By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
It’s the end of the year which means only one thing… the world famous Big Write Hook Small Hall Awards. Admittedly not world famous just yet but they will be, they will be! These awards are dedicated to the small hall scene so, without further ado, let’s get straight into and see who the lucky winners are…
Promoter of the Year
Three contenders emerged in this category with an early favourite taking the lead almost immediately when the question was posed on Twitter. We’ll run through the runners and riders first, though.
Stefy Bull is the only representative from outside of the Southern Area to receive a nomination and the former fighter did so on merit. Having helped resurrect the career of Josh Wale, he’s overseen the bantamweight’s defence of the British title and narrow European loss. Having put on eight shows this year, Bull works closely with a small pool of talent to provide them with regular fight dates as they build towards the title scene.
The next contender is Steve Goodwin, the elected representative for Goodwin Boxing as a whole, who has a mammoth year at the helm of his eponymous management-stroke-promotional stable. Despite having over 100 fighters on the books, each of them sing the praises of Steve with a particular to the genuine care and attention he provides each boxer.
Adding an extra element of production to small hall shows that are otherwise missing, Goodwin Boxing turn the boxing into events. Unfazed by putting his fighters in with each-other, each card provides a mixture of high quality title fights and entertaining prospects – a winning formula, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Heading up the promotional arm of MTK Global is Lee Eaton, a fresh face on the scene of boxing promoting. In his first year as a license holder, Eaton has put on 11 events over the past six months in all four countries of the United Kingdom. Helped along, exponentially, by the array of fighters managed by MTK, we’ve seen some thrilling inter-stable contests and the plan for 2019 is simple – bigger and better. 24 ‘Premium Fight Nights’ broadcast on iFLTV.
The winner of the inaugural Big Write Hook Small Hall Boxing Promoter of the Year is… Mr Steve Goodwin, for a consistent delivery of high-quality events and leading the way when it comes to product value.
Boxer of the Year
It’s true, 12 months is an awfully long time, in any walk of life, but pertinently more so when each of your actions has a directly consequential result on your future. These guys, perhaps better than most, know this all too well.
Wadi Camacho has long been considered a classy operator and the 33 year old entered 2018 with a record of 19 and 7. A Southern Area champion on six occasions, perceptions going into the year were that we had seen the peak of Camacho’s ability, he had plateaued, allegedly. Managed by Steve Goodwin, the year kicked off with Machoman rolling back the years to deliver a vintage display against Danny Couzens. Looking rejuvenated in the fight – the second contest between the two fighters – Camcho demonstrated some dazzling shot selection on his way to a ninth round TKO.
November would see his only other fight of the year, a rematch with Arfan Iqbal and many peope had Iqbal the favourite, going in. 14 months previously Camacho was knocked out in the fourth round but, by all accounts, boxed superbly to drop Iqbal in the fifth. Iqbal fell through the ropes in the seventh, injuring his back in the process, and was unable to continue. A technical decision for Camacho but a proficient performance to add the Commonwealth strap to his collection.
Kash Farooq is the youngest on this list and, in contrasting fashion to Camacho, is just at the beginning of what could be. 2017 ended nicely as Farooq won the Scottish Area title but 2018 was all about pushing on and testing himself against loftier opponents. I say year, it didn’t start until June 16th for Farooq but the bantamweight brushed off that brief inactivity with a 2nd round TKO over Jose Hernandez.
With that fight seeing Farooq back into the swing of things, the British title came a-calling. Matched with Jamie Wilson – a fellow Scot – Farooq exploded into the fight, dropping Wilson within 13 seconds thanks to a dramatic right hand. Sixty seconds, two knockdowns later, the contest was all over. A career best performance. This was followed up by a showdown with Iain Butcher, who turned down a Commonwealth title fight, at the end of November. From such a ferocious performance against Wilson, Farooq showed maturity throughout 12 rounds to control the contest and emerge an emphatic winner.
Sam Bowen, thanks to the wonders of modern streaming, is a man who I forgot made his name on the small hall circuit. Now singed with Frank Warren, headlining a BT card in February, for a long time it was just Bowen and Carl Greaves, paving their own way to success.
Silky smooth with a style that’s easy to watch, Bowen takes to the centre of the ring and keep on bouncing around. A continuous left jab that pops into the face of his opponent, Bowen has wonderful power when it comes to punishing combinations, the knockout merchant has finished 10 of his 14 fights within the distance.
Maxi Hughes was the man standing in his way of the British Super Featherweight title back on April 14th, Bowen tied together a comprehensive display whereby everything worked seamlessly. Stance switching with rhythmic shot timing, Bowen produced a masterclass en route to an 8th round TKO at the King Power Stadium. Just the one fight on the small hall before Warren snapped him up – Bowen has swiftly added the WBO Intercontinental title around his waist – but a phenomenal performance to win the Lord Lonsdale belt AND secure a world ranking.
Jeff Ofori concludes our shortlist and, indeed, the year as the Southern Area Lightweight champion having initially gone searching for the super featherweight belt. A stated goal of Southern Area champion by the end of 2018 was echoed relentlessly throughout the small hall scene with Ofori determined to get his hands on the belt, regardless of weight division.
