By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
There’s something about tournament format boxing that gets the juices flowing – where the immediate rewards or consequences of a bout are more paramount than in any sense of a larger career. MTK Global’s ‘Golden Contract’ set-up is no different with 24 fighters, across three weight classes, competing for a “lucrative contract with one of the world’s leading promoters”.
A baking York Hall plays host to the first installment this Friday where featherweights jostle to get one step closer to the jackpot. The drawer took place on Tuesday and the whole tournament can be viewed across Sky Sports so, let’s find out who’s who.
Ryan Walsh (British champion, 24-2-2)
I’ve sorted this crop of fighters randomly with the exception for Ryan Walsh who deservedly gets first billing as reigning British champion. His commitment to the national title is as unrelenting as he is unassuming with six successful defences made since winning the belt in 2015. The Crome featherweight has been played more than his fair share of dodgy hands with a loss to Dennis Ceylan, a draw with Isaac Lowe and a solitary scorecard of 116-113 in Reece Bellotti’s favour raising eyebrows along the way. Despite circumstances conspiring, seemingly, against him the immovable 33 year old has always stuck, stubbornly at times, to his guns and out-worked his way to the top. He was picked by Hairon Socarras.
Hairon Socarras (22-0-3)
Cuban born, Florida based Hairon Socarras got the second pick of the draw and plumped for British champion Ryan Walsh. The 26 year has an intriguing, and bizarre, background coming into this particular contest. Unlike most Cuban fighters who go on to be a professional there was no extensive amateur representation for his homeland; Socarras moving to America aged 11. He turned to professional boxing in 2011, a month after his 18th birthday, and quickly built up a reputation as a ‘knockout artist’ with his first four wins coming by stoppage: now standing at 14 from 25 contests. Fortunes have been mixed for the Cuban who was previously signed to fight Shakur Stevenson in the summer, with him failing to push on from his first title in 2014 (a WBA Fedcaribe belt). El Maja, his fighting nickname, translates to a species of boa constrictors native to Cuba – presumably because he drains all life out of an opponent.
Leigh Wood (Commonwealth champion, 22-1)
Fresh from a standout stoppage of Ryan Doyle, in which Wood defended his Commonwealth title, the Gedling-based fighter finds himself up against Davey Oliver Joyce in a bout that tantalises. The fashion in which Wood dispatched of Doyle more fitted the moniker of his opponent – ruthless. Some tempting body shots dropped the defense before a left hook cracked Doyle on the chin but Wood’s patience in awaiting for a natural opportunity to arise is testament to his development away from the limelight. The 31 year old has been guided incrementally to Commonwealth champion and it shows in his preparedness for each bout – he is realistically a step above but hasn’t been rushed to fulfill his potential. Now he’s got that experience in his back pocket, as well as the currency of being champion, ‘Golden Contract’ seems the natural pathway to go down.
David Oliver Joyce (WBO European champion, 11-0)
A year old than his opponent at 32 years of age, Joyce is relatively inexperienced as a professional having made his debut just over two years ago. The Mullingar fighter has had little time to hang around with 52 rounds racked up on his way to eight knockout victories. The triple European Union champion, as an amateur, showed that class against Stephen Tiffney in May when he outclassed his Scottish opponent before stopping Tiffney in the seventh round. Against Leigh Wood he will be in his toughest challenge to date but his professional career has been full of tests and oddities – having co-headlined in Dubai, fought in Kazakhstan – so the Irishman will have no qualms about his latest assignment. Probably the closest contest on opening night, Joyce vs Wood (or Wood vs Joyce, depends how you want it) has all the hallmarks of a yet another York Hall ‘classic’.
Jazza Dickens (IBF European champion, 27-3)
Seemingly left in the dark by Frank Warren after back-to-back brave losses against Guillermo Rigondeaux and Thomas Patrick Ward, Dickens is back in the domestic fold thanks to MTK. A few stay busy bouts have kept the Liverpudlian sharp in before another title shot cropped up in July when he out-pointed Nathaniel May to claim the vacant IBF European title. With the belt his name was again in the mix but in a new division, having moved up from super bantamweight. The 28 year old looked natural at the weight and clearly held his power well enough to drop May twice. Having been fighting in ‘genuine’ contests periodically since 2013, when he had his first British title fight, there’s a huge background of experience in 50-50 contests and that’s where he can heed confidence from.
Carlos Ramos (EBU-EU champion, 11-1)
Ramos will be in the opposite corner to Dickens as he faces his second successive British fighter; Ramos outpointed Razaq Najib in June. The fight with Najib took place with the vacant EBU-EU title at stake and Ramos always looked comfortable throughout the 12 rounds with a technical efficiency that saw him remain in control. That was the second fight with real consequential meaning of the 24 year old’s career – the first resulting in a loss to Irvin Gonzales (then 10-0) over eight rounds. It’s hard to read too much into many of his previous contests given the limited calibre of his opponents yet, whilst Ramos has risen to the occasion before, it’ll be an upset if he topples the pedigree of Jazza Dickens.
Carlos Araujo (WBC Latino champion, 15-1)
Araujo is shrowded in mystery with limited information available to pen any kind of in-depth, authoritative preview of his abilities but I dug and I dug – here’s what I’ve got. The Mexican, based in Sinaloa, has been a professional for nine years but with two heavy gaps in between – April 2014 to December 2016 and thereafter until April 2019 – for which can’t be accounted for. The 24 year old had turned professional aged 15 so it’s self-evident to say he’s grown into his ‘man strength’ but Araujo had been looking for opportunities at super-feather before being approached by MTK. His promoter Javier Cubedo gave Araujo two hours to decide and he leapt at the opportunity – perhaps will know a little bit more about him after Friday night.
Tyrone McCullagh (WBO European super-bantam champion, 13-0)
Standing in Araujo’s way will be a tasty bit of ‘White Chocolate’ in the form of Tyrone McCullagh. The Antrim fighter is also shifting in weight classes but, conversely his opponent, is moving up so it could be aesthetically interesting to compare the two post weigh-in. McCullagh had found himself developing in the super bantamweight scene healthily with three progressive victories in the span of 2018 and 2019; a win against Josh Kennedy was particularly pleasing. The 29 year old is a bumbling, busy fighter who’s legs are arguably in action more than the upper half of his body – constantly on the move, fidgeting almost, and refusing to get bogged down by an opponent. Araujo could be in for a long night if he can’t get to grips with the kaleidoscope of footwork coming his way – let’s hope he’s not epileptic.
By Lewis Calvert @BigWriteHook
Maybe it’s the loyal Scouser in me, but I would back Jazza Dicken’s to beat every featherweight in the world outside the top 5. Dicken’s was one of the most honest boxers I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing, back in Everton’s Red Triangle boxing gym before his fight with then P4P star Guillermo Rigondeaux. It ended abruptly with the Cuban inflicting a snapped jaw on the local lad, but the guts to even get in there with one of the most avoided fighters in the world must be commended. In all honesty, Dicken’s is the only fighter in this list I’ve watched with much interest over the years and it is the very fact I’ve not seen nor heard too much from any of the others as to why I back him. I am open to a surprise though when the eventual winner is announced. May the best man win.
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