THE prize when Lyndon Arthur defends his Commonwealth light-heavyweight title against Dec Spelman at the BT Sport studios in Stratford this Friday (July 31) is a big payday for fighting Anthony Yarde. Yarde was set to challenge Arthur on the Daniel Dubois-Joe Joyce bill, before COVID-19 changed everything. The delay hands an unexpected shot to Spelman, an honest 28-year-old from Scunthorpe last seen losing his English belt to Shakan Pitters in a fight we placed at No. 8 in our British Fight of the Year list for 2019. Pitters meets Chad Sugden for the vacant British crown next month and Spelman and Pitters have recently been sparring.

Arthur won the vacant title by unanimously outpointing Emmanuel Anim in October. Scores of 115-112, 117-111 and 117-110 suggest Arthur won fairly comfortably. He didn’t. Barry Jones, at ringside for broadcasters BT Sport, had the 29-year-old from Manchester winning it on the last round. Arthur had Anim over late in the fourth round with a pinpoint, chopping right hand and cut him over both eyes, but had moments of crisis himself throughout a gruelling fight. Anim buzzed Arthur in the opener and had him looking disorganised in the eighth and 10th with his bulldozing, rushing attacks. He also cut him on the left eyebrow.

Arthur had spoken before the fight of the importance of his jab – calling it “the key weapon” – but on the night he didn’t always put much weight behind it. Perhaps, after being rattled in the opening round, he was wary of taking chances and instead he would edge back, flicking out his lead hand and looking to catch Anim with uppercuts. Occasionally Arthur allowed himself to be walked back into a corner. When Arthur found himself there, Anim would let his fists fly. Arthur did see a lot of the punches coming, but not all of them. He held his feet rather more in the second half of the fight, but still, he could never get Anim under control or push him back. Spelman has watched that and concluded the way to beat Arthur is with pressure. He plans to “get in his face, rough him up, use my strength” and that is how Spelman fights. “My style beats his style,” he said.   

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Dec Spelman looks on prior to the English Light-Heavyweight Championship Title fight between Dec Spelman and Shakan Pitters at York Hall on September 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

Anim was strong, but fought only in bursts. He would put a lot into a round and take a breather in the next. The Spelman game plan will be to put Arthur under pressure and keep him under pressure. Carl Greaves, who trains and manages Spelman, wants to see his fighter make Arthur fight at a pace he’s not comfortable with. Arthur is big for the weight at 6ft 2ins and having weighed as much as 196 3/4lbs previously in his career, there are questions about how easily he makes 175lbs. The whisper is, he was over 15 stone (210lbs) when he got the call to fight Spelman around four weeks ago. Spelman may well have been weighing similar.

Other questions ahead of this include, does Spelman have the feet to close Arthur down, the engine to keep the pressure on him and the chin to take his punches? Everyone Arthur hits, he hurts and Spelman has been down, against Scott Westgarth in their tragic fight and Joel McIntyre in an up-and-downer in Ultimate Boxxer. Arthur, 16-0 (12), has nine wins inside two rounds – including six in the first – and had he nailed Anim a minute or so earlier in that fourth frame, the Ghanaian may not have made it through to the bell.

Prior to Anim, Arthur had things all his own way in his previous 15 fights and now knows he has it in him to grind out a win over 12 hard championship rounds in front of the cameras against good opposition. He expects a similar battle against Spelman. “You know what you’re going to get with Dec – a tough night,” he said. Spelman is the type who’s guaranteed to fight his heart out from first bell to last and eight inside-the-distance wins (on his 16-3 record) indicate decent power. There was enough weight behind his left hook to have Pitters on rubbery legs a few times. Spelman did rather fade in that fight, however. From midway, his punches lost some of their snap and he appeared to lose the last two rounds clearly.

Spelman has been through a lot since turning over in 2014 with plans to be a journeyman. Greaves talked him out of that career path and Spelman has since had career-saving surgery on his back and suffered the devastation of Westgarth dying after their fight in February 2018. Arthur has also been touched by tragedy. Elder brother Zennen – a larger-than-life character – was murdered in 2002.

Collyhurst and Moston amateur coach, Thomas McDonagh, remembers Arthur coming to the gym when he was around 17 years old “stinking of weed.” He added: “His mum had rang [cousin] Pat [Barrett] and asked him to get hold of him and sort him out.” Arthur didn’t have the longest amateur career but reached a good level, making it through to a pair of Elite finals and getting on the Great Britain set up. He says that capturing the Commonwealth title has made him a role model on the Moston estate in North Manchester where he lives and though he may have some shaky moments, Arthur should still be able to call himself a champion after a good fight on Friday. He can win on points.

On the Queensberry Promotions undercard, unbeaten duo Nick Ball, 12-0 (6), and Jerome Campbell, 6-0 (1), clash in an interesting super-featherweight six-rounder between prospects from Liverpool and North London respectively. BT Sport 1 (UK) and ESPN+ (US) viewers should also enjoy watching Belfast’s Caoimhin Agyarko fight Harrow Weald’s Jez Smith, 11-1-1 (5), over 10 at middleweight.

Agyarko has won all six (three early) after a successful amateur career. He is a smooth technician who drops his hands to draw leads and set up his counter-punches. Smith hasn’t been seen since February last year when he unravelled in eight against Samuel Antwi for the vacant Southern Area welterweight title. Up at 160lbs, Agyarko can pull off a similar result.