The headline contest of this Hatton Promotions bill between Martin Murray (22-0 with 9 early going in) and Nick Blackwell (8-0 including 2 stoppages) was one which could be viewed as difficult to call on a number of levels. Blackwell, while unbeaten, had built more than half of his clean professional slate against opponents who had losing records themselves. The contest against St Helens warrior Murray for the British and Commonwealth titles therefore represented a step up that could be measured in stratospheres. Did the Trowbridge man have the skills, ringcraft and the ability to both dish out and take a shot that would gain the respect of his opponent? This would be the key factor in determining what chance (if any) he had of springing an upset.
As it was, following a close opening round that could conceivably have been scored even, Murray (11st 5lbs) proceeded to systematically break down a game but ultimately out-hustled foe who came in three pounds lighter. Blackwell was busy in the second but spent large parts of the round hitting arms and gloves while taking some quality punches in return. By round three, the pattern of the fight had been established, with Murray cutting off the ring at will, walking through Blackwell's punches in a manner which rendered the challenger's nickname of 'Bang Bang' bitterly ironic. Blood seeped from the nose of Blackwell who produced a spell of fighting driven purely by instinct in both the third and fourth sessions, but his bravery was only prolonging what was becoming an ordeal of 'too much, too soon', as Murray repeatedly cornered his man and then dominated the exchanges with sharp, heavy punching.
In the break between rounds four and five, many of the press row had seen enough and were calling for the fight to be stopped. As it was, Blackwell's corner gave their man what was to be a final crack at turning the tide. Murray by this time was teeing off at will against an opponent who was firmly in the modes of survival and damage limitation, and though the underdog was showing commendable bravery to fight back, the notion that we were watching any kind of contest was long dead by this point. Fortunately, the retirement of Blackwell for his own safety at the end of the fifth prevented the bout from descending into a massacre of Calzaghe vs Lacy proportions. Murray, rated as number four challenger by the WBA, surely has bigger nights with more difficult challenges ahead of him, while Blackwell will at least live to fight another day. It is difficult to work out on the basis of this fight whether he was not ready for the step up from a technical point of view or if the occasion, with a partisan and hostile crowd in his opponent's favour, got the better of him. Either way, a few outings to build confidence and experience would appear to be necessary before the Trowbridge fighter attempts to move up in levels again.
In the chief support, 'Genius' Joe Murray moved to 11-0 (5 early) with a hard-earned points victory over teak-tough Scot James Ancliff (now 11-14-2). The scores of 120-108, 120-110 and 118-111 suggest a one-sided affair (I had it 119-110) but the Aberdeen man played his part by continuing to come forward, justifying the imprinting of the words 'All Action' on his trunks. The former amateur star dominated most stanzas by boxing intelligently on the back foot, darting in and out of range while causing all sorts of problems for his stockier opponent with his handspeed. As a result, Ancliff's aggression usually contrived to work against him, apart from a fourth in which he appeared to show he could trouble Murray with his strength, and also in the ninth session where his enterprising start coincided with the Mancunian perhaps taking some time out. 'Genius Joe' took the rounds down the stretch as his opponent visibly tired and his advances did not carry the same sense of endeavour that they had earlier.
Following his contest with Daniel Kodjo Sassou in February, this was another excellent learning fight for Murray, who will no doubt have gained far more from his last two outings than he did from the previous nine. A great deal of the credit for that should go to Ancliff, who showed immense durability, took a lot of shots from his opponent and was courageous from first bell to last. Murray will probably look to make a few more defences of his IBF Youth title before making a further step up in class. A former British Olympian, he certainly possesses the skill and lateral movement to compete at a higher level, and further contests like the two he has had this year will do no harm whatsoever to his progress. Both men weighed 9 stone exactly.
Anthony 'Million Dollar' Crolla (9st 8lb) enhanced his professional record by making light work of Belgian late replacement Herve De Luca (9st 9lb). A series of vicious body-attacks was sufficient to end this one as a contest within just over a minute, with De Luca twice dropped by sickening punches round the corner. After taking mandatory eights on both occasions, the Belgian spent the rest of the fight's solitary session back-pedalling, attempting to survive the onslaught from the current British Champion. As the opener drew to a close, a further bodyshot saw De Luca crumple to the canvas once more, and although he beat managed to rise at eight, the contest was quite rightly waved off. Crolla advances to 21-2 (9 early) with this blow-out, while De Luca slides to 16-6-1 (7 stoppages). After what can only be seen as a 'marking time' fight, 'Million Dollar' will surely be hoping for a more meaningful event next time out.
An engaging affair took place at SuperMiddleweight, as Accrington's Luke Blackledge took a 40-35 decision over Derbyshire-based debutant Adam Stretton. Again the scoring, while not unfair, did not tell the full story of a bout in which both men laid it all on the line, trading blows in the trenches and Stretton in particular showing immense heart to see the fight through to the bell. Floored in the first by a slingshot right hand, and hurt on other occasions, Stretton (12st 2lbs) clearly experienced difficulties with the power of Blackledge (12st 4lbs), whose punches always appeared to carry that bit more capacity to do damage. Though the action was punctuated by spells of scrappiness, a pulsating final round was akin to a saloon bar shoot out and was received by a thoroughly deserved round of applause from the crowd for both men. Blackledge progresses to 3-0 (1 early) while it will be interesting to see if Stretton perhaps takes a less gruelling engagement in his second pro fight. After watching one of the most taxing initiations to the sport I have ever seen, he could certainly be excused for doing so.
There was also a win for Steve Jevons, who moved to a perfect six at the start of his pro career with a 39-37 decision over Jason Nesbitt, a veteran participating in his 142rd fight. After a strong opening round, Jevons' lateral movement appeared to desert him somewhat as he became easier to hit than one would expect against a tough but limited opponent. Nesbitt clearly took the third, and the fourth, while scored correctly in Jevons' favour, was closer than it should have been. Both men weighed 10st 6lbs. Dale Miles (10st 2lbs) looked useful as he stretched his unbeaten sequence to 11 (8 early) as he halted Ibrar Riyaz (9st 9lbs) in a corner retirement at the end of the fourth.
With his rangy boxing and fast hands, Miles dominated this from the first bell, but was perhaps over-eager for the knockout, crowding his work when building off the jab had already dropped his man in the first and was causing the Albanian (now 4-23 with 2 early wins) enormous problems. However, he deserves credit for becoming only the second man to get Riyaz out of there early and does appear to have the talent to make further progress – hopefully the patience required for distance fights will come with experience. In the show-opener, Dudley's Chris Male scored the second inside distance victory of his 11 fight unblemished start as a pro, forcing Dougie Curran (now 5-7-1) to pull out with a swollen eye at the end of the third. In what was an entertaining encounter while it lasted, Male (9st 6lb) always had the edge over his Newcasle-based opponent, who came in a pound heavier.