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The Top Ten Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

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The Top Ten Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Bantamweight has not yielded a legitimate, lineal champion since Bernardo Piñango became too big for the division in the late eighties.  This is a division of fractured titles, championship silos, promotional business decisions often related to title shots higher up the food chain.  Such is the water in which we are forced to swim and if you didn’t love boxing, you’d hate it.

Unsurprisingly then, there is little purchase for many of the men on this list; their placements could happily be reversed, there is confusion all the way into the top two.  This one was tough.

Happily, numbers one and two all but select themselves despite the different paths through the bantamweight mess those two countrymen struck.  Summitting back to back they summit here, too, in my analysis of the bantamweight decade, which may have been tricky but was always a pleasure.

Rankings are Ring Magazine up until the founding of the TBRB in late 2012, from which time their rankings are preferred.

10 – John Riel Casimero

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 15-4 Ranked For: 5% of the decade

There was a three-way shoot-out for the number ten spot contested between Zhanat Zhakiyanov, Rau’shee Warren and eventual winner John Riel Casimero.  Zhakiyanov and Warren each have an impressive win but a handful of losses; Casimero’s unbeaten record at the weight was preferred.

It helps that the win that carries him is arguably the finest of the three.  At the decade’s very end Casimero turned in an unexpected victory over top contender Zolani Tete in what may have been the most thrilling performance for the bantamweight decade.

Heavily favoured, Tete received Casimero in his adopted British homeland in expectations of another bantamweight victory in defence of his strap. Casimero had other ideas. He ceded ring centre, waited for Tete to square up over his jab then pounced. The relationship of Manny Pacquiao to Casimero is a promotional one but the lineage of his style is there to see. In the third, Casimero brought pressure and reduced his frame of movement from three hundred and sixty degrees to around a hundred; this pushed Tete from his front foot onto his backfoot and as a result, when Casimero undertook his final rush of the fight, Tete didn’t have that quarter of a second that transferring his weight provided. Casimero sent Tete onto his haunches, then all fours, with two short right hands. His follow up saw the referee stop the fight and provided Casimero with an unexpected victory and a space on this list mere weeks from decade’s end.

Perhaps it should not have been so surprising. Casimero’s career has been as outrageous and varied as any fought between 2010-2019 and although his arrival at bantamweight in 2017 was greeted with little fanfare, he tied together several wins against moderate opposition while Tete languished with injury. Casimero the bantamweight will bear watching in the twenties.

09 – Fernando Montiel

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-4 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

Mexican puncher Fernando Montiel would be named among the Dons of the division 2000-2009 but for 2010-2019, he barely catches on, the reason being his 2011 departure for 122lbs where he saw out the rest of his career. For the decade to hand, Montiel has a record of just 4-1 at bantamweight, the loss coming at the hands of Nonito Donaire.

Each of the four wins has its moments of interest, but it his April 2010 dispatch of the then world’s best bantamweight Hozumi Hasegawa that speaks most forcefully for him. The Japanese, who refused to leave his eastern stronghold, had not lost since his fifth fight way back in 2001 and was heavily favoured. Montiel, who had lost but never been stopped, allowed Hasegawa to control the ring real estate and even allowed him to work without wholesale resistance, a strategy that had painful consequences in the first and second. Montiel did not appear quite lost, however, and worked himself into proximity to his opponent often, and when he was close, he threw hard, wide punches, punches that perhaps one would not normally throw at a world class fighter. Montiel sought the knockout. In the third, just like the first and second, he ate more than his share, but it was all in search of hard single shots.

In the fourth, Montiel landed not a single shot but a series of shots topped by a very hard punch, a left hook, and Hasegawa, unaccustomed to this kind of trouble, looked suddenly disorganised, then perturbed, then crumpled among the ropes, the referee interceding to protect him from the scything battering Montiel carried behind.

It was a punch that bought Montiel one of the best wins of the decade against the pre-eminent strapholder for the weight-class.

08 – Ryan Burnett

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Ryan Burnett passed me by early. He seemed too vulnerable and his clear desire to emulate Roy Jones rather tiresome. The low left hand and quick-footed lateral movement look beautiful against professional losers, but when the step up comes all too often that style falls flat.

