talkSPORT proudly boasted of being the ‘Home of Boxing’ throughout 2018, and with the picture of every punch painted for the listener – from Cardiff to Nuremburg to Los Angeles to Jeddah and many more besides – it’d be hard to argue that we didn’t deliver.
The year started with a London derby – Lawrence Okolie v Isaac Chamberlain at The O2. In fairness, that one failed to ignite, but better was to come in Manchester with George Groves dominating Chris Eubank Jnr in their World Boxing Super Series semi-final; Groves finishing the contest with his left arm hanging limply by his waist.
Germany was up next, and Callum Smith left Manchester Airport with a big smile on his face in anticipation of putting national hero Juergen Braehmer into retirement. His trainer Joe Gallagher received a call whilst walking across the tarmac to the plane bound for Nuremburg – there would be no Braehmer, but a fight would go on. Former Dutch kick-boxing champion Nieky Holzken stepped up and proved a tough but limited operator. It was a no-win situation for Smith, but he got the job done to set up a tantalising tie with Groves, once the latter’s injured shoulder healed.
Onto Sheffield on a snowy Saturday in early March to witness the return of Kell Brook following his back-to-back defeats to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jnr. Sergey Rabchenkowas the opponent – while it lasted. Less than two rounds didn’t tell us an awful lot about ‘Special K.’
On the same weekend, Deontay Wilder beat Luis Ortiz stateside, while Josh Taylor continued his ascent in the sport by dismantling Winston Campos in Glasgow.
From the Steel City to Carson, California for Scott Quigg’s assault on the WBO featherweight title held by Mexico’s Oscar Valdez. In a surprising twist, the uber-professional Quigg weighed in heavy and therefore couldn’t win the title. The gloomy mood wasn’t lifted the following day as the heavens opened to reduce the open-air Stub Hub Centre to a shallow swimming pool. All manner of broadcast kit and cables were exposed to the elements but, somehow, we stayed on-air and more remarkably, nobody was electrocuted.
The then WBO lightweight champ Ray Beltran joined us on co-commentary – a man who’d sparred many rounds with both men. Boxing royalty he may be, but with a blue tarpaulin sheet pulled over his head, lip mic to mouth and rain spilling down his face, Ray realised right then that he’d truly arrived at the big time.
It also proved to be an uncomfortable night for Quigg, who had his nose broken early on and suffered a bad cut to boot. The Bury-man made the final bell, but the decision was unanimous in the tireless Mexican’s favour.
Next up – Dillian Whyte taking on the big Aussie Lucas Browne in London. It presented a step up for Dillian against a former world champion. There was some needle going into the fight, but in the end, there was a gulf in class and a concussive knockout settled the score – the Brixton man was on a roll.
Undercard highlights included Lewis Ritson blasting out Scott Cardle and Callum Johnson ripping the British light-heavyweight belt from Frank Buglioni in the opening round.
The big build up to Anthony Joshua’s next hurdle was already in full swing by this point. March 31 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The punters had filled the city centre pubs early and many were very well refreshed when the business got serious inside the venue. Anthony Crolla – part of our team in Nuremburg – outpointed Edsun Ramirez before the big men took centre stage. David Price once again proved his popularity with a great ovation before climbing through the ropes to face Alexander Povetkin. Price was down in the third but rose to knock the Russian across the ring at the end of the round. Povetkin survived, rebooted and made Price pay with a horrible fifth round knockout to set up a contest with Joshua – provided he beat Joseph Parker. He did. In a controlled performance, Joshua outpointed the Kiwi to inflict his first defeat.
Dillian Whyte was ringside with talkSPORT that night. As soon as the fight ended, he dropped his mic to look for Joshua, Povetkin and any other heavyweight he could call out!
April heralded the start of spring and James DeGale was full of the joys after reclaiming his IBF Super middleweight world title in his rematch with Caleb Truax in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, plans were underway for the return of Amir Khan in a bout with unheralded Canadian-Italian Phil Lo Greco.
A stint in the celebrity jungle had further bolstered the Bolton fighter’s mass appeal, but there was no smiling at the pre-fight press conference in Liverpool when Lo Greco went off-piste by bringing Khan’s wife into matters. A glass of water was thrown at the visitor as things got a little ugly.
After the formalities, when sat with talkSPORT in a quiet room left of stage, Lo Greco seemed genuinely shaken by the incident. He was even more wobbly come fight night. It took Khan all of 39 seconds to blast Lo Greco out and send him back to Toronto with his tail between his legs.
