CONOR BENN’S rise over the past three years has been singularly impressive. In 2018, after his struggles with Cedrick Peynaud, it looked like he had found his level. But he has developed significantly from then, indeed he is one of the most improved fighters in the country. Trained by Tony Sims, managed by his son Charlie Sims and promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, Benn has got the right fights at the right time and has taken the right lessons from them. Chris Algieri, who Benn fights on Saturday (December 11) at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, is another piece of good matchmaking for the rising star.
Likeable New Yorker Algieri has been in with some of the best in the sport, like Manny Pacquiao and Errol Spence, but he hasn’t beaten them and is more naturally a super-lightweight than a welterweight. He moves well on his feet, has skills but is not a noted puncher in the division. Exactly the kind of elements that will give Benn, who does hit hard and attacks with eager aggression, the kind of work he needs.
It’s unlikely Benn will find the shots he needs to stop Algieri. The only man who’s managed to do so was Errol Spence in 2016. But expect a strong start to bag Benn early rounds and see him work his way his to a points win, even as Algieri poses him problems along the way.
“To headline in a city like Liverpool you need to be in the ring against a world class operator,” said Benn, 19-0 (12). “Chris has done it all, a former [WBO] champion and exactly the opponent I need to gain experience from.
“We expect Algieri to bring his best, but I want him deep in the trenches with me, I want to use this opportunity to display my skills and ability against a quality fighter to step closer to a world title.”
But if he is going to be a learning experience, Algieri expects it to be a chastening one for the young Briton. “I don’t take fights I don’t think I’m going to win. This is a big leap [for Benn]. They’re banking on me being too old and too small. Honestly, I’m neither. There’s a miscalculation on their end,” the New Yorker promises.
If Benn’s star is rising, Katie Taylor is the big name in the women’s sport. The lightweight champion, she holds all four of the major sanctioning body belts, and is undefeated as a professional. A move up to welterweight to rematch Jessica McCaskill, now the 147lbs champion, fighting Natasha Jonas again or boxing Amanda Serrano are seen as more appealing fights than Firuza Sharipova, her challenger here. The Kazakh moves in and out on her feet well and puts together combinations. But apart from Sofya Ochigava on her pro debut, Sharipova hasn’t fought anyone at Taylor’s level. She lost to Ochigava in 2016, her only defeat, but there’s no shame in losing on points over four rounds to a very good Olympic silver medallist, who lost to Katie Taylor herself in the London 2012 final. Sharipova ought to make a fight of it but, unless Taylor underperforms, she should win on points.
“I just want to be the best that I can be. I feel like I have so much left to show. People haven’t seen the best of me yet,” Taylor warns. “I’ve never ever found it hard to keep myself motivated for these mandatories because I do understand that these girls are coming for all my belts as well. I’m going to see the best of these opponents every time they step into the ring with me too. You see it all the time in boxing, where fighters do have a flat performance and they fail to hold on to their belts. I can never ever get complacent.
“I never ever find it tough to focus on these fights, even with so much noise about other fights. My focus is completely on the fight ahead.”
On the undercard Jordan Gill was supposed to fight Karim Guerfi for the European featherweight title until the champion pulled out with an illness. The contest is now scheduled to take place in January with Gill fighting in an eight-rounder on this bill in the meantime.
Super-featherweight Joe Cordina takes on Miko Khatchatryan of Belguim. Both can boast being 13-0 but it is the Welshman’s record that is the more impressive. Khatchatryan hasn’t defeated anyone of note and it’s unlikely he’ll start here. Cordina is a huge favourite for good reason.
Peter McGrail, the only one of GB’s Tokyo Olympians so far to have boxed professionally, has his second pro contest in his Liverpool hometown. McGrail is a fast, gifted southpaw and can advance quickly through the professional ranks. An outstanding amateur, he medalled at every major tournament outside of the Olympics and will be building up a fanbase in his home city.
Another former GB boxer, Calum French makes his pro debut on the card. The popular Gateshead fighter would in all likelihood have been an Olympian himself, if his weight class hadn’t been removed from the Games only a couple of years before the tournament. But French is that calibre of boxer and gave a hint of how good he could be in the pros in the World Series of Boxing. He’s another fighter whose progression will be worth following.
Unbeaten prospect Caoimhin Agyarko has his first contest with new promoter Matchroom. He faces another undefeated fighter in Noe Larios Jnr.
Robbie Davies Jnr will box Hank Lundy. Davies suffered a punishing loss to Gabriel Valenzuela in February. But in front of his home crowd he should banish those demons and impress against Lundy.
DAZN will televise.
The Verdict A crossroads fight that could well catch fire.