TOP of the bill on MTK’s show at the Bolton Whites Hotel this Friday (March 19) is Lee McGregor’s bid to add the European bantamweight crown to his British and Commonwealth titles. The Scot challenges Karim Guerfi (29-4), who is in his third stint as champion.
We previewed the clash in our November 5, 2020 issue when it was initially set to take place on November 11 (read it here). When McGregor tested positive for COVID-19, the bout was moved to January 22. However, after an increase in coronavirus cases forced the BBBofC to postpone all events in January, the contest had to be rescheduled again. We stick with our original prediction of McGregor (9-0) winning a cracking fight on points.
The card, which will be shown on iFL TV (UK) and ESPN+ (US), also features resurgent Rossington southpaw Maxi Hughes facing Belfast’s Paul Hyland Jnr for the vacant British lightweight title. Hyland was set to face Liam Walsh for the belt last month, but Walsh tested positive for COVID-19. The contest was pushed back to this Friday, yet with Walsh still recovering, Hughes (22-5-2) gets his shot.
This will be Hyland’s second attempt at the title, having been overwhelmed inside a round by Lewis Ritson (15-0) in June 2018. Hughes, meanwhile, gets his third crack at British honours, having previously been outpointed by Martin J. Ward and stopped by Sam Bowen, both down at super-featherweight. The momentum is unquestionably with Hughes, who turned his career around with two upset wins in the space of eight weeks last year.
Until August’s points victory over Jono Carroll (18-1-1), Hughes was known as a disciplined operator who could look after himself in good company, but lacked the punch and work rate to break through. Hughes surely got the Carroll job because it was thought he would give the Irishman competitive rounds and no more, but as it turned out, Hughes edged him on the scorecards.
The last round was crucial, as Hughes won it well. Other rounds were harder to score, with Carroll throwing more but Hughes keeping his defence tight and pecking away with counters, particularly to the body. From the midway point, Carroll looked to up the pace and Hughes went with him, usually having the last word.
This was followed by a shock points win over Viktor Kotochigov (12-0) in Dubai in October, a fight Hughes won clearly, dropping the Kazakh in the third and rocking him every time he connected. The move up to 135lbs appears to have suited the Sean O’Hagan-trained Hughes, whose self-belief is higher than it has ever been.
For much of his career, the British title looked to be beyond him, and judging by his rather negative performance against Walsh in November 2019, Hughes seemed to have settled into the role of a gatekeeper, solid enough to keep quality opponents honest. Now 31, he has reinvented himself and must start a warm favourite against Hyland (20-2).
Hughes has fought five times – winning four – since Hyland’s last outing, which was a sixth-round stoppage defeat to Francesco Patera (21-3) in a challenge for the European title in June 2019. Perhaps thinking he would not get a decision against an Italian in Italy, Hyland went for broke from the opening bell. He put an awful lot into the early rounds and though he did back Patera up, the champion’s punches had more effect. Down in the second, Hyland was over three more times from body shots.
Patera was defending the belt he had won by outpointing Ritson on a split vote in Newcastle. Ritson had previously proved way too strong for Hyland in front of his rowdy fans. From the first jab, everything Ritson landed shook Hyland, who was down three times. Ritson and Patera are good fighters, though, and they would probably start as favourites against Hughes.
Hyland, 30, outscored Stephen Ormond (24-4) on a disputed verdict in October 2017, and got off the floor to outpoint Miroslav Serban (10-1) in February 2019. That vulnerability – especially to the body – has to be a concern for Hyland going into this. Full of confidence, Hughes is letting his hands go with more conviction and can use his body punches to break Hyland down for a stoppage in the second half.
The Verdict McGregor and Hughes aim to continue their fine form.