ALTHOUGH the unrivalled drama of the main event understandably overshadowed the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jnr undercard, there was nonetheless plenty of action and intrigue further down the bill.
In the chief support, Liverpool’s Callum Smith successfully retained his WBA super-middleweight title for the first time with an eye-catching display against human yo-yo Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam.
To say that N’Jikam is no stranger to suffering knockdowns is something of an understatement. The Cameroonian-Frenchman, who fights out of Monte Carlo, was decked a total of 10 times in just two bouts with Peter Quillin and David Lemieux – both at middleweight. Competing a division north against the physically imposing Smith, it was difficult to envisage him being able to stand up to his former sparring partner’s heavy-handed assaults. And so it proved.
Boasting a considerable size advantage, the patient and relaxed champion got his eye in with some stiff jabs, before a shuddering short left hook dropped N’Jikam in the opener. The ex-WBO 160lb belt-holder was down again before the round was out, though this time from a push, according to referee Charlie Fitch.
Jabs softened up N’Jikam again in the next session, setting him up for another trip to the mat, courtesy of a left hook once more. The laterally moving N’Jikam attempted to stay out of trouble in the third, but to no avail. After a selection of jabs, hooks and uppercuts backed the experienced 35-year-old up onto the ropes, a driving right hand sent him heavily to the floor. He bravely made it to his feet, but Mr Fitch had seen enough at 2-56.
In the ring after the contest, Smith was asked about a potential clash with pound-for-pound superstar Canelo Alvarez, who is searching for an opponent for September. The 29-year-old made it be known that he wants the fight, yet also stated that he “won’t wait around for Canelo”, as he would rather “keep fighting and stay busy” in order to maintain his progression.
“It was an honour to fight at Madison Square Garden,” Smith said. “Hopefully the manner of this win will get people talking about me.”
Aside from Joshua’s entrance, the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for female boxing sensation Katie Taylor, who was aiming to become only the seventh person in the sport’s history to hold the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO belts at the same time.
The Irish icon was up against Belgian police officer Delfine Persoon – the long-reigning WBC lightweight champ. From the opening bell, the truculent Roeselare resident was looking to impose her authority on Taylor by any means necessary.
Big and strong at the weight, Persoon tore onto the front foot from the outset, aiming to establish her jab and connect with fierce hooks. Taylor responded with fast flurries in what was an exciting, high-class first frame. Both enjoyed success in the second, with Taylor’s speed and Persoon’s aggression battling for supremacy.
Taylor’s sharp jab and clever movement was on display in the third, but she was having to work mightily hard to keep the marauding Persoon at bay. By now, the match had developed into a particularly rough and attritional affair, as evidenced in round four, when the two titlists exchanged a series of strikes in a blur of energy and commotion.
Left hooks found their mark from Taylor in the fifth as she sidestepped away from danger, but Persoon was soon swarming all over her again, leaving the Bray boxer nursing cuts on the bridge of her nose and her scalp, as well as a nick by the right eye. Persoon, though, would not escape injury herself – far from it, in fact.
The 34-year-old began to lose her form somewhat in the sixth, which was hardly surprising considering the relentless effort she had put in up to this point. As she became more ragged, Taylor began to make her miss and punish her with rapid counters. At the end of the stanza, Persoon was left sporting grazes by her right optic and on her left cheekbone, in addition to a nasty haematoma over her left eye.
Despite her war wounds, the seventh and eighth rounds proved to be productive ones for Persoon. Stubbornly ignoring the fatigue building up in her muscles, she continued her incessant forward march with arcing rights. Heading into the ninth, the momentum seemed to be with her, rather than the tiring Taylor.
However, the pendulum swung again in the penultimate session, as a jolting left hook knocked Persoon’s head back. The pugnacious pair traded blows for the remainder of the round, with the snap seemingly evaporating from Persoon’s punches as the activity levels showed no signs of diminishing.
Ahead of the closing two minutes, the crowd awarded both combatants a much-deserved standing ovation, before the warring rivals went back to it, slugging away at one another. Persoon landed a double jab followed by a hard right hook. Sensing her foe’s exhaustion, she went after Taylor in an electrifying final 30 seconds, during which the 32-year-old was forced to dig exceptionally deep and struggle with all she had to remain upright.
At the conclusion of a fantastic battle, I had Taylor ahead by one point, although opinion was split at ringside. Ultimately, two of the three judges sided with Taylor’s better quality over Persoon’s non-stop tenacity. Allen Nace and John Poturaj marked 96-94, while Don Trella could not separate them at 95-95. Sparkle Lee was the referee.
Following the announcement of the majority decision in Taylor’s favour, a distraught and angry Persoon stormed out of the ring in tears, feeling she had done enough to warrant the victory. Taylor, meanwhile, who described the fight as “definitely the hardest of [her] career”, could celebrate securing her status as the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.
The scheduled 12-rounder between super-lightweights Chris Algieri and Tommy Coyle was expected to be a fun, fan-friendly tussle, and it didn’t disappoint.
