Scottish boxing fans will often reminisce on the big nights in the country over the years and despite some huge nights at the Hydro involving Josh Taylor and Ricky Burns, it’s not often those events that they re-count. Those from the East of Scotland will speak of Alex Arthur’s wars in the Meadowbank, whilst the West will speak of Ricky Burns’ world title glory in Kelvinhall or Scott Harrison’s run of glory in the Braehead Arena. You only have to watch some of the fights on YouTube to feel the atmosphere. Whilst the Hydro nights have been incredible, a good small hall night is hard to beat.
On Saturday the East and West met in the Emirates Arena, as Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq were to face off for the British and Commonwealth bantamweight titles. We stood ringside and looked around the crowd as ‘Flower of Scotland’ bellowed through the arena. It was clear, this was going to be one of those nights people talk about for years. As the two faced off, I and everyone around me was buzzing.
The opening round I thought Lee done well to keep Kash away from the inside and any time he did, Lee would use his physical strength to stop him finding his rhythm. But he didn’t continue that into the second as Kash began to find his range and start landing and drawing Lee into an exchange. Sitting beside Lee’s corner, I could hear them instruct him to ‘stick to boxing’ but the Edinburgh lad couldn’t help himself and found himself in a dog fight with Kash in the following rounds, with both men having their success with educated trades on the inside and minimal holding but I felt the Glasgow boxer won the exchanges. As the warriors went at in the ring, the fans went it at it like opposing football terraces – with chants of support for their man.
Whilst the Commonwealth champion had the major size and reach advantage, Kash seemed to have no issue finding his way past the long arms and landing his lead left hook. The British champion, known for his incredible upper body movement was having his usual success dodging and rolling with Lee’s punches, taking the sting out them, but they were starting to get through and the smaller man walked away from the sixth round with a small cut. McGregor took the sight of blood as encouragement and started the seventh well, but nothing seemed to be able to deter Farooq as he would continue to pressure and capitalise on Lee’s mid-round fatigue, which rolled into the following round.
A ringside melee meant I ended up with no notes on the ninth round. Distracted by half the ring floodlights going off, and riot police entering the crowd, I ended up missing whatever carnage had gone on inside the ring, as I caught glimpses of the two of them falling through the ropes and Kash walking back to his stool with a bloodier face than before. None the less, regardless of how the round went, in the end its outcome wouldn’t have mattered to the winner on my scorecard.
Again in between rounds, I could hear the Steel City coaches now demanding Lee boxes. Lee started the following round well, boxing on the back foot and drawing Kash in, who seemed a bit of out sync. Despite some previous verbals, the Edinburgh lad received a point deducted for continuous ‘holding’, which I thought might a crucial factor later when the scorecards were announced.
Although he seemed the more tired of the two in the middle rounds, Lee ended the fight well, even appearing to hurt Kash in the final round.
Now, to the scorecards.
As the two men, were held aloft celebrating, thinking they’d won. For me, I thought Kash had edged it but something in my gut told me Lee was the winner. I check in with the others around me, everyone seemed to have Lee winning, some by as much as three rounds! Apart from the non-committal newspaper journalists (which didn’t surprise me as they all seemed to be more focused on their laptops all night, than any of the action in the ring)
So the whole crowd stood anticipating the winner announcement. ‘And The New…’ lead to a premature celebration by the McGregor camp, but it was them who would ecstatic again moments later when it was confirmed, Lee McGregor was the new British and Commonwealth bantamweight champion, via split decision with judges scoring the contest 115-113 and 114-113 to Lee and one judge scoring it 114-113 to Kash.
I didn’t have an issue with the decision; I thought it was a tough, close fight with some pick-em rounds and as I continued round ringside, all the fighters I asked also had Lee winning (albeit MTK boxers), so I didn’t think anything of it.
Now, when I said everyone would be talking about this fight, I was right. But for the wrong reasons. I stayed for the Mark McKeown fight so didn’t get a chance to check social media until hours later to see the reaction. I was pretty shocked to find that the decision had been found so controversial but also disappointed to see such a great fight have a negative slant on it. I have yet to find time to watch the fight back to give my judgement on it. There seems to be some misdirected anger towards Lee regarding the decision, both men should be commended for not only taking the fight but how they performed on the night, both men giving it their all. Although Kash didn’t get the decision, as a fan for years, I must say I’m delighted to see the love and attention he’s now getting on the back of his performance and regardless of the result, his stock has significantly risen.
