JONATHAN GUIDRY EMERGES
THE year began with British boxing locked down as the coronavirus pandemic that had threatened to decimate an entire planet continued to loom large over our sport. For Boxing News, a weekly boxing magazine largely reliant on some fighting actually taking place, it left us with pages to fill.
Thankfully, the World Boxing Association (WBA) were carrying on regardless and when news reached BN that they were going to sanction a contest between Trevor Bryan and Jonathan Guidry as a world heavyweight championship, it presented us with something to write about.
Thanks to promoter Don King needing an opponent for Bryan, the owner of the bogus belt, Guidry suddenly found himself ranked 13th in the world by the WBA, the oldest sanctioning body in existence. For those who have forgotten, Guidry – then 17-0-2 (10) – earned his shot on the back of his only victory since 2019, an eight-round points win over 46-year-old Rodney Moore. Probably needless to say, the WBA declined to explain why this was deemed worthy of a world ranking.
“All of these shenanigans should be bothersome to anyone who cares for the sport of boxing and its future,” we wrote. “That includes commissions, promoters, broadcasters and other media who continue to facilitate the crimes of the WBA.”
Nobody cared, however. Not the WBA, not the promoters, not the commissions, not FITE.TV and not, as it turned out, the media. Bryan-Guidry took place with barely anyone noticing as the dilution of once meaningful titles continued to the point that a bout for the (secondary) WBA heavyweight championship did not get a shred of coverage in the outside world.
Guidry, for what it’s worth, actually fared okay. He not only lasted the full 12, he actually ran Bryan pretty close. That didn’t prove the WBA were right to sanction it, however; it merely highlighted how preposterous the boxing world had become if Bryan was a heavyweight champion of it.
KASH SAYS GOODBYE
One of the brightest of all young British talents, Kash Farooq, was forced to retire after his annual brain scan highlighted a change from his previous one.
“That was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in my whole life,” Farooq told Boxing News. “What kills me is how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come. It’s difficult to get this far, especially up here in Scotland where I started out as a small hall fighter… But I have no regrets, I have to be thankful.”
Farooq’s sudden and unexpected departure, announced on January 7, was particularly poignant as it came on exactly the same day that Arset Saakyan passed away after being knocked out.
“A truly wicked twist of fate,” we wrote, “and a reminder that the sport of boxing remains a perilous way to earn a living.”
PRINCE CHARLES FALLS
LUIS ORTIZ, ageing by the minute, clung to his long-held status as a heavyweight contender when he brushed off two knockdowns to stop a willing and brave “Prince” Charles Williams in the sixth round.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: MARK MAGSAYO, for his upset victory over long-time featherweight belt-holder, Gary Russell Jnr.
TWO JUDGES GET IT WRONG
BOXING was eager to make up for lost time in February and there were plenty of talking points. Outside of the ring, Frank Warren’s Queensberry secured the rights to stage Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte in April with a whopping bid of $41m yet BN’s failure to make that the main front page story, we later discovered, did not go unnoticed by the Hall of Fame promoter. Instead, we opted to go with Chris Eubank Jnr-Liam Williams as cover stars ahead of their intriguing but ultimately one-sided contest won by Junior over 12 rounds. Two weeks later, Kell Brook and Amir Khan at last settled their differences in the ring as the former proved sprightlier than the latter to win in six rounds.
But the contest that stirred the most emotion came right at the end of the month, in Glasgow, when Josh Taylor was awarded a split decision win over Jack Catterall. The world super-lightweight champion had been expected to triumph but looked out of sorts throughout as the inspired Catterall boxed the fight of his life. “Frankly,” we wrote from ringside, “he [Taylor] should have lost the decision.”
The decision generated the most emails and letters we received on any one subject all year. Not one reader felt that Taylor deserved the verdict. The stink was so potent, the decision was even discussed in the House of Commons. Promoter Ben Shalom said afterwards he was “shocked and embarrassed” by the result. The scorecards even perplexed Robert Smith, of the British Boxing Board of Control. “Jack boxed fantastically and deserved to win,” he told us. “I can’t understand Ian [John Lewis’] score [114-111 for Taylor] and that’s why we’re doing the investigation we’re doing.”
