A career in boxing will do to plenty of its participants worse than simply humble them, yet, for the majority, that is exactly what they will discover before it all ends. It could happen in a single fight or it could happen gradually, delivered by the realisation that all the ambitions they had back at the start were merely the products of pride and arrogance rather than based in any sort of reality.
Boxing is, in other words, a cruel, unforgiving sport and super-lightweights Lewis Ritson and Ohara Davies know this as well as anyone. They have both, at different times, outlined their plans for domination. They have both, at different times, been sitting at press conferences during which promoters or trainers have overegged their potential. They have both, at different times, been taught lessons in humility.
Now, in 2023, the pair find themselves with almost identical records and career trajectories, and on Saturday (March 4) in Newcastle will engage in a crossroads battle – the upside of which is momentum and a return to some sort of relevance.
That, if they can get it, would be a big thing for both. For momentum and relevance were, after all, the cornerstones of their respective careers on the way up, back when both were unbeaten and both were encouraged to tell world what they had planned.
For Davies, 24-2 (17), this meant talking, and a lot of it. It also meant calling out rivals and telling them, often inarticulately, what he would do to them. When riding high at 15-0, people would listen to him, too, and his opponents were often either rattled or intimidated by him. Yet, of course, once meeting Josh Taylor in 2017, Davies found that everything he had built – the mystique, the reputation, the rod for his own back – came crumbling down during the course of seven rounds.
After that, while still a decent operator at domestic level, no longer could Davies proclaim his greatness without being confronted by wry smiles or laughter. He grew up as a result. Thankfully, he toned down his pre-Taylor antics, naturally matured, and was an altogether easier character to stomach going forward. Better yet, rather than chuck it in after his first humbling, Davies responded well, stopping Tom Farrell, then unbeaten, inside six rounds, and also Paul Kamanga inside two.
His only other defeat since Taylor, in fact, came against Jack Catterall, a man we now know, thanks to his 2022 fight with Taylor, should be a world champion. Given that, Davies’ form hasn’t been bad at all really. There have been other wins, six of them post-Catterall, and far more highs than lows for the 31-year-old, albeit some might say a 2019 win against Miguel Vazquez was contentious and they might say the same about the one he scored the following year against Tyrone McKenna. Still, a win is a win and Davies, with only defeats against Taylor and Catterall on his record, remains a talent, at least domestically. Indeed, the only sour point, from his point of view, is that back when playing the great antagonist and attention-seeker he would have expected so much more by this stage. More in the way of achievement. More in the way of attention.
Ritson, in contrast, was never an attention-seeker but was certainly for a time a favourite of Eddie Hearn, one of many promoters who has tried to turn Newcastle, Ritson’s home city, into a boxing hotbed. Ritson, for obvious reasons, was a key part of that push, which is why, circa 2018, we had to endure talk of the 29-year-old being the “Geordie Golovkin” and the hardest pound-for-pound puncher in Britain.
Again, though, all that ultimately waited for Ritson was a humbling. His came after impressively swift knockout wins against Joe Murray, Scott Cardle and Paul Hyland Jnr, all in 2018, and arrived in the form of Francesco Patera, who took the sting from Ritson’s blows and outboxed him over 12 rounds.
That was a fight for the vacant European lightweight belt and at the time Ritson, having won the British title outright, was expected to graduate with very little difficulty. Yet nobody seemed to take into account the fact that Ritson was having his fifth fight of that calendar year against Patera and, moreover, that there were fighters in Europe who were more than capable of figuring out his seek-and-destroy approach.
It was a humbling, then, but not a fatal one. In fact, after the Patera loss Ritson won his next four fights, a run that included, like Davies’, a controversial victory over Miguel Vazquez, whom many felt deserved the nod over Ritson when they met in 2020. If on that occasion somewhat fortunate, Ritson’s good fortune ran out in his next fight when the unbeaten Jeremias Ponce stopped him inside 10 rounds. That was a defeat different from the Patera one, for this time Ponce made a dent in the Newcastle man and then, when on top, got him out of there. It was not just humbling but hurtful. Some believed it would end Ritson as a contender.
That hasn’t happened, however. Instead, Ritson, six months after losing to Ponce, came back to stop Christian Uruzquieta inside nine rounds and then last year dominated Dejan Zlaticanin over 10. Now, back in Newcastle, the scene of that Zlaticanin win, Ritson, 23-2 (13), will look to continue his resurgence against Davies, a man as desperate as he is to get going again.
With home support, Ritson should just about do it, too, though will no doubt have to overcome some tricky spells given Davies’ faster hands and defensive instincts. In the end, though, the Geordie’s power, which remains a key attribute, will likely enable him to force his way into a lead which he maintains until the final bell.
Also on the Newcastle bill is an interesting 12-rounder at featherweight between unbeaten contenders Thomas Patrick Ward, 33-0-1 (5), and Otabek Kholmatov, 10-0 (9). Kholmatov is a 24-year-old from Uzbekistan currently based in Florida who was taken the 12-round distance for the first time last year against Andranik Grigorian. County Durham’s Ward, meanwhile, more boxer than puncher, has had it mostly all his own way as a pro and has needed a test like this for some time.