To all intents and purposes it seemed a good old fashioned night of fisticuffs down in the East End. It was a York Hall card, with 7 bouts scheduled and a couple of minor titles on the line. But there was something a little bit different.
This was not a regular British Boxing Board of Control show – promoted by Mark Lyons and a 19 year old lad called (I kid you not) Billy Elliot, the action was sanctioned and officiated by the MBC – the Malta Boxing Commission. As I mentioned in my column last week the MBC are viewed by many as a controversial and maybe even unwelcome presence on the British pro boxing scene. I was intrigued to see what they would offer.
I got there early, when the hall was still empty and the last of the fighters were weighing in. There were some standard shenanigans as rumours abounded that super middleweight Manny Muhammed had come in heavy and his opponent had left the building in a strop. Another fight was scratched from the advertised card, for unrevealed reasons. None of that is anything unusual.
There were some familiar faces around too. I won’t mention officials’ names for fear of repercussions from the BBBoC, but there were several men working the show who I’ve seen many times at Board events. One of them, an extremely well-known UK boxing figure, serving as a judge for the two title fights taking place at the top of the bill, spoke to me briefly beforehand.
“In many ways I’m a purist.” He said. “I don’t like to see all these new titles and things but the guys running this are friends of mine and I’m here to help them out.”
There were many other recognisable characters present and an hour before the first bell rang I found myself in the Dundee Arms over the road having a couple of beers with legendary away-corner operators Johnny Greaves and Robin Deakin. Both have spent their fair share of time before York Hall crowds although neither was fighting on this particular bill. Greaves went into retirement in 2013 and happily has shown enough will power to remain that way, while Deakin is preparing to make another comeback following extended wrangles over his British licence. To keep himself ticking over, he is boxing on an MBC show in Wishaw, Scotland on June 27th.
Journeymen stalwarts Jody Meikle and Matt Scriven were among the boxers in action on the night and Jody’s was the first face I saw on re-entering the building. For those who don’t know, he was only released from prison two months ago and has decided to box MBC while waiting for the Board to decide on his licence reapplication in January.
“First impressions are great” he told me, munching on a protein bar. “The guys here are really friendly and welcoming. They’ve made me feel loved!”
By the time the action got underway at 7.30 the hall was still only sparsely populated. First up was a featherweight contest featuring David Agadzhanyan (4-0) who was introduced as a former Russian amateur champion, but came into the ring wearing an Armenian-flag T-shirt. He was up against a fellow called Josef Redlich (0-6) of the Czech Republic. It was an inauspicious start. The fight was uncompetitive and mercifully brief.
As soon as the bell rang it became clear that Redlich was hopelessly out of his depth in any sort of professional ring. He actually swang punches with his eyes shut or while looking down at his feet, presumably to check if they were where they were supposed to be, which was rarely the case. I have seen plenty of sub-par Eastern European stiffs over the years but this guy genuinely looked as though he had just wandered in off the street and was having a go at boxing for the first time.
It was all over at 2.25 in the first session following three knockdowns. Agadzhanyan was nice and tidy and punched cleanly, but with the level of opposition it is difficult to judge how good he may be.
Bout 2 saw super bantamweight Paul Economides (16-5) from Connahs Quay, Wales take on another Czech in the shape of Petr Gyna (5-27-1). Economides is the reigning WBF intercontinental champion of the weight class, yet the value of the title can be judged by the fact that early in his career he lost two challenges for the Welsh area belt.
This bout started more promisingly than the first fight. Gyna at least looked game and matched Economides in the early exchanges, but just as the contest was warming up he was caught with a beautifully timed right from the Welshman. Economides has never been regarded as a big hitter and had only stopped two opponents prior to Saturday, raising questions about his opponent’s punch resistance, but the benefit of the doubt can probably be accorded due to the quality of the shot. Gyna was up at 6 but badly shaken and shortly afterwards was put down again with a right to the body. Ref Ken Curtis waved the bout off at 1.25. Despite lasting a minute less, it had been much more of a professional level contest than its predecessor.
After an interval for media arrangements and the arrival of several hundred more fans, the third bout between the Turkish Tyson, Light Heavyweight Onder Ozgul (4-0) who now fights out of Hackney, East London and Scunthorpe’s Jody ‘one man riot’ Meikle (8-51-3) got underway. The upper tier of the venue was still completely deserted but the ringside and floor areas of the lower tier had filled and a decent atmosphere built up as the Turkish fans roared their boy on.
