Joshua - Molina : The unsung heroes
You will read thousands of words about Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko over the coming months. In fact, you have probably read more than a few hundred today. I’m not going to inflict any more upon you. Instead, let’s bring a few of the heroes from last night’s card at the Manchester arena out from the shadows created by the bold headlines announcing next year’s mega fight.
Dereck Chisora has proudly carried the Union Jack throughout his career. He has used it as a bandit like face mask and carried it on his shorts. The Zimbabwean born heavyweight collects British antiques. Phoneboxes, postboxes, buses, Only Fools and Horses memorabilia. He even drove a Robin Reliant. Until the middle rounds of his titanic battle with Dillian Whyte, Britain has never reciprocated the love Chisora has for his adopted country.
Chisora will be upset at suffering a split decision loss to his London rival but I wonder if - in some ways - the sound of 18,000 fans chanting his name meant more to the eccentric 32 year old.
I have always liked Chisora. His exploits and efforts in the ring have always made more of an impact on me than the his frequent incidents outside of it. Admittedly, the scenes at last week’s press conference went beyond what is acceptable and for many, Chisora is more well known for his infamous skirmishes than the skill and bravery he showed in his fights with Sam Sexton, Robert Helenius, Vitali Klitschko and David Haye. I had started to wonder if the Chisora that rolled forward in those fights had gone forever but last night, he re-emerged.
‘Del Boy’ threw the kitchen table at Whyte and rather than throwing boos and jeers back in his direction, the fans finally took him to their hearts.
There will be many more big nights in Dillian Whyte’s career. His penchant for a grudge and exciting style will always draw interest and ensure he remains a mainstay on television but, for me, last night was all about Dereck Chisora.
Maybe I’m entirely wide of the mark, but Kal Yafai probably envisioned beating Luis Concepcion by utilising his superior height and reach. As it was, the fight became an inside battle and it was Yafai’s strength, poise and cleaner punching that carried him to the WBA super flyweight title.
Sporting red, gold and green, Yafai was the calmer chameleon. He adapted to the landscape of the fight better than Concepcion did. While the Panamanian became frustrated and ragged, Yafai held himself together and worked with what was available. It wasn’t pretty at times but as an exercise in neutralising an opponent and finding a way to make his advantages work, it was pretty much perfect.
Yafai becomes one of the serious players - and the only highly ranked European - in one of boxing’s hottest divisions. ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, ‘Monster’ Inoue and ‘El Gallo’ Estrada are now his contemporaries at 115lbs. He is right in there amongst the bigs boys, figuratively if not physically.
Frank Buglioni had to move his head to beat Hosea Burton. He had to avoid getting caught by the bone jarring long right hand that ‘The Hammer’ possesses. He had to close the distance and drag Burton into a war. Well, Buglioni only managed to accomplish one of those things but, somehow, he also managed to rip away Burton’s British light heavyweight title.
I’m lucky to have been at ringside for hundreds of fights over the last few years but Burton - Buglioni is the best I have seen at first hand.
The fight became a technical war and both fighters had success when fighting on their terms. Burton couldn’t miss with his right hand during the opening three minutes and when he was able to dictate the range, he marked up Buglioni’s face badly. When ‘The Wise Guy’ lived up to his nickname and got out of the way of Burton’s long arms, he was able to land hard combinations to head and crucially as it turned out, body. Close is safe, as Billy Graham is fond of saying.
The fight was logged as a classic long before Buglioni floored Burton in the penultimate round but a final round to and fro which saw Buglioni first in trouble and then triumphant elevated it to a special level.
Burton was a rising force before this fight and there is no reason for him to drop either his head or level of opposition after such a fight. Buglioni has jumped between trainers with each attempting to make adjustments and fix the flawed elements of his aggressive style. Last night, he relied on the qualities that can’t be taught or tampered with to get him through: a huge heart and an unshakeable belief.
'Fight Week' and Joshua-Molina card preview
‘Fight Week’ is a recent invention.
Boxers have always worked out for the press and faced off for the cameras but now their final shakeouts are scrutinised for technique and prefight words examined for doubt by internet boxing sages who feel they can see the truth behind the lies.
In reality, the only notable things worth taking from the final 100 or so hours before a fighter answers the first bell are signs of strain at making weight or tension around their opponent.
Nobody is going to reveal an injury or unveil a tactical masterplan and so the week descends into a non-stop publicity push of endless selfies and rinse and repeat answers to the searching questions posed by the latest fightvideoblog.tv@facebook on the block.
Eddie Hearn will receive tweet after tweet asking: “What time will AJ’s ringwalk will be?” and countless people will post photos of the Box Office purchase screen.
‘Fight Week’ has become a thing. And it’s not necessarily a bad one.
It’s always struck me that the whole thing must be a massive pain in the arse for the fighters – particularly those struggling to shift a stubborn couple of pounds – but big time boxing is a business that is plugged in to the life support machine of television and gets its o2 from MB and GB. Cutting down media access would be akin to stepping on the feeding tube.
