(A version of this article was first published in the November 5, 2020 issue of Boxing News, before the Guerfi-McGregor fight was twice postponed.)

IN only his 10th fight, Lee McGregor looks to add the European bantamweight title to his British and Commonwealth belts when he challenges Karim Guerfi on Friday (March 19) at the Bolton Whites Hotel (MTK). This has the makings of a fan-friendly fight, as champion and challenger both like to get stuck in.

Frenchman Guerfi is in his third spell as European champion and though he’s 34 years old now and has a couple of early losses on his 29-4 record, he’s established at this level and had a good win last time out.

Guerfi was crowned European champion for a third time when Georges Ory (11-2-1) was pulled out at the start of the 10th in November 2019 on the ringside doctor’s advice, with his left eye cut and swelling shut. Guerfi was ahead on points and still fresh.

This looks to be the toughest fight yet for the 24-year-old McGregor (9-0), but he has risen to every challenge that’s been put in front of him so far since turning over in November 2017, after competing in the European and World Championships as an amateur.

He made a real breakthrough when outpointing British titlist Kash Farooq (13-0) in a big Scottish derby 16 months ago. There were those who had Farooq winning, but a split verdict went McGregor’s way. He had his best moments in a gruelling fight when he got his feet moving in the second half.

For a fighter who stands 5ft 7 1/2ins tall and can’t find making 118lbs easy, the determined McGregor has a good engine. That was proved when he wore down Thomas Essomba (8-4) for the vacant Commonwealth belt in only his fifth outing, in October 2018 (KO 12).

The Edinburgh man tested the waters up at 122lbs in August last year and even though he was going up a weight, McGregor was still way bigger than Ryan Walker (11-1). Walker was cut and dropped by a right-hand counter – McGregor’s best punch – early in the fifth and it was waved off.

McGregor, who is now trained by Ben Davison, has been sparring Louie Lynn, who he outpointed in the Three Nations amateur final in 2017. Lynn is similar to Guerfi – and McGregor – in that he comes forward and let his hands go.

The well-travelled Guerfi has good feet, fights at a high tempo and is the same height as McGregor. He has long levers, but is comfortable hooking on the inside. He smartly shifted his position to drop Ryan Farrag (15-1) with a short left hook in front of his Liverpool fans in June 2016 to secure a third-round stoppage.

Farrag went into the fight bubbling with confidence having defeated Stephane Jamoye, and Guerfi has also beaten the Belgian – twice. Jamoye went into their first bout, in September 2013, ranked No. 1 by the WBC and Guerfi outfought and outboxed him to win a majority decision on away turf.

Guerfi’s record also shows a November 2015 unanimous points win over the late Alejandro Gonzalez Jnr (25-2-2), who had dropped Carl Frampton twice in a world title challenge in his previous appearance. Make no mistake, Guerfi can fight.

He has had three victories since Michael Dasmarinas (27-2) nailed him with a monster back hand from nowhere in April 2018 in Singapore. That winning run has lifted Guerfi up to No. 8 in the IBF rankings, with McGregor four places above him. Paul Butler, the former IBF champion, is ranked No. 3 and is a possible target for the winner.

The McGregor fight – due to be shown on iFL TV (UK) and ESPN+ (US) – will be Guerfi’s third in Britain. He was chinned by Zhanat Zhakiyanov (21-1) in Sheffield more than six years ago, but until the right-hand finisher landed in the fifth, Guerfi was doing well.

This was also the story against Dasmarinas. Guerfi had won the opening three rounds on one card, but one swing from the Filipino in the fourth and it was all over. He’s put that behind him and on the evidence of his last fight, Guerfi doesn’t look to be slowing down.

When on form, Guerfi isn’t an easy night for anyone, but still, McGregor has the youth and appetite to dig in and outpoint him in a punishing fight.

THE VERDICT Styles should gel nicely in this interesting clash.