Over two nights of heartbreak and guts, three British boxers went close in three big fights and Sunny Edwards produced a little bit of magic.
In London Edwards won a world title, in Manchester Dereck Chisora fought his ageing heart out to lose a tight one over 12 rounds to Joseph Parker, Craig Richards defied all guides to lose a world title fight to Dmitry Bivol and Natasha Jonas fought to an emotional standstill against Katie Taylor.
It was a raw night in Manchester on Saturday with Jonas, Del Boy and Richards all losing by slender margins. A single round on the scorecards would have changed the decisions in all three of their fights. That is the cold, harsh truth of a night of old-fashioned drama in a business that breaks hearts for fun.
It all stated on Friday night, behind the now familiar curtains of a closed arena at York Hall in London’s East End, Edwards danced, jabbed and mugged Moruti Mthalane for the IBF flyweight title over 12 quite exceptional rounds. It was pure boxing art, a perfect display of how to break a man and not hurt a man; there is a strong case that Edwards, a heavy underdog, won each of the twelve rounds. Mthlane left the ring in silence and shock, barely able to understand how his long days as champion had finished at the end of Sunny’s versatile fists and electric legs.
“If I had slipped up once, he would have taken me out,” said Edwards, who moved to 16 unbeaten. “I had to do what I said I would do: I moved, I boxed, I made him doubt.” It was a fight of subtle fractions, the smallest of margins in the physical sense, but the scores were hefty in favour of Edwards: 120-108, 118-111 and 115-113. The 120 scores means Sunny won every round. The South African was the number one at the weight.
Previously, Mthalane had won world title fights in Italy, Panama, Macau, Malaysia and Japan twice, but his trip to Bethnal Green was an exotic location too far the South African veteran. Edwards was flawless in a fight he was meant to lose.
The following night the drapes were out to disguise 20,000 idol seats at the Manchester Arena during three fights that would have lived in the memory of fans in other days. The final round of Jonas v Taylor and Parker v Chisora are both contenders for round of the year on a night when the tiniest edge in class persuaded the men in judgement to vote against the British boxers. The fighters each left their hearts, souls and complaints in the ring, exiting with dignity, cheered by the sixty or so people lucky enough to be ringside on various work duties; the cleaners in their full, glowing protective clothing stood and applauded the final seconds of Taylor’s win.
Richards is the British light-heavyweight champion, arguably the fourth or fifth best boxer at the weight in a stacked domestic division. That’s not harsh, that’s based on form. However, Richards, pushed, prodded, resisted and chased Bivol over the length of a draining fight. Bivol retained his WBA title with scores of 115-113, 115-114 and a wider version of 118-110; the last score is for purists to dissect, the first two for the fans to savour. I expected the unbeaten Russian to stop Richards in about eight easy rounds - it was a delight to be wrong. Richards simply refused to be intimidated or hurt, it was heroic in parts.
Jonas and Taylor last met at the London Olympics before taking very different roads; Jonas retired, had a baby and eventually returned to boxing and Taylor went unbeaten, sublime under pressure, regal, Ireland’s darling, a world champion of real class. On Saturday they set a new level of excellence and expectation in the women’s game with ten short rounds of skill and desire. The fight slipped from technical to slugfest and back again, which only happens when pride and brilliance collide.
At the end of the eighth, I had it 4-4, expected two crazy rounds and then Taylor produced a smooth two-minutes of sanity; she moved, jabbed and glided to the bell. The fury was left for the last and in particular the final 30-seconds, a finish that needed a Rocky soundtrack and the hollers of 20,000 deserving fans. The scores were all in favour of Taylor: 96-95 twice and 96-94 - it means two judges scored it five rounds to Taylor, four to Jonas and one even. That is slender: Taylor retained her WBO, WBC, WBA and IBF belts, but the bold jewellery was an irrelevancy in a fight of such heart.
And then, to end the two nights, Del Boy swaggered to the ring for his 43rd fight of a fairy tale and blessed career, to meet Joseph Parker, a part-time preacher from Auckland, now based in Dublin. It had a brutal belt attached, one crafted without fake diamonds and held together by salty tears: It was the strap for the scrap to continue as a heavyweight contender in the promised land of riches. Sure, it’s not very catchy, but it is honest, and for one night only, the last chance saloon was erected in the middle of the empty Manchester Arena. I had a seat at the bar.
The bell sounded and eight seconds later Parker was down in a heap, his head buzzing from a right that landed behind his ear. That was it, the battle had started and for the next 35 minutes and fifty odd seconds they fought like two men desperate to avoid the end. Del Boy went for the body, the groin, the thigh, the ears and Parker was just a bit more refined, looking for languid short and loose left uppercuts, surely one of boxing’s sweetest punches when delivered by a big heavyweight. And it was sweet, and savage and relentless - each fought to a tiny, temporary standstill a couple of times. I was convinced a stoppage was imminent about four times, it was that type of brawl. Do I need to say that fans would have loved it?
The Rocky anthems returned in my head in the final round onslaught, with Parker hurt and then Chisora shaken before the last bell of a remarkable weekend. Parker won a split, the margins tight, the calls for a rematch loud. I would gladly do all four fights again, with pleasure. The final images are the private ones that only us privileged few get to glimpse, the intimacy of a dressing room visit when the boxers compare bruises, cuts, swollen hands, ask about families and then embrace.
It really was a special boxing weekend.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies