By Liam Lawer @longcountboxing
(Picture credit Leah Mason)
Death and taxes might be the only certainties in life, but a good night of boxing at the iconic York Hall must come pretty close.
Goodwin Boxing’s ‘Dare to Dream’ card certainly didn’t disappoint, with a seventeen-fight epic delivering all that is desired of a small hall show, packaged in a production of remarkable quality. The well attended event ran as smoothly as silk, and the atmosphere remained good natured throughout. All involved should be proud of their efforts, not least the fighters themselves. Speaking of which…
Robinson v Ejakpovi
Three vacant Southern Area title fights topped the bill, all wildly different spectacles, but all worthy of their status. For the Light-Middleweight edition, it was a battle of the undefeated local prospects. Sean Robinson (8-0) took on Joshua Ejakpovi (12-0) in a tense, tactical affair that was fascinating from start to finish.
Each took to the centre from the opener, which was spent feeling the other out and easing into the contest. Such a round was seldom seen all night, but more on that later. After two, Robinson was edging it, looking a little sharper and throwing a little more than his opponent. ‘Hollywood Josh’ stayed in the contest with well-timed straight shots from his southpaw stance, none more precise than the peach of a left hand that dropped his man at the end of round three. If they weren’t already, everyone was now fixated on the action between the ropes.
Until the ninth, each round was nail bitingly close, with often a short flurry, or one eye-catching strike making the difference. Robinson used his legs well to skip in and out with quick combinations, and the composed Ejakpovi often made him miss with exquisite, subtle defensive movements. Ultimately however, he didn’t make his man pay on enough occasions. In the penultimate three minutes, Josh was bullied somewhat by the buoyant Robinson, who had long shaken off his knockdown and was closing the fight well. This foreshadowed final round, which Robinson took clearly and confidently, even finding time to showboat and dart about with his hands by his waist. Jeff Hinds scored it 98-92 in his favour. Ejakpovi deserved more credit, but the right man won without question.
Both were in tremendous shape and well up for the most important fight of their respective careers, but it may have been Robinson’s youth and hunger which saw him bite down and take it down the stretch. At just 23, he has the foundations and desire to move on to better things. For Josh, he has the talent to come back, but at 32 he’ll need to do it sooner rather than later.
Dillon v Birmingham
Such age difference was negligible in comparison to the Super Featherweight contestants. 23-year-old London boy Liam Dillon (8-0) took on Hampshire’s David Birmingham (8-3), a former footballer vying to become the oldest Southern Area champion ever – at a spritely 37. These were compact men with compact styles, and it was soon apparent that this would produce a fun fight. From early the pace was high, and they met head on in the middle of the ring.
Birmingham tried to make it rough, but Dillon was just a touch too smart, beginning to slowly dominate behind a stiff jab and hurtful body assaults. By the end of the fifth, David’s nose was bloody, but he fought hard. By the seventh, Liam was piling on with calculated pressure, and Jeff Hinds stepped in at 1:08 to stop Birmingham on his feet. The crowd erupted, largely in celebration at the crowning of an exciting new champion. The beaten man clearly felt the stoppage was premature, but he swiftly accepted it and turned to congratulate his opponent. He may not have made history and become a champion on Saturday night, but he certainly took his loss like one.
The two men put on a great show, and Dillon emerged as a prospect to look out for. He puts his shots together intelligently, and hits harder than his record implies. As for Birmingham, who ‘dared to dream’, it felt like the last stand of a brave warrior. The emotion and class he showed after was genuinely touching. Dillon’s fans recognised this, cheering as Birmingham walked backstage. It was a pleasure to witness.
Couzens v Mendes
Rounding up the Southern Area straps, Danny Couzens (10-11-2) took on Daniel Mendes (8-1) in a spirited battle for the vacant Cruiserweight title. The grizzled Couzens, whose late career surge has landed him two consecutive Southern Area shots, looked in much better nick than in previous contests.
One look at his sneering face showed he was well up for a fight too, clocking the Mendes fanbase at ringside and accepting his inevitable role as the pantomime villain. Mendes to his credit looked calm and in enviably great shape, ready for his big chance. There was a lively atmosphere for this one, with the fans coming out in force. Both men were clearly boosted by their presence, they would need it for the gruelling match ahead.
