Plus, Buatsi beats Azeez, Leo folds Plania & Azim marches on
This post originally appeared in Steve Wellings’ Substack
All it took was the swift hook of an elbow in sparring, and a generational heavyweight decider was put on ice once again. Tyson Fury’s slow decline towards retirement must wait a little longer. Oleksandr Usyk missed a child being born. It’s the drama of all dramas!
As the news was announced via various channels, a collective sigh of disappointment, followed by anger, then acceptance, emanated from the boxing community. Many suggested it was a contrived injury caused by nefarious actors armed with frying pans and razor blades.
Fight off: Fury and Usyk will box on a new date
It seems the battle for undisputed was too good to be true. “Told you so” messages flowed around What’s App groups. Most people expected it to fall through at some point. Us fight fans can’t have nice things.
The bout was supposed to take place in Riyadh on February 17. Barely a fortnight away. Saturday, May 18, has been floated as a replacement date. The clown show will be in good company if that is the case. May 18 is National Whisky Day, International Astronomy Day and National Cheese Soufflé Day, which will interest Fury no end.
Back to the serious stuff, and IBF mandatory contender Filip Hrgovic has already thrown his hat into the ring as a possible replacement challenger to champion Usyk. It’s a pie-in-the-sky request, and the Croatian knows it, but he’s merely attaching his name to one of the sport’s biggest operators at a time of crisis.
Usyk was last seen boxing Daniel Dubois at the end of August in Poland. The Ukrainian won, but there was some low-blow controversy on the way to victory. Fury, meanwhile, failed to face a single boxer in 2023, narrowly defeating UFC fighter Francis Ngannou in October to close out a dismal year.
Dropped in round three, Fury looked fat and sluggish. The Usyk bout was already signed for December 23. Some unexpected Ngannou punishment locked Fury out and resulted in a February 17 rearrangement. Now, the cut has further pushed it into the future.
“I feel bad for everyone involved in this huge event and I will work diligently towards the rescheduled date once the eye has healed,” Fury lamented.
Once the new date is confirmed, it will be interesting to see how many of the undercard follow across. Joe Cordina is down to defend his IBF super-featherweight strap against once-beaten Anthony Cacace of Belfast.
Brutal Aussie finisher Jai Opetaia, one of the men originally rumoured to have initiated the eyebrow slice (until Agron Smakici got the blame), faces Latvia’s former champion Mairis Briedis in a cruiserweight title rematch. Sergey Kovalev, Bakhodir Jalolov and Moses Itauma will all look to hold on to their respective slots.
Benn lacks pop as ‘Pistol’ Pete goes the distance
Conor Benn was made to go the distance for the second successive time following his hiatus from the sport. Boxing as part of an unscripted American tour, Benn came out to a ferocious start and looked odds on to dismiss little-known Peter Dobson, who held on and made it into the second half, where he started landing some blows of his own.
Whereas previous victims like Chris Algieri, Samuel Vargas and Chris van Heerden folded under the power, Dobson stood firm and refused to wilt. Choosing to box more, Benn seemed to be missing a vital ingredient. Both he and promoter Eddie Hearn later suggested that the lack of recent firepower is down to his dwindling focus, and once certain issues are cleared up, the dominoes will start falling over again.
It’s unclear as to where Benn goes next, given his lack of a British license. Conor’s UK homeland is where the money is and where fan support lies. Nobody in America is the slightest bit interested in his “journey” especially now that has stopped ironing people out. Devin Haney’s name has been mentioned, along with Gervonta Davis, Mario Barrios, retired Kell Brook and a host of others.
Joshua Buatsi beats his buddy Azeez in London
Promoter Ben Shalom finally served up a decent domestic dust-up as Joshua Buatsi beat his old pal Dan Azeez over 12 rounds. It was a close and competitive affair for the most part, but Buatsi’s extra touch of quality, particularly to the body, at all the right times gave him the edge.
Two knockdowns in round 11 helped as well. Although both were slightly controversial as Azeez clearly lost his footing despite punches being landed on each occasion. While the calls by referee Bob Williams were technically correct, a slippery canvas did not help Azeez’s cause.
The unanimous decision in Buatsi’s favour secured him the British and Commonwealth title and a shot at some form of WBA belt at 175. Bivol is the current champion, but the devious sanctioning body may invent a new title for Joshua to contest.
As for Azeez, he has done tremendously well to make it this far. Guts, determination and no little skill have taken the Hagler-esque road warrior to new heights. Trainer Buddy McGirt screamed from ringside for Dan to push Buatsi onto the back foot. He was unable to do so and lost for the first time as a pro. No shame at all in what the 34-year-old has achieved.
Pro Box Card: Leo the lion plants one on Plania
Angelo Leo led the way on a strong Pro Box card, stopping Mike Plania in round three with a body shot that referee Michael DeJesus initially thought was low. In fact, it was a stinging rib tickler that left Plania writhing in agony before the correct call was made.
Leo won the WBO super-bantamweight title against Tramaine Williams in 2020 before losing it to Stephen Fulton over 12 intense rounds. The New Mexico fighter will be a tough night’s work for any champion, and he wants a rematch with Fulton, which would kind of make sense for both. In this era of many tiles, Angelo seems a little miffed that nobody remembers him as a brief world championship holder.
Adam Azim defends Euro title after opponent injury
Adam Azim celebrated with a backflip after disposing of Enock Poulsen in their European title clash. Presumably, if former holder Poulsen had attempted the same move, the injury-prone Dane may have slipped a disc. Fortunately for Enock, it was just his shoulder that let him down.
Faster and more powerful, Azim, trained by Shane McGuigan, was finding the target in the opening rounds. Poulsen was tall and strong, using his tricky movement to slide out of the range. He was not, however, winning rounds.
In the fifth, Enock threw a right hand and turned away from the clinch, grimacing in pain as his shoulder had dislocated. “I am a bit gutted. I wanted to get him out properly,” said Azim, who seemed less than convinced at his victim’s means of escape.
Media Credits: Ring Magazine, Tyson Fury social media, Sky Sports, BBC.
About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 500 eps. 20 years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.