (11).

Other Bouts

Top-rated WBC super lightweight contender Jack Catterall (26-0) won a predictably one-sided 10-round triumph over 33-year-old Tunisian Abderrazak Houya (14-3). Catterall scored two knockdowns en route to winning by a 99-90 score. This was a stay-busy fight for the Lancashire man who was the mandatory challenger for title-holder Jose Carlos Ramirez and accepted step-aside money with the promise that he would meet the winner of the unification fight between Ramirez and Josh Taylor which is expected to come off in February.

The lead-in fight was a 10-round contest in the super welterweight division between 21-year-old Hamzah Sheeraz and 33-year-old Guido Nicolas Pitto. The fight was monotonous until Sheeraz (12-0, 8 KOs) kicked it into a higher career in the final stanza and brought about the stoppage. Pitto, from Spain by way of Argentina, declined to 26-8-2. The official time was 1:11 of round 10.

In an 8-round cruiserweight bout, Jack Massey improved to 17-1 (8) with a 79-74 referee’s decision over Mohammad Ali Farid (16-2-1). Massey was making his first start since losing a close 12-round decision to Richard Raikporhe in December of 2019 for the vacant BBBofC title. The well-traveled, one-dimensional Farid had scored 16 knockouts in his previous 18 fights while answering the bell for only 33 rounds.

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Daniel Jacobs Edges Past Gabe Rosado on a Matchroom card in Florida

David A. Avila

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Former world champion Daniel Jacobs needed the last round to win by split decision against upset-minded Gabe Rosado and keep his place in line on Friday for lucrative super middleweight matchups.

But when the ring announcer erroneously announced the winner was from Philadelphia, confusion reigned for a moment until Jacobs was correctly called the winner.

Brooklyn’s Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) jumped out ahead against Philly fighter Rosado (25-13-1, 14 KOs) and held on for the win in front of no fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. For a second, many thought Rosado had won.

Both were careful during the first three rounds measuring each other’s distance and looking for openings to counter. There were very few.

It was the kind of fight expected by those who know boxing: two veterans with immense experience against top-flight world champions. Mistakes were few.

Jacobs, a former middleweight world champion, had fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in close but losing efforts.

Rosado had battled Golovkin too, six years ago in a bloody affair that ended in a loss. He had also lost to other champions like Peter Quillin and Jermell Charlo. But none were able to knock him out.

Both were aware of each other’s reputation. Bitter words had been exchanged for years and now they finally got their chance to prove their mettle and they did.

Though Jacobs was recognized as a knockout puncher, Rosado’s resilience was just as well known. Both neutralized each other for most of the fight with their feints and jabs to the body. Neither was willing to leave openings for each other.

Jacobs scored big with a left uppercut at the end of the seventh round. While Rosado wowed viewers with a sizzling right cross in the 11th round.

It was 1950s style, boxing with intelligence. Each found it difficult to land combinations, let alone find openings to score knockout blows. Instead, they had to be satisfied with scoring enough to convince three judges the actual winner.

Neither was able to pull out ahead with any conviction.

After 12 rounds one judge saw Rosado the winner 115-113 while two others saw Jacobs the winner 115-113 to give him the win by split decision.

“It felt just a little weird. It felt like a sparring match,” said Jacobs about fighting without fans in the audience. “This wasn’t a valiant effort.”

Rosado was certain he was the true winner.

“I thought I won the fight. I surprised him,” said Rosado who trained with Freddie Roach for this fight. “I’m a veteran, I know how to fight.”

Indeed, he does.

Jacobs now stands poised to fight one of many super middleweight champions in need of a marquee name.

“I live to see another day,” he said honestly.

Other Bouts

Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs) proved he was not an easy touch and knocked out former world champion Julius Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) to march forward in the welterweight division while grabbing the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title.

In a fight featuring southpaw versus southpaw Yeleussinov caught Indongo with a roundhouse left the first time they exchanged and down went the former super lightweight world champion. Indongo beat the count and survived the round.

Indongo wasn’t as lucky in the second round as Yeleussinov again connected with a left and down went the fighter from Namibia again. He would not get up at 1:24 of round two giving the knockout win for Yeleussinov.

A battle between undefeated heavyweights saw Azerbaijan’s Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3 KOs) use roundhouse rights to stagger the heavier Sahret Delgado (8-1) to win by knockout in the third round. Majidov actually helped Delgado get to his stool after knocking him out on his feet at 47 seconds of the third round.

Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1) defeated Mason Menard (36-5) by majority decision after a 10- round lightweight fight that saw a lot of clinching and leaning.

Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy (10-0) out-fought Detroit’s Brandon Maddox (7-4-1) to win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Ababiy hurt Maddox with body shots but found Maddox more resilient than expected.

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Terence Crawford TKOs Kell Brook; Franco-Moloney II Ends in Controversy

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