Carl Frampton vs. Kiko Martinez
Lets take it from the top as Carl Frampton announced his arrival amongst the world’s best at 122 pounds with a 9th round TKO of Kiko Martinez to become European champion. I said in previewing this fight that Frampton would be properly tested in this one and there is no doubt that he was. The Belfast Jackal was forced to take shots from a real puncher for the first time in his career, but he did so without problem, controlled the bout and finished it in spectacular fashion.
Martinez to played his part in what was a fantastic fight. The pressure he brought during the first half of the bout, kept him in the contest, and would have likely broken the hearts of a lot of opponents. Not Frampton though, who stuck to his boxing, wore Martinez down gradually, and then turned up the heat as he felt his rival fade down the stretch.
The Irishman picked off his opponent on the backfoot for the first six rounds as the champion stalked him from one side of the ring to the other. The major shift however, came in the 7th when Frampton elected to hold his ground for the first time and battle it out at close quarters. The tactical switch, while temporarily making the fight more even, was what provided the breakthrough. Frampton had chipped away enough that he was now capable of trading with the worn down Martinez and beating him in his own style of fight.
Martinez looked dispirited between the 8th and 9th round and it was clear the pressure was starting to tell. I was speaking to the reporter next to me as the bell rang to start the 9th and both of us agreed that there wasn’t much left in the fight. A perfect right hook a few moments later confirmed our suspicions. Martinez beat the count, but his legs were gone and the ref rightly called it.
This was a massive night for Frampton. We already knew about his technical skills and punch power. What we didn’t know is how he would take a shot or deal with adversity. He’s now ticked those boxes as well. He showed composure and the ability to box under pressure. His gameplan was spot on again, which Shane McGuigan deserves enormous credit for. They moved Martinez around early, never letting him set up his power shots, and then recognized when it was time to crank up the pressure and get him out of there. This was a mature performance from a fighter ready to take the next step. Frampton will be fighting for world titles within the next 12 months, I have little doubt of that.
Martin Lindsay vs. Lee Selby
In the chief support, Welshman Lee Selby overcame the incredibly tough, local favourite Martin Lindsay to retain his British and Commonwealth featherweight titles. The official cards were 118-110, 117-111 and 118-109. I had the bout scored 116-112, which was a little bit closer than most saw it.
Lindsay, for my money, fought an excellent fight. There’s nothing you could really point to and say he should have done differently; Selby was just the better boxer and is starting to show signs that he may be genuinely world class. The major difference between the two was in power. Both guys landed big, but Selby was the one doing damage, while Lindsay, who is a puncher, could never really put a dent in the champion. The last three rounds in particular were brutal with Lindsay showing a ton of guts to see out the distance.
This was the last hurdle for Selby domestically. He’s as good as cleared out the division in Britain. He will move on to European honors next and will probably look to get himself in world title contention not too long after that. Whether he has that little bit extra that’s needed to win a world championship, I don’t know, but it’s going to be an interesting journey to follow.
Andy Lee vs. Anthony Fitzgerald
Limerick southpaw Andy Lee returned to the ring for the first time since losing his world title challenge to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr last June with a workman like decision over the game Anthony Fitzgerald. It wasn’t a vintage performance by Lee, who admitted as much post fight, but I still had him winning most everything, while the referee scored it 98-94.
It comes down to that old cliche about boxing and levels; while the rounds were all competitive, Lee’s class told over the course of the bout. Lee has taken a certain amount of criticism for not making easier work of this one and I’m not sure that’s particularly fair. For him, this was a fight meant for brushing the rust off, while for Fitzgerald it was a big, once-off chance to make a statement in the division; that’s always a difficult situation to go into. Fitzgerald brought his A-game and made it a tough nights work. It was also Lee’s first fight working with new trainer Adam Booth, which will require some adjustment, so maybe an imperfect showing was to be expected.