With only three fights to his name prior to the turn of the year, Ofori has rocketed to eight without defeat and has looked peerless in the process. The year started with a six rounder over, durable, Jamie Quinn and Ofori, who works on the London Underground, followed this up with a merciless knockout victory in April against Aleksandrs Birkenbergs. The Latvian, 4 and 12 at the time, fell foul Ofori’s repeated chipping uppercut throughout the contest before an onslaught at the ropes finished him off.
Two stay busy contests against Naheem Chaudhry and Luke Fash, in May and June, preceded his Southern Area challenge to Jumaane Camero in October. Two of the nicest guys in the sport, Ofori got the job done in devastating fashion, by accounts. A swinging battle, the work-rate of the 28 year old proved enough to secure the contest by 98 points to 93.
Two British Champions, a Commonwealth belt holder and a Southern Area kingpin, god this is a tough one but, just, Big Write Hook’s Small Hall Fighter of the Year is… Wadi Camacho!
KO of the Year
Knockouts, without doubt, provide entertainment and there has been an endless array of stellar stoppages to keep us on the edge of our seat throughout 2019. We start off with Mikey Sakyi’s dramatic knockout, in the final round, against Siar Ozgul. Ozgul was defending his Southern Area Super Lightweight belt and Sakyi took to the ring on around a week’s notice. Trailing on the scorecards, Sakyi entered the 10th round looking to unload and chased his man around the ring. The job would ultimately be set up by a beautiful counter left before a strong flurry of shots against the ropes saw the fight finished with a minute to go.
What is there to be said about the next nomination? Harlem Eubank in his sixth professional contest was taking on Petar Alexandrov (3-4) and poised, patiently, around the outside of the canvas. Twisting his body into the shot, Eubank pulled out a ferocious left hook that caught Alexandrov on the button and to the canvas like a shattered icicle. Watch the video, words can’t do it justice!
Two worthy contenders from British prospects but let’s divulge from that theme and visit the away corner for once.
Jan Balog (11-44-1, at the time) was bought in for an eight rounder with Davis Pagan (8-1 and a thoroughly nice man) at York Hall in September. Pagan started well and looked to be settling into his rhythm but was guilty of keeping his guard marginally low. Balog, who’s last victory came against Patrik Balog – no relation – was wary of this and jumped in at the ropes, landing a peach of a right cross to end the contest there and then. Concern followed immediately for Pagan who, thankfully, survived unscathed.
Knockout of the year has simply got to go to Harlem Eubank – that was something else!
Fight of the Year
This category will be sweet and short but all the fights are worth watching back in full, should you find yourself with a spare half hour. Ben Sheedy vs Matthew Wigglesworth starts us off with 10 rounds of non-stop war. With the Central Area title on the line, Sheedy was lined up to face Matthew Mallin before Wigglesworth, 5 and 2, was drafted in. The middleweight contest was staged at the Bolton Whites Hotel on July 27th and fought with a mutual respect. Both men landed productive shots, Sheedy finding success with the counter-left. It was Wigglesworth, the smaller man, who let his hands fly more frequently and nicked the decision, having dropped Sheedy twice in the eight, by 96 points to 94.
Billy Bird does not to things the easy way and finds himself nominated by way of two terrific contests over the course of 2018. His contest with Matt McCarthy, in defense of his Southern Area title, served as a precursor for his bout with Adam Harper – taking place six months later. It is that fight, with the vacant English Super Welterweight title on the line, that sees him nominated.
Promoted by MTK Global at the Brentwood Centre, the fight took place on September 21st and was, like many of these contests, nip and tuck throughout. Adam Harper, you suspected, started the 10 rounder in stronger fashion whilst Bird grew, exponentially, into the fight as time progressed. Harper, 8 and 1, displayed more orthodox technique and was stalkerish in his honing down of Bird. Unforgiving in coming forward, Harper claimed the decision by majority decision with 97-93, 96-95 scorecards in his favour and Terry O’Connor scoring it a draw.
Not quite the rampant fire fight of the two fights previous, Tommy Langford vs Jason Welborn I, was the epitome of boxing to a game plan and that game plan delivered for Welborn. With Langford, understandably, going into the bout as the favourite and looking to defend his British title, the pressure was off for Welborn.
He took to the centre of the ring from the off with a dastardly work rate, targeting the body of Langford to contrast Langford’s attempt of technical dominance. Both fighters were fast on their feet but it was Welborn who remained in his comfort zone as Langford sought to adapt his game plan. Showing no signs of faltering, Welborn went into the championship rounds with a head of steam and emerged the victor, deservedly, via scorecards of 114-113, 114-113 and, for the opposite corner, 113-115.
As good as those fights were, and they were sensational, a bout popped up on Twitter more frequently than most and, much to my annoyance, was a fight I had not seen live. It is rare that highlights can do a fight justice but the five minutes that I’ve seen pay tribute to the ebb and flow of the fight. Both came into the contest with plenty of heart but, as described, it was Ofori who maintained a stronger work rate throughout the fight and really put the pressure on the champion. As Ofori does so often does, he scampered Camero onto the ropes and teed off with some lovely combinations. 98-93 on the scorecards to claim the Southern Area title and, for the majority of observers, dust up of the year!
Who am I to rule against the masses? Fight of the year goes to Jumaane Camero vs Jeff Ofori! No, Sheedy-Wigglesworth. Ah, bloody hell, Camero vs Ofori but only just!
Man, what a year it has been. Well done to all our worthy winners, you’ve given us more than our fair share of entertainment and spectacle. Bring on 2019!