Well Ryan Burnett made it work. His final foray into the 118lb ranks was at the end of 2018 against no less a figure than Nonito Donaire. Burnett fought with the Filipino on equal terms, arguably bagging the first two rounds, but suffered a bizarre and catastrophic injury to his back in the fourth while throwing a punch. Suffice to say that that loss isn’t held against him here.

As for wins, when he stepped up to take on Zhanat Zhakiyanov in late 2017 it felt more akin to a leap than step. Up until this point, Burnett’s best opponent had been the solid Lee Haskins. Zhanat was ranked the number two contender in the world and was a grim, insistent, stiff-jawed pressure-fighter. In his last fight he had clambered from the canvas to defeat the talented Rau’shee Warren and Burnett seemed sure to be outpaced. Instead, he stepped into the pocket with the Kazak and outfought him there, not all the time, but often enough to take the majority of the rounds. A key moment came in the third when Burnett landed a beautiful left-hand counter on his opponent and Zhanat suddenly seemed to notice he was there.

Renowned for his incredible commitment to training, impressing even Andy Lee who spent time in the Kronk, Burnett seemed as strong in the tenth as he had in the third.

A clear unanimous decision was his reward and when he met number seven contender Yonfrez Parejo five months later he hardly lost a minute in securing another. Ready for Donaire, it was tragic that injury kept him from testing himself at that level.

07 – Anselmo Moreno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-5 Ranked For: 59% of the decade

Number eight is probably a little hard on Ryan Burnett but I’m a sucker for a divisional stalwart and Anselmo Moreno was one. Only one other bantamweight was ranked for a longer spell in the decade and that man was Moreno’s fistic mortal enemy, Shinsuke Yamanaka, who he could not best in two attempts.

When he came up against Vic Darchinyan in 2011, Moreno bested him and more. It was a one-sided thrashing of a fighter who, although inconsistent up at bantamweight, had only been so unreservedly defeated by Nonito Donaire. Fast and awkward, Moreno was more than anything brutal in his consistency. He never got greedy, never went looking for punches that were not there and landed his power punches at an absurd rate. Most splendid of all was his one-two, but almost as impressive were his uppercuts, his trailing right to the gut smuggled in behind his leading shoulder.  Darchinyan was tough enough to see the bell but there was little else to recommend him that night.

This seemed to open up a world of exciting possibilities for Moreno, but despite the fact that he spent six years ranked among the best bantamweights in the world, his opposition was miserable for much of it. Moreno understandably but disappointingly took the ABC route, avoiding meaningful opposition, preferring a steady stream of limited bantams propped up by their alphabet paymaster of choice.

In 2010 though, Moreno fought a fascinating pair with the number six contender Nehomar Cermeno.  The first was a litany of low blows and slips on a greasy canvas in a bizarre and absorbing contest that went to Moreno in a split; the rematch saw the same result, but the split was erroneous, Moreno a clear winner.

Overall though, Moreno’s career was a disappointment that saw him run 3-3 versus ranked contenders, the most hurtful of these losses occurring against a Dominican named Juan Carlos Payano.

06 – Juan Carlos Payano

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 21-3 Ranked For: 47% of the decade

Juan Carlos Payano clutches the number six spot on the basis of that September 2014 victory over Moreno. Payano’s overall record against ranked contenders is not only no better than that of Moreno, it is actually a little worse (though he had the bad luck to run into both Luis Nery and Naoya Inoue) but the difference is not such that Payano’s victory over Moreno is overhauled. Simply put, there is no way Payano can be ranked below Moreno.

Their fight ended in an unsatisfying technical decision after six, Payano receiving a nasty cut during the second round which caused the doctor to pull him while streets ahead in the fight. On the face of it, this sounds unsatisfying and it must be admitted that the more experienced Moreno might have found him late in the fight, but Payano’s plan was brilliant. He busted Moreno’s rhythm and in doing so removed any chance at all that Moreno would break his own. Aggressive, dirty and fast, Payano was smothering and busy inside, persistently outhitting Moreno to rack up rounds.

