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Explosive Cordina exhibits his punch power against Ogawa

Joe Cordina
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing
Brilliant Cordina starches Ogawa with one sizzling shot to prove he can punch after all, writes Gareth Jones from ringside

JOE CORDINA became the 13th Welshman to lay claim to being world champion in front of 4,000 delirious fans, including seven of his predecessors, at a sold-out Motorpoint Arena in his home city. And none of those who went before ever achieved the feat so spectacularly. One explosive right in round two detonated on the chin of IBF super-featherweight belt-holder Kenichi Ogawa and it was all over.

Way back in 1968 Howard Winstone was known as the ‘Welsh Wizard’. Three times he came up short against Vicente Saldívar, but the Mexican great retired and a Japanese, Mitsunori Seki, was brought to London to decide his successor. Winstone won in nine rounds.

Half a century later the same nickname is proudly borne by 30-year-old Cordina. And faced with another foe from the Land of the Rising Sun, he too grasped his opportunity to make history.

It was a tremendous performance by the Rio Olympian, whose pro success came first as a lightweight before he discarded the British and Commonwealth belts to drop to the 9st 4lb class. Before he could establish himself in his new division, however, he was sidelined by a hand problem only resolved with the transfer of bone from a hip to the troublesome mitt. 

Joe had suggested he might take his time scouting out the visitor. The opener supported the theory: there were more feints than blows and Ogawa may well have nicked the points after doing marginally more work and landing a crisp left counter that jolted the Welshman.

But three minutes proved more than enough as a reconnaissance mission. There was more purpose about the home fighter in the second, yet the climax was still unexpected. Out of nowhere Cordina uncorked a right that thudded into the champion’s jaw and he crashed on to his back.

Kenichi tried to rise, but found his legs would no longer obey him and he crumpled again, English referee Michael Alexander completing the count at the 1-15 mark. A stool was brought to the centre of the ring and Ogawa sat there receiving treatment for some minutes before getting up to wrap his conqueror in a sporting embrace.

Cordina, a broad smile across his bearded face, complied with his worshippers’ urgent pleas for him to “do the Ayatollah” – the head-slapping gesture beloved of Cardiff City followers – before walking to the ropes and a hug from one of his predecessors (and another Bluebirds fan), Barry Jones, who wore the WBO belt at the same weight in the 1990s.

“We call that punch the Roberto Durán,” said Joe afterwards. “We’ve been working on it all camp and it’s fantastic when something like that comes off.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn was understandably bullish about the future, with WBC and WBO boss Shakur Stevenson tweeting interest in a clash and expressing his willingness to travel to “England” for it. Provided he takes some geography lessons before coming, he will no doubt be made very welcome.

First Cordina is likely to return to Cardiff in September, when the IBF may insist he faces his mandatory challenger, a southpaw from Tajikistan, Shavkat Rakhimov, who boasts 13 knockouts in 16 victories, including against the previously unbeaten Azinga Fuzile in South Africa, but was held to a draw when he took on JoJo Diaz for the vacant strap in California 16 months ago.

If the sanctioning body show flexibility, another possible opponent would be the man who won the night’s chief support, Zelfa Barrett. Already ranked No 2 by the IBF, the Mancunian claimed the European title with a comprehensive points triumph over the holder, Faroukh Kourbanov, someone who had given Cordina plenty to think about in a 10-rounder early last year.

Kourbanov, born in Kyrgyzstan, but a long-time resident of Belgium, began aggressively, but tended to fade in each round as Barrett, who already ruled the Commonwealth, took over. By the third, Zelfa’s fast hands had established a control which was reinforced by regular attacks to the body.

Their effect was clear when Faroukh began to circle the ring in the middle rounds, focussing more on avoiding contact than initiating it. As he tired, that option became more difficult and he was forced to trade with his tormentor, which rarely worked out well for him.

During the ninth, Board general secretary Robert Smith walked around the ring to retrieve the belt which the Belgian’s team had paraded during the introductions. It was already obvious they would not be leaving with it.

Kourbanov, who remained standing during each interval, was clearly fit and never in serious difficulty. But Barrett’s supremacy was overwhelming, German judge Jürgen Langos scoring 118-110, Spaniard Jon Llona Fernández 119-109 and Finn Mika Lindgren 120-108 to see Zelfa emulate his uncle and trainer, Pat, who won European honours at 10st in 1990. Italian Roberto di Mario was the largely uninvolved referee.

Sheffield’s highly touted Dalton Smith retained his purely decorative WBC International Silver super-light bauble, breaking down Argentinian southpaw Mauro Perouene and persuading his handlers to retire their charge at the end of the sixth of an intended 10.

The unbeaten Yorkshireman gradually upped the pace and by the fifth Perouene was beginning to show signs of distress. Following a body shot from Smith he bent double, protesting that it was low. Third man Mark Lyson was unimpressed and again offered no sympathy when the scene was replayed later.

The final seconds of round six saw a right send Mauro tumbling in his own corner, Mr Lyson counting despite valid complaints that the pair’s legs had become entangled. There was no time to resume hostilities, but the bruised and bleeding warrior from the Pampas was saved from any further pain.

Gamal Yafai, last seen more than a year ago losing to Jason Cunningham, was in full ‘Beast’ mode as he destroyed brave, but overmatched Sean Cairns in the fourth of a scheduled eight-threes.

