THE RISE OF AYALA
IN one of the most gripping and important interviews BN conducted in 2022, Alejandra Ayala detailed her recovery after falling into a coma following her defeat to Hannah Rankin in May.
Back with her parents after a lengthy stay in hospital, Ayala said of the moment she woke up: “It took me long time to even recognise that my parents were there. Even when I started to remember them, they never said anything said anything about how bad the past couple of months had been for them. They were just constantly trying to make me feel better. It wasn’t until much later, in fact, that I started to realise everything they had been through. I couldn’t believe it. Unlike them, I don’t remember my operations or the fact the doctor said I was going to die.”
That she couldn’t walk or talk was concerning enough, but when she saw her reflection she realised the extent of her deterioration. Her hair had been shaved on one side of her head and a portion of her skull had been placed in her stomach to keep it sterile and nourished. “What is in my stomach?” she recalled asking. “I then looked at my head and I could see that there was this hole… I was like this for two weeks. They then did the third operation to open my stomach again and put the skull back in place.”
Ayala recalled nothing about the fight but directed no ill will towards Rankin. “I felt there were people who were angry at her and I really wasn’t. I’m not… She’s a good person and it’s boxing. That’s all that matters.”
Ultimately, waking up from the coma was the most important event in her life. “I used to work seven days a week,” she said. “I can’t do what I used to do. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m alive.”
WHO NEEDS LAS VEGAS?
THE golden sands of Bournemouth in a baking hot British summer became a premier fight destination as local favourite Chris Billam-Smith and Isaac Chamberlain collided in a domestic classic.
“They fought the opening three minutes at such a pace that there seemed little chance the timekeeper would need his bell after six rounds,” we wrote from ringside. “In the early rounds, the boxers often stood like mirror images, slotting in short hooks, pulling down guards, using shoulders, heads and fists to delight the 4,000 lucky enough to have a ticket. They were often too close, but it was essential to the pair that they tested each other. This was a basic brawl at times, make no mistake.”
At the end of 12 savage but so entertaining rounds, Billam-Smith won by three scores of 117-111. “I have not been in atmosphere like that for a long time,” said the referee, John Latham.
CHISORA CHUGS ON
DEREK CHISORA edged old rival Kubrat Pulev via in a surprisingly entertaining 12-rounder between two clearly war-torn heavies at the O2 Arena. Some felt Pulev deserved a split decision that could have gone either way.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: JAY OPETAIA notched one of the biggest shocks of the year while enduring a broken jaw to take the world cruiserweight championship from Mairis Briedis.
USYK TAKES FURY’S TITLE
SINCE flattening Dillian Whyte in April, Tyson Fury had announced his retirement several times, at press conferences, in interviews, on Twitter. In August he informed The Ring, and the WBC, that he was retired therefore those heavyweight championships should be declared vacant. The Ring did exactly that – because Fury is a grown man – while the WBC told him to go away and think about it. The TBRB, the independent rankings board that BN use, also decided to remove Fury. Again, Fury is an adult and had made his feelings clear on more than one occasion. In any other walk of life, you only have to hand in your resignation once.
So when Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua fought in Saudi Arabia, the winner would fill that vacancy. The rematch was a quality bout, superior to their first bout in both competitiveness and thrills.
The improved Joshua was in the fight for the first nine rounds, even appearing to hurt the Ukrainian in the ninth. As the bout entered the 10th, it was anyone’s. But Usyk – in a nod to his greatness – found a new gear and Joshua could not keep pace. At the end of the bout only Joshua thought he’d won.
“What followed bordered on a meltdown as he threw two of Usyk’s belts out of the ring and then grabbed the microphone and gave a long, rambling speech,” we reported from Jeddah. “All the snipes and insults he had taken over the years seemed to come to him in one grand moment of disappointment. But it wasn’t his moment to grandstand and it is fortunate his opponent was as cool a customer as Usyk, or things could have got ugly.”
