By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Eddie Hearn tends to divide opinion. For some, he has brought British boxing forward and helped facilitate the current boxing boom in this country. For others, he’s an unbearable wheeler-dealer who likes the limelight. What cannot be denied, however, is that he has put together an undercard jam-packed with quality match-ups on Saturday night.
While Anthony Joshua defends his IBF heavyweight title against Eric Molina at the top of the bill, there is far more intrigue further down the card at the Manchester Arena. Chief support sees former Joshua opponent Dillian Whyte put his British heavyweight belt on the line against fierce rival Dereck Chisora in what doubles as an eliminator for Deontay Wilder’s WBC title.
The animosity appears to be quite real in this one. Their episode of ‘The Gloves Are Off’ had to be cancelled mid-way through filming because a fracas had broken out, while it is unconfirmed whether they will have a face-off before the fight or not.
The tension between the two has been simmering for a while, with Whyte claiming that he consistently got the better of Chisora in sparring at the formative stages of his career. The two are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum, with Chisora very much at last chance saloon while Whyte is expected to be a contender for world honours for years to come.
Chisora’s style is underwhelming to look at. He plods forward and starts swinging, it’s not subtle but it can be effective when given the room to operate. If he’s allowed to pop his jab off then that could be a weapon for him, simultaneously keeping Whyte at distance while setting up his own shots. The experience factor is obviously with Chisora as well, with the Londoner having faced the likes of Vitali Klitschko, David Haye and Kubrat Pulev.
Whyte appears to have superior athleticism. His footwork has improved in recent fights, as has his overall technique. Against David Allen in July, he showed a lot of patience and used his jab exceptionally well. His performance against Ian Lewison in October was undoubtedly underwhelming, though, as he struggled to break down a static, tough fighter. That will have given Team Chisora a confidence boost heading into this fight.
Whether either man has the ability to trouble Wilder remains to be seen. Whyte is highly thought of in this country, but that reputation is based almost entirely on a losing effort against Joshua. When he’s had to be the offensive fighter, like against Allen and Lewison, he hasn’t looked as good. There are holes in his game but he certainly has the raw tools to threaten any heavyweight in the world.
Unbeaten standout Kal Yafai will attempt to become Birmingham’s first world champion when he challenges Luis Concepcion for his WBA super-flyweight title. Yafai has won his last three by knockout in a combined five rounds, and possesses excellent power for the weight. He’s a technician, as well though, his footwork and hand speed are sublime.
Callum Smith takes part in what is essentially a stay-busy fight against Luke Blackledge, with Smith’s British super-middleweight belt up for grabs. No disrespect to Blackledge, but Smith is far beyond domestic level at this point, and certainly has one eye on the division’s unification contest between James DeGale and Badou Jack, the winner of which will face Smith next. Look for the Liverpudlian to put on a show and secure an early stoppage.
The first heavyweight bout of the night is between the aforementioned Allen and unbeaten Cuban Luis Ortiz. Ortiz’s Matchroom career got off to a less-than-impressive start in a frustrating decision win over the unbelievably-defensive Malik Scott in Monte Carlo, but he’ll be aiming to make amends with a stoppage of the tough Yorkshireman. Allen is making a big step-up, but showed against Whyte that he’s not completely out of his depth at this level. This could go one round or 12, but expect to see Ortiz’s hand being raised at the end.
Hosea Burton vs. Frank Buglioni for the British light-heavyweight title is an excellent contest. Burton has looked extremely impressive thus far, but will face his stiffest test to date against former world title challenger Buglioni. Scott Quigg makes his long-awaited return to the ring against Jose Cayetano at featherweight, having now recovered from the broken jaw he suffered in his February defeat to Carl Frampton. Katie Taylor is also back in action, taking on Viviane Obenauf over six rounds.
Although some people may be upset about being asked to pay for what’s expected to be another Joshua demolition job, Matchroom has clearly made a concerted effort to pack the card and give fans value for money. Credit where credit’s due, and let’s hope that these entertaining undercards become the norm in boxing.by