Tyson Fury’s stunning comeback, Anthony Joshua’s latest Wembley knockout, Tony Bellew bowing out – talkSPORT’s 2018 boxing review


Tyson Fury’s stunning comeback, Anthony Joshua’s latest Wembley knockout, Tony Bellew bowing out – talkSPORT’s 2018 boxing review

talkSPORT proudly boasted of being the ‘Home of Boxing’ throughout 2018, and with the picture of every punch painted for the listener – from Cardiff to Nuremburg to Los Angeles to Jeddah and many more besides – it’d be hard to argue that we didn’t deliver.

The year started with a London derby – Lawrence Okolie v Isaac Chamberlain at The O2. In fairness, that one failed to ignite, but better was to come in Manchester with George Groves dominating Chris Eubank Jnr in their World Boxing Super Series semi-final; Groves finishing the contest with his left arm hanging limply by his waist.

George Groves suffered a dislocated shoulder late on in his victory over Chris Eubank Jnr

Germany was up next, and Callum Smith left Manchester Airport with a big smile on his face in anticipation of putting national hero Juergen Braehmer into retirement. His trainer Joe Gallagher received a call whilst walking across the tarmac to the plane bound for Nuremburg – there would be no Braehmer, but a fight would go on. Former Dutch kick-boxing champion Nieky Holzken stepped up and proved a tough but limited operator. It was a no-win situation for Smith, but he got the job done to set up a tantalising tie with Groves, once the latter’s injured shoulder healed.

Onto Sheffield on a snowy Saturday in early March to witness the return of Kell Brook following his back-to-back defeats to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jnr. Sergey Rabchenkowas the opponent – while it lasted. Less than two rounds didn’t tell us an awful lot about ‘Special K.’

Kell Brook marked his first bout at light-middleweight with victory as he stopped Belarusian Sergey Rabchenko

On the same weekend, Deontay Wilder beat Luis Ortiz stateside, while Josh Taylor continued his ascent in the sport by dismantling Winston Campos in Glasgow.

From the Steel City to Carson, California for Scott Quigg’s assault on the WBO featherweight title held by Mexico’s Oscar Valdez. In a surprising twist, the uber-professional Quigg weighed in heavy and therefore couldn’t win the title. The gloomy mood wasn’t lifted the following day as the heavens opened to reduce the open-air Stub Hub Centre to a shallow swimming pool. All manner of broadcast kit and cables were exposed to the elements but, somehow, we stayed on-air and more remarkably, nobody was electrocuted.

The then WBO lightweight champ Ray Beltran joined us on co-commentary – a man who’d sparred many rounds with both men. Boxing royalty he may be, but with a blue tarpaulin sheet pulled over his head, lip mic to mouth and rain spilling down his face, Ray realised right then that he’d truly arrived at the big time.

It also proved to be an uncomfortable night for Quigg, who had his nose broken early on and suffered a bad cut to boot. The Bury-man made the final bell, but the decision was unanimous in the tireless Mexican’s favour.

Next up – Dillian Whyte taking on the big Aussie Lucas Browne in London. It presented a step up for Dillian against a former world champion. There was some needle going into the fight, but in the end, there was a gulf in class and a concussive knockout settled the score – the Brixton man was on a roll.

Dillian Whyte brutally knocked out Lucas Browne

Undercard highlights included Lewis Ritson blasting out Scott Cardle and Callum Johnson ripping the British light-heavyweight belt from Frank Buglioni in the opening round.

The big build up to Anthony Joshua’s next hurdle was already in full swing by this point. March 31 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The punters had filled the city centre pubs early and many were very well refreshed when the business got serious inside the venue. Anthony Crolla – part of our team in Nuremburg – outpointed Edsun Ramirez before the big men took centre stage. David Price once again proved his popularity with a great ovation before climbing through the ropes to face Alexander Povetkin. Price was down in the third but rose to knock the Russian across the ring at the end of the round. Povetkin survived, rebooted and made Price pay with a horrible fifth round knockout to set up a contest with Joshua – provided he beat Joseph Parker. He did. In a controlled performance, Joshua outpointed the Kiwi to inflict his first defeat.

Dillian Whyte was ringside with talkSPORT that night. As soon as the fight ended, he dropped his mic to look for Joshua, Povetkin and any other heavyweight he could call out!

April heralded the start of spring and James DeGale was full of the joys after reclaiming his IBF Super middleweight world title in his rematch with Caleb Truax in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, plans were underway for the return of Amir Khan in a bout with unheralded Canadian-Italian Phil Lo Greco.

A stint in the celebrity jungle had further bolstered the Bolton fighter’s mass appeal, but there was no smiling at the pre-fight press conference in Liverpool when Lo Greco went off-piste by bringing Khan’s wife into matters. A glass of water was thrown at the visitor as things got a little ugly.