Later, at the post-fight presser, an emotional Joshua said: “I’ll be the first to admit I let myself down. I acted out of pure passion and emotion and when not controlled, it isn’t great… I’ll be better from this point on.”
A week later, Tyson Fury confirmed he planned to make a comeback.
EUBANK JNR-BENN CONFIRMED
AFTER long and winding negotiations, it was confirmed that Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn would fight on October 8 at the O2 Arena in a bout to be broadcast by DAZN Box Office.
As well as the 157lbs catchweight, there was an undisclosed rehydration clause. “The restrictions are fair,” Eubank said. “He is coming up and I won’t be 100 per cent. If I was 100 per cent t would be a public execution.”
Benn said: “I will settle the score…If I can raise the bar, I will, but I do it every time anyway.”
THANKS to Dave Harris and Ringside Charitable Trust, Duke McKenzie received a blue plaque that was fixed to his family home. “I couldn’t believe it,” Duke told BN. “I can’t even put into word what it meant to me.”
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: OLEKSANDR USYK showed grit and style to decision Anthony Joshua again and plenty of class in the aftermath.
CANELO-GGG III COMES TOO LATE
THOUGH we didn’t get the clash between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall as a consequence of Queen Elizabeth II passing away (and all British action being cancelled on the weekend of September 10), we did get a contest widely regarded as the most-anticipated of the year the following week. That Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin III turned out to be arguably the most disappointing was, well, disappointing.
The rivals first two bouts, in 2018 and 2019, were unmissable all-action affairs whereas part three came along too late in Golovkin’s career and at a point in Canelo’s – after the loss to Dmitry Bivol – when winning at all costs meant few risks were taken. And such was Golovkin’s decline, no risks were required.
“It had descended into a fight in which the Mexican was able to dominate despite doing very little himself,” we wrote from ringside. “He could, for example, win rounds by exploding with the occasional left hook and overhand right, with Golovkin too slow to respond, his trigger jammed. He could also neglect having to use his own jab, a punch he knows is inferior to Golovkin’s, because the path to the target didn’t require it.
“All it required, it turned out, was for Alvarez to move his head, stay off the line, and unleash twos and threes whenever he sensed Golovkin was flat-footed or itching for a breather.”
The pattern continued, pretty much throughout the fight, though it was unclear through the first half if Golovkin’s limited output was part of a plan to come on strong down the stretch. It wasn’t. At the end of 12 rounds, the biggest talking point was the fact two judges scored a one-sided contest as close as 115-113 in the Mexican’s favour.
In truth, the time for this encounter was immediately after their rematch. Another lesson, then, in making fights at the right time.
FISH AND CHIPS
ONE show that did exceed expectation was Frank Warren’s September 16 promotion at York Hall, topped by Denzel Bentley’s four-round blitzing of a lively Marcus Morrison. The week before, we had deemed the bill worthy of only two stars due to the amount of predictable bouts on a televised card.
Warren did not hold back on his criticism of BN when IFLTV invited him to let rip in the aftermath. “The trade magazine is disrespectful,” he said. “Was that a two-star show? Did all the fans think that was a two-star show? I can’t believe these people [BN] are in boxing. They’re clueless… They are dishonest, absolutely dishonest, and it’s not worth wrapping your fish and chips up in.”
His rant came two weeks after we’d published an investigation highlighting how many cards (the vast majority) are stacked with contests that contain a ticket-seller/prospect versus a rank outsider.
SMALL HALL CLASSIC
IN A welcome example of what can happen at small hall level when the fights are well-matched, Dom Hunt edged Darren Tetley on points after 10 exciting and brutal rounds.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: Heavyweight contender JOE JOYCE turned in an awe-inspiring display to knock out Joseph Parker in 11 rounds in Manchester on September 24.