While the main event at the Echo Arena was over before it began, there was a minor classic on the undercard with Tommy Coyle taking the commonwealth lightweight title from Birkenhead’s Sean ‘Masher’ Dodd. That same night, Coyle’s stablemate Carl Frampton got the better of the ‘Filipino Flash’ Nonito Donaire in Belfast.
Cinco de Mayo is always a special date in the boxing diary, but the biggest clash on that day this year didn’t involve a Mexican superstar. Canelo’s doping violation postponed the second GGG fight so instead it was a scouser and a Londoner in a rematch of their own that hogged the headlines. The O2 was bouncing as David Haye and then Tony Bellew made their ring entrances. The end was nigh for Haye who couldn’t withstand the ‘Bomber’s’ barrages. At ringside, following a fifth-round stoppage, Bellew roared down the talkSPORT mic as only he can. Haye stayed to congratulate his conqueror and talk to us over the ropes. Despite all the pre-fight bluster, he was honest and gracious in his appraisal. Body language hinted that he knew his time was up. It was.
A week later, Ukrainian genius Vasiliy Lomachenko became a three-weight world champion by beating Jorge Linares via tenth round TKO. Not all plain sailing against a true elite fighter, Loma had to get off the canvas in the sixth round before taking over.
As the domestic football season came to an end, fans of Leeds United still had another date in the diary. Elland Road, May 19: Lee Selby v Josh Warrington. Against all the odds, the hometown boy out-hustled the champion, cutting him badly before taking the split decision. A new world champion for the man ‘fighting for a city’.
At the end of May, another Yorkshireman, Jamie McDonnell, took up the huge challenge of facing the beast Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in a defence of his WBA bantamweight belt. Drained at making 118lbs, the Doncaster man was stopped in the opening round. Kal Yafai meanwhile, had a better away day in California with a win over David Cormona a couple of days later.
Onto June and the return of the Gypsy King. After his much chronicled lay-off which resulted in him ballooning in weight following an epic binge, Tyson Fury teamed up with the young and relatively unknown trainer Ben Davison to prepare for the modest challenge of Sefer Seferi. Fury had appeared to be back to his usual self at the first pre-fight press conference at the Lowry Hotel – he joked about being happy to share a bill with Terry Flanagan and a ‘hooker’. Flanagan was defending his WBO lightweight title on the bill against the highly-rated Texan Maurice Hooker.
At the public workout at the National Football Museum, you got the impression Seferi might be out of his depth when he jumped in the ring to get a selfie with Fury. It got even more farcical at the open-air weigh-in when the Manchester traveller picked up his diminutive opponent – the second-best cruiserweight in Albania – before giving him a cuddle.
There wasn’t much more spite in the fight itself. Fury had been out of action for two-and-a-half years, but after shedding around eight stone, was easily fit enough to dismiss Seferi’s efforts. Things turned bizarre during the fight when both men stopped to watch fans scuffle in the seats. Still, Seferi had had enough after four rounds while Flanagan’s belt left these shores with Hooker.
Towards the end of the month, Martin Murray beat Roberto Garcia while Josh Taylor enjoyed a standout win over Victor Postol. In other business, Manny Pacquiao once again resurrected his remarkable career with a TKO victory over Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpar while Rocky Fielding and a noisy band of scousers went bananas when ‘Rocky from Stocky’ shocked Tyrone Zuege with a sensational stoppage on the champion’s home turf. Liverpool had a new WBA (regular) world titlist.
July also witnessed Oleksandr Usyk wrap up the cruiserweight division by completely dominating Murat Gassiev in Moscow, claiming the WBSS Muhammad Ali trophy in the process. In his post-fight interview in the ring, he called out Tony Bellew and the rest as they say……
That same night across the pond in Las Vegas, Liam Smith failed to wrestle the WBO super-welterweight belt off the massive and impressive Mexican Jaime Munguia.
Back in blighty we were all looking forward to a boxing season closer at the O2. It was a night that delivered for talkSPORT listeners on every level. There were victories for Conor Benn (against his bogeyman Cedrick Peynaud) and Josh Buatsi, while Ireland’s Katie Taylor was at her imperious best in adding Kimberley Connor’s IBF lightweight belt to the WBA title she already held.