That investigation would result in Lewis losing his status as an A-star official. Neither Taylor nor Catterall has fought since with a rematch in the works for early 2023. Only one of the four sanctioning body titles on the line last year will be in play, however, after Taylor was essentially forced to relinquish three of them while recovering from an injury and pursuing the return. Two of which remain vacant.
BOB ARUM did himself few favours when discussing the fact that his promotion, Shakur Stevenson vs Oscar Valdez, would be going head-to-head with the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano showdown on April 30.
“For whatever reason, people don’t particularly pay attention to women’s fights,” he remarked. “I don’t want to be accused of being anti-women in sports, but I’m telling you, this is like Premier League vs women’s football.”
Boxing News noted: “Usually, when someone begins a sentence with ‘I don’t want to be accused of…’ it’s because they’re about to say something that will almost definitely prove them guilty of the thing they don’t want to be accused of.”
RYDER GETS IT
JOHN RYDER scored the biggest victory of his career to date when he edged leading super-middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs at Alexandra Palace. Ryder won by two scores of 115-113, with the other card (and BN) favouring Jacobs by the same margin.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: JACK CATERALL, who deserved better from British officials in a fight that should have changed his life.
FLIGHT OF THE SUPERMEN
THOUGH old master Roman Gonzalez outclassing the highly dangerous Julio Cesar Martinez over 12 rounds was surely the best display of boxing for the month of March, and Josh Warrington was excellent while stopping old warrior Kiko Martinez, there was only one contender for Fight of the Month. And nine months on, Leigh Wood’s dramatic last round stoppage of Michael Conlan remains the best of the year.
‘Superhuman’ was the coverline given the outrageous, scarcely-believable effort put forth by the two fighters in a contest that looked to have been won by Conlan as early as the first round. Wood was floored heavily just before the bell by a looping left hand and, after surviving referee Steve Gray’s careful inspection, spent several of the subsequent minutes in a daze.
Wood worked his way back but his progress was frequently thwarted by the fast and accurate hands of his rival. By the middle rounds, however, both could sense a spectacular victory as they exchanged hurtful blows. Conlan was visibly tiring but seemed to have a handy lead as the penultimate round began, a session in which the pre-fight favourite found himself on the mat. He claimed a slip due to the build-up of moisture on the canvas but a punch had landed and, suddenly, in the last, it was all Wood.
A jarring and unseen right hand landed flush on Conlan and he slumped down, his backside nestled on the ropes before he tumbled, lifelessly and head-first, out of the ring. Anxious minutes followed as Adam Booth, Conlan’s trainer, watched his charge be hauled on to a stretcher as ringsiders gathered.
Conlan had regained consciousness by the time he reached hospital and, in the middle of the night, from his bed, he tweeted his congratulations to his conqueror. A great fight, a frightening moment, and one final touch of class.
KLITSCHKOS STAND TALL
AS Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed no sign of abating, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko insisted they would not be moved from their home nation.
“Where should we go? This is our home nation,” said Wladimir. “Our parents are buried here, our children go to school here, why should we flee? This is our home. What would you do if someone gets into your house? You defend it. What else?”
Vitali added, “It’s 24 hours [a day] and during the night, three, four or five times we go to the bunkers because of bombing alarms. Every night. Every night.”
The Klitschko’s compatriots, Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko both travelled back to Ukraine after Russia invaded to join defence battalions.
END OF THE LINE
LEE SELBY, 35, was forced to admit enough was enough after losing to the emerging Gustavo Lemos in a hostile Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Time waits for no man,” Selby said while announcing his retirement after being stopped in five.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: LEIGH WOOD, no question. The manner in which he recovered to win in the last round was awe-inspiring.
APRIL (just two stories rather than three)
FAIRYTALE IN NEW YORK
TYSON FURY’S hammering Dillian Whyte in front of 90-odd thousand fans was undoubtedly impressive. Against one of the leading contenders in the heavyweight division, Fury barely took a shot, broke a sweat or missed with his own spiteful attack. But, for several reasons, it did not compare to the titanic New York collision between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano.
