Lewis Ritson gets another test in the shape of shop-worn but still capable Miguel Vazquez, writes Matt Bozeat
NORTH EAST crowd pleaser Lewis Ritson, ranked No 2 by the WBA at 140lbs, will add a good name to his record on Saturday night.
The 27-year-old meets former IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez (42-9) over 10 rounds on Matchroom’s show. Now 33, the Mexican has settled into the role of solid gatekeeper since losing his world title on a disputed split points decision to American Mickey Bey in September 2014. During his four-year reign as world champion, Vazquez said: “People may complain about my style, but I base my style off the fact I don’t want to get hit.”
Because of that, he has been able to hang around and be competitive at a good level since losing his world crown. His record since that loss is 8-5 – and the only early defeats in that spell were inflicted by Josh Taylor and Thulangi Mbenge. South African Mbenge forced a nine-round retirement up at welterweight and Taylor knocked him out with a 10th-round body shot after Vazquez was competitive early on in Edinburgh in November, 2017. Last time out, in December, Vazquez was a stoppage winner over Jesus Miguel Velasco (14-16-2) in a rare outing on the left-hand side of the bill. But it’s fair to say on the more familiar surrounds of being the ‘opponent’, he’s been acquitting himself well. There were those who thought Vazquez unfortunate to lose on points to Ohara Davies over 10 at York Hall last June – there was only a punch or two between them in many of the rounds – but Ritson fights at a very different pace.
As British lightweight champion, Ritson was unstoppable, winning the Lonsdale belt outright in only eight months – and 11 rounds. His progress was thwarted, however, when outboxed by Belgian Francisco Patera in a European-title challenge in October 2018. That led to a move up to 140lbs.
Ritson’s fight with Robbie Davies Jnr a year later answered a lot of questions. The Liverpudlian is a proven quality operator, a former British, Commonwealth and European champion – and big for the weight. Ritson showed his grit and engine on that noisy night in Newcastle to win unanimously. Neither dominated any round that night, but the consensus at ringside was the right man won. For me, Ritson got the better of it when they brawled early on – he couldn’t miss with left hooks – before Davies pegged it back with his boxing when the pace dropped and then Ritson won the exchanges when they both let their hands go in the final six minutes.
On that evidence, Ritson can fight when he’s backed up – that seldom happened when he campaigned at 135lbs – and his hand speed is still there, but his punches may not be quite as heavy. Coach Neil Fannan wants to see more variety in Ritson’s jab – Davies was able to read the punch and slip it from the middle rounds – while increasing the output of his power arm.
“Lewis didn’t throw many right hands,” he said, “and every time he did, he admired it. He stood there and waited for him to fall.”
Vazquez is the sort of wise veteran who will punish mistakes, but doesn’t look to have the punch to stop Ritson if he does become readable and leaves gaps. Fannan regards Vazquez as an opponent who bridges the gap between a European-level fighter such as Davies and world class.
Vazquez is never an easy night, he’s durable and still more than capable of springing the upset. But he’s been boxing for 14 years is unquestionably slipping, albeit slowly. Expect Ritson to be too fresh, too busy and win on points.
Further down the bill, super-bantamweight Thomas Ward, 29-0 (4) and ranked No 3 by the WBO, meets Thomas Essomba over 10 rounds. The 10-6 Essomba, a Wolverhampton-based Camroonian, comes in to replace world ranked Jose Martin Estrada. Fannan-trained Ward is a razor-sharp technician and should box his way to victory.
Qais Ashfaq (8-0) of Leeds takes on Salford’s Marc Leach in a super-bantamweight clash. Ashfaq, a southpaw who defeated Joe Ham in November, may need all 10 rounds to get the victory over a capable foe.
Also on the card is Ukashir (Kash) Farooq. The Glaswegian was deemed very unlucky not to get the decision over the touted Lee McGregor last year and remains one to watch. Benwell’s Joe Laws fights Rylan Charlton and Ellie Scotney makes her pro debut.
The Verdict Good test for Ritson atop the bill.