It was all-action with the big men. Dave Allen – who had Kenny Rogers playing in his dressing room prior to his ringwalk – gambled with a huge overhand right to spark out Nick Webb while Dereck Chisora played rope-a-dope with Carlos Takam before unleashing a furious shot to end the latter’s night.
How could the top of the bill clash between Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker compete? Well, it was even better. Whyte had the Kiwi down in the second and ninth rounds before the ‘Body Snatcher’ went down in the twelfth as Parker sensed only a KO would do. Dillian survived for his best-ever victory.
Over at Windsor Park in Belfast, Carl Frampton broke up for the summer after breaking Luke Jackson’s resistance – leaving the Aussie in a mess and with a perforated ear drum. Tyson Fury was on the bill – getting rounds in against Franceso Pianeta. The second comeback fight ticked off – Deontay Wilder was there, and happily that fight was made.
So onto September after the little recess and Amir Khan got the new season under way in his second comeback fight against Colombian Samuel Vargas. A big Birmingham crowd turned up to watch Khan take a unanimous decision in a fight in which he wasn’t always convincing. Cue more Kell Brook chat.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin finally had their rematch with the Mexican getting the nod in a high-quality affair, while back in London there was another enormous fight week to enjoy.
It’s always an event when AJ fights and the occasion at Wembley didn’t disappoint. Any open-air event in the UK at any time of the year is at risk of a little precipitation. It rained, but there was no dampening of spirit for a crowd that was treated to Sergey Kuzmin v David Price (the Liverpudlian retired by his corner due to a bicep injury); Lawrence Okolie got the decision in his British cruiserweight title clash with holder Matty Askin in an awkward cuddle-fest and Luke Campbell avenged his defeat to Yvan Mendy before the main event. Elaborate ringwalks completed, Anthony Joshua proved his mettle once more – settling down after being rocked early on to stop the dangerous Alexander Povetkin in the seventh.
Moving on and there’d been a lot of speculation about the venue for the WBSS super-middleweight final. As it was two Brits – Groves v Smith – it was anticipated it’d be either London or Manchester. And so, it was Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A bizarre place to hold such an event, but it all worked out well in the end. Callum Smith and his team were put in a fine hotel on the seafront – nothing to do but eat, train and sleep – just how trainer Joe Gallagher wanted it. Groves and his team had opted for an apartment in town.
The pre-fight press conference had a special guest in the shape of the legendary Evander Holyfield, while Prince Naseem Hamed added the stardust at the weigh-in. The locals were completely in awe of Naz, who was there to proudly promote boxing on Arab soil.
The King Abdullah centre – a multi-sports indoor venue 40 minutes north of Jeddah – was full of curious Saudis come fight night. Chief support was an odd one with Chris Eubank Jnr barely warming up against JJ McDonagh, who retired claiming an injured shoulder. There was more fight in the post-fight interview as McDonagh took exception to Eubank’s comments and went for him.
Groves v Smith lived up to the billing. It was nip and tuck in the opening rounds before Smith sensed his opportunity. Going into the seventh round there was little between them until ‘Mundo’ caught Groves with a left hook followed by a right to leave George in a heap. Devastating for Hammersmith man, the baton handed to Smith who claimed the WBA super-middleweight title, the Ring Magazine belt and the huge twisted metal Muhammad Ali trophy.
After dozens of photos with family and friends in the ring and then the dressing room, it was back to the dry hotel for a wild celebration of pizza and coke before catching an early flight home.
Into October and talkSPORT brought the listener full commentary of Callum Johnson’s world light-heavyweight challenge against the feared Artur Beterbiev in Chicago. It was a real ding-dong while it lasted. Johnson was down in the first but recovered to floor the Russian in round two. The Lincolnshire man then succumbed in the 4th round – a brave effort that only enhanced Callum’s reputation. Another Brit, Gavin McDonnell also came up short in his world title fight against Daniel Roman on the same bill.
Mid-October and it was the turn of Newcastle to host the talkSPORT boxing team – including the recently returned Callum Johnson on co-commentary. Lewis Ritson had enjoyed a phenomenal year to that point – blasting all domestic foes to set up a European challenge against Belgian-Italian Francesco Patera. The crowd, including Alan Shearer, was expectant. The only problem was that Patera was unperturbed and ready to spoil the fun. Ritson couldn’t find an answer to Patera’s slickness and so a bitter points defeat ensued for the hometown boy – a real setback for the city that was looking forward to hosting a string of big fight nights.
