Lewis Crocker defeats Deniz Ilbay in headline cracker

Lewis Crocker is STILL the WBO European champion following an entertaining scrap tonight in England.

Headlining an #MTKFightNight for the second time in a row, the Belfast welter pummelled Deniz Ilbay at the Bolton Whites Hotel.

It was a first defence of the strap won so impressively by Crocker versus Louis Greene last August. That night in Kirkby saw him claim a seventh round stoppage in his maiden headline appearance and things were even more exciting here.

Crocker sent the German down in the third only to be hurt himself in the fourth but the top prospect wrestled back control to take a wide unanimous decision win.

Having turned pro in his mid teens as a prodigy, Ilbay’s career had taken a roundabout route to tonight. Early excitement ended in 2016 when he was dominated by ‘Mean Machine’ Egidijus Kavaliauskas on the third Pacquiao-Bradley undercard in Las Vegas.

Rebuilding in Germany while also taking away corner opportunities – the most recent of which being a 2019 split-decision defeat in Norway – Ilbay had come to Irish attention following a spat with Waterford’s Dylan Moran. This fight appeared close on a number of occasions but it would be Crocker who found himself in the ring with the “Pizza-Gate” character.

Cagey to start, it was the crafty Cologne boxer that landed the better shots in round one as Crocker looked to grow into things. Ilbay stayed busy into the second but was having difficulty piercing the guard of Crocker and the Ulsterman was starting to slip in sharp left hooks to the body, possibly hurting the visitor in the closing moments.

The left hooks to the body dipped the legs of Ilbay at the start of the third and it was a back-to-the-ropes job from there. The German survived well but a shot to the solar plexus caught him off guard with about 30 seconds to go and sent him down in stages.

Doing well to make it through the round, the writing appeared on the wall for Ilbay as he began to take clubbing rights upstairs in the fourth but he would sensationally turn things around. It was a scything straight right hand that took away 24-year-old Crocker’s legs – and he was relieved to hear the bell.

Ilbay went on the charge but Crocker got behind his jab and somewhat weathered the storm. Bloodied from the nose and the ear, ‘The Croc’ was being made to work hard, going tit-for-tat with a reinvigorated Ilbay only for the pendulum to swing once more at the close as a huge left hook to the body hurt the visitor.

The topsy-turvy clash continued to swirl into the second half of the bout as Ilbay almost dived into a huge hook from Crocker and again seemed hurt badly but AGAIN recovered quickly.

The gruelling back-and-forth got somewhat messy in the seventh but Crocker was coping well and, most likely, banking the rounds.

A counter left hook at the start of the eighth perhaps should have been ruled a knockdown in favour of Crocker as Ilbay fell forward but it was ruled a slip. The drama of previous rounds was beginning to seep out of the contest as Crocker firmly grasped control but the South Belfast banger was being given invaluable work.

As we made our way into the tenth and final round, Crocker chopped away with big shots and combos but the granite-skulled Ilbay was not for moving and it went the distance.

Going to the three cards with little doubt, Crocker was confirmed winner on scores of 99-90, 97-92, and 97-93, and improves his perfect professional record to Crocker 13(7)-0. The insanely game Ilbay drops to 22(10)-3(0)

The win should see the Belfast boy’s #14 ranking with the WBO improve but a shot at the belt currently held by Terence Crawford is still a good bit down the road. There could be domestic business at hand for Crocker – although his ordered British title eliminator versus Anthony Tomlinson received no purse bids. Wherever is next, Crocker has again proved himself as an Irish prospect worth watching.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie