DEREK CHISORA lost a professional prize fight for the 11th time on Saturday night. “Bulls**t” was his immediate reaction to the split decision being awarded to Joseph Parker after 12 gruelling rounds. That takes the Londoner’s career total to 280, which does not include countless more as an amateur and in the gym. He gave the fight everything he’d got but it wasn’t enough. Not enough to win, not enough to retire a contented man.
Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas engaged in a thrilling 10-round bout on the undercard. Taylor motored through the final two sessions to take the unanimous victory and retain her world lightweight championship. WBA light-heavyweight belt-holder Dmitry Bivol repelled the plucky challenge of a spirited Craig Richards with precise counter-punching and Marcus Morrison exceeded all expectation when he heard the final bell against gargantuan betting favourite, Chris Eubank Jnr.
The fights were only a small part of the story. Thursday morning, 10am. Chisora hauls his hulking, unmistakeable frame through the Crowne Plaza hotel restaurant in Manchester and looks for something to keep his restless mind occupied. Chisora’s eyes dart from diner to diner before settling on the most familiar face of them all. The veteran scans his own image on one of the many fight posters advertising this pay-per-view event. “Rock and roll,” he says as he embarks on another lap of the room.
He is waiting for Parker after arranging to have breakfast with the man he will exchange head-rattling blows with on Saturday night. Cameras follow Chisora’s every move. The old warhorse plays up for them, thriving in the attention. Derek is an anomaly in the current boxing system; win or lose, he will be invited back to the top table if he provides the entertainment his paymasters demand. The long-term consequences of that entertainment, which is reliant on him being able to withstand significant punishment and still fire back, do not matter to him. He lives for today and today he is enjoying every moment of being a box office star. Dressed in long cycling shorts and high socks, t-shirt, flowing white dressing gown that hangs open and trainers with soles that dip on the outside from his pronating feet, Chisora looks every inch the unpredictable beast who lives to fight.
Parker, an altogether more lucid character, soon appears and sits opposite one of the most notoriously volatile characters in the sport. Sitting at a safe distance is Chisora’s latest coach, Buddy McGirt. The Hall of Famer chuckles and kicks his legs out straight, leans back in his chair and takes in the surreal scene. “Now I’ve seen it all” he says. “These guys are engaging in serious psychological warfare right now.”
Everyone is transfixed on the two heavyweights talking about their kids and the manner in which they will win their impending fight by knockout. Everyone except Morrison, Jonas and Joe Gallagher. At the back of the room, in a booth where Bivol and Richards will share some cake for the latter’s birthday in a few hours’ time, they sit transfixed on the trainer’s laptop. It is showing footage of Taylor and Eubank, the respective opponents of Jonas and Morrison. Taylor had departed the scene 30 minutes before after talking to Roy Jones Jnr. Jones – boxing royalty that makes everyone go gooey in his company – is here to train Eubank. The 31-year-old is nowhere to be seen this morning after staying up late the night before to play poker with his family and others from the fight bubble.
Sunday morning, 2am. With his family alongside him, Eubank shovels pizza into a face that has been left bruised by Morrison. Eubank showed flashes of brilliance during the 10-rounder but laboured at times. He now insists he was just following orders. “I have a trainer now, I listen, I do what I’m told” Eubank explains. “This was the first time I’d been a few rounds for two years. It went well, I enjoyed it.”
His sister didn’t enjoy it. “What are you waiting for?” she bellowed at him in the second round as Eubank strutted and posed. Whether he heard her or not, he responded almost immediately with a right hand that jarred Morrison. But the underdog was determined not to buckle and threw back, his right in particular preventing the early bludgeoning many had predicted. In the fifth Eubank exploded into action, drawing blood from Morrison’s face. The beating intensified in the sixth. Morrison’s face was swelling and as Eubank pounded his ribs before hooking him upstairs at will, the stoppage seemed moments away.