Much like Moreno defeating Darchinyan, Payano defeating Moreno was his clear high water-mark but also like Moreno, Payano fought a fascinating two-fight series with another top contender winning and then losing against Rau’shee Warren in a pair of fights so close that any given result could have reasonably been rendered for either fight. As it was, Payano took a split decision in a filthy, thrilling first fight and Warren took a majority decision in a rematch punctuated by fast-handed technically sound punching.

Overall, it is an underwhelming career for a #6 but given the other contenders for the spot are Moreno, who he defeated, and Burnett, whose unfortunate injury against Nonito Donaire leaves him something of a question mark, I’m satisfied that Payano is the right choice.

05 – Abner Mares

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-3-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Abner Mares was the beneficiary of the single worst refereeing performance of the decade (which is saying something) in his August 2011 victory over Joseph Agbeko. The likely reasons for Russell Mora’s apparently inability to recognise the numerous low blows Mares landed cannot be printed here due to libel laws but it was an embarrassment both to the sport and to Mares who seemed unable to properly control himself. Fortunately, Agbeko would provide him with a chance at redemption in a rematch, something Mares grasped at with both hands.  He all but outclassed Agbeko second time around, and although he remained – always has – a roughhouse handful, his work was cleaner, his superiority clear.

That eventful 2011 was preceded by a comparable 2010. In May he fought a brilliant, difficult, dynamic combat with Yonnhy Perez in a battle of undefeated contenders, ruled a draw, Mares unlucky not to get a nod by my eye. Perez was never the same and Mares was confirmed tough; nobody at bantamweight would ever succeed in making him blink. Later that same year, he met with Vic Darchinyan. The much more experienced Darchinyan boxed rather than fought and a flash knockdown and a serious cut above the right eye tested the younger man’s temperament, but Mares came flying through, sweeping the ninth through twelfth by my card with a sapping pressure and a drilled left hook.

Five fights in two years are enough to break Mares into the top five. His is a tenuous grasp, but his unbeaten status at 118lbs, the high level of competition he faced – only one other bantamweight fought a two-year period this intense – in that short spell speaks highly for him. And, honestly, he’s a better optic fit than Payano. At higher weights his style was compromised against larger fighters, but at bantamweight he was a glory of dirty pressure fighting.

04 – Luis Nery

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 30-0 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Of all the fighters on this list, Luis Nery has the single best win. Nery, blessed with punch and chin both, was in his early twenties when he flew out to Japan to take on the world’s best bantamweight Shinsuke Yamanaka. Yamanaka, unbeaten for more than a decade, was clearly favoured. Nery overcame Yamanaka’s technical surety early with a controlled fluidity that saw him outscore his more prestigious foe; Yamanaka began to inch closer in the third, scoring with his jab and straight as the fight threatened to turn into something truly thrilling. Nery put a stop to this in the fourth, more aggressive now behind his southpaw one-two, Yamanaka, for the first time in my experience, throwing a concerned look to his corner. He was right to be concerned. Nery looked less controlled thrashing Yamanaka around the ring, but it was the thrashing that was the pertinent point.  Yamanaka was rescued by his corner with thirty seconds of the round remaining.

Now, the detail: Nery failed a test for performance enhancing drugs, was cleared, but ordered to provide Yamanaka a rematch. Nery did so, and was once again triumphant – but he failed to make weight, weighing in at the super-bantamweight rather than the bantamweight division. He receives no credit for that win here.

The victory over Yamanaka alone is enough, to be frank, to haul him into the top five; he tops out here at four thanks to his 2019 victory over Juan Carlos Payano, still holding onto his ranking, blasted from it by a gorgeous left hook to the body in the ninth round, making him 3-0 versus men on this list.

Had Nery made weight for his second contest with Yamanaka as he did for Payano, he would have made number three.  That indiscipline sees him docked a spot.

03 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Recently, I was asked to contribute a vote to a project concerned with determining the greatest bantamweights of all time. The top ten turned out fine – but there, ensconced within the top twenty, was Nonito Donaire.

This is completely inexplicable. Donaire has fought but a handful of bantamweight contests and all of them were fought between 2010 and 2019 and the absolute highest he could rank on this list is number three; the notion of his ranking amongst the greatest bantamweights in history is bizarre.