The latest addition to ‘Fight Week’ is the open workout. Open workouts have been a staple of the fan friendly UFC fight week jamboree for years and are a welcome addition to boxing. Partly out of curiosity and partly because I just enjoy being around the fight crowd, I ventured down to the Manchester Arena on Tuesday night for the open workout ahead of Anthony Joshua’s IBF heavyweight title defence against Eric Molina to see how the concept had translated from the cage to the ring.
A big part of me was looking forward to seeing how the sight of Ronda Rousey entertaining a crowd with ten minutes of spectacular judo throws would compare to Dave Allen hitting pads to the wicked sounds of the Matchroom Soundtrack Double CD (available for purchase on the red button). Sadly, ‘The White Rhino’ was involved in a car crash on the way to the arena. Fortunately he is fine.
Thinking about that Matchroom soundtrack, I must be the only person in the world to associate Miss Dynamite with Kristian Laight sitting on his stool after safely navigating another three minutes rather than basement clubs and MC battles.
Very few ‘casual’ fans have ever seen or heard a pad hit properly. Thuds and slaps were mistakenly heard as cracks and snaps and I heard so many people described as ‘looking sharp’ that I began to feel like I was in a Milan cocktail bar, but the general impression I get from events like this is that fans leave with a better appreciation of the sport than they had beforehand. Most seem genuinely impressed by the pad routines and enjoy being far closer to the action than a £50 ticket for an arena show will ordinarily allow. As I’ve said before, if just 5% of the 600 or so people who turned up at the Manchester Arena last night buy a ticket to a local small hall show, the entire sport benefits.
Everybody had come to see Joshua. From the instant he cruised out of the Under Armour TM entrance to the moment he posed for his final photograph, the arena was lit by the power of a couple of hundred mobile phones. Before working the pads with Robert McCracken – now officially in position as head trainer - Joshua satisfied his sponsors by limbering up and stretching in front of an advertising logo. It reminded me of a grime version of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical’ video.
Joshua’s second defence of his IBF heavyweight title doesn’t raise my pulse. Molina seems like a good guy and declared that he has trained with the sole intention of knocking Joshua out. I’m going to go out on a limb: Molina won’t stop Joshua with the left hook he was throwing on Tuesday night. Joshua will clear the road to bigger – and better – fights within six rounds of heavy bag practice.
Hosea Burton’s British light heavyweight title defence against Frank Buglioni is just my type of fight. I like Burton. I like him as a fighter and I like him to beat Buglioni. Both men will need to slip right hands better than they have done in the past but I feel that Hosea carries a bit more snap and menace.
At the risk of sounding like somebody being deliberately hardcore, I went along mainly to see WBA super flyweight champion Luis Concepcion in the flesh. His battles with ‘Tyson’ Marquez made me a fan for life. The Panamanian was a bundle of taut energy and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself as he bounced and backward somersaulted his way through his routine in a pair of battered old gloves. The thought of facing Birmingham’s promising but untested Kal Yafai won’t phase him one iota.
Concepcion is tiny so it is hard to judge his weight but unless he has a severe cut to undertake, Yafai is going to be facing a full of beans champion. Yafai is bigger and younger and he seems to be better prepared for his opportunity than Charlie Edwards was when he was pitched in with John Riel Casimero. A shock wouldn’t be a massive shock (if that makes sense) but in a fight like this, I have to go with the proven commodity. I pick Concepcion to win a very good back and forth fight on points.
Burton – Buglioni and Concepcion – Yafai will steal the show on Saturday night but if you are asking boxing fans to hand over a few extra quid for a PPV show during December, then you shouldn’t be expecting them to be satisfied with a couple of stocking fillers when they really wanted a bigger and better main present.
Scott Quigg looked a serious as ever as he prepares for a return to action at featherweight. I expect Quigg to take out months of frustration on Jose Cayetano. Quigg will beat the Mexican but for confidence purposes, it may be equally as important that he proves he can take a shot to the jaw that was broken by Carl Frampton.
Dillian Whyte moved around with Mark Tibbs ahead of his latest ‘ULTIMATE HEAVYWEIGHT GRUDGE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY!’ This one is against Del Boy Chisora. I’ve always had a soft spot for the much maligned Chisora and feel he was used up too early in his career. Hopefully, despite the histrionics at the press conference, predictions of carnage and mayhem prove to be as wide of the mark as they usually are in these instances and we get a clean and clear winner. I think that will be Whyte, probably over the distance.
Apart from that, everybody went about their business with the minimum of fuss. Luis Ortiz plodded around with a big smile on his face and Callum Smith continued his preparations for his British super middleweight title against Luke Blackledge. Kate Abdo quietly sat watching how the Sky Sports boxing machine works and Manchester United squad member Memphis Depay made an appearance. Those missing person adverts can now be taken off the milk cartons.
‘Fight Week’ will continue with press conference following press conference before culminating in the weigh in on Friday afternoon and boxing fans will lap up each and every video and story.
As I said, ‘Fight Week’ is a good thing.