BRITISH BOXING returns with Frank Warren’s show at BT Sport Studios in Stratford, London on Friday night topped by British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight champion Brad Foster defending against James Beech Jnr. It will be the first pro show staged in Britain since March 14.
Only 22 years old, Foster can become the youngest since Nicky Booth, in 2002, to win the Lonsdale Belt outright. It is only 16 months since Foster outboxed veteran gunslinger Josh Wale for the vacant title. He went on to dominate Ash Lane before stopping him in the 12th to add the Commonwealth belt before drawing with Lucien Reid and thrashing him in the return in February. Foster was well in charge against Reid and after six rounds, the Londoner’s corner pulled him out. Foster-Beech is a Midlands derby. Foster, 12-0-2 (5), is from the cathedral city of Lichfield in Staffordshire, Beech from just down the road in Walsall. (Foster was actually born in Walsall and lived in Cannock before moving to Lichfield at three years old).
“You can drive it in 15 minutes,” said Beech, 12-0 (2), and the 23-year-old admits he’s “gutted” there won’t be a crowd there to see the fight. The BT Sport Studios – or more specifically, the cafeteria at the BT Sport Studios – has a place in Foster’s story. It was there that that 17-year-old Foster first met future manager PJ Rowson at a recording for the short-lived Total Combat. Given they live so close and box around the same weight it’s no surprise to discover Foster and Beech have sparred. Beech estimates they sparred 12 rounds before Foster’s rematch with Reid in February.
“He’s like a little wasp,” said Beech. “He’s very fast.”
Foster shrugged: “Sparring’s sparring.”
A few weeks later, Foster really shone. Troubled by Reid’s movement in the first fight five months earlier, Foster was all over him in the rematch. The bell saved Reid at the end of the second and Foster stayed on him until Alan Smith pulled out the Londoner.
Beech’s reading of that is Reid was complacent in the rematch after boxing well in the first fight, while the Foster camp claim the York Hall crowd and BT Sport viewers saw a rejuvenated champion prove he was the better man. The first fight with Reid was Foster’s third 12-rounder in the space of six months.
Foster and Beech both turned pro in their teens – Foster after a lengthy kickboxing career, Beech after 80 amateur bouts, predominantly with Pleck ABC – have been cut and stayed unbeaten. They have been fighting at different levels. Foster has well beaten seasoned championship fighters in British and Commonwealth title fights, while Beech has had his struggles at Midlands Area level.
Beech has won Midlands honours at super-featherweight and featherweight. For the 130lbs belt, he knocked out Tamworth’s Louis Fielding in nine, really turning it on after the ringside doctor examined a cut on his left eyebrow that referee Sean Messer ruled was caused by a punch. Seconds after the fight resumed, Fielding was flat on his back and the fight was over after Beech slammed several clean right hands off his jaw.
The well-schooled Beech looked to be comfortably ahead on points at the time, but his points win over Chasetown’s former kickboxing champion Luke Jones for the Midlands super-featherweight belt last December was closer. Had Jones won the last round on referee Kevin Parker’s scorecard, the fight would have been a draw. Beech says it was more clear cut than that and certainly, several rounds could have gone either way with Jones throwing more and Beech looking for clean singles.
On that form, Wale, Lane and Reid would start the favourite against Beech – and Foster has dealt with them. Beech did finish strongly against Fielding and Jones, but, significantly perhaps, he didn’t have to make 122lbs for either fight. He admits making 122lbs is “hard work” and the lightest he’s been is actually 122 1/4lbs for a points win over Paul Gidney (3-0) in April, 2018.
Fighting for the British title will bring out the best in Beech, who’s trained by ex-pro Peter Hickenbottom and managed by Errol Johnson.
His father, Jimmy, had 31 pro fights (10 wins) between 1999 and 2008 and Beech said: “Dad is buzzing. He knows how hard these chances are to come by and what the British title means.
“We have been around boxing all our lives and some people might say: ‘It’s just the British title,’ but we never would. I grew up watching British champions on television and thought they were superstars. Now it’s within reach.”
From what we’ve seen of both so far, Foster has to be fancied to win by stoppage sometime around the middle rounds.
There’s a good match on the show between lofty super-welterweights Hamzah Sheeraz and Scottish champion Paul Kean. Ilford’s Sheeraz, 10-0 (6), has been measured at 6ft 3ins and Dundee’s Kean is just under 6ft 1ins tall. Kean is listed as a southpaw on BoxRec, but he switches. Of the two, Sheeraz is the puncher. Kean has just a solitary early win on his 12-1 record – an emphatic one-punch stoppage of Craig Kelly for the vacant Scottish belt – while Sheeraz has stopped his last four. Last time out, Ryan Kelly was stopped in six in a step-up. Kelly was a former Midlands champion who hadn’t been stopped and Sheeraz took him apart in six. Sheeraz had the look of what the Americans call “a young veteran.” From the start of his pro career at 18, Sheeraz has shown good composure and every opponent who’s taken the fight to him has been stopped.
Kean says 50 kickboxing fights, 25 amateur bouts and 13 pros have given him the seasoning and know how to come through. The size isn’t a problem, says Kean. He’s been sparring towering amateur star Sam Hickey and as an amateur, he says he boxed up at 81kgs so was often facing opponents of Sheeraz’s stature. The loss on Kean’s record came against the late Glasgow southpaw Stefan Sanderson, a second-round knockdown proving significant on the referee’s 96-94 scorecard. Kean, who puts that loss down to an injury picked up in training that kept him out of the gym, has won all four since, but by the looks of things, the Scot’s feet don’t always keep him safe and Sheeraz’s punch can bring him an inside-the-distance win.
The Verdict Top quality trade scrap will appeal to fans eager for action.