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How Philip Bowes and Akeem Ennis-Brown stand to make their own history

Philip Bowes
Action Images/Peter Cziborra
Matt Bozeat examines how Mickey Helliet and Philip Bowes are writing a small hall success story

HISTORY could be made at Bethnal Green’s York Hall on Friday (November 29) when Commonwealth super-lightweight champion Philip Bowes looks to add the vacant British title with victory over Akeem Ennis-Brown. At 35, Bowes can become the oldest to win British honours at 140lbs, while Ennis-Brown bids to become the first to bring the Lonsdale Belt to Gloucester. Then again, neither could happen. So well matched are southpaws Bowes and Ennis-Brown, a draw is a definite possibility. Promoter Mickey Helliet hopes that doesn’t happen. Helliet, who manages Bowes, promotes without television and doesn’t fancy staging a rematch.

“It’s going to be very tough to make money,” he said. “If we don’t lose money and Phil wins, that’s a really good night for us.”

Helliet and Bowes have written a small hall success story. Bowes turned pro at 27 after reaching the last eight at the Commonwealth Games representing Jamaica and losses to Joe Hughes, Johnny Coyle and Glenn Foot suggested that Southern Area level was probably his ceiling. The switch to Helliet came after the loss to Foot in May 2017.

“When he came to me, Phil was heading for the scrapheap,” said Helliet. “I told him: ‘If you sell tickets and work hard in the gym, I will get you sensible fights that will get you up the rankings and into title contention.’”

Bowes, 20-3 (3), won a Commonwealth title eliminator against Vusumzi Tyatyeka (20-5) on points and then banged out Benson Nyilawila (10-1) in two rounds for the vacant belt in February. In his first defence in March, he outpointed Tom Farrell (16-1). A scheduled defence against Iddi Mkwera in July fell through days before the show after the Tanzanian couldn’t get a visa, to the frustration of Bowes – and Ennis-Brown.

The 24-year-old put himself forward for the fight, but the way Bowes tells it, Mkwera was already lined up, so Ennis-Brown wasn’t needed. Ennis-Brown subsequently said in interviews that Bowes had ducked him – infuriating the East Londoner. These exchanges have added an edge to what Helliet describes as “a match between real chess players.” Expect lots of thinking and feinting – and some sorcery.

“I use what I call ‘ring magic’,” said Ennis-Brown. “From the first bell I put a spell on them. It’s tough when you’re in there with me. It’s hard to hit me. I break your will, I break your heart.”

Bowes says he knows what Ennis-Brown means.

“He just nicks rounds by throwing a few shots and then running away,” Bowes said. “You think to yourself: ‘He’s got nothing, I’ll get him in the next round,’ but before you know it, you’re five rounds down and thinking to yourself: ‘How am I losing this fight?’ By the time Glenn Foot woke up against him, he only had one round left.”

Foot is a common opponent. He unanimously outpointed Bowes for the vacant English title and a few weeks later, he lost the St George’s belt to Ennis-Brown on a majority verdict. Subsequent wins over Chris Jenkins (19-2-1) – on a technical points decision after the Welshman was cut – Darragh Foley (15-2-1) and Bilal Rehman (12-0) are further proof that Ennis-Brown is good at what he does. He is a southpaw with long arms, loose shoulders and quick feet. Opponents have found that if they wait too long, Ennis-Brown lands jabs and disappears and if they commit, he’s hard to hit and quick to counter.

Foley had success when he was able to crowd Ennis-Brown. “Riiddy” likes to have the last word in exchanges and by doing so, he gives opponents chances. Last time out in March against Rehman, Ennis-Brown looked to counter off the front foot and took a few. But when he was caught, he fired back with more. Ennis-Brown isn’t just a fancy mover. He can fight as well. Ennis-Brown, 13-0 (1), turned pro at 19. Part of his education has taken place behind closed doors in sparring and everywhere he’s been, Ennis-Brown has made a good impression. He’s beaten the better opposition as well and doesn’t really suit Bowes, who likes to stand off and walk opponents onto punches. Talking to those in the trade who know, most lean towards Ennis-Brown – and we will do the same.

The Verdict History beckons for either Bowes or Ennis-Brown.

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