Referee Michael Alexander was poised to step in and the Mancunian’s trainer, Joe Gallagher, considered calling it off at the end of the session as blood poured from Morrison’s broken nose. But Eubank, consciously or not, slowed down and Morrison survived. The three scores of 98-92 in Eubank’s favour were similar to BN’s card of 99-91.
“No, I didn’t expect it to go the distance,” Eubank says, pushing the remnants of pizza away. “But I am happy to be back. We’re just getting started.”
He talks to his family in the darkened restaurant, away from the crowd at the hotel bar where Roy Jones listens to Richards, the British light-heavyweight who had given Bivol 12 hard rounds before losing unanimously. “I just started too late,” the level-headed Richards says. “I’ll know next time but I can’t be disappointed now. That doesn’t achieve anything, I will learn from it like I always do.”
Hours before, the challenger’s trainer, Peter Sims, threw his water bottle on the floor in disgust after the decision – unanimous via scores of 118-110, 115-113 and 115-114 in Bivol’s favour – was announced. But in truth, the close cards seemed kind to Richards. At times he was busier but it took him too long to really believe. Bivol was always the more accurate. Crucially, the Russian’s defence was excellent and it blocked many of Richards’ blows.
In the opening round, Richards boxed well, doubling his jab, but was stung by a left hook when he strayed out of position. Bivol seemed to be waiting to land his right hand which was always cocked and ready. That power arm threatened in the second but Richards caught Bivol with his own right in the third. But the Russian’s jab was on point and when he chose to throw his right, from a crouched and ready position, it rarely missed. He boxed in a controlled manner throughout. He didn’t waste a single shot and seemed comfortable until the closing rounds when the challenger upped his output. BN scored the Howard Foster-officiated contest 117-111 for the Russian but just by proving he can compete at this level, Richards exceeded all expectation.
Richards and Jones break from conversation as Chisora shuffles into the bar. The Briton is disappointed, gone is the boyish excitement he exuded on Thursday morning. He accepts the congratulations and commiserations of the room. “Del Boy” sits down opposite Paul Smith and Conor Benn who comfort the disappointed heavyweight by telling him he deserved the verdict that went Parker’s way. “It’s all f**ked up,” Chisora whispers. “I am used to it.”
Another gruelling 12-rounder completed, another defeat on his record. He blames the politics of boxing, insists his face doesn’t fit but in truth this perennial gatekeeper has got more from the sport than most fighters with 11 losses could reasonably expect. All credit to him for that. The veteran is both wise about the sport – the day before he lost to Parker he said any talk of him getting an immediate world title shot with a victory was completely nonsensical – and bitter about what he perceives to be constant injustice.
He made the best of starts and the knockdown he scored within 10 seconds of the opening bell with an overarm right should have been the difference in a close fight, Smith tells him. Parker, though, was more off balance than hurt and briefly objected to referee Steve Gray about the count. He looked to his corner where Andy Lee, the New Zealander’s new trainer, was quick to advise.
“Andy said ‘focus’,” Parker will later explain. “What we’ve been working on the whole camp is staying focused for the every second of every minute of every round. There were times where I did lose focus, there’s a lot of things to work on and I think the only way to work on that is to get back to camp and put in the work and the hours that I need to put in.”
The Auckland heavyweight, who plans to move to Ireland full-time to continue his education under Lee, was then tagged by a left hook midway through the opener as Chisora went for the unlikeliest of early finishes. But Parker, the pre-fight favourite, eased into proceedings with a minute of the round to go as he bounced on his feet and let his hands go. The speed of which seemed to take Chisora by surprise.
After an untidy second round, Chisora was coming on again in the third. That overarm right clattered into Parker who, aside from the odd flash of class, was being caught frequently by those thrashing blows so typical of the Londoner in recent years.
The pattern continued in the fourth; Parker moved backwards and to the side, and occasionally hopped up and down, while Chisora dutifully chugged after him, pounding to his opponent’s body and bowling punches over the top. The lack of variety should have made it an simpler task for Parker but that’s easy for those not actually being faced with the relentless pressure of Chisora to say.
