WHEN Joe Cordina iced Kenichi Ogawa after just four minutes and 15 seconds of their clash in Cardiff last June, it looked as though the Welsh talent had finally arrived on the world stage. But the joy of that night in the heart of his home city quickly made way for months of frustration for the 31-year-old super-featherweight.
In the first round of his first spar back in camp, Cordina snapped a bone in the same right hand that had wiped out Ogawa. It meant that a scheduled fight with Shavkat Rakhimov had to be postponed.
But even worse for him, the injury provoked the IBF to strip him of the belt he had won by beating Ogawa. Rakhimov went on to win the vacant title by virtue of a ninth-round stoppage of Zelfa Barrett in Abu Dhabi in November.
Cordina was ringside that night, safe in the knowledge his promoter Eddie Hearn would deliver him the winner and he has done exactly that. This weekend, back at the Cardiff Arena, world No.4 Cordina will take on No.5 Rakhimov with that same IBF strap on the line, with the home fighter once again the challenger. The card will be shown live on DAZN in the UK.
Cordina’s fight with Ogawa had been seen by most as a 50/50, with very few picking the Welshman to win inside the distance. This time he is a clear favourite with the bookmakers despite nearly a year off and serious surgery on his injured right hand.
In the immediate aftermath of Rakhimov’s victory over Barrett, Cordina had claimed that a similar performance in Wales would allow him to ‘box circles around’ the Tajikistan southpaw because Cordina insists he is still brimming with confidence as a result of what went down in Cardiff 10 months ago.
“I’ve felt like a different man because of that win,” he said. “In everything I’m doing, I’ve got that confidence now.
“I’ve done what all the fighters that I’ve watched, studied, looked up to and admired did. I’ve done that too now. Now I think: ‘I am that good’. I’ve always believed it and I’ve always said I’d be a world champion. When I went in the office, I said to Eddie to get me the fight and leave the rest to me.
“That moment against Ogawa, I arrived on the world scene and in this fight, I’ve got the confidence I gained that night but also the bit between my teeth that I need to prove something. It’s a proper concoction, that.”
Add in his counter-punching ability, shot selection and now noted punch power as a result of the win over Ogawa, and Cordina looks like a serious proposition for anyone in the division. Given Shakur Stevenson’s move to lightweight, an impressive win here could make him the putative No.1.
But Freddie Roach trained Rakhimov is a serious operator too. He is 17-0-1 (14) with the only blemish on that record a majority draw with an overweight Jo Jo Diaz in February 2021. He is a serious puncher at the weight and will be confident of finding an opening to close the show at some point during these 12 rounds with Cordina.
But, provided his hand – which now has a plate and five screws in it – holds up, the pick here is a Cordina decision in another star-making fight during which he will have to prove his mettle. Let’s hope his first spar back afterwards goes more smoothly.
Earlier, Barrett will return for the first time since he was beaten by Rakhimov five months ago. The Manchester man had been scheduled to take on Alex Dilmaghani here but when he withdrew through injury, Alberquerque’s Jason Sanchez stepped up for this 12-rounder.
Barrett had been boxing beautifully at times against Rakhimov, who he dropped with a sublime uppercut in the third, but suffered a perforated eardrum and, with his balance completely shot, was eventually stopped in the ninth. Sanchez, meanwhile, is 2-3 in his last five but can punch. If Barrett can stay out of any real trouble he should win this clearly.
In what could be the best fight on the undercard, there is a south Wales derby for the British lightweight title as Gavin Gwynne and Craig Woodruff meet again following their majority draw in September.
That initial clash, broadcast on Channel 5, was a genuine classic which both men thought they had won. Now they will do it again on DAZN with Gwynne a slight favourite with the bookmakers. He made a slow start in September but if he can get ahead this time he should manage to nick a decision here but another draw is not out of the question.
There is also an intriguing domestic clash at cruiserweight with undefeated Jordan Thompson taking on Swindon’s English champion Luke Watkins over 10. Thompson looks to be en route to the upper echelons of the division and Watkins will provide a decent yardstick of how far off the likes of Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith he is. Thompson on points seems likely.
Elsewhere welterweight Sandy Ryan boxes for the first time this year when she takes on Canada’s Marie Pier Houle. Ryan, 29, has won twice since she was beaten by Erica Anabella Farias in March of last year and should become the first person to beat 8-0-1 (2) Houle. A wide points win is the pick.
There are also run outs for five of Matchroom’s undefeated prospects. Skye Nicolson, the 6-0 Australian, faces Linda Laura Lecce in an eight-twos featherweight clash. Swansea light-heavyweight Sammy Lee, meanwhile, will hope to move to 2-0 by beating Juris Zundovskis over six.
Super-bantamweight Brandon Scott, super-featherweight Nathan Howells and heavyweight Miles Gordon-Darby complete the undercard with a trio of four-rounders early on in Cardiff.