OLYMPIAN Steven Donnelly insisted his vast amateur pedigree was to thank for this surge to glory in Ultimate Boxxer V. The two-time Commonwealth Games medalist, who represented Ireland at Rio 2016, was a big favourite to come out on top of the eight-man tournament at the Indigo venue inside the O2 Arena. And he proved the bookmakers right with a trio of impressive victories, two inside the distance, to claim the so-called “Golden Robe” and £16,000 in prize money.
In truth, the 31-year-old’s initial inclusion was a surprise and it was considered a major coup by Ultimate Boxxer to tempt a fighter of his calibre into the burgeoning format, which is usually populated by lesser-known men desperate for a break. Donnelly, for instance, was the only one of the eight with his own Wikipedia page.
But he decided the chance to add three more names to his record, a significant night’s earnings to his bank account and an appearance in a main event on BT Sport was too good to turn down. The decision was vindicated in style.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “All the work, all the training hard for the last six or seven weeks has paid off. I’ve done everything right.
“I used my jab and my boxing ability shone through in the end. My amateur experience paid off, I used all of it.”
The Ballymena man, who made his pro debut at a rain-soaked Windsor Park in August last year, was 5-0 before the start of proceedings with only one stoppage. But he moved to 8-0 (3) and will surely benefit from the exposure here.
Much like Prizefighter before it, Ultimate Boxxer has its detractors but nobody could deny it provided solid entertainment from start to finish, even given such a dominant winner.
Donnelly had stopped Ipswich’s Ish O’Connor after just 2-50 in his quarter-final, refereed by Mark Bates, which gave him plenty of time to prepare for his semi-final against 23-year-old Sean Robinson.
The Ruislip man had beaten former sparring partner Lewis Syrett of Tonbridge 30-27 on the cards of Chas Coakley, Bob Williams and Bates to book his place in the last four but could not find an answer for Donnelly.
The MTK-managed fighter won the opening two rounds pretty comfortably and, even though he probably lost the final round, there was no way back for Robinson. Coakley, Bates and Ian John-Lewis all scored him a 29-28 winner to send him through to the final where unheralded Lenny Fuller from Maidstone lay in wait.
The 25-year-old had failed to register a single stoppage in his previous six fights as a pro but stunned overwhelming favourite Kingsley Egbunike in just 34 seconds of a brutal first round, punctuated by thudding right hands, which forced Coakley to intervene.
Fuller had a tougher semi-final against rangy southpaw Joshua Ejakpovi but managed to drop him en route to a 30-26 victory on the cards of John-Lewis, Bates and Williams. It was another surprise given Ejakpovi’s dominant quarter-final victory over Kaan Hawes, which was scored 30-25 by Bates, John-Lewis and Coakley as a result of two knockdowns. Williams was the ref.
Fuller finally came unstuck in the final at the hands of Donnelly, but given their respective pedigrees there was no shame in that. While Donnelly was travelling the world representing his country at major tournaments, Fuller was learning the ropes on the unlicensed circuit having never boxed as a senior amateur.
In the end, the gulf in class showed as the visitor from Northern Ireland forced John-Lewis to wave off the action after 1-33 of round two with Fuller pinned into his own corner taking heavy punishment.
“Big respect to Lenny Fuller,” Donnelly added. “I think he could actually go down a division so fair play.”
Elsewhere on the card, Albanian ticket-seller Florian Marku moved to 5-0 by outpointing 11-3 Czech Miroslav Serban over six in front of his adoring fans, who nearly lifted the roof off the venue. Despite Marku failing to register a stoppage for the first time, they went ballistic when his 60-55 decision from Bates was announced.
Peckham-born Derrick Osaze had earlier stopped Czech Republic’s Rene Molik when Bates stepped in after 2-50 of round two in a scheduled four. Undefeated Leeds cruiserweight Mick Learmonth, meanwhile, clinched a points win when referee Coakley gave him a 40-35 nod over Poland’s Pawel Strykowski.
There was also a stoppage victory for Londoner Youssef Khoumari, who forced referee Chas Coakley to end the resistance of debutant Lee Devine after 1-59 of the third.
Before that, Manchester’s Sean Fennell and Linus Udofia of Luton both racked up 40-36 wins in their four-rounders. Fennell beat Daniel Alder while Udofia outpointed Liam Griffiths in contests refereed by Coakley and Bates respectively.
The Verdict More entertainment served up by UB – and what a springboard for Donnelly.