People might not agree on the scorecards, but I’m sure we can all agree it was a hell of a fight! Despite the negative aftermath, everyone has been talking about the fight. So in true Kash Farooq fashion, ‘roll with the punches’ and just make it again please…
The fight between McGregor and Farooq, could have sold out the event alone. With that being said, there wasn’t a big focus on creating a big undercard but none-the-less it still provided some good fights and entertainment.
The lead undercard fight, on paper, looked to be a good one as Kieran Smith was to take on fellow undefeated super-welterweight, Vincenzo Bevilacqua. Although Vincenzo held the Italian championship and a WBC Mediterranean trinket, when you scratch beneath the surface of his 16-0 record it’s padded and it showed in the bout. It was a nightmare start for Smith as a cut opened up in the first round. Despite the cut, it was the negative style his opponent was using that frustrated Smith throughout. The Italian showed little ambition in the fight, threw very few punches, hid behind a high guard and VERY occasionally leaping with a big right hand. The home-town fighter did his best to get him to open up; however, any success or momentum was nullified with constant holding. Referee, John Latham, managed to ignore the jeers from the crowd and didn’t take any points off leaving the fight to run off into a landslide points win for Kieran Smith, winning by unanimous decision. Kieran has had a frustrating year with his last two bouts having late cancellations and Saturdays fight only added to it. Hopefully next year will bring the fights and opportunities he deserves.
Before that we had Celtic super-Middleweight champion, Tommy Philbin return to the ring. A late change of opponent meant he faced off against the durable Darryl Sharp, who in 65 losses has only been stopped once. Darryl who always turns up strong and in shape, made Tommy work for the six rounds and keep him ticking over as he looks to bag himself a big title fight in the New Year.
Despite having an array of Scottish talent to pick from, for whatever reason, Glasgow was treated to a couple of Irish additions to the undercard. Light Welterweight, Pierce O’Leary looked to move to 2-0 against the experienced British journeyman, Chris Adaway. Although he couldn’t stop his man, Chris would have certainly returned to England with his aches and pains as the Irishman bombarded him with constant shots for four rounds. The prospect stalked the bigger man around the ring and took every opportunity to pin Adaway on the ropes and unleash a series of rapid hooks to the body, much to the delight of the Irish fans that has travelled to see him. With his fast paced, aggressive style, he proves to be an exciting prospect to keep an eye on.
Prior to that, we had his fellow Irishman, Paddy Donovan. Since turning professional, there has been an excitement surrounding the welterweight. With his bout kicking off the ESPN+ broadcast, USA fans had an opportunity to tune in and check out the new Top Rank signing. Walking to the ring with his good looks, flashy white and gold attire and Irish boxing legend, Andy Lee, by his side, he gave off an aura of star potential. In the ring Donovan also put on a performance to suggest he could live up to his moniker ‘The Real Deal’. The decorated amateur showed he would have no issue transitioning to the professional game as he set off in round one looking to make a statement with spiteful shots from his southpaw stance. Despite dropping his opponent, Danny Mendoza, early in the second round with a perfectly timed left uppercut, he was unable to get the Nicaraguan out of there. That stands testament to the resilience of the journeyman who managed to take the Limerick man’s constant gruelling punishment and big clean shots for the remaining rounds.
Opening the night of boxing, we had the popular featherweight, Craig Morgan in his first 6 rounder. With his usual droves of fans travelling from Kelty and boxing fans gathering earlier than usual, we had a packed arena from the opening bell. Although the length of the fight had increased, the difficulty certainly hadn’t as Craig coasted to a 6 round points win, using the rounds to work on various instructions from trainer Billy Nelson. The Fifer, picked and landed the shots he wanted, without being on the receiving end of any and he slipped, countered and moved around the ring with ease. By the end of the fight, he looked as if he had barely broken a sweat and had plenty more gears available. Although he is still young and learning, at only 20 years old, it is clear he is ready to step up in 2020 and the ‘game-changers’ no doubt perched and ready to take credit for the new Vegan athlete.
Unfortunately for debutant and ‘float’ for the evening, Mark McKeown, he had to wait all night, until after the main event to get his professional career started, but it didn’t deter his fans who all hung around until after midnight to make plenty of noise and show their support for ‘Sparky’. Inside the ring, the Coatbridge lad made sure to do his part in entertaining his fans, he shot at quick pace looking to punish his opponent with a nice variety of spiteful combinations. While all other photographers had packed up for the night, our man – Allan Picken – insisted on continuing as he told me ‘Mark looks like he’s going to flatten his man’ and didn’t want to miss the opportunity of a great shot. However, the tough journeyman, Jose Aguilar, is well experienced in surviving the rounds, managed to see it out to the end, giving Mark his first professional win via points (40-36).