Donaire makes that kind of impression though. His two stints as a bantamweight were both highly visible (for the division) and highly entertaining. He stepped up in 2010, already a pound-for-pounder, already something of a crossover star thanks to the frantic joy he inspired in HBO. In 2011 he faced off against divisional number one Fernando Montiel.

Montiel, huge at the weight, a power-puncher, himself ranked on the Ring’s pound-for-pound list, was nevertheless an underdog such was Donaire’s super-flyweight reputation. Boxing was the expectation for his strategic approach, Donaire meanwhile was expected to seek a home for his vaunted left hook. Instead, Donaire emerged face-first, used his jab only as a cosmetic buttress, and lashed at Montiel with straight rights. He dominated completely, and perpetrated a knockdown so savage it had the appearance of the grotesque. Montiel continued to kick and paw even as he was ensconced in some distant netherworld; he collapsed his way to his feet and the perpetually hapless Russell Mora allowed the fight to continue for two needless punches.

The only other significant fight of Donaire’s first bantamweight stretch was visiting 115lb legend Omar Narvaez who was so terrified of Donaire he did not even try to win a round, losing twelve nothing to a fighter in his absolute prime. Then bigger opponents, and purses, bid him north. He returned to the division a less stellar figure with a 2018 victory over Ryan Burnett, before staging a thrilling, fighting loss to Naoya Inoue in 2019.

A significant decadal figure, Donaire perhaps could have found himself in the running for the divisional top twenty had he remained at the poundage throughout the decade; in reality, he spread himself far too thin to challenge for a top two spot.

02 – Naoya Inoue

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 19-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Naoya Inoue rocketed into the bantamweight division with back-to-back first round knockouts of number five contenders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano. McDonnell, a huge bantamweight who had never been stopped, was overwhelmed by a combination of body attack and swarming two-fisted pressure in mere seconds. Large, but without the technical acumen to live with Naoya, he was always going to become unwound against the Japanese, but even more impressive was Naoya’s one round destruction of Juan Carlos Payano. Payano, though no classic technician, had proved himself an adaptable, thinking fighter against world class opposition. Naoya spent the opening seconds looking at him, and soon matched his pawing jab with one of his own, all the time measuring him. Having done so, and found him wanting, Naoya stepped across his man opening up the channel inside the half-jab and knocked him unconscious, again, in mere seconds.

Emmanuel Rodriguez, the world’s number six contender, had won nineteen in a row when he agreed to travel to Scotland to meet Naoya on a Josh Taylor undercard and managed to last into the second.  These were some exciting minutes though as the two met ring centre, both happy to linger in the danger-zone, Naoya getting to demonstrate aspects of his defence – the turn and block in the first round was consistently good – and his chin, as he twice ate straight right hands from Rodriguez.

All the while though, Naoya was testing his opponent, seeking his weakness. At the start of the second he demonstrated the full array of punches he had identified in the first as applicable, summiting in a monstrous left hand that set Rodriguez neatly on the canvas. It seemed to me no man was capable of surviving Naoya’s attention when hurt.

I was proven wrong by Nonito Donaire who survived a knockdown in the eleventh to post a clear twelve round points loss in Naoya’s final fight of the decade in the fight of the year. Donaire used all his veteran’s instinct to push, trick and survive Naoya, even banking some rounds on the way.

What this added up to was a veritable number one decadal resume, built in just eighteen months.  He is edged out by a man who spent the best part of a decade building his.

01 – Shinsuke Yamanaka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-2 Ranked For: 66% of the decade

The selection of Shinsuke Yamanaka as the bantamweight number one for 2010 to 2019 was inevitable. First and foremost is his longevity which is equivalent to that of numbers two, three and four combined; his winning record against contenders which includes the highest number of defeated men of note on this list; and finally the length of time during which he was ranked the best bantamweight in the world, longer than anyone else considered.

The raw data screams Yamanaka (pictured on the left against Anselmo Moreno), and although Naoya’s enormously impressive two-year run gave me pause, the raw data must have its answer.

