IN his first fight under the guidance of esteemed trainer Virgil Hunter, highly touted light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi demonstrated his predatory instincts once more by producing a brutal finish at Manchester Arena.
Going into his scheduled 10-rounder with fellow unbeaten Daniel Dos Santos, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Buatsi had recorded eight consecutive early wins. The 28-year-old Brit extended that number to nine by ruthlessly dispatching his opponent in the fourth round.
Pumping out forceful jabs to head and body, Buatsi began assertively in the opener. His right hand came into play more in the second, as a barrage of blows in the corner caused Dos Santos to crumple to the mat. The rangy and sculpted Frenchman regained his footing and tried to evade Buatsi by sidestepping around the ring. However, he found that escaping his stalking adversary was no easy task.
The erratic Dos Santos, 30, made things messy in the third and succeeded in smothering his rival’s work. But there was to be no deterring Buatsi in the fourth. With Dos Santos cornered, the Croydon puncher uncorked a ruinous right hook that left the visitor in a heap on the floor. (Buatsi landed a second right hand as Dos Santos was on the way down, but gestured apologetically afterwards, once he realised that the man from Pont-Sainte-Maxence was out cold.) Referee Victor Loughlin immediately called the contest off at 2-44.
After taking a few minutes to recover, the defeat suddenly dawned on a tearful Dos Santos, who was touchingly consoled by Buatsi. As expected, the significant step up in class proved too much for Dos Santos, who, prior to this bout, had only faced three opponents with winning records.
Following the fight, promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed that Buatsi’s next outing will be in July, either in the UK or America.
After previously winning the British and Commonwealth super-middleweight straps, New Malden’s Lerrone Richards stepped up to European level in a vacant title clash with seasoned Italian Giovanni De Carolis.
Exhibiting fine footwork and a smooth jab, Richards dictated the tempo and frustrated De Carolis with his accuracy and slick movement. The poised portsider regularly made De Carolis miss by slipping and sliding away from danger. With his intelligent use of angles and impressive variety, it was a stylish showing from Richards, whose dominance was reflected in the judges’ scorecards.
Ian John-Lewis and Anssi Perajoki tallied 120-108, while Francisco Alloza Rosa had it 119-109, all in favour of new champion Richards. John Latham officiated.
The fight of the night ended in a notable upset, as Birmingham’s EBU super-bantamweight belt-holder Gamal Yafai was dethroned by Doncaster underdog Jason Cunningham.
Looking razor-sharp from the outset, the confident Cunningham – a previous two-division Commonwealth titlist – boxed brilliantly on the move with his precise punch-picking. In the second round, a spearing left hand sent Yafai to the canvas, before a left uppercut-left cross combination decked the Midlander again in the fourth.
Cut on the left eyebrow, Yafai defiantly hurled heavy shots in Cunningham’s direction, but the unfancied challenger countered superbly with accurate uppercuts and southpaw one-twos. The long-levered Yorkshireman scored his third knockdown of the bout when a left uppercut followed by a left hook floored Yafai in the sixth.
Although he had endured a nightmare first half, the gutsy and tireless Yafai refused to yield. Stubbornly marching forward, he relentlessly attempted to hunt his rival down. However, when the champion did connect with a clean right in the seventh, Cunningham simply shook it off and continued to move and counter with aplomb.
Unceasing in his effort, it wasn’t until Yafai started to target the body in the later sessions that he began to make his mark and cause Cunningham some concern. In the 10th, which was Yafai’s best round, he pushed Cunningham back incessantly and slowed him down by hacking away at the midsection. Cunningham wisely grabbed hold in order to stifle his opponent’s attacks.
By the time of the championship rounds, the matchup had developed into a gruelling affair, with Yafai well aware that he needed a knockout to preserve his status as champion. He left it all in the ring in the 12th and final frame, but Cunningham demonstrated clever fight management to see the contest out and cap off the finest performance of his career.
Mark Lyson scored it 115-110, while Mr John-Lewis and Mr Latham both handed in marks of 114-111, all for Cunningham, who was a deserving winner. Mr Loughlin was the man in the middle.
Another fighter making the opening defence of his European crown was cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy. The Belfast boxer controlled proceedings against Alexandru Jur, systematically picking the Romanian apart with consistent jabs and follow-up rights.
In round four, McCarthy leapt in with a lashing left hook to the liver that forced Jur down to all fours. The well-travelled Oradea man survived referee John-Lewis’ count, but when the same strike landed in the sixth, the challenger was unable to rise to his feet for a second time. The finish occurred at 2-09.
Next up for McCarthy is an interesting summer scrap with Commonwealth champ Chris Billam-Smith.
Rising super-lightweight prospect Dalton Smith, of Sheffield, seized his maiden professional title in his eighth contest. Boxing Rotherham’s Lee Appleyard in a South Yorkshire derby, Smith secured the vacant English championship with a sixth-round stoppage (set for 10).
Appleyard, who was aiming to become a two-weight English titlist, was game and gritty throughout, but could not contend with the spiteful accuracy of his sharpshooting foe. Referee Lyson stepped in at 2-44, with a bloody-nosed Appleyard taking stick on the ropes.
Up against outgunned opponents from Sofia, Bulgaria, former successful amateurs Solomon Dacres and Ellis Hopkins were both shutout winners on their pro debuts.
A 6ft 5in heavyweight from Warley, the 27-year-old Dacres – a 2017 national champion – picked his punches smartly and displayed nice variety en route to a 60-54 victory over the rugged Mladen Manev. Considering he has lost three-quarters of his fights in the pros, it is somewhat surprising to note that, as an amateur, Manev claimed a European bronze medal at middleweight in 2010.
Coalville youngster Hopkins – the first female boxer from the Traveller community to enter the paid ranks – put in a composed performance against experienced veteran Borislava Goranova. Showing little sign of any nerves, the 20-year-old super-welterweight used jabs, feints and body punches to box her way to a 40-36 win.
Mr Latham refereed both bouts.