With the downstairs area of the venue about three quarters full, both men received noisy receptions as they emerged from their dressing rooms, the 25 year old challenger first, looking a little tense, followed by a super-relaxed and confident champion, wearing Jamaican-flag shorts with Bob Marley’s ‘Natural Mystic’ booming from the PA. Throughout the introductions, Graham appeared far more at ease with the occasion, moving around the ring, testing the ropes and limbering loosely, while Turner, the taller and longer-limbed of the two, stepped edgily from foot to foot, clenching and unclenching his teeth, shooting glances across the ring.
At first bell, Graham came out low, crouching beneath Turner’s southpaw jab and using sharp lateral movement to make the Romford man miss. From the mid-point of the session, he stepped back, keeping himself just out of range of Turner’s leads, picking the right moment to step inside and land. On several occasions Turner was knocked off his stride by damaging right hooks and Graham was clearly in the ascendancy. Timing, movement and strength all worked in his favour. The second and third rounds followed much the same pattern and the fight appeared to be slipping away from the young Romford fighter, despite him landing with the occasional counter. The impression at this stage was that Turner had no answer to the champion’s tactics and could not cope with Graham’s power when the shots came his way. Perhaps, you thought, this title fight is a step too far, too soon for him.
In the fourth, the contest started to change. Showing perhaps a little bit of tiredness, Graham shortened the distance and began to rely on a high guard, rather than foot movement to negate Turner’s work. Emboldened by the change in his opponent’s approach, Turner stepped in. When Graham opened his guard to throw, Turner would catch him with beautifully timed left hooks that reddened the champions face. Turner took the round and returned to his corner smiling. At the beginning of the fifth, with his corner shouting “Be the bad-man, be the bad-man!” Graham came out hard and caught Turner with two punishing short hooks, one with each hand, early on. But Turner quickly wrestled the initiative back and once again began to catch Graham every time he opened up. Having written off the 25 year old challenger in the early stages, it really looked as if the tide was turning. Both fighters stepped on the gas in the sixth, which quickly became a centre-ring battle for supremacy. The action ebbed and flowed and the session was too tight to call but as he headed back to his corner, Graham suddenly looked exhausted. His left eye appeared to be closing slightly.
The momentum was with Turner now. The champion was slow off his stool at the start of the seventh. In contrast, Turner was fast and sharp, picking him off. Graham spent most of the three minutes eating jabs and hooks. Turner had predicted pre-fight that he thought he could stop Graham in the later rounds and with the champion looking increasingly beleaguered, it appeared a real possibility. The Aylesbury man’s corner were clearly worried and as he sat, eyes closed, as if meditating, between rounds. His corner shouted: “Don’t let him take this”, with more than a hint of desperation in his voice. At this stage I had the fight three rounds each and one even, but with the pendulum very much swinging in Turner’s direction.
The eighth seemed to confirm this. A weary looking Graham was tagged repeatedly and Turner fought with vigour and confidence. It was a thoroughly one-sided session, topped off by a perfectly timed left over-the-top from Turner which put the champion down just before the bell. Graham was up at seven and although his legs appeared steady enough, he looked in considerable distress. The writing, it seemed, was on the wall - Turner two points up with Graham looking half finished.
Then in the ninth, Nathan Graham surprised all those spectating and changed things up again. He did what true champions do. From somewhere, against all indications to the contrary, he somehow banished his fatigue and launched himself back at the challenger, tearing into him at close range with an impressive variety of shots. Turner tried to hang in there, but Graham’s tempo was just too high. A volley of blows sent Turner across the ring, sprawling on the ropes above the media table, where the champion followed in with a massive left that sent the young East-Londoner heavily to the canvas. Turner got up at 6, a little shakily and was fortunate that in the melee, he had lost his gum shield. There followed a 30 second delay for it to be replaced, while the Graham prowled around the ring, rueing the missed opportunity to finish his man off. Turner still felt the effects of the knockdown for the remaining half of the round and got on his bike, desperately back-pedalling. He returned to his corner bleeding from the nose and cut beneath his left eye. He’d been battered for the entire session.
So the fight entered the final round even. It was a messy one compared to the rest of the contest and neither man produced the quality of work they had shown in the previous nine. The general feeling was that Graham shaded it, through heavier shots landed but an even round would have been reasonable. Either way, it appeared that the champion had done enough to keep his title. The referee disagreed, however and scored 94-93 in Turner’s favour. Amid scenes of jubilation in the opposite corner, Graham’s team shared cynical smiles. The ex-champion’s face was solemn. “Its just wrong” his chief second said. “It was our fight.”
The contest itself was absolutely superb, deserving every moment of the standing ovation it received from the York Hall crowd. And huge credit must go to the new Southern Area light middleweight champion, Freddie Turner. He put in a brave and determined performance. But at the same time, you can’t help but feel sorry for the 31 year old former champ.
In Summary: What a fight. Top of the bill, fight of the night and one of the fights of the year - a rematch would be a big attraction and would give Graham a shot at redemption. Get it on.
