THE ending was extraordinary. Argentine puncher Jeremias Ponce had hammered Lewis Ritson to his knees in the 10th round of their ferocious super-lightweight clash at the Eagles Community Arena in Newcastle on Saturday (June 12). Ritson looked like he had taken enough. His corner certainly thought so and threw in the towel. They wanted to end the fight. But referee Steve Gray disagreed. He beckoned the two boxers to fight on, then threw the towel back out of the ring, letting Ponce heap further punishment on Ritson. He knocked the Newcastle man down two more times, before finally he waved it off at 1-24.

It was a cruel finish. Ritson was outgunned and was being hurt beneath Ponce’s unrelenting aggression. Ponce had caught him in the first round and made his mark from then on. In the first half of the fight Ritson was competitive. He slugged back and jolted Ponce’s head with his own rights. But too often the Argentine was on the front foot and forcing Ritson into the ropes. The crowd that roared him on with such gusto at the beginning gradually quietened. Ponce had been winning round after round. The Briton was too far behind to get back into the fight and Ritson had never looked like hurting him. On this occasion the corner seemed correct to call for the stoppage when they did.

The referee has the right to reject the towel. But in this instance exercising that right was unnecessary. “You shouldn’t have that right quite frankly,” promoter Eddie Hearn told Boxing News. “They’ve got some footage of Steve explaining it and he said because it was a body shot and you got up, I thought you could continue… Steve Gray’s a very good referee but [Ritson was] not in the fight, not going to win the fight. So why? And actually it didn’t affect anything in the end and it was fine but it could have. Because all he was doing was protecting his body so his head was wide open. Luckily he said he never got hurt to the head during the fight anyway.”

It was impressive display from the victor. “It was tougher than I expected. I expected a war with Ritson and he’s a tough fighter, but he’s tougher than I expected,” Ponce said. “It was a great shot I hit him with [in the first round]. Any other boxer would have gone down.”

Ponce had the closest view of the dramatic ending out of anyone and he thought it should have been ended when the towel did come in. “It was a bit confusing when we were in the ring because I felt the fight was over, as soon as I saw the towel I thought it was over, and then I saw the ref throw it back out. To be honest it’s a bit of a shame because he was probably hurt in the rib area and he wouldn’t have been had he stopped the fight when we saw the towel the first time,” he said.

This was a final eliminator for the IBF title, one of the belts currently held by Josh Taylor. It means Ponce can advance to world level. “It’s one step closer to my dream,” he said, “the dream that you always have as a fighter, to go and be a world champion. I’m one step away from that now.”

For Ritson the future is less certain. If he wants to fight on, his promoter would suggest opponents like Luke Campbell or James Tennyson, both of whom are considering moves up from lightweight. “It just comes down to him. He’ll be very frustrated because he wants to take that step to world level but he’s fallen short,” Hearn said. “He’s not showing the same kind of levels of power that he showed at 135lbs. I don’t know whether that’s because he’s moved up in weight or because he’s fighting at a different level. Maybe a bit of both.

“There’s plenty of fights out there for Lewis Ritson. It just comes down to what he wants to do.”