2018: Boxing The Year That Was Part 2
By Oliver McManus
Yesterday I covered the first 6 months of 2018, a year which saw the boxing boom showing no signs of slowing down. Today I finish my review, starting with the month of July and a certain fighter who might well have an even better 2019 ahead.
Oleksandr Usyk completed his Mission Undisputed with a performance and a half in Russia against Murat Gassiev. Seeking to have all four belts on his mantle, Usyk utterly dominated the home fighter and made a very good man look completely average. There could be no arguing that Usyk was THE man with the Ukrainian cruising his way through the 12 rounds, never applying too much pressure.
Dillian Whyte headlined a terrible PPV against Joseph Parker and made a meal out of the fight. Parker caused Whyte problems and rallied in the final few minutes – imagine if he’d fought like that throughout his career. More pertinently for Whyte, though, he dropped his New Zealand counterpart and, in doing so, went one-up in a mental war against AJ.
Natasha Jonas lost. Never looked composed throughout the fight. Carl Frampton defended his interim world title against Luke Jackson and his Aussie challenger was gutsy but never on the level of Frampton. A punishing body shot saw that particular contest end with a thud, likewise in Paddy Barnes’ audacious challenge to Cristofer Rosales – a resounding shot to the ribs halted the fight. Tyson Fury had his second comeback fight against Francesco Pianeta and was, you guessed it, boring in the process.
Well, well, well Amir Khan, what say you about that chin of yours? Samuel Vargas was the designated opponent for the second, of a three fight contract, Khan-comeback with Matchroom Boxing. Vargas is an established name but gave Khan a far harder night than many had expected. Landing flush early on saw Khan dropped but the Bolton-man responded well to control the contest for the remainder.
Hassan Mwakinyo was bought in on less than seven days notice and duly went on to have his name echoed around the world. A stunning second round knockout over Sam Eggington saw him proclaimed a hero back in Tanzania and force Eggington to take a step back in his career.
Fresh off his April mauling over David Price it was Alexander Povetkin’s turn to take a charge at Anthony Joshua with the pair clashing at Wembley Stadium on September 22nd. The Russian made the far brighter start and was exerting the power he had demonstrated during that win against Price – Joshua was teak tough and withstood the storm. A left hand in the Seventh set up Povetkin’s downfall who, as the fight went on, began to trudge as opposed to stamp. Followed with a ferocious flurry against the ropes, Povetkin’s body began to turn sideways and Steve Gray stepped in to stop the contest.
A million miles away, almost, to Saudi Arabia where the WBSS Final showdown between George Groves and Callum Smith was taking place. Surreal almost, it felt, when fight night came about in the desert city. It was Callum Smith who got the better of opening exchanges in what shaped up to be a closely fought contest.
George Groves had previously allayed fears about his shoulder and whilst the opening minutes saw both men starting off in a cautious style, it looked like proving no issues. Smith, possessing a six-inch reach advantage, made sure he stayed out of the pocket and boxed at range, keeping the gloves high and staying staunch throughout the bout.
The first shot of note came in the third with Smith pushing back the Champion to the ropes thanks to a well time hook, followed up with a barrage, but Groves showed his maturity to come back into the fight. A thrilling contest, Callum Smith sent in a left hook in the seventh to put Groves on unsteady legs, a rampant flurry of punches dropped the Londoner and he failed to beat the 10 count. An unlikely ‘super fight’ but, by jove, what a fight.
Stateside saw the begrudging rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, marred only by the taint of clenbuterol. Or Mexican meat, depending on your spiritual bent. The fight took on a similar theme to the first installment but with more of a solid standing from the Mexican. A performance was required from Canelo were people to start forgetting about his farcical drugs ban and, to be fair to him, he produced the goods. A contest that ended where a victory for both men could be fairly argued, Alvarez took the decision and in far less conspicuous circumstances than the first.
