Tonight Tevin Farmer became the first Philadelphia fighter to defend a world title at home in 16 years but it was Ireland’s Jono Carroll that was reminiscent of the city’s most famous fictional fighting son.
The Dubliner’s life and career up until now was already something of a Rocky story but, faced with a world class champion, Carroll walked through the fire and went the distance like ‘The Italian Stallion’.
The Finglas-Dunshaughlin man was beaten on a relatively wide unanimous decision by reigning champ Farmer but pushed for the entire 36 minutes, coming through a serious scare in the eleventh and fighting until the very final bell.
While the result will no doubt hurt, the brave Carroll emerges with serious credit and will likely be seen at this level again in the future.
It was a fight that has been months in the making, with the pair having traded hundreds of verbal blows before a proper punch was thrown.
With Carroll highly ranked by the IBF, the pair were mentioned together almost as soon as Farmer defeated Aussie veteran Billy Dib to claim the red belt last August.
Despite the trash talk, it was another Irishman, James Tennyson, that would first challenge Farmer. The Belfast man was stopped to the body in five in October while Carroll secured a Matchroom deal and a final eliminator.
December rolled around and, facing former European champion Guillaume Frenois and coming off, what was later revealed to be, a poor camp, Carroll faded and drew his final eliminator while Farmer squeezed in an uninspiring voluntary win over Francisco Fonseca.
While the higher-ranked Frenois was next in line for the American, a deal was struck that allowed Carroll first shot and the 26-year-old would give his absolute all tonight at the Liacouras Center.
From the first steps of his ringwalk, Carroll looked possessed. Eyes closed, he sang along to Amhrán na bhFiann before shouting at Farmer throughout the introductions, warning the champion that he was about to ‘fuck him up’.
However, in the opener, Carroll would largely stand off, bar a handful of raids, and would speak to and goad the champion who popped off jabs and tried to rake to the body.
The action heated up in the second, with both landing heavy to the body. Carroll would get the champion to stand in close in the final minute and had good success but an almost customary cut would open up above his right eye.
The close-quarters action continued into the third, with Carroll working well initially before the classy beltholder immediately reopened the gash with rapier-like counters and would land a number of quality shots as the Irishman pushed forward furiously.
Coach Albert Airapetian would instruct his man to dial it back at the break and there would be more considered pressure in the fourth but the more eye-catching shots were coming from Farmer.
Carroll kept pushing in the fifth, landing his fair share, but Farmer was picking him off with nice shots and knocked the gumshield out of the Marbella-trained man before momentarily stopping him in his tracks with a right hand.
The challenger looked to be feeling his relentless pace, and Farmer’s bodywork, going into the sixth but Carroll would continue to march forward. However, Farmer’s clean responses were becoming more frequent.
Moving into the second half of the bout, Farmer started to showboat but Carroll, visibly flagging, was able to get inside – although the clean, sharp counters of the home fighter continued to do damage and he would begin, for the first time, to start pushing Carroll back.
It was better from the Irishman at the start of the eighth as he fought smartly in bursts but Farmer seemed comfortable and willing to stand in range, pivot, and counter.
28-year-old Farmer stabbed out shots at the start of the ninth before a strong resurgance from the knackered Irishman, outworking the champion – who was either taking a round off or feeling the pace, with Irish fans hoping it was the latter.
It was perhaps a mixture of both, with Farmer coming back somewhat in the tenth – and reopening the cut which Niall Byrne had worked so hard on – while Carroll kept up the pressure and seemed invigorated by the vocal Irish support.
A lengthy break preceded the penultimate round as the tape on one of Carroll’s gloves needed to be reaffixed. When the action resumed, Farmer would land a succession of long, clean shots but ‘King Kong’ would roar back, landing a big left of his own and backing up his opponent – although the classy counters continued. Farmer then hurt Carroll massively with a huge right hand with thirty seconds to go that staggered the visitor who managed to stay away and get back to the corner.
With three minutes to go, Farmer went looking for the stoppage. Carroll was too proud to hold and looked to push back, taking some big shots in the process but showing serious heart to keep fighting until the final bell and amazing all in attendance.
Going to the cards with little doubt, Farmer retained his title with scorelines of 117-110 and a pair of 117-111s.
The maiden defeat sees Carroll drop to 16(3)-1(0)-1 but the brave effort sees his stock immeasurably rise.
Farmer improves to 29(6)-4(2)-1 and would call for big fights afterwards. A big-money unification with WBA champ Gervonta Davis has been discussed at length but a fight versus the patient Frenois looks more likely next.