TURLEY ON TUESDAY: A York Hall Homecoming

I’ve never understood why there is a boxing ‘season’ but I’m not complaining. On Friday morning I got on a plane in Genoa after a month of Italian sun, confident I hadn’t missed much in terms of fistic goings-on. A day and a bit later I was back in the York Hall.

The show was another sanctioned by new-kids-on-the-block, the MBC, those cheeky upstarts from Malta. I don’t have any associations or affinity with any governing body, promoter or organisation but as I mentioned last time I wrote about them here and here, myself and Instant Boxing are more than happy to give them equal and fair coverage in the knowledge that other media outlets do not. I’m still not entirely sure why that is or whether it will ever change.

Despite the general media blackout of their events, the MBC is clearly building up a head of steam. Saturday night’s show was well attended with the downstairs floor full and a few bodies in the upper tier too. A professional feel, often lacking in small hall events permeated proceedings. Steve Holdsworth of Eurosport fame sat peridocially next to me at the media table, occasionally commentating on the contests for an internet stream while also performing duties as the night’s MC. Luminaries such as former middleweight star Rod Douglas and undisputed world welterweight champ Lloyd ‘the ragamuffin man’ Honeyghan were in attendance while a troop of cheerleader-style dancing girls shook their arses to entertain the crowd between bouts.

Legend, Lloyd Honeyghan speaks to the York Hall crowd
Legend, Lloyd Honeyghan speaks to the York Hall crowd

The BBBoC should take note – the boxing itself also gave indications that their competition is growing in prestige and status. A slew of debutants made appearances on the show, indicating that numbers of homegrown fighters are now choosing to turn over with the MBC. Impressively, in some cases, they were even matched up together, subverting the usual prospect v journeyman career path that normally dominates the early stages of a fighter’s pro journey. It made a refreshing change, in several contests, to see 2 evenly matched first timers or novices going all out for victory. There was something old school about it – how I imagine match-ups would have looked in the 1930s.

The evening’s opener was a great example in which Middlesbrough’s Chris Wood moved to 3-1 with a hard fought four round victory over the strong and persistent Matar Sambou (1-1) from Margate by way of Senegal. It was a real tussle in which both fighters started aggressively but Wood’s tighter technique paid dividends by the end, having Sambou in trouble a couple of times in the later stages.

Wood v Sambu
Wood v Sambou

Debutant Junior Walker looked impressive in shutting out fellow first-timer Luke Jr, while impressively built Cruiserweight Daniel Mendes, also in his maiden bout, did a predictable number on fat middleweight Mareks Kovalevskis. The home fighter showed good all-round ability but on this occasion the opponent was poor, in fairness.

In a similar vein, Lincolnshire’s Nathan Decastro, once a decent amateur, moved his MBC tally to 5-0 with a one round stoppage of overmatched Arthur Iltjin and then suddenly it was time to confront my demons. The next bout on the card – shock, horror – was a female contest.

Another way in which the MBC is building a distinct identity is in abandoning the restrictions that exist on Board events. Mixed male and female cards are not uncommon and next month in Scotland they have sanctioned a night in which both boxing and kick-boxing bouts will take place. Traditionalists may not like it but sensible attempts to modernise the sport, unlike the gameshow-style shambles that was Francis Warren’s Total Combat, with its bewildering sirens and rules, should be applauded. There is no reason why boxing should not drag itself into the 21st century.

Nevertheless, the truth is I have never particularly liked the idea of female boxing, not that I would tell heavyweights Xena Ball or Shaunagh Brown that. For me, the spectacle of two women fighting conjures up long-buried mental images of scenes outside Sinatra’s nightclub in Croydon in the late 80s. My gut feeling has always been to avoid the ladies game and so I simply haven’t watched it, despite its inclusion in the 2012 Olympic games.

