JOSH TAYLOR is the WBA and IBF super-lightweight champion after defeating Regis Prograis via majority decision over 12 pulsating rounds.
The contest, at the O2 in London, was loaded with blood and guts but the defining narrative was pure quality. The momentum swung gloriously throughout the contest. The scores were 115-113, 117-112 and 114-114 (the latter the same as Boxing News).
“What a fight, what a f**king fight,” ringsiders muttered as Taylor – his right eyelid hideously swollen and the brow above it cut – celebrated with his two belts and the World Boxing Super Series Muhammad Ali Trophy. But spare a thought for Prograis tonight; he went to hospital with injuries from battle his only souvenir.
“He was very good and strong,” Taylor said of Prograis. “He had good head movement and good timing. He definitely has power, what a fighter he is.”
Prograis said, “The better man won the fight.”
Even classier than the loser’s admission was the fight itself.
Taylor waited almost 90 seconds before throwing his first punch. He was waiting for the right moment and, when it came, a right jab thudded into Prograis’ face. Prograis, who had landed one of his own before that, then took another jab followed by a left. Not exactly dominant from the Scot, but it was enough to take the round.
Prograis worked hard in the second, tripling his jab as he snatched the initiative. A left hand from Taylor and a right hook got through. A delicate but impressive three-punch volley that tip-tapped on to Prograis’ jaw was a delight.
But Prograis was impressive too. His right hand, snaking inside and on target, and the left that would arc into a surprise lead, were yet more punches brilliant in their subtlety.
At the bell to end the third, Taylor, always close, always ready, landed a left up high. Prograis felt it. So much so, he was moved to shake his head to kid everyone he hadn’t.
In the fourth, Prograis progressed. That southpaw left again finding the target and there was a new zip to his work. Taylor tried and failed to land the uppercut as Prograis dashed in, but it provided a warning of sorts.
The quality level remained sky high in the fifth. The best punch of the round was a right hand, approximately 10 seconds from the end, that clattered into Prograis. Both were targeting the body, Taylor more accurately, but Prograis, in turn, was more accurate upstairs. Taylor’s right eye was starting to close.
Prograis moved round his opponent. Taylor held his ground in the centre, stalking his man. Still he targeted the body and it would land again and again. Prograis, for the first time, looked hurt yet he orchestrated his own body assaults. After six rounds, the fight was closer than close.
Taylor renewed his attack right at the at start of the seventh. The BBC’s Mike Costello’s voice raised as Taylor pressed his advantage. Prograis looked increasingly uncomfortable. The punches coming his way were hurtful and those at his own disposal were no match. At least not yet.
Prograis perhaps edged the eighth but the tightness of the contest was underlined when they exchanged shots simultaneously at the end of the round.
Command was up for grabs again in the ninth. Prograis started well and a right to the body got through but it was Taylor who took over a minute in and poured on the pressure. Both oozed quality but it was Taylor who was the busier.
Blood was punched from from Prograis’s nose in the 10th. It dribbled over swollen lips and into his mouth. But the American continued to fire his right hand, swinging it over his shoulder and then dipping low to crack into Taylor’s stomach.
By the 10th Prograis’ lips looked they had been inflated by a surgeon. Taylor exerted his strength all over his opponent, leaning on him. But he had his own injuries to worry about. His right eye was closing fast and he walked into a punishing left that ripped open the swelling. Prograis had a spring in his step suddenly, and rocked Taylor’s skull with two unsighted right hands.
The last round was the most exciting. Taylor’s eye injuries grew darker under his opponent’s fire. The American positioned himself to take aim at the eye. The Scot appeared to be exhausted but he rallied back, showing championship heart, and sent in a pristine right hand.
The victory was Taylor’s but the fight itself was a triumph for the sport.
DERECK CHISORA stopped David Price in the fourth round of a dramatic heavyweight encounter. The end came with Price in a neutral corner having just about beaten the referee’s count. Then the towel came in to rescue Price from what appeared inevitable defeat.
The first round was fascinating. Chisora attacked the body and looked to swirl his arms up and over Price’s guard. On more than one occasion, Chisora’s looping right whistled past the huge square jaw. But the Scouser stood tall and leaned down on his rival when he got close.
But Chisora was loading up on everything, a knockout clearly at the forefront of his mind. A left cracked into Price’s skull in the second round and Chisora quickly tried to repeat the punch. He could not. As a result of Chisora constantly trying to take Price’s head off, and Price working hard to avoid such a scenario, both looked shattered at the end of the second round.
Drama unfurled rapidly at the end of the third. Chisora’s right crashed home before a left hook slammed into Price. He clung on desperately. At the bell, Chisora eyeballed Price coldly. The warning was clear.
Chisora began the fourth like he ended the third. Rights and lefts, hooks and uppercuts, crashed into Price. The underdog did score with a hefty right uppercut of his own but Chisora, astonishingly durable, would not be denied.
Further pressure got through, a right thumped the top of Price’s head and down he went. He stayed on all fours for seven seconds before hauling himself up. Howard Foster looked at Price and into his eyes, and just as he looked like he was going to let it continue, Price’s corner threw – headed by Joe McNally – in the towel.
It was one of the best decisions by a corner all year.
Lee Selby won a punishing lightweight 12-rounder via majority decision over Ricky Burns. Selby, from Barry in Wales, was moving up in weight while Burns was coming down. They collided in the middle like a couple of runaway cars. After 36 foul-tempered minutes, Steve Gray scored 115-115 while Howard Foster (116-112) and Victor Loughlin (116-113) scored for the right winner.
