By Declan Taylor
IT IS more than 13 years since Frank Warren assembled what he described as the ‘most competitive’ card in his promotional lifetime and labelled it ‘The Magnificent Seven’. On Saturday Night in Manchester, they ride again.
Back then it was the likes of Nathan Cleverly, Kell Brook and James DeGale who featured at the Birmingham Resorts World Arena, then known simply as the NEC, years before they went on to become the stars that they did. The hope in Manchester is that some of the current crop will begin to emerge in a similar fashion here.
Perhaps the most promising member of Warren’s entire stable takes part in the nominal main event in an encounter which will tell us much about his ceiling. Nick Ball, the 18-0 (11) featherweight, takes on experienced former belt-holder Isaac Dogboe. The pair are currently No.1 and No.2 with the WBC and this is a final eliminator for a shot at Rey Vargas.
Ball has been tipped as a star of the future for some years and has impressed since stepping up to the 12-round limit in April of last year. In fact, all four of his fights since then have ended inside the distance, with two of those coming in the final round which says much about his ability to carry his tremendous power late.
Dogboe, meanwhile, is well into his third year as a featherweight following those successful years as a super-bantam but he will arrive in Manchester off the back of a loss. The 29-year-old, an Olympian in London, the city where he lived for much of his life, last featured in April when he was dropped en route to a wide points defeat to Robeisy Ramirez.
Before that he had won majority decisions against both Adam Lopez and Christopher Diaz over 10 before a split win against Joet Gonzalez last summer. In fact, Dogboe has not won a unanimous decision since way back in 2016 – and he is not likely to get one here either.
Ball has never won on points in a fight over eight rounds and it is hard to visualise this being the place where he starts. Although, that being said, Dogboe’s only ever stoppage defeat was against Emanuel Navarrete in the 12th of their 2019 encounter. A similar outcome here would be a statement but one that is thoroughly plausible for Ball.
“I watched three rounds of his last fight and then turned it off,” the Liverpool man said. “I’d seen enough. I was bored.”
Given their respective styles, with both men favouring action and pressure, this looks like a classic in the making. They are both tough and are happy to take a shot to land one although how much Dogboe has left up at featherweight in what is his 10th year as a pro is the question. Ball inside the distance is the pick.
Another man who looks well equipped to secure an inside-distance win is Denzel Bentley, who puts his British middleweight title on the line against Stoke’s popular Nathan Heaney. Much of the talk during the last year has been about Bentley facing off against Hamzah Sheeraz but with that fight now not expected until 2024, the Londoner will defend here instead.
It’s a dream opportunity for Heaney, currently 17-0 (6), but it represents a huge step up in class and his first outing over 12. But Bentley, a noted puncher, is unlikely to allow this one to reach those later rounds. In the past three years, Bentley has stopped domestic rivals Mark Heffron, Sam Evans, Marcus Morrison and Kieran Smith inside four.
Smith, in fact, was wiped out in just 45 seconds in what was Bentley’s first fight back since he was beaten by middleweight No.1 Janibek Alimkhanuly in November last year. The 28-year-old from Wandsworth gave a good account of himself that night and proved to many that he belongs at world level. Beating Heaney will not do too much to enhance his reputation on that front but a defeat is unthinkable for a man desperate to break into the top 10 of a division without a real putative No.1.
Based on their two respective records and form, any pick outside a Bentley win in the first half of the fight here would be a bold one. However, if Heaney can weather the early storm maybe he could make things interesting late on but, make no mistake, a victory here would be one of the biggest upsets in a British title fight for some time.
“I’m not taking this lightly at all,” Bentley told TNT Sports. “We have to see how he holds his shape in the later rounds if we get that far. Does he get tired? Does he fall apart?
“You look at my last five fights and I’ve always said I’m going for the knockout so I think I’ll be successful in stopping him. My power is real, I’ve accepted it now. It could be quick because the way I box is different. If I catch him he could go.
“The fans can expect an explosive performance from myself. They can expect fireworks and a brutal performance. I need to clean the floor with Heaney.”
In one of three title fights between two undefeated fighters, Telford favourite Liam Davies defends his European super-bantamweight title against Italy’s Vincenzo ‘Winchester’ La Femina.
The 29-year-old visitor is 13-0 (7) and arrives off the back of his eighth round stoppage victory over 9-4 Geram Eloyan to claim the EBU’s secondary belt the European Union title and earned a crack at Davies as a result. That win, in Belgium, was his first outside of Italy but this visit to England represents an enormous step up in class for him.
Davies, 27, will be full of confidence after stopping Jason Cunningham inside a round in July adding to an impressive run which also includes victories over Ionut Baluta and Marc Leach. Although a second successive one-round job might be unlikely, expect Davies to add to his six stoppages here.
