Oh dear I thought, as I made my way through the boisterous crowd making their way to the Notting Hill Carnival on Saturday evening, their jovial behavior made me begin to doubt that my decision to travel to the other side of the city, to attend the season opening event at York Hall was actually worth it, but in the end I decided to persevere and to be honest am really glad I did.
I arrived later than planned, expecting to have missed the first bout as it was gone 7pm, only to find that it hadn’t actually started and instead of walking in half way through a bout I was greeted by the sight of a troupe of dancers twirling in the ring.
About ten minutes later the MC, the rather recognizable Steve Holdsworth from Eurosport, announced the first pairing, Chris Wood and shortly after the home fighter Matar Sambou.
Having not attended an event sanctioned by the Malta Boxing Commission previously, I have to admit I didn’t know too much about these fighters except Wood had a 2-1 record and Sambou’s was 1-0.
Much to my surprise another very recognizable face, longtime BBBofC referee Ken Curtis, was introduced as the third man in the ring and it was about then that it dawned on me that this was indeed a serious professional show, not a mickey mouse affair as I had been led to believe through the grapevine.
The second give away was the fight itself, not the usual mismatch affair of a young prospect getting fed a ‘body’ for an easy ride for his first five or six bouts, as is the norm on most British boxing shows, no, what ensued was an all out battle for supremacy between two genuinely talented prospects.
It was non stop action virtually from the first to final bell, Sambou won the first stanza in my view and Wood the second, the real deciding factor for this bout was the third.
It was a fairly even round up to the final minute when Wood landed a big shot bang on the money, somehow Sambou managed to stay up even though his legs went to jelly, I distinctly remember thinking it’s over, but no the youngster used his head and grabbed hold of the advancing Wood and hung on for dear life.
Referee Ken Curtis separated them and I fully expected Wood to finish Sambou off there and then but the Senegalese lad once again grabbed hold, although not for long as the bell rang just seconds later.
Sambou surprised me as he had cleared his head in time for the final round and what a final round, both lads went at it hammer and tongs for the full three minutes.
Whilst we were waiting for the scores to be read out I totted up my scoring, which read 39-37 for Wood, however knowing how these things usually end up, the home fighter always getting the nod, I was pleasantly pleased that not only was it the away fighter, Chris Wood, whose hand was held aloft in victory, but also that the score mirrored my own.
Next up were two debuting lads, in the away corner Luke Junior and in the home Junior Walker.
As with the previous bout I was again pleasantly surprised that it was another equally matched fight between two very talented young lads.
Walker though had quite a height advantage and he used this to maximum effect, keeping the smaller Junior at bay much of the time with a fearsome jab.
About midway through the first Junior attempted to get on the inside, unfortunately as he did he was tagged and being slightly off balance that was enough to send him sprawling to the canvas.
Most inexperienced boxers usually try too hard to get back on terms when this happens, but not Junior, he composed himself and attempted to box his way back into the fight.
Throughout the bout Junior cleverly boxed his way in, neutralizing Walkers superior reach, when he did he shone brightly and landed some good body shots, but unfortunately this didn’t happen often enough for the youngster to score enough to nick a round or two.
After four highly entertaining rounds referee Ken Curtis scored the bout identical to myself once more; 40-35 in favour of Walker.
The third bout of the night featured another debutant, Daniel Mendes against Latvian import Mereks Kovalevskis.
No surprise here, Mendes a tall, lean and cut lad looking very much the part of a Cruiserweight prospect against a portly journeyman.
My initial thoughts, oh dear hear we go a typical mismatch just like on any small Hall show anywhere up and down the country on a Saturday night.
Whilst yes it was a mismatch, you can’t take it away from Mendes, he boxed really well and what’s more he packs a big right hand, which he used to great effect, stopping the Latvian in just two minutes and twenty seconds of the first round.
Next up was a name I recognized, Nathan Decastro, I remember him from the amateurs, I know this kid can fight and more importantly packs an anvil for a right hand, so had a good idea what was going to happen to the imported Artur Iljins from Latvia.
I was right, the import didn’t give Decastro any worries and the Lincolnshire lad dispatched the rather poor opponent in just one minute and fifty seven seconds and raised his record to 5-0.
I had made the trip specifically to watch Peckham’s Shaunagh Brown make her professional debut, having read all about her a couple of weeks earlier and was intrigued that a successful athlete should decide to try her hand at professional boxing.
What I didn’t expect was to see her in against someone so much heavier than herself, although as if to answer my silent question Steve Holdsworth explained that Shaunagh is the only female Cruiserweight boxer in the world and as such has no option to box someone from the unlimited Heavyweight division.
Brown’s opponent, also debuting, was Ireland’s Xena Ball, whilst the name is not familiar I am certain I have seen this girl boxing in the amateurs at some point.
As the bout progressed it was clear that Ball has boxed at a high level and whilst not anywhere near as experienced Brown showed a raw, yet natural, ability and surprised me that she was able to get the better of the much bigger and more experienced Irish girl.
Whilst Brown didn’t win a single round, she more than held her own against Ball, which bodes well for the Londoner, I can only hope that more girls around her weight take up the sport otherwise it will not matter how talented she is she’ll never overcome the weight advantage a natural Heavyweight will always have over her if she boxers in that division.
The second female bout featured unbeaten Lightweight Sam Smith from Leeds against a debuting Alina Lisova from Riga in Latvia.
Smith looked every part the professional boxer and oozed confidence, which was in stark contrast to Lisova, who looked very, very nervous.
Smith clearly is a talented young boxer, however she didn’t get much of a chance to showcase her skills as the Latvian girl was very poor, so wasn’t at all surprised when she stopped the girl in just one minute and ten seconds of the first round.
I couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would have put a debuting girl in with a proven big puncher like Smith is, but later discovered that due to some naughtiness by another boxing board, I guess they meant the boxing board, that no less than seven opponents had pulled out and Lisova was a very late replacement.
The final female bout followed shortly after, a Bantamweight contest between London’s Marianne Marston and Riga, Latvia’s Jekaterina Lecko.
As with the previous bout I had heard that there had also been problem with matching this fight, nine different opponents, due to major interference.
Lecko sashayed down the catwalk first, looking very much like a catwalk model than a boxer, oh forgot to say the catwalk was another innovative addition on this show, have to say I liked it and it seems most of the boxers did too.
Marston on the other hand looked every inch a pro boxer, no posing for her she was focused and ready to fight.
Right from the off the two girls battled for centre ground, but it didn’t take long for Marston to not just take centre ground but used her command position to dominate the round, easily picking off the highly mobile Latvian.
In the final minute or so of the first Marston stepped up the pressure and backed Lisova onto the ropes where she then proceeded to pummel the Latvian with ferocious double handed volleys, until with just seconds left of the round the inevitable happened and the Latvian went down.
Lisova just about beat the count and after the minute break the bout resumed in very much the same style, with Marston dominating.
Lisova began to throw massive right hands, but Marston wasn’t fazed by these, she just dipped down and as Lisova’s glove flew by let rip with big lefts to the body.
As before Marston cut off any escape route and backed the Latvian on to the ropes and began another double handed assault, until Referee Ken Curtis had no option but to step in and save Lisova from serious damage.
Marston is without doubt a talented boxer, her movement and ability to cut off the ring is first class, however again, as with Smith, the level of opponent didn’t give the Londoner a chance to show the fans what she is really capable of.
After the fight MC Steve Holdsworth announced that Marston will be challenging for a World title in November, I hope it’s in the UK as I for one will definitely want to be there to watch that.
Next down the catwalk was Robin Deakin (1-51-0), for those that do not know Deakin, he has been described as Britain’s worse boxer, which I always thought was unfair as previously he fought as a journeyman so in reality it’s his job to lose, but apparently that’s not the way the BBBofC see it.
Deakin’s opponent was Deniss Kornilovs, whose record was a more respectable won one and lost two.
I’ve seen Deakin box many times, in fact have seen him win fights but still come away with the loss on his record, well he was the away fighter then, however this time he’s the house fighter.
Have to say much to my surprise Deakin put in a very tidy performance, easily out boxing Kornilovs, I’m not saying it was a sensational bout, it wasn’t but it wasn’t a bad bout either.
Deakin actually not just looked the part but boxed better than when I had seen him previously and after four entertaining rounds Deakin was announced the winner by a 40-36 points margin and in my view that was a hundred percent correct.
The final pro bout of the night pitted former Team GB amateur boxer Iain Weaver in action against Latvian Dinars Skripkins.
Weaver is a known talent and boy did he showcase his skills to maximum effect against a kid that also can box, I honestly thought that this was set to be another cracking well matched fight but was wrong, but for the right reasons, Weaver was way to good for Skripkins and the Bournemouth lad finished him off in just two minutes and thirty seconds and boy was that a great finish, Weaver corralled the Latvian on to the ropes and let rip with a shot to the head followed up by a sharp left to the body which sent Skripkins to the canvas.
There were a couple of other bouts on the card but I haven’t covered them as they were described by MC Steve Holdsworth as pro-am, although saying that both these bouts were equally to the standard of the first two bouts on the pro card.
Have to say my first visit to a Malta Boxing Commission sanctioned event was a pleasant surprise, there was a very good crowd, the lower floor filled to capacity so would guess between eight hundred and a thousand, there was a great atmosphere and some great fights.
My only complaint is the quality of some of the imports, but knowing about the large number of pullouts in the build up I can forgive them for that.
Written by Simon Brown