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Alex Dilmaghani faces his moment of truth

Alex Dilmaghani
Alex Dilmaghani will find out where he’s at against Ziani, writes Matt Bozeat

HIS Saturday (September 5), Channel 5 screens Alex Dilmaghani’s bid to take the European super-featherweight title away from all-action French southpaw Samir Ziani. The Crayford portsider will have his hands full with the 30-year-old visitor at Production Park Studios in South Kirkby.

Ziani is making his second defence of the belt and gets stuck in. Not even knockout specialist Richard Commey, a future IBF champion at 135lbs, could stop him coming forward and churning out punches, and ex-European champion Juli Giner decided he’d had enough after six rounds. The win over Giner last February secured the vacant European title and in his first defence, Ziani outpointed Faroukh Kourbanov (16-1).

“I’m fighting good guys, people others won’t fight,” said Dilmaghani. “I can make a big statement by beating this guy. I can earn a world ranking.”

Ziani goes into this ranked by the IBF (No. 12) and WBC (No. 15) and his positions have been earned. He has reversed one of the losses in his 31-3-1 career that spans 10 years and has never been stopped. He looks to be a southpaw version of Dilmaghani’s last opponent.

Francisco Fonseca (25-2-1) held Dilmaghani to a majority draw last December. Channel 5 viewers who enjoyed a scrap we placed at No. 9 in the best fights we saw in a British ring last year could enjoy this weekend’s battle just as much. Dilmaghani and Ziani both look to walk opponents down and neither will want to surrender the centre of the ring.

Dilmaghani believes that Ziani isn’t as good as Fonseca and the 29-year-old reckons he deserved to beat the Nicaraguan. Even if you disagree, Dilmaghani did prove an awful lot against Fonseca. The boxes marked ‘chin’, ‘heart’ and ‘stamina’ were all ticked.

Dilmaghani and Fonseca stood in front of each other and let their hands go. Dilmaghani kept his guard tight and the moment Fonseca stopped punching, he fired off combinations. Neither gave an inch until the ninth, when an accidental clash of heads left Dilmaghani cut over his left eye. He says he was “bossing” the fight until that happened and certainly, Dilmaghani spent more time on the back foot after the wound was opened.

Dilmaghani says that performance proved he is world class, but in his next fight, Fonseca was bombed out in 80 seconds by Ryan Garcia. Of course, Garcia is a special talent who fights at 135lbs, so the comparison with Dilmaghani is perhaps unfair, but maybe Dilmaghani took something out of Fonseca?

What’s certain is that Dilmaghani has belief in himself. He says boxing is “the truth business” and he is convinced that when the truth about him is revealed, we will see he is a genuine world-class fighter. He saw Fonseca as a measuring stick. Only Gervonta Davis and Tevin Farmer had previously beaten him and Dilmaghani feels he beat him as well, so is therefore in their class.

Ziani has the look of a good European-level operator. He’s won all nine since quality countryman Guillaume Frenois (41-1) outpointed him for the vacant European title in November 2016. Only two points separated Ziani and Frenois on all three cards and his losses to Samir Kasmi (16-10-1) and Commey (18-0) were also tight. He has since avenged the defeat to Kasmi.

Ziani has fought away from home in Spain, Denmark, Ukraine, Morocco and Italy, and Dilmaghani has travelled himself. A pro at 17, he took himself off to Mexico to harden himself in the gyms over there, before relocating to Canada and then coming back to Britain last year to fight under Mick Hennessy.

Dilmaghani has always been independent, the type to do things his own way, possibly a consequence of losing his Iranian father to cancer when he was just eight years old. He was brought up by his mother, who was half-English, half-Dutch, and took up boxing at 13.

Two inches taller than the champion, Dilmaghani also looks to have the edge in hand speed and quality of punch, but on the evidence of their latest outings, Ziani is looser around the shoulders and moves his feet more, so isn’t always right in front of opponents and creates more angles for his punches.

Dilmaghani has a good long jab, but against Fonseca, he barely threw it. He met him head on and tried to push him back. It made for an exciting fight. Who knows what would have happened had Dilmaghani not been cut? That handed Fonseca the initiative going into the closing rounds. We could see heads bang together again on Saturday.

So, who wins? Dilmaghani. Just. And it could be one of the fights of the year.

Also on the show, Southampton’s Ricky Little defends his Southern Area super-flyweight title against Bexleyheath southpaw Sammy Cantwell. Champion and challenger are 29 and 31 years old respectively, but don’t have many miles on the clock. Little focused on business – he owned two cafes and a burger van – before taking up boxing at 24 and turned over after a brief white-collar career, while Cantwell only had a handful of amateur bouts, losing a Novice final in 2011.

Cantwell has had injury after injury since turning professional in 2013 with some expectation given his father Mickey won the British flyweight championship. Mickey has kept his son out of the spotlight until this weekend and says three weeks of sparring WBA 112lb champion Artem Dalakian in Ukraine last year has convinced him he’s ready.

There’s a bad loss on Cantwell’s 7-1-1 record, a second-round KO against Georgi Georgiev (1-3), and he’s boxed only twice since that defeat in February 2016. This will be his first fight since September 2018. Little says losses to 42-year-old spoiler Sergey Tasimov (11-66-5) and Charlie Edwards (11-1) convinced him to fight full time and in his next outing, he outpointed Greenford’s Jack Hughes (6-2) for the vacant Southern Area belt. The score was 96-94 and that experience could be vital because Cantwell has yet to go beyond four.
No question Cantwell is fit – he works at his family’s gym – but Little knows how to pace himself. Cantwell maybe hits harder, Little throws more – and we go for the champion to keep his belt with a points win.

The Verdict Channel 5 viewers can expect excitement in the main event.

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