Last weekend brought a welcome affirmation that things do not always go according to plan in the old game. Both Paul Butler and Zou Shiming, with home advantage and favoured to win, came a cropper against what proved to be better fighters on the day, in championship fights. A third upset nearly occurred in Hull on Saturday in what was not a championship fight but was a warm-up for an outdoor stadium fight being planned for the summer.
The fun and games started on Friday night in Liverpool when Butler, who every single pundit seemed to have tipped for victory, was completely outclassed and easily defeated by the excellent IBF super-flyweight champion Zolani Tete. Tete won every round before poleaxing Butler with a left uppercut in the eighth. All the experts concurred after the fight that Tete had not done anything out of the ordinary but that he had done the basics extremely well. Let’s face it, he used the straight right jab and some left leads and did not have to get out of second gear to win. It was disappointing that Butler could find no way to get past the jab, but the clue came in the post-fight interview when Butler admitted that from the first punch he took, he knew that Tete was a banger.
The fact that pretty much everyone involved in boxing in the UK expected a Butler victory was testament to the ignorance that abounds regarding the smaller weights in this country. Butler was perceived as a “world champion” due to the fact that he had squeezed past domestic rival Stuart Hall to win the IBF belt at bantamweight. The fact that Hall, despite having this belt, was not a world class fighter, seemed to escape everyone. But Hall had been by far the best opponent that Butler had faced to date. The opposition that Frank Warren provided him with was poor to say the least. The fact that Butler looked terrific in seeing them off was irrelevant. It meant that he was put in with a truly world class opponent in Tete with completely inadequate preparation.
Butler had said in a pre-fight interview that although Tete had won several times on the road, the opponents he had faced were not on his (Butler’s) level and and that he (Butler) would wipe them out. Really? Does Butler really think he would have “wiped out” Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr.? Does he even know who Sanchez is? Sanchez was the former IBF titleholder at super-fly, who holds a win over Juan Francisco Estrada, currently the consensus world no.2 at flyweight. Well Tete went into his backyard and stopped him in 10 rounds in an absolute slugfest. Of course Butler held no fears for Tete.
Butler is in the record books as “world bantamweight champion”. However, the reality is that he hasn’t even broken into the world top-10 yet, either at bantamweight or super-flyweight. He has the passion and desire to do so, but let us get a grip on reality before throwing him in with an outstanding fighter like Tete again. This episode should serve as a lesson to Eddie Hearn. His super-flyweight Kal Yafai is every bit as good as Butler. Eddie needs to ensure that he gets the requisite experience before being thrown into the deep end. That does not mean beating the best Europe has to offer. Europe is leagues behind the world in the lighter weight classes.
An upset of a far more earth-shattering variety struck on Saturday in Macau. Not because Amnat Ruenroeng was such a big outsider to defeat home crowd darling Zou Shiming, but because the ramifications of Shiming’s defeat could hit boxing and, more immediately, Top Rank Boxing hard. Arum had gambled on Shiming taking the WBC flyweight belt in only his seventh fight, and he was a favourite to do so before the fight. However, the experience that Ruenroeng had gained from his three hard championship 12-rounders over the past year, proved invaluable.
Ruenroeng was the picture of confidence both before and during the fight and he virtually won the contest with his left jab alone, with the Chinese boxer being clueless as to how to counteract this. Even so, such was the paucity of punching from both men that most of the rounds were very close and at the end I only had Ruenroeng up by two points. He coasted in the last round, obviously certain that he had the fight in the bag. I thought at the time that this had been a huge mistake. But no! Despite the potential for home cooking, all three American judges had Ruenroeng well clear on their cards. A big shout out then to Glenn Feldman, Robert Hoyle and Jerry Jakubco for reaffirming our belief in fairy tales.
There was such a strong feeling around the sport that, even if Shiming lost the fight, due to the importance of him obtaining victory, the judges would gift him a decision. Perhaps then the judges had felt they needed to be seen to be totally scrupulous when marking their cards. It is hard to see these three officiating again for a long time though on any of Bob Arum’s shows in the future. Obviously, a quick rematch would be the ideal scenario for Arum. He needs Shiming to spearhead Top Rank’s push for a stronghold for boxing in China. Ruenroeng still represents the best chance for Shiming to win a major belt.
Before leaving that card, just a quick word about the Chinese version of Adrien Broner. His name is Ik Yang, he now has a spurious inter-belt at light-welterweight and he thinks he is Asia’s next superstar. Throughout his fight with a Thai, he showboated, spoke to his opponent, pointed to the canvas and ran his gloved fist across his throat in that tired old gesture. He got a fairly impressive stoppage victory but an hour later there he was again at the end of Shiming’s fight, in the ring, doing the throat-slitting gesture across to Ruenroeng’s corner whilst we all waited for the decision. What an idiot. I can imagine him doing the throat-slitting gesture to his wife if she overcooks his noodles. I would love to see him put in right now with Matthysse or Provodnikov. I wonder if he would replicate those antics then?
Later that day we saw the aforementioned Broner taking the latest step in his rehabilitation, following his disastrous loss to Marcos Maidana at the end of 2013. He had a cakewalk in defeating the big punching but really rather hopeless John Molina Jr. by wide points decision. Broner boxed very well indeed, not taking any risks, and is well on his way back to the top. I would suggest that he is in the upper echelons at light-welterweight, along with Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse and new entrant to the weight Terence Crawford. Any fight between those four would be an outstanding prospect.
As for Molina, after the fight the word seemed to be that his epic battle with Matthysse last April, the fight of the year, had taken its toll on him and that he had little left. Actually, the way Molina boxed against Broner is the way he always boxes. As I wrote in my preview “he can’t box a lick”. His footwork is awful and he lumbers forward like The Mummy from the old Hammer horror films, hoping to land his heavy hands. I would point out again that he had lost every round to both Hank Lundy and Mickey Bey before catching them unawares and knocking them out. He either wins by knockout or gets completely outclassed by more skilled opponents. The latter was the case again on Saturday.
That fight stunk out the joint but, thankfully, Keith Thurman was his imperious self and boxed superbly to beat his best opponent to date, Robert Guerrero, by a mile on the scorecards. Guerrero actually made it easy for One Time, trying to box him from the outside. This was a strange tactic. Surely Guerrero’s camp must have known he had no chance of winning the fight this way. He had to get inside and make it ugly and hope that his pressure could wear down Thurman and make him panic and make mistakes. Instead, the only time that Guerrero did employ these tactics was in the last three rounds after he had been heavily floored in the ninth. For those three rounds Guerrero at least made a fight of it and finally gave the fans some excitement. Even in these exchanges though Thurman was still getting the better of it.
Thurman surely cast aside any doubts about his qualities with this performance. He has it all. He can box well, has great movement, knows when he needs to change tactics in a fight and, of course, he hits like a mule. He was strangely reticent to let go of his pet punch, the left hook, on Saturday. When he did land with it, it brought the knockdown in the ninth round. Thurman is destined to be one of the stars of the game. I believe he would have a chance of beating both Mayweather and Pacquiao, but strongly doubt either of those two will want anything to do with him before they retire. As for Guerrero, he is now looking like a good quality gatekeeper in this, the strongest of all weight divisions.
We were lucky enough to be shown the latest fight of former two weight champion Abner Mares, after the main NBC telecast had ended. For Abner’s fans it was disappointing viewing. He was at full stretch in outpointing decent but not world class Mexican Arturo Santos Reyes over 10 rounds. After four rounds I was envisaging a potential defeat for Mares, as Reyes would not stop coming forward and Mares, it seemed to me, was starting to panic. To his credit he held firm and took the majority of rounds in the second half of the fight. Although the scorecards were wide in his favour, this had been a really hard-fought encounter, with Mares just doing that bit more in most of the rounds to swing it his way. I agreed with BoxNation’s Steve Lillis that Mares has never been the same fighter at featherweight. If he can get back down to super-feather, he should do so.
Eddie Hearn’s show at Hull, also on Saturday, brought its own share of entertainment, with Martin Gethin giving Eddie heart palpitations. “Martin, you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!!” is what Eddie Hearn might have said to Gethin either during or after he nearly scuppered the long gestating “Summer Showdown” between Tommy Coyle and Luke Campbell. Of course, Gethin’s stunning left hook knockdown of home favourite Coyle had nearly wrecked those plans. He wisely decided to retire in his corner after the fifth round, before he could do any more damage! As it is, he might have affected the potential gate, as it now seems quite a one-sided match-up considering the huge strides Campbell has made since turning pro. The future world champion looked awesome again in his fight on Saturday and was full of confidence in the post-fight interview, insisting that he would beat Coyle inside the distance. I heartily concur.
As good as Campbell was, it was once again Sam Eggington who stole the show. The Midlands welterweight looked awesome again in blowing away previously undefeated Shayne Singleton, in what many considered a pick’em fight beforehand. Indeed, Singleton’s neat boxing kept him in the fight, despite suffering a second round knockdown, but it always looked as though Eggington would get to him and lower the boom. Sure enough, two more stunning knockdowns in the fifth brought Shayne’s corner’s intervention.
It is Bradley Skeete who is considered to be the next British champion at welterweight. I believe that Eggington may have gone past him though. Whilst Bradley has recently been knocking over roadsweepers, dustmen and waiters, in an effort by his promoters to show that he can, indeed, punch his weight, Eggington has been in tough with Denton Vassell and now Singleton. Sam is a bit of a monster and is huge at the weight. I am finding it easy to imagine him walking through Skeete’s long jab and doing serious damage. Hopefully we shall get to see that one soon, promotional rivalries aside of course.