Not that an analysis of Yamanaka’s bantamweight decade was in any way dry. He was a fighter with an enormous capacity for work, something he built upon, making him a perennially mobile and perpetual puncher, albeit one that measured rather than sought to overwhelm with volume. He carried his workrate late and he carried his power late, the former helping him home in his first contest of real international meaning, his 2012 contest with Vic Darchinyan. Darchinyan was yet to sink to gatekeeper status when he travelled to Japan to face Yamanaka and he looked dangerous early; late, though, there was only one fighter in the contest as the Japanese out-worked and out-fought his game opponent down the stretch, winning all but one of the final six rounds on my card.  That he held his power was made apparent during his bloody 2013 contest with #6 contender Malcolm Tunacao, who was bowled over and rescued by the referee midway through the twelfth and final round of a tough fight.

After dusting #8 contender Stephane Jamoye in seven in 2014 (if you haven’t seen the straight left to the gut to finish him, find it; it is a sickener), Yamanaka embarked on the series that would define his bantamweight career, two fights with Anselmo Moreno. Yamanaka got to Moreno a little late, but Moreno still inhabited the world’s top five 118lb contenders and was still a fighter of excellence.  Their first fight was a knife edge, a split decision for Yamanaka and a draw on my card; Yamanaka followed the puncher’s way, offering an immediate rematch having learned how Moreno moved.  More, he embraced his role of puncher, deepening his stance, doubling his jab and looking to make trouble. He got it early, Moreno tattooing him with fierce regularity, but Yamanaka’s chin was equal to the job and in the sixth he was rewarded, inflicting heavy knockdowns on his opponent who he finished in the seventh.

Naoya Inoue is a better fighter than Shinsuke Yamanaka and I am satisfied of the fact, but these lists are about the most accomplished decadal fighters – Yamanaka was clearly that. For every Jamoye or Moreno there was a Carlos Carlson (22-1) or Diego Santillan (23-0), fighters who did not rank but could wield a glove. Inoue’s 4-0 doesn’t come close.

At least not yet. As boxing bounces back from the Covid-19 epidemic, it will be interesting to see what the bantamweight division of 2020-2029 delivers.

Photo credit: Naoki Fukuda

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

liA hockey Arena in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

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Former unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall renewed acquaintances tonight in a sold-out arena in Leeds, England. Their first bout 27 months ago in Glasgow ended in favor of Taylor, a controversial winner by split decision as most felt that Catterall was robbed. Tonight, the Cat, as he is nicknamed, turned the tables, winning a unanimous decision in a 12-round non-title fight that was more entertaining than their first encounter.

Catterall, who closed a short favorite, came out fast and was plainly ahead at the mid-point of the fight. But Taylor closed the gap and on unofficial scorecards it was an even fight after 10 frames. Then, in the 11th, shortly after the referee halted the action to warn the fighters about something, Catterall turned the tide back in his favor, stunning Taylor with a looping left hand coming out of the break. Seconds later, both fighters went down in a heap in front of a corner post.

Both fighters were marked-up at the finish, more so Taylor who ended the fight with his right eye swollen and nearly closed shut.

A draw would not have been unreasonable, but two of the judges gave Jack Catterall nine rounds (117-111) and the other had it 7-4-1 (116-113).

In his post-fight interview, Eddie Hearn, Catterall’s promoter, conceded that the scores were too wide but opined that the right guy won. Few would disagree, but co-promoter Bob Arum had a different take. “Those scores were a disgrace,” he said, taking the microphone. “I feel sorry for Josh. I thought he won the fight….”

In avenging his lone defeat, Catterall improved to 29-1 (13). It was second straight loss for Taylor (19-2) who had been inactive since losing his unified title to Teofimo Lopez.

A rubber match would be welcome.

Semi Wind-up

In the chief supporting bout, Cheavon Clarke improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Ellis Zorro. Clarke, who represented both his native Jamaica and England in international amateur competitions, won the BBBoC British cruiserweight title.

This fight didn’t provide a lot of action. The humdrum ended in the waning seconds of round eight when Clarke nailed Zorro with a chopping right hand. He seized the moment, swarming after Zorro, and chopped him down with a series of punches. None appeared to land very cleanly, but Zorro was counted out with a mere second remaining in the round. It was his second straight defeat after opening his career with 17-0. In his previous bout, Zorro was blasted out in the opening round by Jai Opetaia.