The first round set the scene. Couzens steadily stalked forward behind a slow and heavy jab, Mendes wheeled round, waiting for the counter to present itself. Mendes’ crouching style made him appear small next Couzens, and his neglect of the jab invited uncomfortable pressure in the early goings. But he settled down in round two, timing the counters and forcing Couzens back on rare occasions.
Each round went slightly more emphatically to Mendes, but they were hard work, and he was never fully in control. You got the sense that Couzens could trudge forward like this forever, and if Mendes tired, he be right back into the fight. In 7,8 and 9 however, Mendes was looking at ease. His fans began to exclaim ‘It’s sparring’ ad nauseum, and they were just about right. He landed flush counters to head and body that demanded the attention of his man. Couzens smiled and shook his head, of course, but that sneer had long since been replaced by a look of concentration and frustration. Both landed hurtful punches in these rounds, but Mendes had the better technique and a higher output.
Then round ten happened. Couzens awoke from his semi-slumber and took it to Mendes like a man possessed. He landed more than he had here for half the fight combined, cornering Mendes and appearing to rattle him a touch. Mendes fired back beautifully timed uppercuts, a punch that previous rounds didn’t indicate was in his arsenal. Couzens was hurt too, as Mendes weathered the storm in the end. It was a great round which really took the crowd away with it. As the dust settled, Mendes was awarded a 99-91 decision. Couzens could have earned both bookend rounds, but Mendes fairly won the rest. A touching moment followed as his various generations of his family entered to congratulate him, bursting with pride.
The vastly different styles combined well to produce a bout that was always intriguing, and referee Jeff Hinds had very little to do. For Mendes, undefeated for Steve Goodwin, he has thrown himself into the domestic Cruiserweight mix, with all the opportunities that brings. If he incorporates a more regular jab, he’d be a very difficult man to beat. Couzens meanwhile may have had his last chance, he never stopped trying but he just didn’t have enough. The man that showed up in the final round could win an area title, but at 34 such a pace would be unexpected for the required championship distance.
As if these weren’t exciting enough, the undercard defied expectations. Sam Cox (3-0) wiped out Georgi Andonov efficiently, taking just over a minute. Step this man up now. Big Jon Palata (4-0) also impressed, his fast jab driving his debutant opponent wherever he wished. He forced Dean Wingrove into the corner and never let him go, it was nasty, and it was quick. ‘The Dancing Destroyer’ is one to watch, his technique stood out and he wasted no time at all. Catch him against Chris Healey (8-4) back at the York Hall on March 23rd.
The big upset came in the Brandon Ball vs. Stefan Sashev fight. Both men clearly possessed fast hands and feet, but the experience of the Bulgarian journeyman told, timing
Ball (4-1) coming in with a wicked right hand that scrambled the prospect in the very first round. Ball bravely attempted to rise, but his legs gave way twice and the fight was rightly called off. Sashev (5-19-1) can be folded easily, but he can also whack. Don’t be surprised to see this happen again. For Ball, these things happen, perhaps a longer fight with a calmer start will serve him better on his comeback.
Nick Parpa (8-1) looked solid and dangerous, picking up a second round TKO over Taha Mirhhosseini, and Denis Denikayev (3-0) is worth keeping an eye on, with a relentless, clinical style that will be a nightmare for many. Youssef Khoumari (8-0) was given a test by the Latvian, Aleksandrs Birkenbergs (4-18-0), who is better than his record suggests. His class told though, and his shoulder roll defence and confident approach makes for good viewing.
Overall, this was a tremendous small hall show, that provided a bit of everything for the packed-out crowd. We now have three new champions worthy of keen interest and a host of prospects who will have left their mark on those in attendance. Goodwin Promotions did a stellar job, and those not attending the next one should be jealous of those who are.
It was mine and Leah’s first experience of a live professional boxing card, and a real eye-opener for us. For a blog-like account of our ringside baptism check back on Big Write Hook in a few days. Thanks to Steve Goodwin Promotions and Kevin Campion for the opportunity.
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