By Elliot Worsell
ACCUSTOMED to aggressively blasting his way through most opponents, Liverpool featherweight Nick Ball tried every trick in the book tonight (November 18) to make a dent in Isaac Dogboe only to have to settle in the end for victory via the scorecards (all in his favour: 118-109, 116-111, 119-108).
It is a testament to Dogboe’s toughness and experience that Ball, now 19-0 (11), never came close to breaking him during 12 rounds, but credit should also be given to Ball for remaining focused and consistent despite realising, perhaps early on, Dogboe, 24-4 (15), was unlike any of his previous opponents.
Indeed, it didn’t take long at all to sense Dogboe was content to cover up and place faith in his defensive nous and watertight guard under the typically ferocious attacks of Ball. In these early moments, Dogboe, rather than cower or panic, simply stayed composed, waited for openings of his own, and then reminded Ball this would not be one-way traffic by exploding from his defensive shape with either an overhand right or a slashing left hook to the body.
These flashpoints were not enough to win rounds for Dogboe, no, but they were at the very least sufficient to ensure Ball stayed wary and on guard. In round two, for instance, Dogboe caught the favourite with a left hook, the impact of which seemed more dramatic than it should have been by virtue of Ball’s chin at the time being quite high in the air. Similarly, in round three Dogboe capitalised on Ball’s hunger to get close to him and assert himself by catching him with a right hand coming in, which had Ball stumbling into the ropes.
This moment should have resulted in a knockdown for Dogboe, for the ropes effectively kept Ball upright, but no count was issued by the referee, Victor Loughlin. To then make matters worse, in the following round, the fourth, Dogboe was cuffed by a left hook and pushed to the floor by Ball, the result of which was a standing eight count and the first (and only) official knockdown of the fight.
If that was a nonsense call, Ball did at least land cleaner later on in the round, again with his left hook, after which things got both physical and messy, with the two featherweights looking to wrestle and gain the upper hand inside. Messy, in fact, is probably the most appropriate word to use when describing some of the action at this point, especially when it was Ball attempting to rush Dogboe and manhandle him. This he tried to do time and time again, much of it the result of frustration, and soon one got the sense Ball’s need to grab and throw Dogboe was a consequence of his inability to open him up by more traditional means; that is, with punches, either singular or thrown in combination. Because it was quite clear from the outset that Ball, still only 26, lacked whatever was required to get Dogboe in a position of vulnerability or weakness. He possessed neither the punch power nor repertoire to damage Dogboe in this way, but still, in fairness to Ball, he kept on trying.
There is no shame in going the distance with Dogboe, either, it must be said. In 28 pro fights, only the heavy-handed Emanuel Navarrete has managed to stop the 29-year-old (in the 12th round, no less) and the only other fighter to defeat him, via decision, is Robeisy Ramirez, the world-class Cuban. Which is to say, Ball, in simply defeating Dogboe tonight in Manchester, joins an exclusive club and will no doubt be all the better for the experience of sharing a ring with the former WBO super-bantamweight champion.
That he didn’t get the stoppage might irk the competitor in Ball, but sometimes in fights, especially ones at the higher level, it is about more than just aggression and energy. Sometimes, as was the case tonight, there needs to be variety and nuance and there needs to be an acknowledgement that the opponent, unlike prior ones, is there with ambitions and goals of his own, not to mention a wealth of experience which allows him to relax in moments when others might fret.
That was certainly true of Dogboe this evening. In the eighth round he switched southpaw, only to be immediately pinged by a right hand, and then in the ninth he dropped his hands and started to get lighter on his feet and move around the ring; a style entirely at odds with the one we had seen from him in the previous eight rounds. Whatever inspired this change was irrelevant as far as Ball was concerned. All that mattered from his point of view is that he stayed focused and didn’t fall for any of the traps Dogboe was clearly intending to set.
Better than that, Ball, with Dogboe still on the move, managed to crack him with a solid right uppercut in round nine, as well as a left hook to the body, a shot with which both men had success at various points. This led to Dogboe firing back with a hook of his own, which caught Ball on the chin and had the Englishman wanting to hold. An uppercut then followed, with Dogboe finishing the round well.
Still, it was nowhere enough to alter the tide of the fight, of course, which by now was being controlled by Ball due to him essentially being the busier and quicker of the two. No, he never looked like stopping Dogboe at any stage, and yes it’s true the fight did become somewhat predictable in its pattern after the halfway mark, but still, take nothing away from Ball, who, at 26, showed impressive maturity and poise to see out an action-packed fight and go home having made very few errors. Perfection, after all, is hard to achieve at any weight and in any fight. But at featherweight, where punches come thick and fast, and everything travels at lightspeed, there is even less margin for error, particularly when a fighter moves out of their comfort zone and picks on someone their own size.