By: Oliver McManus
Boxing returned to the North East in style as Newcastle hosted its first major show since 2015 and made an immediate impact, leaving an instantaneous longing for a speedy return.
The main event saw embittered rivals Liam Smith and Liam Williams embark on a grudge match that has been in the making for the last 7 months, following the Liam Smith’s controversial victory over the Welshman back in April.
An official eliminator for the WBO World Light Middleweight title, previously held by Smith, there was plenty on the line for the winner aside from bragging rights.
The betting money was on The Machine to avenge his sole loss and in a tense opening round it was Williams who, indeed, managed to get the better of his man with several sharp jabs clipping Smith through the gloves.
It didn’t take long for the fight to ignite, however, with Beefy loosening up in a bid to enhance his record to 26-1, lucid body movement from Smith kept him in control for much of the second round and a delightful uppercut kept Williams in check – the Welshman shot back with some smooth left-hand’s of his own.
With the fight flowing into the 3rd round, the 16-1-1 fighter from Clydach Vale, Wales, stuck to the centre of the ring and landed with some eye-catching right hand shots to rock his Liverpudlian opponent.
He imposed himself for the following round too, in a bout lacking the fireworks from their previous battle, landing strong jabs and right hands, boxing on the front foot. Smith hit back with a couple of good shots that momentarily put Williams on the back-foot, a tight, edgy fight.
A flurry of combinations kept the former Champion against the ropes who had only his jab working to effect, Beefy looked to hold as the Welshman landed cleaner, crisper shots throughout the opening portions of the fight.
The halfway point marked a better round for Liam Smith, landing repeatedly with far superior jabs and engaging in a sharper exchange of punches than in any previous rounds – that body movement noted early came in to play again and was used to good effect as he forced his opponent to swipe at thin air on numerous occasions.
Williams bit back with hard uppercuts in the 7th, keeping his rival in a defensive mind-set, landing with successful shots before being jabbed around by Smith who took a measured, controlled approach to the fight.
Words were exchanged between the fighters who, despite a relatively muted crowd, were putting on a tough 50-50 display of gritty fighting – albeit without the sparks some expected – and a sharp set of short inside combinations marked the first instance of notable success for Smith who, in probability, had been controlling the fight up until now despite the more eye-catching action coming from the opposite corner.
An increase in tempo came from the man who won the last contest, perhaps gaining from a psychological advantage, doubling up on the jab before connecting with some snappy shots to the body of Williams.
Into the final third of the fight with Smith seemingly up on the scorecards, The Machine came out with an air of authority about him for the 9th round. Buoyed on by his trainer Gary Lockett, he landed long, reaching jabs in the early stages before creating opportunities for combination shots from wider angles; a short left hook that troubled Smith was of particular note and Williams’ sensed a shift in momentum to the rematch in which no-one had gained full control of.
With the fight swinging in his direction, Williams came out swinging in Smith’s direction landing a peach of a left hook that caught the 29 year old around his tight defensive guard – followed by a body-shot, uppercut combination, an avalanche of polished shots were rattled off to earn him a foothold in the contest with ever tightening scorecards.
Almost as if they decided they would only kick to life where the fight finished back in April (after the 9th round), the two fighters stood stock in front of each-other for the 11th round trading blows, with combinations snapping both their heads back. The round ends with a powerful right hand from Smith to, potentially, nab the round from the judges.
The final round saw both men attempt to go out with a bang but Smith was the more aggressive of the two, keeping his technical style going, working Williams towards the ropes with an ever-present, intrusive jab. Into the 90 seconds and the Welshman started to let his hands flow, slamming shots into the body – many of which failed to land cleanly.
Smith beckoned the onslaught and withstood the tide before pursuing his man with a mixture of stylish defensive work combined with the old one-two combination. A few wild shots missed the mark but all in all, the Liverpudlian never looked out of control.
It must be said the fight never really clicked into the classic that many of us hoped it would with the fight overshadowed by a cautious fighting nature, attempting to keep one another at bay as opposed to going all out for a knockout.
On paper it looked close but I think it’s fair to say that Liam Smith remained relatively unchallenged which is why I scored it 117-112 to the former WBO Lightweight Champion.