After the formalities, when sat with talkSPORT in a quiet room left of stage, Lo Greco seemed genuinely shaken by the incident. He was even more wobbly come fight night. It took Khan all of 39 seconds to blast Lo Greco out and send him back to Toronto with his tail between his legs.

Amir Khan returned to the ring in style

While the main event at the Echo Arena was over before it began, there was a minor classic on the undercard with Tommy Coyle taking the commonwealth lightweight title from Birkenhead’s Sean ‘Masher’ Dodd. That same night, Coyle’s stablemate Carl Frampton got the better of the ‘Filipino Flash’ Nonito Donaire in Belfast.

Cinco de Mayo is always a special date in the boxing diary, but the biggest clash on that day this year didn’t involve a Mexican superstar. Canelo’s doping violation postponed the second GGG fight so instead it was a scouser and a Londoner in a rematch of their own that hogged the headlines. The O2 was bouncing as David Haye and then Tony Bellew made their ring entrances. The end was nigh for Haye who couldn’t withstand the ‘Bomber’s’ barrages.  At ringside, following a fifth-round stoppage, Bellew roared down the talkSPORT mic as only he can. Haye stayed to congratulate his conqueror and talk to us over the ropes. Despite all the pre-fight bluster, he was honest and gracious in his appraisal. Body language hinted that he knew his time was up. It was.

Tony Bellew blew David Haye away once more in their rematch

A week later, Ukrainian genius Vasiliy Lomachenko became a three-weight world champion by beating Jorge Linares via tenth round TKO. Not all plain sailing against a true elite fighter, Loma had to get off the canvas in the sixth round before taking over.

As the domestic football season came to an end, fans of Leeds United still had another date in the diary. Elland Road, May 19: Lee Selby v Josh Warrington. Against all the odds, the hometown boy out-hustled the champion, cutting him badly before taking the split decision. A new world champion for the man ‘fighting for a city’.

At the end of May, another Yorkshireman, Jamie McDonnell, took up the huge challenge of facing the beast Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in a defence of his WBA bantamweight belt. Drained at making 118lbs, the Doncaster man was stopped in the opening round. Kal Yafai meanwhile, had a better away day in California with a win over David Cormona a couple of days later.

Onto June and the return of the Gypsy King. After his much chronicled lay-off which resulted in him ballooning in weight following an epic binge, Tyson Fury teamed up with the young and relatively unknown trainer Ben Davison to prepare for the modest challenge of Sefer Seferi. Fury had appeared to be back to his usual self at the first pre-fight press conference at the Lowry Hotel – he joked about being happy to share a bill with Terry Flanagan and a ‘hooker’. Flanagan was defending his WBO lightweight title on the bill against the highly-rated Texan Maurice Hooker.

At the public workout at the National Football Museum, you got the impression Seferi might be out of his depth when he jumped in the ring to get a selfie with Fury. It got even more farcical at the open-air weigh-in when the Manchester traveller picked up his diminutive opponent – the second-best cruiserweight in Albania – before giving him a cuddle.

Tyson Fury was in great form on his return to the ring in early 2018

There wasn’t much more spite in the fight itself. Fury had been out of action for two-and-a-half years, but after shedding around eight stone, was easily fit enough to dismiss Seferi’s efforts. Things turned bizarre during the fight when both men stopped to watch fans scuffle in the seats. Still, Seferi had had enough after four rounds while Flanagan’s belt left these shores with Hooker.

Towards the end of the month, Martin Murray beat Roberto Garcia while Josh Taylor enjoyed a standout win over Victor Postol. In other business, Manny Pacquiao once again resurrected his remarkable career with a TKO victory over Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpar while Rocky Fielding and a noisy band of scousers went bananas when ‘Rocky from Stocky’ shocked Tyrone Zuege with a sensational stoppage on the champion’s home turf. Liverpool had a new WBA (regular) world titlist.

July also witnessed Oleksandr Usyk wrap up the cruiserweight division by completely dominating Murat Gassiev in Moscow, claiming the WBSS Muhammad Ali trophy in the process. In his post-fight interview in the ring, he called out Tony Bellew and the rest as they say……

That same night across the pond in Las Vegas, Liam Smith failed to wrestle the WBO super-welterweight belt off the massive and impressive Mexican Jaime Munguia.

Back in blighty we were all looking forward to a boxing season closer at the O2. It was a night that delivered for talkSPORT listeners on every level. There were victories for Conor Benn (against his bogeyman Cedrick Peynaud) and Josh Buatsi, while Ireland’s Katie Taylor was at her imperious best in adding Kimberley Connor’s IBF lightweight belt to the WBA title she already held.