The Brummie, whose mother grew up in the Welsh capital, took a round to reacclimatise, but soon began to find his range with lefts to the head and mixed them up with sustained assaults to the body.

After more lefts shook Liverpool’s Cairns in the third, Gamal ended the barrage with a right which dropped the Scouser by the ropes. He clambered up at eight, an extended break to have his mouthpiece washed and replaced helping him survive to the bell.

It merely delayed the inevitable. Yafai hammered away downstairs with both fists before launching a left to the side of the head which sent Cairns reeling into a neutral corner. Referee Chris Jones waved it off before Sean hit the canvas, the official time being 1-55 of the fourth.

Gateshead southpaw Calum French returned to the city where he first caught the eye when he won the GB Junior championship in 2011, moving up to eight rounds in just his third contest and emerging with credit and a 79-73 victory over teak-tough Spaniard Gadatamen Taylor.

French opened strongly, but soon discovered that his shots did little to deter ‘La Mamba Negra’, who walked forward throughout despite everything that came his way. The Liberian-born Taylor even landed a few of his own in the sixth, by which time Calum had given up on the idea that a stoppage would be possible.

Although never in contention – referee Jones’s decision was a formality – Gadatamen showed heart, resilience and a degree of skill and it would be good to see him here again.

Aussie Skye Nicolson, continuing her busy entrance to the paid ranks with her fourth bout in less than three months, coasted to an 80-72 scoreline from referee Reece Carter after an uneventful eight-twos with Uruguayan Gabriela Bouvier.

The South American was once a sanctioning body belt-holder, but that was at flyweight and eight years ago. Facing a tall featherweight, Gaby found it impossible to get past the long arms of the former Commonwealth Games gold medallist, whose wrong-way-round stance made the task no easier.

It was a one-sided encounter, Bouvier limiting herself to brief flurries at the end of each stanza as if hoping the burst of action would make up for the previous passivity.

Skye can now look forward to some rest and recreation in her native Queensland and recharge her batteries for some hoped-for title opportunities later in the year.

Three Welsh prospects climbed through the ropes with identical records: three straight wins, one of them the quick way. All added four-round points decisions over rivals from Russia, via their current base in Southampton.

The most impressive was Tiryberth southpaw Kyran Jones, who hurt Vasif Mamedov early on and did even better in the second, stepping back slightly to draw his hirsute opponent on to a sharp left which put his down. Mamedov suffered no lasting harm, but remained on the receiving end as Jones, a standout amateur but still only 24, maintained his dominance to earn a 40-35 card from Mr Carter.

Ben Crocker, his waistband bearing tribute to his brother-in-law, killed a few weeks earlier in a motorcycle accident, was similarly superior to Evgenii Vazem, Mr Jones seeing it 40-36.

Crocker’s noisy Swansea City chorus kept up a constant chant of “Eddie, Eddie, sign him up!” as their hero strutted his stuff. Their substantial numbers, along with Ben’s undoubted promise, may encourage promoter Hearn to do just that.

Joe Morgan, from Aberdare, making his first appearance in his homeland after beginning his pro career in the north of England, boxed confidently against Rustem Fatkhullin, whipping in hooks with both hands.

In the third, Morgan neatly sidestepped a charge by the Russian, clipping him with a right as he passed and sending him crashing forwards. But the blow had landed to the back of the neck and Joe immediately apologised, while Mr Jones did not take up a count. 

The official did deduct a point from Fatkhullin after a little rough stuff in the last, which meant the final margin in Morgan’s favour became 40-35.

Cardiff girl Monique Bux, a successful singer and DJ and a childhood friend of bill-topper Cordina, looked nervous before her four-twos bow against Czech veteran Ester Konecna and never seemed to settle.

Despite half a stone advantage, she was unable to impose herself on the 34-year-old from Ostrava, who gradually realised that here was a chance to grab a first win since her debut in 2015. She began to land pretty much at will as she drove the debutant backwards, Mr Carter rewarding her efforts by a 39-37 margin. 

THE VERDICT A fantastic punch on an unforgettable night. It’s not every fight that ends in a way that has punters and pundits alike grinning in a manic mixture of joy and awe.

Full results: Joe Cordina (130lb), 15-0 (9), w ko 2 Kenichi Ogawa (129 1/2lb), 26-2-1 (18); Zelfa Barrett (130lb), 28-1 (16), w ud 12 Haroukh Kourbanov (129 1/4lb), 19-4 (3); Dalton Smith (139 3/4lb), 11-0 (9), w ret 6 Mauro Peroaune (139 3/4lb), 14-6-1 (7); Gamal Yafai (125lb), 19-2 (11), w rsf 4 Sean Cairns (124 1/2lb), 8-4 (2); Skye Nicolson (127 1/2lb), 4-0, w pts 8 Gabriela Bouvier (127 1/4lb), 15-11-1 (3); Calum French (137 1/2lb), 3-0 (1), w pts 8 Gadatamen Taylor (137 3/4lb), 4-10-1; Kyran Jones (163 3/4lb), 4-0 (1), w pts 4 Vasif Mamedov (164 1/4lb), 2-18-3; Ben Crocker (149 3/4lb), 4-0 (1), w pts 4 Evgenii Vazem (152lb), 9-30 (4); Joe Morgan (143 3/4lb), 4-0 (1), w pts 4 Rustem Fatkhullin (144 1/4lb), 8-33 (3); Ester Konecna (160 1/2lb), 2-16-1, w pts 4 Monique Bux (167lb), 0-1.

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