THIS Friday (March 12) at the Bolton Whites Hotel, Belfast’s Lewis Crocker risks his spotless 12-0 (7) ledger in a welterweight 10-rounder against visiting German Deniz Ilbay, 22-2 (10), live on iFL TV (UK) and ESPN+ (US).
The fight represents a marked step up in class for Crocker, whose most notable wins so far have come at domestic level against John Thain and Louis Greene – both last year. In February, “The Croc” widely outscored previous British title challenger Thain over eight rounds, before stopping former Southern Area titlist Greene in the seventh in August.
In April 2016, Ilbay lasted the full eight frames with Egidijus Kavaliauskas, who later went on to challenge Terence Crawford for the WBO championship. Ilbay lost every session to Kavaliauskas, but claimed a career-best victory less than three months later when he overcame Betuel Ushona via split vote on the seasoned Namibian’s home turf.
Inactivity is a potential issue for Ilbay, 26, as he has only seen two-and-a-half minutes of action in the past two years. In his last significant bout, in March 2019, he dropped a split verdict to the inconsistent Jonathan Eniz.
Although he has fought in five countries across three continents, this will be Ilbay’s first appearance in a UK ring. The feisty Cologne combatant boasts far more professional experience than Crocker, though the Northern Irishman enjoyed an extensive and successful amateur career as a Schoolboy, Junior and Youth.
Both men throw dangerous left hooks, yet with his height advantage and energy-sapping body shots, Crocker is the favourite to come out on top. The pressure-fighting 24-year-old can win a competitive clash on points.
The other 10-round contest on this MTK card sees Ireland’s Gary Cully – a 2013 European Youth gold medallist – collide with well-travelled Kazakh Viktor Kotochigov, who had his ‘0’ taken away by the in-form Maxi Hughes five months ago on a unanimous decision.
The 11-0 (5) Cully, 25, suffered a knockdown against Craig Woodruff in August, but still did enough to outpoint the ex-Welsh champion. Kotochigov, 12-1 (5), usually likes to operate from range, yet with Cully being a 6ft 2in lightweight, the 27-year-old from Almaty will find it difficult to outjab his rangy southpaw opponent. With this in mind, the pick is for Naas’ Cully to prevail on the scorecards.