Lee called out Darren Barker in the post fight, and that’s a great match up for both guys right now. It would put the winner right back in the title hunt, and it would easily draw a full house in either Britain or Ireland. At the press conference, Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn said it was a fight he would like to make next, noting that it would put the winner back in the mix, but the loser would probably be done at world title level.
Jamie Conlan vs. Mike Robinson
This one was scheduled as a TV floater, but there wasn’t time to squeeze it in with all the fights going long, so it went on untelevised after the main event. It’s sort of a shame because a lot of the crowd had left by the time these guys got in the ring, so few saw what was a really solid little fight.
I liked the matchmaking for this one from day one. Robinson is known as a very useful pro around the British scene. He twice gave Ashley Sexton hell in TV bouts, which I felt he got the better of at least one (if not both) of. He is the type of opponent we needed to see Conlan in with to get a proper read of his potential, and Conlan made a real statement here – stopping him with a big body shot in the tenth and final round.
There’s a huge upside with Conlan; he’s a good ticket seller, he’s got a crowd pleasing style, and he has the goods at this level at least. The trouble will be in finding opponents for him. There is no depth at super-flyweight in Britain or even Europe. I think he can win domestic titles right now, but it’s where he goes from there that will be the problem. The jump up to world level is so pronounced at these lighter weights that it’s very hard to bring a boxer along. There will probably come a time when they’re just going to have to roll the dice with him and see what happens. He delivered big on this night though and that’s all he can do for now.
Eamonn O’Kane vs. Gary Boulden
Former Prizefighter champion Eamonn O’Kane got back to winning ways with a decision over Gary Boulden. This was a step in the right direction for O’Kane, who had sort of fallen in love with this brawling style early in his pro career and neglected his boxing. He was back using his skills a bit more here and trying to work for openings rather than just wading forward all guns blazing. I actually felt the easiest way for him to deal with this opponent would have been to let himself fall back into that pattern and stamp his authority on the fight, but he wouldn’t have learned anything that way, and to his credit, he didn’t allow it happen.
O’Kane switched trainers just five weeks ago; he’s now working Bernardo Checa, and the move seems to have had a positive influence on the rebuilding process. Now it’s about taking what he did here and adding to it in the next camp.
Callum Smith vs. Tommy Tolan
The youngest of the Smith brothers looked impressive here doing away with tough guy opponent Tommy Tolan inside a round. Smith scored a massive knockdown early, and the towel came in shortly after as he looked to close out the show. This was only Smith’s first stoppage from his three fights, but the power is clearly there.
Eddie Hearn said after the bout that Callum shouldn’t really be able to deal with somebody like Tolan that fast and effectively at this stage in his career. He’s probably right about that. Tolan has been taken out early before, but it’s usually been by high level boxers. Smith is one to keep an eye on for sure.
Martin Rogan vs. Ladislav Kovarik
Rogan looked as sharp as could possibly be expected from a 41 year old coming off the best part of a years lay off – winning an easy shutout over 4 rounds. He’s back out again in two weeks for Prizefighter, so the main thing here was to get him some rounds and for him to come through without any injuries or cuts, which he did.
Rogan has always had star qualities. He can talk the talk, he’s personable, and he’s one of the more entertaining heavyweight fighters out there. It’s just a shame his breakthrough came as late as it did. He had quite a run at 36. I would have loved to have seen what he would have been capable of at 26.
Grzegorz Proksa vs. Norbert Szekeres
Another fighter on the comeback trail is world title challenger Grzegorz Proksa, who is looking to rebound from his demolition by Gennady Golovkin on HBO late last year. This was a slightly shaky showing in his first fight back, but he did warm to it a bit as the bout went on. His opponent here was no threat, so this was mostly about restoring confidence and getting him a bit of a workout. Proksa swept all rounds winning a 60-54 decision. Middleweight is a super deep division in the UK, so there are still plenty of good fights out there for Proksa.
Rest of the card
Three Belfast prospects: Daniel McShane, James Fryers and Marco McCullough all won comfortable decisions over journeyman opposition in four rounders.