LERRONE RICHARDS moves into the world super-middleweight top 10 after an impressive, if unexciting, victory over the previously unbeaten Carlos Gongora of Ecuador on the Joseph Parker vs Dereck Chisora undercard on Saturday. After 12 rounds the verdict was split with Italian official Giustino Di Giovanni seemingly seduced by the forward motion of Gongora, scoring a largely unfathomable 116-112 for the visitor. Controversy was averted thanks to two tallies of 115-113 for Richards from Howard Foster and Belguim’s Olena Pobyvailo. Boxing News scored the bout 116-112 for the New Malden prospect.

Yet the split decision should perhaps act as a warning for Richards moving forward. Though his neat and tidy boxing was effective, a perceived lack of urgency could hurt his progress in the future.

“He is going to have to be more exciting at the top level to become a real star but he does have bundles of ability,” said Eddie Hearn. “He is going to be very difficult to beat.”

It may seem odd to criticise Richards in the wake of his biggest victory to date but such observations – trainer Dave Coldwell admitted some frustration that Richards was not at his best – speak of the obvious potential within the 29-year-old. The fighter himself knows he can be markedly better, too: “I’m glad I got the win,” he said. “It wasn’t the best Lerrone Richards but the best is still to come.”

For sure, this was not Richards operating anywhere near his ceiling. And given the quality of who he beat here, that should give everyone in the Richards business hope for a productive 2022.

Like all the best fighters, Richards controlled the pace and tempo, pretty much from start to finish. He had no trouble marshalling Gongora’s rangy southpaw style, countering effectively and jabbing well. Yet his habit of drifting out of range and inviting Gongora to give chase always gave the Ecuadorian hope. Gongora’s looping blows, particularly in the ninth, gave Richards food for thought.

Planting his feet and stamping indisputable authority over the bout – as he did on occasion, particularly with uppercuts in close – would have served Richards better. No matter, for now. Richards deserves credit for beating an established contender and, regardless of the cards, making it look all too easy for large sections of the Michael Alexander-officiated bout.

There was heartbreak for Little Lever’s Jack Cullen in his bid to become European champion in the same division. Unheralded Frenchman Kevin Lele Sadjo came into this bout at late notice, but also a muscle-bound physique and an impressive KO record. Credit, then, to Matchroom for making this and Cullen for taking it.

Cullen, 6ft 3ins, was cut above the left eye in round two and was working hard to utilise his enormous advantages in height and reach. Sadjo, 5ft 8ins, was just about being outboxed in the early going but was pressing with increasing urgency – a bowling overarm right his favourite weapon.

The end came at 1-11 of the sixth when a left sank into Cullen’s body. Referee John Latham stopped it immediately and then reprimanded poor Sadjo for celebrating when Cullen was still writhing in pain.

Zelfa Barrett boxed well to outpoint another squat and dangerous visitor. Australian Bruno Tarimo came with ambition and, at times, was not unlike Kiko Martinez as he dutifully followed the Mancunian around the ring. But Tarimo lacked the smarts of Martinez.

Barrett scored a knockdown in the third with a perfectly timed and executed left hook. There would be no repeat but Barrett, though perhaps too happy to get on his bike, continues to improve. This was a good test for him and he won via scores of 117-110 twice and 116-111. Steve Gray refereed.

Alen Babic had to come through a real crisis to retain his unbeaten record. Frenchman David Spilmont swallowed three meaty shots in the opening round before he whacked the wide open Babic with a huge left in the second. The hyped Croat just about rode the storm. “I wasn’t hurt at all,” he said afterwards. “I spar like that every day.”

Spilmont couldn’t replicate that breakthrough as Babic displayed heart to come back. A left hook dropped Spilmont in the fourth. The Frenchman threatened again in the fifth before two more Babic left hooks ended matters in the sixth. Referee Latham completed the 10-count at 0-53 of the sixth.

Mr Latham also oversaw Derby’s impressive Sandy Ryan cruising to 3-0, stopping Argentina’s Maria Capriolo at 1-11 of the third. The official scored Wigan’s Rhiannon Dixon a 60-54 winner over capable Lithuanian veteran, Vaida Masiokaite.

The remaining two bouts were refereed by Mr Gray. He stepped in to rescue Poland’s overmatched Piotr Buziszewski after he was dropped twice in 53 seconds by Manchester’s Jordan Thompson and accepted the retirement of Anthony Carpin due to a bicep injury against excellent New Zealander, David Nyika. Only one round had elapsed.

The Verdict Some solid matchmaking produces interesting undercard.