Bubbles were burst and new names came through over the course of October – Lewis Ritson faced Francesco Patera for the EBU lightweight title with Ritson looking to continue his meteoric rise. Patera had other plans and kept Ritson in check over the course of 12 rounds, proving a stubborn opponent who boxed smoothly. Ritson stayed in touch and had spells of the better work but didn’t do enough to secure the decision.
Joshua Buatsi, meanwhile, continued to look exceptional with a one round demolition job against Tony Averlant – indeed the same Tony Averlant that Anthony Yarde boxed in February. Except Buatsi did a number on the Frenchman and targeted the body with a sumptuous aggression. On that same card Simon Vallily showed a fraction of his talent that earned him so much success as an amateur. Craig Glover served as his opponent and the Liverpudlian produced a career-best performance to knock Vallily out in the 8th and set up a big 2019.
Martin Bakole felt the burn of Michael Hunter with the American – a former Usyk opponent – having just his third fight in the heavyweight division. Talk was strong from the Congolese fighter beforehand with Bakole telling me he was “the best in the world” but he never looked like settling into gear at York Hall. Hunter, on the other hand, knew this was a platform to bigger things and boxed very well to stop Bakole in the 10th.
Talking of York Hall, 13 days after the Bakole hype train derailed, a new service was installed by way of Sunny Edwards. The Croydon-man took a significant step up against Ryan Farrag. In defence of his WBO European crown, Edwards looked superfluous with flashy footwork seeing him scamper youthfully across the ring. It wasn’t just the feet that were doing the business with Edwards boxing well on the counter and elevating his standing to a whole new level.
The month of the 2018/19 World Boxing Super Series quarter-finals and the first home leg of the series. Up in Glasgow there was a cruel ending to Ryan Burnett’s opening contest against Nonito Donaire – Donaire fighting at bantamweight for the first time in eight years – when Burnett swung into a shot in the fourth round and slipped a disc.
There’s not much else to say really, it was a horrible ending to a fight that was just warming up, shows the fragility of the sport.
Josh Taylor took on Ryan Martin on the same card and it looked to me as though Martin was a little in awe of the situation. Make no mistake, Martin has thought on big cards before, I’m sure that wasn’t the case but the way in which he fought looked as though he was uncomfortable. Taylor, on the other hand, was at home set about producing a masterclass in every possible aspect – a seventh round stoppage for the Scotsman.
There was something else that happened in November but god knows what it was… oh, yeah, just the small case of Oleksandr Usyk vs Tony Bellew. Johnny Nelson proclaiming that Bellew was technically better than Usyk provided the pre-fight entertainment.
Bellew started brightly, getting the better of the first three rounds – but as soon as Usyk turned the screw it was game over. A glistening career brought to a halt by a living legend.
My word did 2018 end in some style with the two contenders for Fight of the Year smacking us right in the face just when we thought there couldn’t be any more drama.
Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury bounced us into the festive month with a less than jolly dust-up. Fury was on course to shocking the world, looking in sprightly form and boxing well, but got caught twice by the looping arms of Wilder. To the scorecards it went and there was a clear winner – Tyson Fury completed the comeback and claimed the WBC World title. That’s how it should have ended, anyway, but as well all know, Fury was the victim of daylight robbery in the most audacious of circumstances.
Josh Warrington and Carl Frampton produced a barnstormer at the Manchester Arena with Warrington, yet again the underdog, nearly catching Frampton a-cropper in the first round thanks to a lightning fast work rate. The intense work rate of the Leeds fighter proved to be the undoing of Frampton who was lulled into boxing up close and paid the price. Warrington upsetting the odds and establishing himself as a genuine elite-level fighter.
That same night saw Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora have a brawl but, truth be told, I don’t really want to talk about that. To make it short – Chisora imposed himself in the early stages yet had two points deducted, Whyte made it hard for himself and was trailing on the scorecards before turning the table with a well-timed shot that saw Chisora out cold.
I’m nearly out of breath just writing this thing – that was the year of 2018, it looks frightfully long all on one page, but bring on 2019, that’s what I say!