THE most unforgettable – and surely regrettable – event of the year occurred when promoters Eddie Hearn and Kalle Sauerland pushed on with plans to stage the Chris Eubank Jnr-Conor Benn showdown while knowing the latter had failed two performance enhancing drug tests on separate occasions (July 25 and September 1, from respective VADA and UKAD tests).
The timeline of events remains truly grim reading and a sorry reflection of the governance of our sport. The promoters claimed that they did not pull the event because they had not been told to do so by the Board. So why did they then challenge that ruling when it came three days before the fight?
It set a worrying precedent. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and the contest was pulled but only after the almighty stink caused by the promoters’ actions had spread far and wide.
“It is undeniable that the BBB of C’s decision to withdraw their sanctioning was procedurally flawed and without due process,” the promotional groups explained in a statement. “That remains a legal issue between the promoters and the Board which we intend to pursue… However, while there are legal routes to facilitate the fight as planned, we do not believe it is in the interests for those to be pursued at such a late stage or in the wider interests of the sport.”
Only one day before, did the same promoters state the following: “Both fighters have taken medical and legal advice, are aware of all the relevant information, and wish to proceed with the bout on Saturday.”
Three months on, that relevant information is yet to be made public.
SHOT IN THE ARM
AS the Eubank-Benn saga continued, along came a fight the sport so badly needed. Anyone who follows boxing will know that almost as soon as something truly repulsive occurs, then a fight will follow that provides a timely reminder why the sport is worth fighting for.
Atop an all-female card on October 13, at the O2, Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall provided a 10-round classic that will live long in the memory. Shields oozed class to repel the substantial efforts of her old amateur conqueror to win a well-deserved verdict.
In supporting duty, Alycia Baumgardner was adjudged the victor over Mikaela Mayer following an absorbing 10-rounder that could have gone either way.
Tellingly, however, much of the stories printed in the newspapers beforehand was not of the upcoming Shields-Marshall bout, but the fallout from Benn’s failed test.
Negotiations for Terence Crawford-Errol Spence Jnr and Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua contests to take place before the end of the year predictably collapse. Instead, it’s announced that Crawford will face David Avanesyan and Fury will fight Derek Chisora for a third time.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: Devin Haney (for again beating George Kambosos), Deontay Wilder (for flattening Robert Helenius) and Kiko Martinez (for yet another comeback) were worthy contenders but CLARESSA SHIELDS wears the crown.
IN a wild weekend that showcased some sumptuous boxing on three separate days, it also highlighted the deficiencies that will likely always hold the sport back.
On Saturday, November 26 – Twenty-four hours after Harlem Eubank defeated Tom Farrell at York Hall in front of Channel 5 cameras – two events staged in London went head-to-head when giving both bills the chance to gain maximum exposure would surely have served the sport better.
We couldn’t knock the matchmaking, however. At the O2, a top quality domestic clash between super-middleweight contenders Zach Parker and John Ryder topped a Queensberry event (broadcast by BT Sport), while over at Wembley Arena, DAZN televised the Matchroom-promoted card featuring Dillian Whyte and Jermaine Franklin. The clash meant it was impossible for fans to watch both contests live.
Parker started brightly in North Greenwich only for a hand injury to force him out just as Ryder was gaining a foothold. The star of the show was the emerging Hamzah Sheeraz, however, as he made easy work of River Wilson-Bent.
Whyte-Franklin turned out to be a more entertaining main event as the American underdog gave the Londoner all he could handle through 12 absorbing sessions. Some observers felt Franklin had done enough to edge the decision but it was Whyte who got the majority verdict. BN felt that the 115-115 card was the fairest. In chief-support, Fabio Wardely exhibited serious determination as he overcame a difficult start against Nathan Gorman to win a thriller in round two.
Up in Scotland, Louis Greene scored a minor upset victory over the fancied Dean Sutherland in Aberdeen whereas another prospect, Adam Azim, stayed on track the following day. At Alexandra Palace – which like the O2 and Wembley was littered with empty seats – Azim walloped Rylan Charlton in two rounds. On the same bill, Mikael Lawal won the vacant British cruiserweight title when plucky late substitute David Jamieson retired with a damaged jaw after the eighth.