After edging a cagey first round with some smart shots to the midsection, Coyle opened up in the second and seriously wobbled Algieri with a clumping overhand right. With the former WBO king covering up on the strands, Coyle unloaded a hatful of hooks, roared on by his vociferous fans who had made the trip across the Atlantic from Hull. Yet Algieri is known for his fitness, and the man from Huntington in New York exhibited impressive powers of recovery to finish the frame bouncing on his toes behind jabs and left hooks downstairs.
Algieri attempted to establish his jab and body work further in the third, and he certainly did so in round four. A perfectly placed left hook to the liver brought an expression of pure pain to Coyle’s face. Seeing that he had the Yorkshireman hurt, Algieri replicated the attack on three more occasions, causing Coyle to fall to his knees in the corner. As game as ever, the 29-year-old scrapper rose from the canvas and launched wide hooks at Algieri, who defended himself with a typically tight, high guard.
Algieri, 35, put his punches together well in the fifth, though Coyle remained a threat with his dogged determination and looping blows – some of which he scored with in the sixth. The next two sessions were punishing ones for Coyle, who was peppered with jabs and combinations as an increasingly confident Algieri started to walk him down.
As they each sat down on their stools at the close of the eighth, the scars of conflict were etched across their features. Blood was smeared over Coyle’s nose, while both of Algieri’s eyes were bruised and swollen. But it was by now apparent that the latter was clearly in the ascendancy, leading Coyle’s trainer, Jamie Moore, to pull his war-torn man out before the beginning of the ninth. The retirement was accepted by referee Eric Dali.
The courageous Coyle was upset with his coach’s choice, but it appeared to be the correct one. Knowing the fighting pride that his charge possesses, Moore branded the decision as “the toughest call [he’s] had to make as a trainer.”
After his bout with touted Sunderland welterweight Josh Kelly was declared a majority draw, seasoned Philadelphia southpaw Ray Robinson remarked: “I thought I outworked him and deserved the ‘W’.” I’d be inclined to agree with the 33-year-old.
Kelly’s flashy technique divides opinion. Some like his hands-down, reflex-based, quick-countering approach, while others believe that it promotes style over substance. The 25-year-old’s twitchy feints and evasive head movement did flummox Robinson at times, but the problem was that the “Pretty Boy” did not throw enough leather himself. Whereas he relied on swift single punches, the smooth-boxing Robinson steadily advanced all night and supplemented a consistent jab with varied follow-up lefts to head and body.
When Kelly increased his output in rounds five and six he was far more effective, but in the seventh he reverted back to his herky-jerky tactics, which allowed Robinson to press the action again. Seemingly realising that something had to change, Kelly fought with his gloves up in a traditional guard for the rest of the contest, yet Robinson was able to infiltrate this defence with his long jabs in the eighth and ninth.
The 10thsaw Kelly deliver some solid right hands to take the round for all three of the judges, which proved vital in salvaging something from the fight, as he had been behind on two of the scorecards going into the final frame.
The tallies at the end read 96-95 to Kelly (Guido Cavalleri) and 95-95 twice (Frank Lombardi and Waleska Roldan). I had it 96-94 to Robinson, who was cut on his right eyebrow. Kelly suffered gashes by both eyes. All three lacerations were the result of head clashes. David Fields was the man in charge.
Considering Robinson had held the highly regarded Egidijus Kavaliauskas to a tie earlier this year, drawing with the Philly fighter is certainly no disgrace for the still-developing Kelly, who was making his first professional appearance outside of the UK. A rematch would be interesting.
The slated 10-rounder between British light-heavy boss Joshua Buatsi and ex-WBC super-middleweight title challenger Marco Antonio Periban lasted less than four, as the fast-rising Croydon sharpshooter ruthlessly dispatched the 34-year-old from Mexico City.
In his maiden pro outing away from Britain, Buatsi, 26, ominously stalked the recently inactive Periban throughout, seeking a fight-finishing punch. A vicious overhand right precipitated a knockdown in the fourth, before a violent onslaught brought an end to proceedings at 1-39. Tony Chiarantano refereed. Buatsi’s fellow 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, the agile and skilled super-welterweight Souleymane Cissokho (Bagnolet, France), impressed in outpointing feisty Denver-based Mexican Vladimir Hernandez, 30. Tom Carusone (80-72), James Pierce and Ms Roldan (both 79-73) all had the Virgil Hunter-trained Cissokho, 27, a clear winner over his left-handed adversary. Mr Fields officiated.
THE two four-rounders on the card both ended early. Lively middleweight Austin “Ammo” Williams – a portsider living in Houston – floored Trenton, New Jersey’s Quadeer Jenkins twice en route to a stoppage triumph at 2-14. Mr Chiarantano refereed. Elsewhere, another middleweight, tall Los Angeles teenager Diego Pacheco, flattened Jared Chauvin of Macomb, Michigan. The time was 1-50.
The Verdict Lots to enjoy on a strong show.