Before and after it was lesson in good taste and respect, the matchup was the best fight to be made in the women’s code and the contest as well-fought as any in 2022.
After 10 rounds of ferocious action in which Taylor – particularly in round five – teetered on the brink of a stoppage loss, the Irish superstar was awarded a split decision that genuinely could have gone either way.
“It’s hard to think of two fighters who are more dedicated to their craft,” Thomas Hauser wrote from ringside. “And they were willing to go in tough by fighting each other; the best fighting the best.
“It wasn’t Ali-Frazier. But it was Taylor-Serrano.”
Our front cover read ‘Fight of the Century’, much to the annoyance of some readers who felt that was pure hyperbole. Perhaps it was to a degree, but after a very difficult few weeks, it felt good to be shouting positively about the sport again.
On the same April 30 night, Shakur Stevenson dazzled as he dominated Oscar Valdez in what might have been a true coming out performance if the fight hadn’t been overshadowed by Taylor-Serrano.
KINAHAN GOES INTO HIDING
IN MARCH, after Mauricio Sulaiman, the head of the World Boxing Council and one of the most influential figures in the sport, became the latest member of the Daniel Kinahan Fan Club when he penned an article stating the notorious Irishman had his “full support”, we warned: “It won’t be long before the outside world pays us [boxing] more than a passing a glance. And when that time comes, the true implications of the company many choose to keep will become abundantly clear.”
Those implications became clear sooner than we anticipated, however. The following month – in the build-up to Fury-Whyte – he and six others linked to the infamous Kinahan cartel were sanctioned by the US government. Fury, who not so long before was happy to credit Kinahan for his work as an advisor, distanced himself from the mobster while reacting angrily to anyone who dared to question him about it. MTK, the management group he founded, disappeared almost overnight and Probellum, a company he was linked to (without foundation, we’re told), went into hiding for much of the year. Sulaiman, and every major promoter insisted they would not work with him (anymore). That was all well and good, but the fact almost all had been for so long was surely a bigger issue.
Eight months on, whispers about Kinahan’s continued involvement in the sport, albeit via old friends and associates, get louder.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: Though Gennadiy Golovkin bludgeoning Ryota Murata to defeat was an impressive achievement for the recently-turned 40-year-old, KATIE TAYLOR takes the gong.
BIVOL AND BAKOLE UPSET THE ODDS
IT WAS one of those upsets that surprised everyone but with hindsight should have shocked no one. On May 7, inside Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, Dmitry Bivol was masterful as he thoroughly outboxed the consensus choice for pound-for-pound number one, Canelo Alvarez, to win a deserved unanimous decision. What wasn’t remotely shocking following the one-sided 12-rounder, however, was that judges were ludicrously kind to the Mexican in a city he so often gets the rub of the green; Tim Cheatham, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld each somehow awarded Canelo the first four rounds en route to notching Bivol a narrow 115-113 winner (BN scored 118-110 for the WBO light-heavyweight belt-holder).
“The Nevada Athletic Commission must explain what they plan to do in the wake of another judging horror show,” we wrote. “We were very close to another stinker.” Probably needless to say, they did not explain.
Bivol told BN all about the gameplan he adopted to win. “Control him [Canelo] with my left hand and come too close to him on the ropes because he can counter punch. Wait for him when he hit my arms, wait when I blocked him, let him waste his power. When he threw those hard shots he wasted power and that was my moment to throw punches back. I felt I controlled every distance, long and short.”
One week later, in Paris, Martin Bakole boxed superbly to wreck the unbeaten record of Tony Yoka in a fight between two emerging heavyweight contenders. But there was another suggestion of some home bias on the scorecards as one judge had it level, 94-94, and another only had Bakole ahead by 95-93. Even the third score of 96-92 seemed to be kind to Yoka who was outfought from start to finish.
