By Ezio Prapotnich
For years London based Moroccan fighter Yassine El Maachi (17-4, 5 ko’s) has been calling out the biggest names of the UK domestic scene and asking for a chance to prove himself but has always been dismissed. Whether because he is not eligible to be ranked for the Commonwealth and British titles due to the fact he does not have a British passport or because of his awkward style, he has always been perceived as presenting too much risk for too little reward. Nevertheless, he had an insane persistence in speaking out and demanding to be heard. Boxing fans and pundits have been aware of his presence for years and grew to like him, but no one could tell if his claims to fame were legitimate based on the streak of obscure or low level opponents he has faced in his last ten fights. He raised his profile over the last year and a half teaming up with trainer Don Charles and promoter Steve Goodwin and the opportunity to mix it up with two big names of the domestic scene, former World, European and British champions Junior Witter (39-5-2, 22 ko’s) and Colin Lynes (35-9, 12 ko’s), finally arrived in the shape of Prizefighter Welterweight II, the popular 8 men tournament that has become a springboard to big opportunities for fighters of all backgrounds. And did he back it up! In the build up to the event, El Maachi declared he wanted to fight Witter first, then Lynes and finish with an easy opponent. It would not be fair to call underrated Peter McDonagh (17-20, 2 ko’s) easy, but it just turned out to be the other way around…
QUARTER FINAL 1: JOHN WAYNE HIBBERT VS KEVIN MCINTYRE.
Former British southpaw champion Kevin McIntyre ( 29-8, 9 ko’s) and prospect John Wayne Hibbert ( 7-1, 4 ko’s) did not waste time feeling each other in the first round. Kevin opened first with his jab but John caught him and backed him off landing good 1-2 combinations and a left hook. The former champ turned the tide in the second connecting with jabs and body shots on the front foot, but also successful in countering. Hibbert swinging attacks had a feeling of desperation and his face started to mark up. He managed to drag McIntyre into a war in the third, pushing him on the ropes with a rally of straight punches but Kevin body shot counted more and gained him a unanimous decision of 29-28 on all three scorecards.
QUARTER FINAL 2: JUNIOR WITTER VS NATHAN GRAHAM.
Psychological warfare has always been an important component of the fighting game. Junior Witter entered the ring with a very confident look, as if his reputation and record alone would suffice to defeat the opponent and win him the prize. It worked to a certain extent with Nathan Graham (11-3, 5 ko’s), who showed him too much respect in the first two rounds allowing him to toy with him. Witter scored right hooks and body shots from the outside while circling the ring, using his left hand as a snake charmer and mimicking bolo punches. Nathan regained his confidence in the third and became more aggressive and found out that he could land successfully on Junior, who seemed even rocked at one point, but it was too little too late and the former WBC champion moved into the semifinals with scores of 30-28 on two cards and 29-28 on the third.
QUARTER FINAL 3: COLIN LYNES VS BOBBY GLADMAN.
Pre-tournament favorite Colin Lynes went to work immediately with the jab finding sporadic openings to the body of Bobby Gladman (7-1-1) and, after a cagey beginning, ended the round strong shaking the opponent with a good right hook and launching a 4 punches body attack. Although taking the initiative in the second, Bobby looked in awe of Lynes the same way Graham was of Witter. His initial attack left him open to another body attack from the former champion who also shook him with a straight left and another right hook to take the session. It was more of the same in the third, namely body shots and right hand, and Gladman looked in real discomfort. It was no surprise for Lynes to win an unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 for all three judges.
QUARTER FINAL 4: YASSINE EL MAACHI VS PETER MCDONAGH.
Enters Yassine El Maachi. After so many years of struggle, one could clearly see in his eyes he was cherishing the moment, savoring every drop of it, and the energy in the room rose as he walked to the ring. With the exception of a good right hook, Peter McDonagh spent most of the first round covering up while getting tagged at will with uppercuts and hooks coming from very awkward angles. Hands down as usual, in the second the man who calls himself The Showman scored a thunderous body shot that opened the way to an attack that left McDonagh on the verge of being stopped. But, by disrupting the action with showboating, Yassine let Peter off the hook and allowed him to survive the round. As fun as Yassine tirades might be to watch, it is an aspect of his game that trainer Don Charles would better address before moving to the next level, as it does not score points, lowers the work rate, and ends up wasting opportunities. Referees usually don’t like it either. In the third El Maachi connected with single clean and hurtful hook and uppercut shots that earned him a 30-27 and twice 29-28 decision.
SEMIFINAL 1: JUNIOR WITTER VS KEVIN MCINTYRE.
McIntyre was not intimidated by Witter’s antics but, althoug competitive, he still found himself at the receiving hand of the former WBC champion jabs and hooks until a good right hook to the body put him on his knees for the count. He was up at eight. Needless to say, from that point onwards Junior focused his attacks on the body exclusively but Kevin survived the round. He did not look fully recovered in the second, though, and looked more focused on blocking Witter’s shots than trying to land his own and he got caught by an uppercut righ ton the chin. In the third, Junior played his usual games, circling around and switching stance without scoring anything menaingful. McIntyre managed to land a couple of clean straight punches but neither man seemed to have a decisive edge. The bout ends with scores of 30-27 on one card and twice 29-27 in favor of Witter.
SEMIFINAL 2: COLIN LYNES VS YASSINE EL MAACHI.
Not unlike Witter, El Maachi too relies heavily on mind games and tries to get under his opponent skin. From the start, he was right in Colin’s face, pushing him on the ropes with 1-2 combinations that, although not landing cleanly, caught his attention and seemed to frustrate him securing the round for Yassine. In the second, The Showman landed some good body shots that made Lynes snap and seek immediate retaliation in a fairly even session. The third started with El Maachi landing two left hooks and Colin, looking genuinely angry at this point, pushing him back with straight punches to the head. It seemed like the decision could have gone either way, but in the end two judges awarded Yassine with 29-28 scores, while the third gave it to Lynes by 30-28.
FINAL: JUNIOR WITTER VS YASSINE EL MAACHI.
At this point, the crowd was wondering if the combination of the two finalists awkward styles and inclination to showboating would be highly entertaining or produce an absolute stinker. To be fair, it was a bit of both. It turned out to be an untidy affair where both men abandoned every form of strategy or tactics to engage in a wrestling, pushing, and shoving competition completed with rabbit punches at every occasion. Still, there is no denying that the few clean punches were landed only by El Maachi. Although denied a knock down, in the first round Yassine connected with a good right hook that put Witter on the canvas. The second was virtually impossible to score, but in the third The Showman connected with a straight left, some body shots, and a left hook. Junior, who ended up flying through the ropes crashing on a cameraman at one point, finshed the bout with a cut on the right eye. Yassine “The Showman” El Maachi has become the new Prizefighter Welterweight champion winning an unanimous decision by scores of 29-28 on all three scorecards.
It was both interesting and beautiful to notice how Yassine gained the attention of the crowd and won its affection round after round getting all the support into the final, although entering the tournament virtually unknown. There was a very good atmosphere at the end of the night and a genuine sense of happiness for his victory. Years of hard work seem to have finally paid off. It will be hard from this point onwards to ignore a charismatic, confident, and entertaining fighter who now appears also very marketable. Good luck to him. It is well deserved.