Going to the scorecards the judges scored it 114-114, 116-112 and 117-111 for a majority decision to Liam Smith who moves to 26-1 and guaranteeing himself a shot at the WBO World Lightweight title in the early stages of next year.
Also featuring on the card was a real domestic dust-up between two Northern fighters scrapping for the IBF Europe Super Lightweight title with unbeaten prospect Josh Leather (12-0) facing off with, experienced statesman, Glenn Foot (21-2).
At 5 years younger, Leather possessed a 3inch reach advantage over his Sunderland-based opponent and the slick puncher was looking to make The Hammer the 13th name on his burgeoning CV.
Foot, a former Prizefighter champion, had labelled the champion “a pretender” during the build-up and came out of the blocks with a bit of needle, staying low, pushing Leather to the ropes and landing a succession of hooks.
The 30 year old kept atop of his opponent with strong upper-body movement, enabling him to roll underneath the oncoming shots from Leather.
With a strong contingent of fans coming to support him, the Guisborough-man looked to fire back with some brutal right hand jabs that encouraged foot to commit to the attack – Steve Gray, the referee, had words with both fighters in the second round for some over-exuberant antics.
Foot landed some heavy punches and towards the end of the second round, dropped Leather to the canvas with a sensational right-hand to the chin. Wincing but on his feet, defensive mode set in for the pre-fight favourite.
Agitated seems an apt word to describe this bout with both fighters getting under each other’s skin. An absolutely tempestuous start from the 21-2 former English champion saw him bully his opposing man, keeping him in close quarters and fighting in the pocket.
Leather seemed uncomfortable but by no means out of his depth and kept his presence noticeable by way of solid right hands to the head and body of the ever-advancing , black and gold trim wearing, Foot.
Going into the second half of the fight, the younger man started to show glimpses of his promising quality landing with strong jabs, boxing from distance resulting in a frustrated Foot having a point taken away for throwing a punch after break had been called.
Both men kept the tempo up with shots flowing between the pair – Foot remaining the more dominant fighter going into the latter stages of the fight – with Leather trying to keep to his strength of distance boxing, to a reasonable degree of success.
The 12-0 former ABA champion seemed to adapt to the unfaltering roughhouse style of fighting that was coming his way and established his position at the centre of the ring, displaying the skills that saw him win the title against Philip Sutcliffe back in May.
I identified in my preview earlier this week that it was going to be a tough fight for Glenn Foot unless he imposed his style of fighting from the outset and it’s clear that he was reading what I had to say – coming out in a position of strength and staying there, the ease of transition between head and body attack was impressive throughout.
Into the 10th round, Leather re-established why he’s the title holder and kept the pressure up on Foot, sending the fighter staggering back before The Hammer was deducted yet another point for spitting out his gumshield. A crucial round for Leather.
Both men seemed to fatigue in the final two rounds but were determined to keep the tempo cranked firmly up, trading leather around the edges of the ring with the pair landing several slamming shots to their opponent in what can only be described as all-out war.
Declaring themselves as the winner immediately after the bell, the decision went to the judges who scored it 114-111, 113-112 and 115-110 unanimously to… AND STILL IBF European Lightweight Champion, Joshua Leather who moves to 13-0 and improves his world stature having been in a barnstormer of a fight; for what it’s worth, I had Leather winning 113-112.
Looking to defend his BBBofC Super Bantamweight title for the first time, Thomas Patrick Ward (21-0) went to war with Sean Davis (13-1) – both fighters coming to the ring at 8st 9lbs.
It was the challenger who came out fastest with Showtime looking to hassle Ward into a mistake, landing some strong left hand-jabs whilst skipping around the ring to keep Davis on his toes; a variety of shots from the Birmingham-born fighter produced measured success.
The champion on the other hand stayed true to his game with a textbook display of technical boxing, countering his opponent’s energy with patience and a series of crisp right hand shots as well as a flush left uppercut in the middle of the second round.
It seemed as though Davis was trying to fatigue the home favourite into defeat – perhaps noting that he faded in his previous fight against Jazza Dickens – but strong footwork from Ward ensured he never seemed in trouble throughout the opening stanza of the bout.
