AT about the same time that Josh Taylor’s eyelid bulged to the extent it split wide open, blood dribbled from Regis Prograis’ broken nose, over his swollen lips, and into his mouth. Just at that moment, the two fighters – looking like they’d awoken amid plastic surgery – summoned simultaneous left hands that slammed into their respective injuries. Neither took a step back, defiantly ignoring the kind of torture that would make normal human beings run for cover.
It was a brutal fight and at the end of it all, when the final bell at last stopped them in their tracks, the two warriors embraced. As advertisements for the sport of boxing go, it’s hard to think of a better one than this.
Boxing News could not separate the two super-lightweights after 12 pulsating rounds and scored the bout 114-114. Six sessions each and a dead heat, where both men left the ring with their championships intact, might have been the fairest result in this unification bout. As it turned out, it was Taylor who punched the air and then fell to his knees in glory as judges Matteo Montella (117-112) and Alfredo Polanco (115-113) overruled the tally of Benoit Russell, which was identical to BN’s.
Some inside London’s O2 Arena howled in disbelief at the wide card in Taylor’s favour but there should be no outrage. In fights with as many close rounds as this such a score was perfectly feasible. The consensus at ringside was that Taylor had done just enough to edge this Marcus McDonnell-officiated bout though there were several who believed that Prograis – who finished the stronger – deserved the verdict. It was a war which could have feasibly been won by either man, such was the compelling cases both made in battle. Robert Smith, of the British Boxing Board of Control, made the sage point in the aftermath that if the two were to fight 10 times they could win five apiece. While 10 fights is of course excessive, a rematch would be welcomed with open arms by fight fans all over the world.
Approximately 45 minutes before, the two fresh-faced southpaws answered the opening bell to the World Boxing Super Series final – an increasingly essential tournament – with a spring in their step. The sense of expectancy in the air was impossible to ignore. What followed not only delivered, it exceeded.
Taylor, the IBF champion, waited almost 90 seconds before throwing his first punch. He was waiting for the right moment, for the slightest opening and, when it came, a right jab thudded into the WBA titlist’s 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 a cagey opener.
Prograis took over in the second, tripling his excellent jab as he snatched the initiative. A sharp left from Taylor and a right hook got through. A delicate but accurate three-punch volley that tip-tapped on to Prograis’ jaw was a delight. But the man from Houston, Texas, was doing the better work. His right hand lead, snaking inside and on target, and the left that would arc into a surprise lead, were yet more punches so brilliant in their subtlety.
At the bell to end the third, Taylor, always close, always ready, elegantly shifted position to score with his right then snapped in his left. Prograis felt it. So much so, he was moved to shake his head to kid everyone he hadn’t.
In the fourth, Prograis progressed further. That southpaw left, swung from behind his right shoulder, again found the target. Taylor tried and failed to land the uppercut as Prograis’ lead hand bulleted through the middle.
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 and then raiding up high. Already, Taylor’s right eye was starting to close. It wouldn’t be long before the same eye of Prograis would do the same.
Regis moved round his opponent. Taylor held his ground in the centre, stalking his man. The Briton’s insistence on getting close, though dangerous, immediately drained some of the effectiveness from the American’s jab. After six rounds, the fight was poised.
Taylor renewed the pressure at the at start of the seventh. Growing more and more excitable in his seat in front of press row, the BBC’s Mike Costello’s voice noticeably raised as Taylor’s blows cannoned on target. Prograis looked increasingly uncomfortable as blood seeped from his wonky nose. The punches coming his way were hurtful and those at his own disposal were suddenly no match.
Prograis stubbornly edged the eighth before command was again up for grabs in the ninth. Regis, 30, started well and a right to the body got through but it was the “Tartan Tornado” who took over and poured on the pressure. It seemed like “Rougarou” – who had been so generous with his time to media outlets in the build-up – might be overwhelmed, particularly when one considered the reports that he had struggled to make weight the day before.
More blood was socked from Prograis’ nose to begin the 10th. His ballooning lips were another consequence of his rival’s attacks. And just when it seemed like the last of the fight was slipping out of him, he grew stronger, showing the kind of doggedness that very few can.