In the aftermath, BN apologised to Bakole and his trainer Billy Nelson for predicting victory for the Frenchman.
BROOK AND KHAN RETIRE
IT couldn’t have been scripted any better for Kell Brook. He announced his retirement three months after demolishing arch rival, Amir Khan, in emphatic fashion. Brook, one of the best fighters in a very good British era, considered offers to face both Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn but ultimately came to the right decision. Just days later, Khan followed Brook into the civilian life and ditched the gloves himself.
Amir’s career deserves to be remembered fondly, and it will. Though Brook’s victory over him was one of the defining moments in Kell’s career, it was merely one fight too many for Khan.
Both had flirted with the idea of comebacks by the end of the year but we hope they resist, neither has anything to prove – or enough left to be the fighters they’d like to be.
AWAY WIN FOR METCALF
THOUGH Joshua Buatsi’s win over Craig Richards was impressive, James Metcalf’s 10-round points win over Kerman Lejarraga in Bilbao on May 20 was surely the best performance of the month by a British fighter.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: An honourable mention for Jermell Charlo for his masterful win over Brian Castano in their rematch but DMITRY BIVOL’S win is difficult to top.
A HECK OF A WEEKEND
TWO elite masterclasses sandwiched a world class demolition job on the weekend of June 4-5. In Minneapolis, Stephen Fulton Jnr won a lopsided decision over the rough and ready Daniel Roman at super-bantamweight and, the following day in Melbourne, Devin Haney – making it all look oh so easy – claimed the world lightweight championship with a dominant points win over George Kambosos Jnr. But it was the result in Cardiff, Wales that drew the most appreciation from British fans as Joe Cordina needed only one punch to knock out the favoured Kenichi Ogawa and claim a super-featherweight strap.
“We call that punch the Roberto Duran,” Cordina sad of the explosive right hand that wiped out Ogawa. “We’ve been working on it all camp and it’s fantastic when something like that comes off.”
As is always the case post-fight, what came next for Cordina was a talking point. “World champion Shakur Stevenson tweeted his interest in a clash and expressed his willingness to travel to ‘England’ for it,” we reported. “Provided he takes some geography lessons before coming, he will no doubt be made very welcome.”
What came next, however, was a long layoff due to a persistent hand injury the Welshman couldn’t budge. Cruelly, he was stripped of his IBF title for failing to fulfil his mandatory assignment against that organisation’s mandatory challenger, Shavkat Rakhimov.
If that was an example of a sanctioning body being sticklers for their own rules, the WBA continued to make theirs up as they went along. The daft secondary heavyweight belt became the property of Daniel Dubois, who was ranked second by the WBA while there was no place for Joe Joyce in their top 10 despite him beating Dubois comfortably. This was no fault of Dubois’, however, and he walloped Trevor Bryan in four rounds to lift the tainted gold in a farcical event in Miami, promoted by Don King.
Of the WBA, BN reader Peter Shaw perhaps said it best: “They need to be dropped off the boxing world’s radar right now.”
JOSHUA SIGNS FOR DAZN
DAZN secured a scoop of sorts by securing the rights to broadcast the remainder of Anthony Joshua’s career. A box office star in every way, Joshua was still a humongous star capable of massive business. So far, so good.
A problem quickly presented itself within the masterplan, however. His next fight would be against the man who defeated him the previous September, Oleksandr Usyk, meaning his market value could tumble with another loss. Worse, that rematch would not be on DAZN after the Saudi consortium who had purchased all rights for the sequel were a little miffed when the streaming service announced their ‘exclusive’ deal with ‘AJ’ before a broadcaster had been decided.
What happened next? Sky Sports, Joshua’s previous TV platform, swooped quickly to acquire the rights to one of the biggest fights of the year.
SO LONG, ‘JD’
IT was a sad day when BN stalwart of 12 years, the one and only John Dennen, set off for pastures new. A wonderful human being, and top quality journalist, John is still greatly missed, six months on.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: Though Joe Cordina’s win was among the finest of the year, so too was ARTUR BETERBIEV’s terrifying destruction of Joe Smith Jnr.