Indeed despite being the more passive fighter, it’s arguable that Tommy landed the most notable punches with his, albeit, infrequent right-hand counter shots proving to be easy on the eye and effective, to boot.
The middle rounds continued to be a boxing purist’s delight with Ward appearing relaxed amid the onslaught from Davis, producing a defensive masterclass, evading shots to head and body whilst picking the challenger off seemingly at will.
Balance was the key strength for, County Durham’s, Ward with the 23 year old keeping the ebb and flow at equilibrium, throwing in fast combinations whilst simultaneously removing himself from danger.
The 6th round saw a bad cut emerge from above the right eye of the Champion as a result of a hard clash of heads between the two fighters – despite the best work of, cutman, Michael Marsden, the cut was of a visible disturbance to Ward who seemed to be more cautious and defensively penetrable following the incident.
Big right hands from Davis heading into the championship rounds looked to rattle Ward – who kept firing back, nonetheless – and the 27 year old kept on coming back relentless with fierce, ferocious, non-stop punches being thrown towards the fatiguing body opposite him.
The deepening cut seemed to be the cause for hope of an upset but Ward remained composed in the face of adversity (and a face full of blood), landing some punishing jabs to the face of his foe in the closing stages of the fight – Davis kept up a constant stream of energy but ultimately knew he was facing a losing battle.
An embrace of respect before the start of the 12th round as well as at the end of the fight was a mark of the manner in which this fight was fought – brutal but not bitter; the fight went to the scorecards, I had it 117-113 to Ward and the people that matter, the judges, scored it in a similar manner – 117-112, 118-111 and 118-111 all in favour of the young gun from Country Durham.
Tommy triumphed on Tyneside, establishing himself as an emerging force to be reckoned with in the Super Bantamweight division but a spirited display from Sean Davis proved he’s not a fighter to be sniffed at and, surely, we’ll see him come again.
The heavyweight match-up between Nathan Gorman and Mohamed Soltby saw the two unbeaten fighters (10-0 and 13-0, respectively) weighing in at polar opposites – Gorman was significantly heavier at 18st 12oz, Soltby registering at 15st 9lbs 13oz.
Gorman was the immediate aggressor, lunging in with several left hands in the opening minute before landing a couple of successful shots to the body. Possessing the centre of the ring, Gorman was snappy with the jab and kept Soltby at bay for the vast majority of the first round.
The following round would follow a similar story with Gorman targeting the body of Soltby whilst missing with several wild wielding uppercuts – the German proving a tricky challenge for Gorman but, ultimately, the Cheshire fighter was firmly in control.
It might be harsh to say but the highlight of the opening 4 rounds was when the fight had to be halted momentarily to allow Soltby’s corner to retie his shoelace.
Nonetheless, Gorman was allowing his hands to loosen and firing some fast jabs at his opponent with a mere handful of shots being returned.
But the 5th round proved to be decisive with the Englishman looking to stamp his authority from the beginning, landing a firm right uppercut to wobble the German before dropping him to the canvas when Soltby had his back turned.
A barrage of left hooks came reigning in from the heavier fighter, bashing the body before a punishing right uppercut physically dazed Mohamed Soltby and led the referee to call an end to the fight – a one-sided 5th round TKO for the Hatton-trained protégé, moving to 11-0 and securing a World Ranking with the WBC (as well as their International Silver title).
On some of the more minor fights on the card, Jeff Saunders beat Steven Lewis on points to set up a potential clash with Jack Caterall for the BBBofC British Super Lightweight title; Mark Heffron moved to 18-0 in the super middleweight division thanks to a 7th round knockout of (19-4) Lewis Taylor; hot middleweight prospect Troy Williamson advanced to 5-0 with a shutout points decision over 6 rounds against Miguel Aguilar and, finally, 23 year old, Joe Maphosa defeated Craig Derbyshire to go 3 and 0 in the flyweight division.
A sensational night of boxing, that can’t be argued, with old rivalries put to bed and new rivalries just in their embers – Leather/Foot is surely a rematch that has to happen.
A rapturous Newcastle crowd were vocal in their enjoyment and the return of World Title boxing to the city can only be moving ever closer.