The undercard also proved fairly eventful, featuring several young prospects from the Trad TKO stable. First up was 20 year old debutant Joe Stevens from Basildon, whose first venture into the pro game was something of a baptism of fire against Sheffield-based Kuwaiti journeyman Anwar Alfadli (2-35-4). Despite only having one professional victory before tonight, Alfadli has shared a ring with Commonwealth super flyweight champion Paul Butler, British and Commonwealth flyweight champ Kevin Satchell and WBO European flyweight holder Iain Butler. He's also managed a score draw with former British champion Chris Edwards last year, so you could say he knows his way around a ring.
Sadly for the very young looking Stevens (8st 6lb), Alfadli (8st 7) was just too strong for him and put him down with a fierce right almost as soon as the action started. Stevens was never able to fully settle into his boxing or impose himself and was bullied out of his stride for most of the contest, unable to make up the two point gap from the knockdown, losing the decision 37-39.
In summary: Stevens didn’t look strong enough, but can take solace from the knowledge that Bernard Hopkins lost his first pro fight - it doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm.
Second on the card was a middleweight contest between Irish prospect Paul Upton (2-0) and Duane ‘Mad Dog’ Green (1-3-1) from Norwich. Led into the ring by a leprechaun and roared on by a colourful cheering section encompassing flags, drums and whistles, Upton (11st 7lb) dominated the fight comfortably, taking centre ring from first bell and attacking in straight lines. Green (11st 3lb 12oz) offered little in return until the fourth when he caught Upton with a solid right hook. The Norwich man was slightly more aggressive throughout the final session but did nothing that could alter the decision. 40-36.
In summary: Easy win for Upton, but he will need to show some head and lateral movement to compete at a higher level.
The night’s third fight saw Albanian East Londoner Festim Lama (2-1) take on late replacement Dan Blackwell (4-23-0) from Trowbridge in a super-middleweight match over four threes. The two had met before in Lama’s last fight in June, andn that occasion, Lama had comfortably outpointed his man, but this contest did not quite follow the same pattern. After pocketing the first two rounds though aggression and work-rate, Lama (11st 9lb), an impressive physical specimen, whose all-action style is entertaining, but lacks finesse, began to take a few too many chances, leaving himself wide-open. At the start of the third, Blackwell (11st 7lb 8oz) ditched the script and tagged the Albanian with a vicious hook, following up with a succession of punches that left Lama dazed on the ropes. To his credit, Lama fired back and caught Blackwell with two hurtful looking shots before getting tagged again with a big left and going down. He was up at six, but wobbly and could not satisfy the referee that he was in a fit state to continue. The fight was waved off after 50 seconds of the third round.
In summary: A harsh lesson for Lama.
Next up saw the entry of UK boxing’s most unpronounceable name, Lithuanian born Heavyweight Paulius Kasilulevicius (2-1) up against the enigmatic Carl ‘The Fridge’ Baker (9-7) from Sheffield. Baker, who has given indications throughout his career that he is better than his record suggests, weighed in at 21 stone even, giving him nearly a 5 stone weight advantage over Kasilulevicius at 16st 1lb. Despite the fact that he seemed to be carrying most of it around his waist, it was telling. The Lithuanian wanted to work off the jab but it was clear from the beginning of the fight that Baker out-strengthed him. Kasilulevicius tried to stay busy but was clipped and staggered on several occasions by the bigger man. With the first drawing to a close, a big, straight right from Baker put the Lithuanian down. He rose, but his balance was shot and the referee ended the action with 14 seconds remaining.
In summary: When focused and confident, Baker can be very dangerous.
The night’s fifth contest saw the Emerald Army re-emerge from the bar to cheer on the second member of the Upton Clan in action, debutant Anthony, up against ‘Dirty’ Dan Carr (2-44-2), from Trowbridge, who lost to Johnny Greaves in the legendary journeyman’s final contest last month. Upton (10st 1lb) showed flashes of class throughout, putting lightning-quick, head-body combinations together to take every round. Carr (10st 5lb) stayed on the back foot for most of the fight and took Carr’s shots without being seriously troubled, but never looked in danger of challenging the Irishman either. His best moment was flexing his biceps and grinning at ringside photographers while in a clinch, during the fourth. The referee scored it 40-36.
In summary: Easy win for Upton. Stiffer tests await, but fast hands and nice movement show promise.
The last bit of action before the main event featured Chelmsford lightweight Tommy ‘Gun’ Martin (5-0) in with tough Reading jounreyman Ibrar Riyaz (4-48-1). Martin showed lovely ringcraft and footwork in rounds one and two, circling in both directions and using his hand-speed to score with left jabs and hooks. The third saw Martin take a more flat-footed approach and stun Riyaz with a sharp right-hand lead. However, while in this stance, the Chelmsford prospect showed a tendency to raise his head after throwing, swaying from the waist to avoid Riyaz’s counters. In the fourth this tactic backfired a little and Martin was clipped several times, perhaps also looking a little tired toward the end. It was scored 40-37.
In summary: Some very nice work from Martin, but defence and stamina may need some attention.
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