The British and Commonwealth featherweight titles are also on the line as 13-0 champion Nathaniel Collins defends against his fellow undefeated fighter Zak Miller, the Manchester man who is also 13-0.
However, there is a big difference in their level of opposition so far with the champion boasting more significant wins, five of which have come in 12-rounders. Miller, meanwhile, has raced to 13-0 (3) but that is made up of two eight-round fights, five over six and five four-rounders. In fact, his last outing, in September, was a four-round points victory over 10-95-2 journeyman Michael Mooney in Liverpool.
As such, this is a huge step up for the 26-year-old and it is difficult to pick him to win against talented and in-form southpaw Collins, who has his sights set firmly on world honours and a future clash with Ball. ‘The Nightmare’ from Beasden has won five of his last six fights inside the distance and will be hoping to impress with another knockout win here.
Elsewhere, in the night’s only ‘world’ championship fight, Glaswegian Hannah Rankin takes on Slovenian Ema Kozin for the vacant WBC light-middleweight title. The 33-year-old has had a real rollercoaster career so far, winning, defending and losing the WBA title over the course of the last 24 months.
It was September 2022 when she lost on points to Terri Harper for the title in Nottingham, in what was the sixth defeat of her career. She has also lost to the likes of Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall during her six eventful years punching for pay but got back to winning ways in March when she shut-out Logan Holler to rack up the 13th victory of her career and put her in line for this shot.
But she will have to do it the hard way again with powerful southpaw Kozin standing in her way. The only defeat of the 27-year-old’s career came against Shields up at middleweight in Cardiff, when Chris Eubank Jr lost to Liam Williams at the top of the bill in February 2022. She is well-schooled and punches sharp with her southpaw left hand. This is arguably the best-matched fight on the card and will be incredibly close over the course of 10 twos.
At welterweight, still undefeated Ekow Essuman boxes for the first time since perhaps the most significant win of his career back in January when he claimed a majority decision over Chris Kongo. That was the fourth defence of his British title and it has been an impressive reign, including wins against Samuel Antwi, Darren Tetley and Danny Ball too. Given that form, he starts as the big favourite against Derby’s 12-2 Harry Scarff.
‘Horrible’ Harry’s last outing was an eight-round points win over Jordan Dujon at York Hall, which was his only action over the last 20 months. That is not the sort of activity one would want ahead of an opponent like Essowman, and there are not many outside of Scarff’s team tipping the upset.
The 30-year-old lost on points to both Anthony Fowler and Troy Williams up at light-middleweight in the past and Essowman, with just seven stoppages in 19 wins, will probably require the full distance to get the nod on the judges’ scorecards here.
The final title fight of the evening and another clash between two undefeated fighters comes up at heavyweight as 7-0 Solomon Dacres defends the English title against 9-0 Michael Webster.
Warley man Dacres, was the most high-profile name in a clutch of new signings made by Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions recently and he will make his debut with them at the AO Arena. His clash with Webster also went some way in plugging the gap left by Anthony Cacace’s fight with Ryan Garner which was cancelled when the former suffered a hand injury during training camp.
But Dacres jumped at the chance to feature here and will look to put some of the experience he gained from sparring Tyson Fury into practice. The 30-year-old spent a long time as part of Fury’s team and was out in Saudi Arabia when the Gypsy King boxed Francis Ngannou in Riyadh last month.
Dacres is 7-0 following two and a half years as a Matchroom fighter, with two of those wins coming inside the distance. Following Fabio Wardley’s victory over David Adeleye in Saudi, for which he was ringside, Dacres knows he has to keep winning in order to secure a shot at the British title as and when the opportunity arises.
Webster is 9-0 (6) and knows a victory here over a touted prospect like Dacres will change his earning potential but he is up against it. The 28-year-old spent the first three years and seven fights as a cruiserweight and has only made the move up to heavyweight this year. He has only ever faced one opponent with a winning record, a 17-4 German cruiserweight man called Erdogan Kadrija, who he stopped in three rounds.
This will also be Webster’s second fight this month following his 94-second blowout against 1-4-1 Joe Nakavulevu on November 4 but that is no preparation for a 10-round fight like this. Dacres will be out to make an impression on his TNT Sports debut and should wrap this up in the first half of the fight.
Before the slew of title fights, there are also six rounders involving light-welterweight Amaa Akbar, lightweight Callum Thompson and middleweight Dan Catlin. Yorkshireman Akbar takes on Christian Lopez Flores while ‘The Tank’ Thompson, of Kirkby, will face Joshua Ocampo. At the time of writing there was no opponent for Catlin.
THE VERDICT – A superb card that will deliver.