Clarke, 33, is eyeing the winner of the forthcoming fight in London between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

Also

Welterweight Paddy Donovan, a Traveler from Limerick, Ireland, advanced to 14-0 (11 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage of former British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson (25-4).

Donovan, trained by former middleweight titlist Andy Lee, fought off his back foot for the first seven rounds as Ritson forced the pace. He changed tactics in round eight which was a strong round for him and then closed the show in the ninth. A series of punches had Ritson plainly hurt and the referee stepped in after 32 seconds and waved it off. It was Donovan’s fifth straight win inside the distance.

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Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

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The weekend boxing activity got underway today in Rzesnow. Poland where, to the dismay of the locals, Lukasz Rozanski, was blown away in the opening round by UK invader Lawrence Okolie. Heading in, the Pole was 15-0 with 14 knockouts, was coming off back-to-back first-round stoppages, and had never fought beyond the fourth round. And he was a world champion of sorts, making the first defense of his WBC bridgerweight title.

Okolie (20-1, 15 KOs) knocked him down hard on the seat of his pants with a straight right hand, the first of three knockdowns. The final knockdown was the result of a combination that knocked Rozanski to his knees with his head landing outside the ropes. There were only seconds to go in the round, but when Rozanski arose on unsteady legs, the referee properly waived it off. At age 38, his first career loss may also mark the end of his career.

A 2016 Olympian co-managed by Anthony Joshua, Okolie (pictured) was making his first start with trainer Joe Gallagher after previously working under Shane McGuigan and SugarHill Steward and his first start since losing his WBO cruiserweight title to Chris Billam-Smith.  At six-foot-five and with an 82-inch reach, the 31-year-old Londoner is a very interesting specimen. His stated goal when he turned pro was to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight.

Had Rozanski won, there was talk of him fighting Badou Jack. The guess is this may be Okolie’s first and last fight at bridgerweight (under 225), a division recognized only by the WBC which invented it. (The WBA is poised to follow its lead. The WBA board of directors recently approved the addition of a super cruiserweight weight class.)

Saturday

The action tomorrow in regard to major fights begins at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen where the Fighting Dane, Dina Thorslund (21-0, 9 KOs), defends her WBC/WBO female world bantamweight title against Turkey’s Seren Cetin (11-0, 7 KOs). Thorslund, whose name appears on many pound-for-pound lists, is appearing in her 11th world title fight.

The marquee event takes place in the late afternoon (USA time) in Leeds, England, where Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) clashes with Jack Catterall (28-1, 13 KOs) in an eagerly-anticipated and twice-delayed rematch. Catterall will be seeking to avenge his lone defeat.

Their first encounter took place in February 2022 on Taylor’s turf in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor won a split decision. To say that it was controversial would be putting it mildly. One pundit called it the biggest robbery in British boxing history. At stake was Taylor’s unified welterweight title which he would lose in his next outing when he was upset by Teofimo Lopez.

Catterall has fought twice since that night in Glasgow, most recently scoring a 12-round decision over globetrotter Jorge Linares who announced his retirement after the match. This is Taylor’s first ring outing since the Teofimo fight in New York. He and Catterall have engaged in a nasty war of words since their first encounter and the match – televised live exclusively in the U.S. on ESPN+ and around the world on DAZN — is an advance sellout. Check local listings for start times.

There’s been steady money on Catterall today and, if the odds hold up, Josh Taylor will assume the role of an underdog for the first time in his career.

Lastly

We’re back to ESPN+ again for a show in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, a co-promotion between Eye of the Tiger and Top Rank.

In the featured bout, Christian Mbilli (26-0, 22 KOs) meets England’s Mark Heffron (30-3-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight contest.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO.

In the co-feature, heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, returns to the ring looking to rebuild a reputation that was badly tarnished last December when he was manhandled by underdog Agit Kabayel in Saudi Arabia. Makhmudov (18-1, 17 KOs) opposes no-hoper Milan Rovcanin (27-3, 18 KOs) who has been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia. The TV portion of this Saturday Night card has a scheduled starting time of 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

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