It may not be for the purists and Matchroom and Sky Sports might have bigger fish to fry going forward, but when Prizefighter delivers, it delivers in spades. Tonight was one such occasion when 8 men with nothing to lose and everything to gain stepped through the ropes to provide passion-drenched non-stop action, which brought the historic York Hall to its feet. In the process providing a timely reminder of what made Prizefighter great, knockouts, all out wars, controversial decisions aplenty, not to mention the emergence of a potential star.
Irishman ‘King Kong’ Jono Carroll, the unbeaten lightweight based in Australia emerged triumphant in a display of skill, fitness and bravery that belied his misally 3 fight slate going into tonight’s event. No doubt turning the head of one promoter in particular looking to fill a considerable gap recently vacated by Matthew Macklin across the Irish Sea.
It’s easy to forget what a tough and demanding sport boxing is at the highest level, never mind for those who are forced to work part-time or full-time jobs to pay the bills, fitting the training around it. Fighting away from the limelight, dreaming of the cameras and the meaningful paydays. For one night only Prizefighter presents the opportunity of both and our third installment of lightweights didn’t disappoint.
Opening the show in Quarter Final one was Lee Martin taking on Craig Whyatt over the 3 x 3 minute round distance which remains constant throughout the competition. The only way to describe what unfolded before us during those 9 minutes is ‘WAR’. Martin marching forward relentlessly delivering what seemed like a countless number of punches, whilst Whyatt utilised his superior movement and skill the pick his opponent off on the back foot over first two rounds. But Martin would not be denied continuing to pour it on in the 3rd and final round and win a split decision to advance. Personally, I favoured the smoother work of Whyatt, but heart sells in this event and in that sense Lee Martin is a millionaire.
Next up former Prizefighter finalist Danny ‘Cassius’ Connor faced former foe Michael ‘Chunky’ Devine in what began as a scrappy encounter, which ignited when Devine floored Connor with a stunning overhand right. Connor could never find enough purchase in his own punches to turn the tables and lost the bout by majority decision, with one judge scoring the contest level and two in favour of Devine.
When Jono Carroll stepped through the ropes to face former European Super Featherweight Champion Stephen Foster Jnr, it was difficult to know what to expect. What we found out very quickly was that Jono Carroll was quick and far more suited to the shorter distance than the 34 year old from Salford. The format just didn’t suit Foster and he was out-maneuvered and out-worked, losing a split decision to crash out.
The last time Gary Buckland entered Prizefighter he did so with a bang, sparking then British Super Featherweight Champion Gary Sykes in one on his way to lifting the trophy. This time he started in a similar fashion as his class told, with the Welshman dishing out severe punishment to the game challenger Floyd Moore over 3 rounds to win unanimously. Moore is a proud fighter and the fact that he withstood what was a barrage of big shots to the head and particularly the body is testament to the toughness and courage that is embedded within this tournament.
Lee Martin had a ‘Kill or be Killed’ to his work tonight, unfortunately for him he came down on the wrong side of this motto in the first semi final of the evening, figuratively of course. The show was over for Martin the moment Michael Devine detonated a humongous right hook that had him strewn on the bottom rope. Ian John Lewis counted the reckless Londoner out with 0:56 seconds left of the first round.
If you had bet on Gary Buckland you could be forgiven for counting your winnings, it was his for the taking; only Jono Carroll had not read the script. Impressive all night King Kong displayed his slick style once more making Buckland miss and firing his combinations to score rather than hurt. A pattern that continued for the first minute of round 2, until the Welshman caught up to him landing several eye catching punches late on. When Buckland poured on the pressure in the 3rd Carroll was unmoved and happy to sit in the pocket and trade, despite visibly tiring.
When Carroll was awarded with the split decision victory, Buckland and his corner where dismayed and this writer was confused. I had Buckland just nicking it, but the more I thought about it and weighed up experiences and the advantages Buckland held over the youngster, I just could not begrudge him the victory.
Jono Carroll topped off his arrival to British audiences with his best performance of the night in the final, superior in every facet to the desperately tired Michael Devine, who somehow managed to summon the fortitude to stay on his feet despite being wobbled by a variety of shots consistently and visibly shaken. The Irishman went on to win a unanimous decision and announce himself on the British boxing scene with a bang.
Jono Carroll is a name to keep in mind; he might just reach the heights of his erstwhile nickname in the future.
There have been some great Prizefighter nights and this will be right up there with what has gone before and if it is to go the way of the Dodo I’m really happy that it got the send off it deserved. It will not be around forever and it might not be one for the purists, but it’s exciting and it means everything to the hardworking fighters who deserve some of the spotlight too.