THOUGH he won’t need reminding, the last time Newcastle’s Lewis Ritson boxed in front of his home fans he suffered his first professional defeat and discovered pro boxing is about more than just punch power.
His opponent that night in October 2018 was Belgian Francesco Patera, who left the North East with the vacant European lightweight title, and left Ritson with the job of having to start again.
It was, for Ritson and his promotional team, as painful as it was unexpected. Nobody saw it coming and nobody knew quite how to react. The hype train skidded to a halt, then it rerouted. Ritson, meanwhile, had to rebuild.
On Saturday (October 19), almost a year to the day since his first pro loss, he embarks on the next step in this process when he returns to Newcastle to exorcise demons in a 12-rounder against Liverpool’s Robbie Davies Jnr. It’s Ritson’s first proper test since the Patera defeat and will tell us as much about his character as his recent improvements.
The opponent is different and so too is the weight, with Ritson now campaigning as a super-lightweight. But the aim remains the same. Ritson, 19-1 (12), must show he has more to his game than just punch power and needs to recapture the form that saw him win a British lightweight title and defend it three times within an eight-month period.
If he can do that, Patera and the horrors of last time will be forgiven, if not forgotten. The loss will be described as a learning experience rather than a sign of his limitations and Ritson will claim it has only improved and finessed him in the long run. Wounds will heal. He will be free to move on.
For now, though, the fearsome reputation he built, at least domestically, as well as the ‘Geordie Golovkin’ label with which he was briefly saddled, has gone. That went the moment Patera found his range and began the taming process and its absence will, for Ritson, probably be beneficial.
Davies will benefit from it, too. Because, thanks to Patera, he now knows that technique and intelligence is the antidote to the power Ritson used to put Robbie Barrett, Joe Murray, Scott Cardle and Paul Hyland Jnr to the sword during his British title run. He has seen the blueprint. He has no doubt studied it.
And Davies, by the way, is no stranger to defeat himself. He suffered a devastating one against Poland’s Michal Syrowatka in July 2017, when stopped in the twelfth round, but rebounded in the best way possible. He avenged the defeat immediately, stopping Syrowatka in the very same round eight months later, and then went from strength to strength. All the better for having avenged the loss, he outpointed Glenn Foot in October 2018 to win the British and Commonwealth super-lightweight titles and five months after that added the European title to his collection with a decision win over Joe Hughes in Liverpool.
Ritson, in fact, could do worse than look at Saturday’s opponent as an example of how a defeat can sometimes improve a fighter. Because Davis, at 30, is better now than he was prior to his loss and will use a lot of what he learnt from that setback against Ritson in Newcastle.
Also in Davies’ favour is the fact he has campaigned at super-lightweight since turning pro in 2013. With Ritson moving up, it’s hard to ignore past cases of physically imposing fighters with heavy hands departing their natural weight class only to lose something in the process. Historically, they find it tougher to hurt and stop heavier opponents and find themselves unable to use their strength the way they once did.
That’s not to say Ritson, 26, will suffer the same fate but certainly the queue to fight him at super-lightweight will be longer than it was at lightweight. Some opponents will have inches and pounds on him, all-important when it comes to taking punches and taking control, and their hope, too, is that his power will be diminished as a result of the move.
Early though it is, signs are there. In March 2019, for instance, German Argentino Benitez lasted the full 10 rounds with Ritson in the Newcastle man’s first fight at 140 pounds and first fight since losing to Patera. It was a victory for Ritson against a durable opponent, but it also marked his first decision win in three years, perhaps an indication that knockouts won’t be as readily available at his new weight.
If this weekend’s fight seems likely to go the distance, and it does, it’s in this type of battle Davies, 19-1 (13), appears better equipped. He is, after all, the one with the 12-round experience, having completed the distance three times and been involved in two final-round stoppage fights, and the one whose style seems better suited to the long haul.
Ritson will be energised by his home crowd and has the power to trouble most domestically, but that isn’t always enough. We know that now. He knows that now. More importantly, Davies knows this, and can take confidence from this, and can use this knowledge to prevail on the cards.
Supporting Ritson’s return to Newcastle is a fascinating British super-welterweight title fight between all-action champion Ted Cheeseman and Scott Fitzgerald.
Cheeseman, 15-1-1 (9), has had to rebound from some adversity of his own in recent times and was soundly outboxed by Sergio Garcia in February 2019. That loss highlighted both Cheeseman’s limitations and immense bravery and was followed by a draw against Northampton’s Kieron Conway in June.
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, has enjoyed better form. The Preston man took a risk in his last fight, when pitted against fellow prospect Anthony Fowler, but came of age in an impressive upset win, flooring Fowler in the 10th round and eventually defeating him via split-decision. The result took all but Fitzgerald, 13-0 (9), by surprise.
Now the secret’s out it would be far less of a shock to see Fitzgerald do something similar to the tenacious but hittable Cheeseman on Saturday night. Also on the Newcastle undercard, light-heavyweight prospect Lawrence Osueke, 9-0 (1), steps up in class for the first time against Ricky Summers, 16-2 (5), a former British title challenger, over 10 rounds, and there are runouts for heavyweight Martin Bakole, 13-1 (10), who fights Spanish journeyman Gabriel Enguema, and Savannah Marshall, 7-0 (5).