It was all-action with the big men. Dave Allen – who had Kenny Rogers playing in his dressing room prior to his ringwalk – gambled with a huge overhand right to spark out Nick Webb while Dereck Chisora played rope-a-dope with Carlos Takam before unleashing a furious shot to end the latter’s night.

How could the top of the bill clash between Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker compete? Well, it was even better. Whyte had the Kiwi down in the second and ninth rounds before the ‘Body Snatcher’ went down in the twelfth as Parker sensed only a KO would do. Dillian survived for his best-ever victory.

Over at Windsor Park in Belfast, Carl Frampton broke up for the summer after breaking Luke Jackson’s resistance – leaving the Aussie in a mess and with a perforated ear drum. Tyson Fury was on the bill – getting rounds in against Franceso Pianeta. The second comeback fight ticked off – Deontay Wilder was there, and happily that fight was made.

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder squared up in the ring for the first time in Belfast

So onto September after the little recess and Amir Khan got the new season under way in his second comeback fight against Colombian Samuel Vargas. A big Birmingham crowd turned up to watch Khan take a unanimous decision in a fight in which he wasn’t always convincing. Cue more Kell Brook chat.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin finally had their rematch with the Mexican getting the nod in a high-quality affair, while back in London there was another enormous fight week to enjoy.

It’s always an event when AJ fights and the occasion at Wembley didn’t disappoint. Any open-air event in the UK at any time of the year is at risk of a little precipitation. It rained, but there was no dampening of spirit for a crowd that was treated to Sergey Kuzmin v David Price (the Liverpudlian retired by his corner due to a bicep injury); Lawrence Okolie got the decision in his British cruiserweight title clash with holder Matty Askin in an awkward cuddle-fest and Luke Campbell avenged his defeat to Yvan Mendy before the main event. Elaborate ringwalks completed, Anthony Joshua proved his mettle once more – settling down after being rocked early on to stop the dangerous Alexander Povetkin in the seventh.

Anthony Joshua extended his unbeaten record with victory over Alexander Povetkin

Moving on and there’d been a lot of speculation about the venue for the WBSS super-middleweight final. As it was two Brits – Groves v Smith – it was anticipated it’d be either London or Manchester. And so, it was Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A bizarre place to hold such an event, but it all worked out well in the end. Callum Smith and his team were put in a fine hotel on the seafront – nothing to do but eat, train and sleep – just how trainer Joe Gallagher wanted it. Groves and his team had opted for an apartment in town.

The pre-fight press conference had a special guest in the shape of the legendary Evander Holyfield, while Prince Naseem Hamed added the stardust at the weigh-in. The locals were completely in awe of Naz, who was there to proudly promote boxing on Arab soil.

The King Abdullah centre – a multi-sports indoor venue 40 minutes north of Jeddah – was full of curious Saudis come fight night. Chief support was an odd one with Chris Eubank Jnr barely warming up against JJ McDonagh, who retired claiming an injured shoulder. There was more fight in the post-fight interview as McDonagh took exception to Eubank’s comments and went for him.

Groves v Smith lived up to the billing. It was nip and tuck in the opening rounds before Smith sensed his opportunity. Going into the seventh round there was little between them until ‘Mundo’ caught Groves with a left hook followed by a right to leave George in a heap. Devastating for Hammersmith man, the baton handed to Smith who claimed the WBA super-middleweight title, the Ring Magazine belt and the huge twisted metal Muhammad Ali trophy.

Callum Smith enhanced his reputation by winning the World Boxing Super Series

After dozens of photos with family and friends in the ring and then the dressing room, it was back to the dry hotel for a wild celebration of pizza and coke before catching an early flight home.

Into October and talkSPORT brought the listener full commentary of Callum Johnson’s world light-heavyweight challenge against the feared Artur Beterbiev in Chicago. It was a real ding-dong while it lasted. Johnson was down in the first but recovered to floor the Russian in round two. The Lincolnshire man then succumbed in the 4th round – a brave effort that only enhanced Callum’s reputation. Another Brit, Gavin McDonnell also came up short in his world title fight against Daniel Roman on the same bill.

Mid-October and it was the turn of Newcastle to host the talkSPORT boxing team – including the recently returned Callum Johnson on co-commentary. Lewis Ritson had enjoyed a phenomenal year to that point – blasting all domestic foes to set up a European challenge against Belgian-Italian Francesco Patera. The crowd, including Alan Shearer, was expectant. The only problem was that Patera was unperturbed and ready to spoil the fun. Ritson couldn’t find an answer to Patera’s slickness and so a bitter points defeat ensued for the hometown boy – a real setback for the city that was looking forward to hosting a string of big fight nights.