The momentum turned yet again. Taylor’s eye was in a horrific state and unquestionably stunted his effectiveness over the final nine minutes.
Taylor, the taller man by two inches, sought to exert his strength in the 11th and leaned down on his opponent. But his eyelid was inflating both quickly and horrifically. He walked into a punishing left that ripped open the swelling. On instinct, Taylor’s own weapons soared into action, but it was Prograis who was the fresher and quicker, and he rocked the enemy’s skull with two unsighted blasts after gliding into the perfect attacking position.
The last round was the most exciting. Taylor’s injury grew thicker and darker as his energy subsided. The American positioned himself to take aim. The Scot, by now completely blind in one eye, was exhausted as Prograis applied significant pressure. George Groves, Taylor’s former stablemate, shouted frantic encouragement from ringside as Josh threatened to unravel. Incredibly, he rallied back, showing championship heart. Both men gave so much of themselves it would be no surprise if each of them left something in that London ring. To expect either to reproduce that mind-boggling level of heroism again might already be expecting too much.
It was the kind of showing that will lift Taylor to even higher heights, though. He can take his place among the very best fighters in the sport. And thanks to the remarkable efforts of two noble and skilled men pitched together in a fight to decide the best of the best, boxing can again stand tall as the most engrossing spectacle in the sporting world.
The undercard of this Matchroom and Sauerland Event card could not possibly compare.
Dereck Chisora stopped David Price in the fourth round of a clumpy contest. The end came at two minutes of the round with Price, unsteady but willing to continue, in a neutral corner having just about beaten referee Howard Foster’s count. Joe McNally, Price’s coach, threw in the towel at the perfect time.
Price, 36, would later admit he had taken the fight at three weeks’ notice for the money and the loss – his seventh from 32 outings – would not hurt his career. But the punches he continues to take will hurt his future. If he’s happy to be served up as the opponent time after time when fancied rivals need a ‘name’ then who are we to tell him otherwise. Even so, one hopes that Price, who is so well-respected, takes some time to consider his options.
A left cracked into Price’s skull in the second round. As a result of “Del Boy” constantly trying to take Price’s head off, and Price working hard to avoid such a scenario, both looked shattered at the close of the session.
Drama came rapidly at the end of the third. Chisora’s right blasted through before a left hook slammed into Price. He clung on desperately. At the bell, Chisora eyeballed Price coldly. The warning was clear.
Rights and lefts, hooks and uppercuts, crashed into Price in the fourth. The underdog did score with a hefty right uppercut of his own but Chisora, astonishingly durable, would not be denied.
A right snapped Price’s head and down he went. He stayed on all fours for seven seconds before getting up on wobbly legs. Foster looked into his eyes, and just as it looked like the referee was going to let it continue, McNally threw 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. After 36 foul-tempered minutes, Steve Gray scored 115-115 while Howard Foster (116-112) and Victor Loughlin (116-113) favoured 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 counters.
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. At the end of the round, Burns signalled 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. It was a ferocious if untidy 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 walloped Burns with a left hook after the bell.
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 battle. Selby, a former IBF featherweight boss, is hoping to challenge for a world title in his new division while Burns, at 36, will no doubt consider his future.
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 2-28 of the session, was in no condition to continue.
A short left 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 Jean Robert Laine’s interception was correct.
Though he isn’t pretty to watch, Okolie’s going to be exceptionally hard to beat.
Conor Benn 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 was measured early but his animal instinct kicked in as the rounds progressed. Punches strayed low, Jamoye had success in close. The finish, though, was brutal. Jamoye went down face-first and instinctively tried to rise 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 before he left the ring unaided.
The ferocious Abass Baraou continues to feast on the faded. In seven fights, the promising German had beaten veterans Carlos Molina and Ali Funeka. John O’Donnell, classy but slipping at 33, was wiped out in six rounds after a brave effort to halt the prospect’s march. A bristling attack, that started with a sapping left to the body, sent O’Donnell down in the sixth. 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, 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. 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 and refereed by Mr Williams – 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.
In a lively four-rounder, Shannon Courtenay extended her unbeaten record to four, but she was made to work hard by Serbia’s Jasmina Nad, winning 39-38 on Mr Williams’ card.