It’s not that I would deny women’s right to participate. In fact I would argue strongly for them to have that right. But as much as they are entitled to box, I feel I am entitled to say I don’t want to view it. So I have to admit it was virtually a case of peering-through-my-fingers as Ball and Brown prepared to face off.

brown v ball
Ball v Brown

Brown, in decent, athletic condition, a former female hammer-thrower from Peckham gave her all, but Dubliner Ball, who appeared somewhat lacking in conditioning, used her size advantage to walk her opponent down. There were times Ball appeared on the verge of a stoppage as Brown reeled and hung on. The action was often ragged, but it was a game effort from both boxers, resulting in an Irish victory. Both girls were making their debuts.

“That wasn’t too bad!” I thought to myself as the realisation dawned that two of the next three bouts on the card were also female contests. “Come on, you can write positively about this!” But sadly what followed altered my reaction.

That’s not the fault of MBC International Bantamweight champion Marianne Marston (4-1) or Leeds’ Sam Smith (4-0), a former WBF title holder, both of whom did what they had to do, but there have to be questions asked about the matchmaking here. That is something the MBC will need to look into. The curse of the completely inept Latvian opponent is not one exclusive to MBC shows, of course. Many small-hall events suffer with it, but some of this was painful to watch.

Lissova v Smith
Lissova v Smith

Smith is a come-forward, muscular fighter, obviously well-schooled, while her opponent, Alina Lissova (debutant) was soft, dainty and girlish. When the bell rang and the two came together, Lissova swung punches with her eyes shut, even turning her face to the side as if afraid of being hit. The very first moment Smith landed a shot, Lissova turned her back and cowered into the ropes. It was like watching a bully batter a first year in the school playground. Smith followed up with a couple more, looking a little bemused, before ref Ken Curtis stepped in and waved it off. With the end coming at just one minute of the first round, Lissova’s performance was not one of any sort of boxer, let alone a professional.

Marston’s dance partner, also from Latvia, Jekaterina Lecko (2-7) was slightly better, but still hopelessly over-matched. Again, there was a marked contrast in physiques. Marston is all sinew, gristle and six-pack-abs while Lecko, a very attractive 20-year-old from Riga, had a lovely, smooth hourglass figure, without a defined muscle in sight. Again, the Latvian was troubled every time she was hit and Marston poured on the pressure until the assault was called off halfway through the second.

Jakaterina Lecko
Jakaterina Lecko

Without knowing a great deal about the talent-pool of women’s boxing, there must be questions asked when fighters who hold or have held titles are being put into these sorts of matches. Both, for me, were so uncompetitive as to be awkward viewing and didn’t help to shift my pre-fight perceptions.

Once all that was out of the way, I was back on more familiar ground as ‘Rocking’ Robin Deakin, a fighter I know well, provided the highlight of the evening. Deakin won! His first victory in 9 years.

Robin’s story, told in my book, ‘Journeymen’ is one of battling through extreme hardships, including a disability from birth, a very disrupted childhood and a series of difficulties throughout his pro career. Determined to prove his doubters wrong and after being tagged ‘Britain’s Worst Boxer’ by the tabloids, he has been in training with the Jennings brothers.

The camp clearly paid off and he put in a committed front-foot performance against another Latvian, Denniss Kornilovs. Deakin took centre ring from the start, was first to the punch throughout and thoroughly deserved his victory. When announced, it meant so much to him he fell to the floor in tears – a scene to melt the hardest of hearts.

Being followed by a documentary team on the night, Robin’s tale will shortly be told on screen and my photographer was asked to switch the flash off on her camera so as not to disrupt the filming. Unfortunately this led to blurry pictures.

Rocking Robin pokes out the jab.
Rocking Robin pokes out the jab.

Elsewhere on the card, Lenny Fuller looked handy in outpointing Isaac Gibbs (both debutants) and talented Iain Weaver KO’d Dinars Skripkins of, you guessed it, Latvia.

Photos by Elisa Scarato

 

My book ‘Journeymen, The Other Side of the Boxing Business” is available in kindle or hardback from bookshops and Amazon, now.

My next book, ‘Wiped Out? The Jerome Wilson Story’ is now available for pre-order