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The following week, Billy Joe Saunders should’ve been defending his WBO middleweight title in Boston against Demetrius Andrade but was banned and stripped of his belt for failing a voluntary drugs test – the stimulant oxilofrine found in his system. That didn’t stop us at talkSPORT as we brought you full fight coverage of James Tennyson’s brave but doomed attempt to win Tevin Farmer’s IBF super-featherweight crown. Katie Taylor was once again impressive in her defence against Cindy Serrano; Kid Galahad overcame Toka Khan Clary and Tommy Coyle beat local man Ryan Kielczweski.
October ended with Terry Flanagan losing for the second time and ending his run in the WBSS super lightweight tournament with defeat to Regis Prograis in New Orleans. It was just as disappointing for Hughie Fury, who was on the wrong end of a unanimous decision against Kubrat Pulev in Bulgaria in a heavyweight eliminator.
Meanwhile, at the Copperbox in Stratford, talkSPORT was ringside as John Ryder pipped Andrey Sirotkin. The undercard stole the show however, with Ted Cheesman overcoming Asinia Byfield while Jordan Gill was impeccable in demolishing tough Mancunian Ryan Doyle to claim the Commonwealth featherweight title.
With the year’s end moving closer, few could’ve predicted the circumstances surrounding Ryan Burnett’s first blip as a professional. A freak injury ended his night against Nonito Donaire – who’d dropped two weights to sign up for the bantamweight version of the WBSS. A sad sight, but no such dramas for Josh Taylor, who took care of Ryan Martin in the 140lb category.
Following the call-out in the ring earlier in the year, there was no way Tony Bellew would resist a crack at Oleksandr Usyk. It was for all the marbles and a handy few quid. And so, it was in Manchester, November 11 on a night that crackled with atmosphere and anticipation. Friend of talkSPORT Anthony Crolla was chief support, toughing it out against Daud Yordan to set up a possible shot at Vasiliy Lomachenko. Lengthy ringwalks completed, the main event began and was intriguing early doors – Bellew boxing well, the Ukrainian stalking his prey before pouncing and finishing his victim. It was the end for Bellew, who confirmed retirement in the bowels of the arena at an emotional press conference that didn’t end until 2am. Tony the gobby scouser was dead, long live Anthony.
Frank Buglioni announced his retirement shortly after following defeat to Fanlong Meng in Monte Carlo on a night when Kal Yafai got lucky against Israel Gonzalez.
Retirement may have been the theme for a little while, but it was the continued return of Tyson Fury that had everyone engaged come December. Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury had at some points enthralled and other times bored the public with the panto press tour to celebrate their forthcoming boxing alliance. When the action began, thankfully it more than lived up to the hype. The Gypsy King boxed like a dream as Wilder constantly looked for the right-hand equaliser. He did find it in the ninth – putting Fury down. More astonishingly, in the final round Fury was caught and put to sleep only to rise like Lazarus to finish the round the stronger man. It was deemed a draw by the judges, but Tyson came home a winner – the turnaround complete.
There was still time in 2018 for Lomachenko to beat Pedraza with another matrix masterclass; Navarette took Dogboe’s title and Kell Brook beat Michael Zerafa. The Rocky story didn’t quite materialise for Rocky Fielding, who was stopped by Canelo at Madison Square Garden, but Katie Taylor ended the year in typical fashion with a sublime performance in defeating the unbeaten Eva Wahlstrom.
The final boxing week of the year was a humdinger. Two great events, one in Manchester with Josh Warrington’s IBF featherweight defence against Carl Frampton, the other in London as Dillian Whyte rematched Dereck Chisora. Both fight nights were successes. Warrington proved he’s more than a Duracell bunny with a fantastic points win that leaves Carl Frampton pondering his next move – hang up the gloves as a modern Irish legend, or go again? For Warrington, the world is at his feet with unification contests to look forward to.
Meanwhile in London, Whyte eventually caught up with Chisora with a left hook that scrambled the senses of the man now known as ‘war’.
It’s fast becoming a cliché that British boxing is ‘booming.’ The phrase may grate but the facts speak for themselves. Most of the world’s big fights come via the UK in one-way shape or form. Next year we cross our fingers and hope for Fury v Wilder II or Wilder v Joshua or Fury v Joshua etc – and that’s just the big lads. So many potential match ups at domestic and world level across all the divisions.
Here’s hoping for another top year of boxing on talkSPORT!