WITHOUT dispute Josh Taylor stands as the king of the super-lightweight division. But contenders will hope to manoeuvre themselves so they can challenge him or get a shot at one the belts he won against Jose Ramirez in Las Vegas last month. Lewis Ritson is looking to get into just such a position when he boxes Jeremias Ponce in a final eliminator for the IBF belt at the Eagles Community Arena on Saturday (June 12).

Ritson is a crowd-pleaser who fills arenas in the North East. This bout, due to Covid restrictions, will be limited to a crowd of 1,000 but they can be expected to generate quite an atmosphere in what will be Matchroom’s first show with a live audience in the UK this year.

It’s a milestone in another way too. This is the last Matchroom show before Eddie Hearn’s promotional company leaves Sky Sports for DAZN. In that sense it’s the start of a new era. Matchroom and Sky have had a long partnership, and their exclusive deal has been one of the lynchpins of British boxing in recent years. Both will go in different directions after this but their last fight together ought to prove entertaining.

Ritson pleases those crowds with his aggression, his straight-ahead, hard-punching approach. All those qualities were on display when he battled through a thrilling 12 rounds in front of 10,000 supporters in Newcastle in 2019. But if that was showcase for what he does so well, last time out in October Mexican veteran Miguel Vazquez served a reminder of Ritson’s vulnerabilities. With his footwork, movement and boxing skills Vazquez, a former if fading world champion, frustrated Ritson. The Englishman in fact was very fortunate to come away with a controversial split decision victory.

How to beat the Newcastle local therefore is no secret, Francesco Patera showed just how to do so down at lightweight in 2018. But whether visiting Argentine Jeremias Ponce is willing or able to execute that strategy for the full 12 rounds is what will dictate the outcome of this bout.
Ponce is a winner. Unbeaten in 27 bouts, 17 of those victories have come inside the distance. Most of those contests have been fought in his homeland but he has defeated Francesco Lomasto in Italy and Rico Mueller in Germany. However he is not particularly fleet of foot nor does he seem particular inclined to box, move and otherwise inconvenience Ritson. Expect him to hold his ground with the Briton and try to claim the centre of the ring. Ponce can use quick rights to catch an opponent coming to him. But he pushes out sometimes ponderous jabs, reaches forward with his cross and does leave himself open in turn. He was dropped in his last fight and Ritson will look to batter him round the body and head. Ponce is likely to get drawn in himself and swing wildly. But accuracy could be the difference. Even if it turns into a gritty battle of wills, Ritson is likely to prevail and may even pocket a knockdown or two to make sure of the decision and give his hometown faithful plenty to shout about.

“It was a strange experience behind closed doors last time so I’m thrilled fans will be returning, it’s always loud in Newcastle and I’m proud to have them behind me cheering me on,” Ritson said. “Ponce likes to come forward, throw a few good body shots and he’s got a decent jab. We’re expecting and have prepared for a tough fight and it should be given what’s at stake.

“I’m one or two fights away from being world champion now. That’s the dream for any boxer and to be in touching distance now is spurring me on with this final eliminator locked in.”

Super-bantamweight Thomas Patrick Ward is another North East boxer hoping to close in on a shot at a significant belt. He is highly rated and, despite impressing more often than not, his last bout was a more difficult than expected technical draw, after being in an accidental head clash, with Thomas Essomba. He is though an unbeaten 29-0-1 (4) and will look to get back on track against Mexico’s 17-5-6 (5) Edy Valencia Mercado.

Cyrus Pattinson, a long-time former GB squad member, makes his professional debut. On the amateur circuit Pattinson laboured in the shadow of Josh Kelly in the 2016 Olympic cycle and then Pat McCormack, who has just become a two-time Olympian. But Pattinson is a Three Nations champion, who was just one bout away from qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games himself. The sharp southpaw will look to show what he can do in his own right against 4-2 Bulgarian Yoncho Markov over six rounds.

Popular “Benwell Bomber” Joe Laws regroups from his knockout loss to Rylan Charlton last October, against Chris Adaway. Local prospect April Hunter picked up the third win of her professional in Spain just over a month ago and now gets the chance to box at home once again. Klaudia Vigh shouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

Good heavyweight Solomon Dacres goes into the second bout of his pro career, opponent Alvaro Terrero will do well if he goes the distance with him. Croatian heavyweight Alen Babic makes another appearance on a Sky show with Damien Chambers coming in with an 11-1 record and looking to make a mark against him.

The Verdict Ritson should deliver another entertaining scrap.