Parker was better in the fifth and sixth, his faster hands becoming more active. But his failure to hold his position and attack allowed the underdog to fight at his own pace.
Chisora was punished in the eighth. The Aucklander planted his feet and sent a left-right into the head of his rival. With 30 seconds left in the round Parker – for the first time – put everything into his shots. Parker boxed well in the 10th, jabbing with purpose and following up with his right hand. The slicker combinations and better boxing came from Parker and when he was in full flow he was impressive.
The scores were split at the end: 116-111 for Parker was cruel to Chisora. The two tallies of 115-113 (one for Parker, one for Chisora) were more in keeping with the BN score of 114-113 for the former WBO titlist. In truth, this tense but often untidy bout could have gone either way.
After eight rounds of thrilling, quality action, the battle between Taylor and Jonas could also have been won by either fighter. The old amateur rivals were two of the classiest figures throughout fight week and continued the theme inside the Manchester Arena. And Taylor, by finding a new gear in rounds nine and 10, one that Jonas couldn’t quite match, took the fight for BN with a 96-94 score. Our calculations were matched by one judge whereas two further tallies of 96-95 underlined how close this contest was.
“I’m destined to always be the bridesmaid aren’t I?” a disappointed Jonas says as she sits in the bar with some of her gym-mates. She is of course so much more than that.
It was hard-fought all the way with Jonas digging deep to hurt Taylor on more than occasion. The plan to keep it long, move to the side and fire hooks upstairs and down was executed well. But the Irish superstar’s ability to walk through two or three blows and land four or five of her own proved the difference in the last two rounds.
Taylor didn’t land anything of note in the opening round as Jonas’ high guard, clamped to her forehead, kept Katie at bay. The favourite was more menacing in the second round, threatening to break through the middle before Jonas – boxing intelligently – took the third.
The fourth round was more of the same. Taylor blazing inside with Jonas trying to gain control from distance. Taylor was tagged by a left in the sixth and Jonas had more success in the seventh. There were thrilling exchanges down the stretch, the eighth was a terrific round, before Taylor increased the pressure in the ninth and 10th, working for every second of those championship sessions.
Sunday morning, 9am. Taylor eats breakfast with her mum and team. Her hair is still damp from her morning shower and her face is dotted with bruises from the night before.
“I love to have fights like that, probably too much I think,” she says with a smile. “When I’m in the heat of the moment I find it hard not to trade back. I don’t want to be involved in too many more of those.”
Taylor will be back. So too Jonas. Richards learned more from those 12 rounds with Bivol than in any fight he’s previously had. Eubank Jnr put down some new building blocks, for him this was a fresh start. In turn, Morrison grittily enhanced his own reputation. There’s talk that Chisora and Parker – who ate burgers together after their bout – will fight again.
The long-term futures of each is unknown but for now they earn their rivals’ respect, and ours, as they continue to give this savage business their all.
The Verdict Fascinating build-up inside the bubble culminates with a series of interesting fights.
THE REST OF THE ACTION
THERE was disaster for Belfast’s James Tennyson as he was stopped in the opening round by unknown Mexican Jovanni Straffon. After a wild start, in which Tennyson caught Straffon several times, the unfancied southpaw broke through with a left that floored his rival. Tennyson was done but was given a chance to survive. But at 2-10, the bout was stopped by Michael Alexander.
Scott Fitzgerald, last seen in a ring back in October 2019 when he outpointed Ted Cheeseman, opened the evening with a three-round thumping of Gregory Trenel. The Preston boxer strayed low, earning Trenel a breather in the third, but Fitzgerald soon had his opponent in trouble. On the ropes and taking too many, referee Steve Gray stepped in at 2-43.
Campbell Hatton, fighting prior to the two showpiece bouts, showed improvement from his recent debut and cruised to 40-36 (Steve Gray) victory over Prestwich’s Levi Dunn.
Heavyweight hope Johnny Fisher bullied Swindon’s out of shape Phil Williams. Fisher targeted the ample body of Williams and also scored with forceful head shots. Howard Foster had seen enough by 1-46 of the third.