Burns ignored Selby’s invitation to touch gloves at the
opening bell, instead choosing to attack his rival’s ribs. Burns continued to
attack throughout the first session but Selby, on his toes, pinged in accurate
Selby’s jab started to find the mark in the third and, as Burns continued to look for openings in close, the Welshman tagged him with his right. It was far from one-sided though as Burns, determined to keep the action at a fast pace, chased after his opponent, scoring occasionally.
Burns landed his right in the fourth but was too often having to walk straight into Selby’s lead in order to get his own shots off. Selby appeared to hurt Burns with lefts and rights in the fifth only for the Scot to rally back.
At the end of the round, Burns appeared to signal he had been hit with the head. Selby clouted him across the face as the bell sounded. Enraged, Burns landed a right hand that was several seconds after the bell. Both fighters were warned at the start of the sixth.
There was an unquestionable clash of heads in the seventh. Burns again appeared to take the brunt of it and he again screwed up his face in pain. Selby sensed his opponent was hurt and, though Burns got through with some punches, there was an urgency, which bordered on desperation, that gave the impression it was Selby who was in control.
In truth, it was a ferocious battle between two proud fighters. Two boxers who have sparred many rounds in the past, two former world champions eager for bragging rights beneath the lights. At the end of the eighth, in keeping with the theme and to level the score, Selby cracked Burns with a left hook after the bell.
By the 11th Selby was landing regularly. A left in particular seemed to hurt Burns. But the Scot dug deep and fired back. It was untidy, neither was fighting within the law, and referee Bob Williams – his shirt wet with sweat – struggled at times to keep the fighters in check – particularly as punches clattered into the back of heads.
Burns, ever the warrior, went all out for the strong finish. Again, they rabbit punched, hit low and jammed their elbows in faces. It was a gruelling, gruelling fight and one not for the squeamish.
Lawrence Okolie is the new European cruiserweight champion after stopping Yves Ngabu in the seventh round. There was some suggestion the finish was premature but the Belgian, at 2-27 of the session, was in no condition to continue.
A short left hand was followed quickly by a right and Ngabu rocked backwards. It was an ugly movement, as his head wobbled and his body failed to keep him steady. His eyes were foggy, too. The referee’s interception was correct.
Okolie used his reach advantage well in the opening round, scoring with his left behind Ngabu’s guard and appeared the hurt the champion in the second with the same hand. As the stocky Belgian went back to the corner, he shook his head at trainer, Dominic Ingle.
Indeed, it was Shane McGuigan who was the happier trainer as Okolie increased the pressure in the third, a perfect left hook to the body briefly stopped Ngabu in his tracks.
There were better signs for Ngabu in the fourth as he burrowed inside and scored to the body. A left hand, flung up from a crouch, also tagged Okolie. At the end of the session, McGuigan urged Okolie to get back on his toes.
But the action continued at close quarters in the fifth. Again, the underdog scored with his left but Okolie, with those long levers, kept out of any trouble.
Okolie should be pleased with his performance. Though he isn’t always pretty to watch, he’s going to be exceptionally hard to beat.
CONOR BENN turned in a typically exciting and ruthless display, when he knocked out Steve Jamoye at 2-15 of the fourth round. After taking a left hand, the Belgian staggered backwards before Benn swept inside and unleashed four further blows. The last shot, a right hand, sent Jamoye down heavily. He was cheered when he got his feet, after being administered oxygen, several minutes later.
Benn had been in control from the start. A left hand over the top scored in the opening round but Benn was measured and showed little of the carelessness that has drawn criticism in the past.
But the animal instinct was there for all to see before long. Benn slashed at Jamoye’s body. The smack of the blows could be heard at ringside. Benn, however, strayed low with his punches on more than one occasion.
The finish was brutal. Jamoye went down face-first and instinctively tried to rise immediately but his arms and legs would not respond. Referee Steve Gray called an end immediately. Doctors rushed in and put Jamoye in the recovery position.
The ferocious Abass Baraou continues to feast on the middle-aged. In seven fights, the exceptionally promising German had beaten veterans Carlos Molina and Ali Funeka. John O’Donnell, classy but fading at 33, was wiped out in six rounds after a gallant effort to halt the prospect’s march. O’Donnell started brightly enough and countered well through the opening rounds.
But Baraou, who is signed with the Sauerlands, was just getting going. Rough round the edges he might be, but his relentless pressure, as he targeted the body, soon drained the reserves from the Shepherd’s Bush fighter.
A bristling attack, that started with a sapping left to the body, sent O’Donnell down. Clearly exhausted, the Galway-born southpaw got to his feet and signalled to referee Victor Loughlin he could continue. Baraou attacked with menace and, though O’Donnell was not in desperate trouble, the compassionate stoppage from the referee, at 2-59 of the sixth, was timed impeccably.
Austin “Ammo” Williams, a 23-year-old from Houston, Texas, impressed for large sections of his four-rounder with Czech Republic’s Miroslav Juna. The southpaw, who has been sparring WBC super-middleweight champion Callum Smith and is hoping to bag a spot on the Andy Ruiz Jnr-Anthony Joshua undercard in Saudi Arabia, bullied his sturdy opponent’s head and body throughout with eye-catching blows.
A vicious left hand sank into Juna’s midsection in the closing seconds. A few more, and Williams may have scored the stoppage. Referee Ian John Lewis scored the bout 40-36 in the American’s favour.
The career of Darwen’s Luke Blackledge dipped further when he retired on his stool after four rounds – scheduled for six – against unbeaten German prospect, Denis Radovan. Blackledge, a former Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, was under the cosh from the start. A right hand dropped him at the end of the third and he was under pressure throughout what turned out to be the final session.
In a lively four-rounder, Shannon Courtenay extended her unbeaten record to four when she outworked Melinda Habran, winning 40-36.