CONCERN FOR SENIOR
AS the fallout from the aborted Chris Eubank Jnr-Conor Benn clash continued to cast a cloud, the mental health of Chris Eubank Snr was a concern for those who know him.
Spotted at various after dinner events looking worse for wear, Eubank conducted an interview that should never have taken place. Incoherent and clearly reeling from the death of his son, Seb, in 2021, Senior took to Twitter in an ill-judged attempt to prove he was okay.
The rambling tweets were hastily deleted. Worse, however, was the pleasure certain members of the public seemed to get from poking fun at a heartbroken man. “Let’s help him, not laugh at him,” pleaded Jo Adams, a BN reader, at the end of the month.
SUNNY SIDE UP
SUNNY EDWARDS was in exquisite form as he repelled a courageous challenge from Felix Alvarado over 12 rounds in Sheffield. Crowd trouble marred the undercard of the Probellum event, however.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: REGIS PROGRAIS oozed class as he overcame Jose Zepeda in a tremendous clash at super-lightweight. Prograis picked up a belt when he won in 11 rounds.
SCORE DRAW ON NYE
IN what we thought might be a late contender for Fight of the Year, Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco fought to a contentious draw in Tokyo, Japan on December 31.
The bout was engrossing throughout but despite some fierce exchanges, it never quite evolved into the classic we were hoping for. And at the end, though far from a stinker, plenty felt the scorecards did not tell the right story.
Franco was adjudged a 115-113 winner on one card but that was overruled by two scores of 114-114. The consensus was that the sharp-shooting Franco – brother of the rapidly emerging ‘Bam’ Rodriguez – deserved to be declared the winner.
The bout was fought at a high pace, with Franco seemingly getting the better of it before Ioka scored with a rasping straight right in round four that dislodged his opponent’s mouthpiece. By the sixth, Ioka was increasingly on target with sapping blows to Franco’s body. The Texan, however, had come to win.
He raided the home fighter in round seven and forced him back in the eighth in what, arguably, would be the best session of the clash as Ioka lustily rallied. But it was Franco who seemed to get the better of the remaining exchanges, notably at the end of the 11th when Ioka looked in trouble.
In the end, it wasn’t the fight of the year but it was a firm contender for Fight of the Month. That honour, however, likely went to the third encounter between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez who unleashed another quality battle between elite boxers. After 12 rounds, Estrada received the verdict that could have gone either way.
Another contender was the unexpected firefight between Daniel Dubois and Kevin Lerena at Wembley Stadium on the undercard of Tyson Fury-Derek Chisora III. Dubois survived an injured knee that resulted in three knockdowns to stop Lerena at the end of the third.
I’LL GET YOU, BUTLER
THERE were mixed reviews for Paul Butler following his 11th round loss to the brilliant Naoya Inoue in Tokyo. Though the Merseysider extended “The Monster” until late in the bout, his ambition to actually win was questioned. In the end, we felt he had little choice.
“On the one hand, Butler showed physical toughness as well as no small amount of discipline, to make it as far into the contest as he did,” BN wrote. “On the other, what he showed in physical toughness he perhaps lacked psychologically, or in terms of ambition…
“Ultimately, though, that is what the terrifying Naoya Inoue does to opponents. Rather than a shameful act, he makes the idea of merely surviving in his presence the best-case scenario.”
CHISORA TAKES A BEATING
THE biggest fight of the month, in terms of audience levels, was Tyson Fury’s third win over Derek Chisora. A reported 60,000 braved the harsh winter to watch Tyson methodically beat up the warn out Chisora in a horribly predictable mismatch.
FIGHTER OF THE MONTH: Estrada’s performance was worthy of accolades but the controlled showing of JOSH KELLY, under what must have been immense pressure, as he outpointed Troy Williamson gets our vote.