By Steve Bunce, ringside
NATHAN HEANEY made his British middleweight title fight with Denzel Bentley a fairy tale in 12 dramatic parts.
At the end of those gripping, improbable and tense rounds, Heaney was the new British champion and Bentley had no idea what had just happened. There had been some magic in that ring; you don’t have to be the slickest boxer to pull off a masterclass.
Heaney was exceptional and he made Bentley look like the novice at times in a fight that slowly, slowly became a battle of desire; Heaney had very little chance on paper, but he never once doubted his ability and dreams and drive. It was an inspired win, a genuine shock.
The scores at the end of the fight went Heaney’s way. Bentley thought that he had done enough and that he was blocking Heaney’s punches with his gloves and arms; he was blocking, but not enough and the right man won. Howard Foster went 117-111, Steve Gray 116-113 and Victor Loughlin saw it 114-114.
In that ring, in a fight that finished way after midnight, there was some old-fashioned, quality boxing from Heaney in round after round. Bentley stalked, tried one thing, tried another, but Heaney kept moving, kept throwing and fought his heart out. It was basic at times; Heaney pulled Bentley in, let him miss and then countered. Bentley kept getting beat to the jab and the counter. Heaney just kept on growing in confidence.
In Heaney’s corner, Steve Woodvine, kept a calm head, gave simple instructions and lived every second of every round; Heaney needed Woodvine’s soothing assurances and advice from the end of round one until the final seconds of the last break before round 12 started.
“Do you want to take this title home? Do you? Well, let’s go and win it,” Woodvine repeatedly said. Heaney’s eyes never left Woodvine’s eyes in that corner; it was total trust and belief. The 2,000 Heaney fans were thinking the same and we were all witness to a great, great shock. It was a Rocky movie unfolding in front of our eyes and there was nothing that Denzel Bentley could do. After six, Carl Frampton and I looked at each other: “He’s going to do it,” we said.
It was tense from the opening bell and Heaney certainly looked and fought like a man on a mission and he was. Heaney was moving fast, varying his moves and letting his hands go; in the exchanges, Heaney’s gumshield was visible. He was biting down hard, determined not to be knocked out. The first few rounds were furious. After four, I had it two rounds each. Heaney was still there, but there were signs that Bentley would get closer and walk Heaney on to a shot. That was the script.
At the end of the fifth, Heaney made Bentley miss with a right cross and he countered with a left hook and then the bell sounded. That was certainly not expected. In the sixth there was a wild exchange; they could have both been caught and hurt. The referee, Kevin Parker, was in the middle when the round ended. Heaney had pulled in front and in the corner before the seventh, Woodvine was calm. “Stay switched on for me, son.” Simple, but perfect.
The fight slowed inevitably in the 10th and 11th and Bentley could have shaded both rounds. However, there was no real urgency in Bentley’s work at that late stage. The fight was lost, his title was going back with the challenger to Stoke.
Heaney kept boxing a smart fight, he was tired, they were both tired. In the last round, they stood toe-to-toe a couple of times. The fight had taken on a life of its own, a fight few could have predicted. Heaney and Woodvine deserved the win and the rewards that come with it. There were a lot of tears and screams from the Stokies. They filled the seats; they lived the Heaney dream.
It would be far too easy to make two simple assumptions about this fight: First, Heaney won with heart. Not true, he won with a plan and skills. Second, Bentley was terrible. Not true, he was just beaten in every area on the night. It was gone midnight when it finished.
Remember, to be a British champion, you don’t have to be the best fighter of your generation, just the best boxer on the night.
Nick Ball will fight for a world title next year and he might just win a proper one. Ball easily beat former world champion, Isaac Dogboe, on points over 12 one-sided rounds. The domination and the scores are only part of the story. This was a critical fight in Ball’s life and career. He needed to win big and win with style and he did.
Mr Loughlin, the referee, had a difficult night with wrestling, knockdowns, slips and some ugliness. The three judges had an easy night: Kieran McCann went 116-111, the closest, and Mark Lyson was 119-108 and Kevin Parker had it 118-109.
Ball was too busy, too fast and too determined. Sure, Dogboe caught a lot of shots, rolled from a lot and looked like the quality American gym fighter that he so obviously is now. Ball just kept finding ways to get his punches in and home. Dogboe too often looked like he was in round 26 of a marathon sparring session at Mayweather’s gym in Las Vegas.
In the fourth, a left hook, shove and push sent Dogboe down. It was ruled a knockdown, but it made no difference when the final scores were in. Ball was in total control.
Two vacant sanctioning body belts were on offer when Ema Kozin and Hannah Rankin met in the centre of the ring. It went the 10 and Kozin got a split; I thought Rankin had done enough. The referee was Mr Lyson and the scores were varied: Marco Moscadelli delivered 98-92 to Kozin, Mr McCann went 96-94 for Kozin and Frank Michael Maass gave it 96-94 to Rankin.
It was not a great fight. Rankin possibly overtrained, leaving her sharpness in camp, and Kozin is just raw and tough. Kozin’s big, wide southpaw left was not once measured or countered by Rankin. It left a gaping hole, and it needed filling. Kozin sticks doggedly to the task, moving in behind jabs and her wild left.
Rankin looked in great shape, better than I have ever seen her. In the fight, Rankin just never found any fluidity or speed or timing – all signs that she left it in the gym. It was a tough fight to lose and a hard fight at times to watch. Rankin is better than that; it was Kozin at her best.