For the first four rounds the strongly built Ozgul stalked his man in straight lines, winging hooks at body and head. Meikle soaked it up comfortably enough, although maybe took a few more full-blooded shots than is sensible. Jody did many of his usual tricks, making faces and leaning on the ropes, but it is to Ozgul’s credit that Meikle was never comfortable enough to go into full-on comedy mode. The funniest moment materialised when referee Ken Curtis pulled Jody over for a stern talking-to in the fourth. Rather than apologise for clowning, Meikle put his arms around the official and gave him an affectionate cuddle and kiss on the cheek. Like everyone else, the ref couldn’t help but smile.
The context of the bout changed in the last two sessions however. Jody, who left prison weighing 15 stone in March, began to look tired and was hanging on at times. At the beginning of the sixth he absorbed a powerful right to the jaw and his knees dipped a little. Ozgul sensed his opening and landed a fierce left-right-left combo to head and body. Jody escaped and backpedalled across the ring but was clearly hurt. Ozgul caught up with him against the ropes and landed to the body again, forcing Meikle to take a knee.
He was up at 6 and saw the fight through but appeared as badly troubled as I have ever seen him in the ring. Ozgul will need more lateral and head movement before he can claim genuine comparisons to Iron Mike, but he boxed with relentless non-stop pressure and demonstrated respectable power – Meikle is not an easy man to hurt.
Overall it was a solid and dominant display from the Turkish fighter, suggesting he would be capable of mixing with a decent level of opposition domestically. A match-up with somebody like former Southern Area champion Leon Senior would provide an interesting test.
The top end of the bill provided two ten round title fights. The first an International Masters super bantamweight scrap between Bradford’s Tasif Khan (9-1) and the Georgian Mikheil Solonininki, (3-9-1) whose square-on stance and Muay Thai shorts clearly identified him as a kickboxer. Khan dominated much of the action despite suffering a flash knockdown in the sixth, but appeared to lack the devil in his punching to really hurt his opponent. Soloninkini, for his part, offered little other than durability for long periods of the fight, staging a brief revival in the middle rounds only to fade again towards the end. The Bradford man collected a deserved UD decision and his first professional belt, however fair sterner tests will await in the future if he wants to further his career beyond this level.
Last contest of the night saw the other Ozgul brother, Siar (7-0) take on 41 year-old Matt Scriven (14-87-1) for the MBC International welterweight title. In terms of boxing quality, this proved to be by far the best bout of the evening with Ozgul pressing throughout against a strong and durable opponent. Scriven’s conditioning is absolutely impeccable for his age and he maintained both composure and a nice, tight guard throughout. Ozgul showed impressive hand speed at times, yet despite the excitement his flurries generated among the Turkish fans in attendance, much of this was taken on Scriven’s gloves and shoulders. Unquestionably he took nearly every round on the scorecards however and it must be borne in mind that Scriven is not an easy man to break down.
Like his brother, Siar Ozgul looks to possess the tools to try his luck slightly higher up the boxing ladder but will need some genuine 50/50 fights before his true quality can be gauged. He is yet to box anyone with a winning record thus far in his career. The super-welterweight division is not one of the most competitive in this country at the present time and if Ozgul is capable of making waves it will surely be now.
In the final analysis I left the show feeling largely reassured by what I had seen. Small hall boxing is often a mixed bag and my preconceptions had been formed by the statements and opinions of people who had told me that MBC shows were more similar, level-wise to unlicensed or white collar events. With the exception of the first bout, this was definitely not the case.
Although the crowd was small, the rest of the fights were of comparable standard to those seen on many small-hall shows in the sense that all four were effectively prospect v journeyman type affairs. My only gripe would be that we couldn’t have had a genuinely competitive, top-of-the-bill fight to round off the evening.
None of the bouts were classics by any stretch of the imagination and every home-corner boxer won comfortably, but there were signs of quality on display, particularly from the Ozgul brothers.
Next week I will examine more closely the MBC’s reasons for existence, its bones of contention with the British Board and its responses to public criticism, through an exclusive interview with founder and managing director Gianluca di Caro.
All photographs courtesy of Luca Viola www.facebook.com/lucaviolaphoto