Hard, hard weekend.
In a boxing business stacked with forgotten fighters, Sunny Edwards, Craig Richards and Natasha Jonas all chase a dream for recognition this weekend in world title fights.
The trio are led for one night only by Dereck Del Boy Chisora, the heavyweight enigma with ten defeats on his record, a long history of falling short and a three-wheeler parked on his drive, in the main event on Saturday from Manchester against Joseph Parker, a Mormon preacher from New Zealand, now based in Dublin. Parker against Chisora feels like the last stand of two brave men chasing something very elusive and that makes it dangerous and compelling in the heavyweight division. That is why it is the main event, sorry.
The bookies heavily favour heartache for all four British boxers and anybody with a half-decent crystal ball is just a short gaze away from making a nice few quid for predicting the quartet’s method of defeat. The silent odds fixers are not big on childhood dreams, not moved by a life of devotion or the chance that one win will change a boxer’s fortunes forever. It might just be a very raw weekend.
At York Hall in London’s old East End on Friday night, Edwards will walk to fight Moruti Mthalane for the South African’s IBF flyweight title. Edwards has fought just fifteen times, mostly in fights he had no chance of losing, and admits he needs some serious luck to fall his way once the first bell sounds. He is honest about the odds and the very real chance that Mthalane will simply walk through him.
Mthalane has not lost since 2008, he has a full and distinguished record of just two defeats in 41 fights and he is disturbingly comfortable winning with a passport in his back pocket; he has travelled to Panama, Italy, Malaysia, Macau and Japan twice to break souls and make his opponent’s promoters cry after world title fights. Sure, he is 38 now, in a bad light looks double that and there is history of the old, tiny and scarred men in our sport becoming very old men in one final fight. “It’s my job to make him doubt everything about his boxing life, to make him question why he is in York Hall and why he can’t find me,” insisted Edwards. I have also often questioned why I’m in York Hall.
It might not be the prettiest fight of the four, but it will require far more guile than guts, far more vision and a confidence from Edwards that might just leave Mathlane feeling like he has been mugged under the lights in the ancient, empty hall of echoes. Edwards fights on speed, instinct and timing, and all three will unsettle the champion if he has aged, suffered from a long break and there are any doubts. It would be a win, like so many at this level, dependent on decline. And it would be the latest defeat based on false hope; Edwards has the magic needed to start the weekend of distant dreams with some old-fashioned glory.
On Saturday at the Manchester Arena, the fights are far more difficult for Jonas, Richards and the old war horse, Chisora. This might be ugly.
Richards won the British light heavyweight title last year and his reward was a fight with unbeaten Russian Dmitry Bivol for the WBA version of the title. It is a huge risk, the type that routinely slips under the radar when British boxers accept the coin, travel, get ignored and then get stopped in a few rounds. There is recent history in the light heavyweight division; Anthony Yarde lost in eleven in Chelyabinsk in 2019 to Sergey Kovalev for the WBO title and in 2018 Callum Johnson was done in four by Artur Beterbiev for the IBF version in Chicago. The Russian trio are No 1, two and three in the world by some margin, by the way.
Richards is a smart fighter, a sensible man and knows the full risks involved in taking a fight like this. He will, as they say, go down swinging, his night’s work will be calculated against the odds that sensibly place him as a rank outsider. There will be no deficit of heart, just a gap in grade and no shame in defeat.
Jonas is chasing sweet revenge in a fight that should be the easiest of the weekend to predict, but there is genuinely something in the air surrounding her rematch with Katie Taylor for the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF lightweight championship. Jonas lost a classic to Taylor at the London Olympics, a fight before the medal stage; Taylor won gold, turned pro after the next Olympics, is unbeaten in 17 fights, the unofficial queen of the ring, diplomatic, a hero and a great boxer. Jonas left the sport, had a baby, drifted and then came back slowly in June 2017. Jonas is now 36, has lost and drawn in just eleven fights. So why is there a special feeling about this rematch? Surely, Taylor just fights to form and wins clearly on points. That, my friend, is what the unimaginative people in the dark shadows at the bookies want.
Jonas is the most skilled opponent that Taylor has faced since losing at the Rio Olympics and leaving the ring in tears. Taylor has fought tougher, stronger and far more awkward women, but none with the hard-earned skills that Jonas acquired fighting in the same boxing rings as Taylor; they are veterans of championships in foreign lands, against the best Azeri, Russian and Chinese women. They were each made from the purest of boxing conflicts and not in keep-fit gyms, martial arts gyms or fantasy gyms. That is why Jonas is a problem.
And finally, the big lumps. Parker is still only 29, was the WBO heavyweight champion but has lost to Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte. A few months ago, he left his home in New Zealand and his gym in Las Vegas to join Andy Lee, the former Irish fighter and one of the men behind Tyson Fury’s resurgence. Chisora, who often looks older than his 37 years, has only lost to good men and always entertains, often on both sides of the ropes. He throws tables, he scuffles at conferences and he fights like hell in the ring.
So, the sensible money in a weekend of hope and prayers is on Parker, but this is heavyweight boxing and more than that, it is a fight that neither can lose if they still have ambitions. It is part of an unmissable two nights in an alluring twilight where the fights float lightly between nightmare and fairytale and three British boxers will try to leave something behind.
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