FEAR THE AWAY FIGHTER: JOUNEYMEN DESERVE RESPECT
These are just two examples – there are many more. On numbers alone, it’s easy to overlook the hardest working boxers in the sport, but we have had a month full of shock results to remind any aspiring young prospects why they shouldn’t. I pick a few select examples below.
Marsellos Wilder, brother of foul-mouthed former heavyweight champion Deontay, was due to return to winning ways following a knockout defeat to inexperienced cruiserweight Justin Long. But his opponent, the 6-13 Eric Abraham, had other ideas. On the 25th March, he ground out a split-decision victory over Wilder, making it 2 defeats from 2 for the Alabama native. Abraham, meanwhile, has been stopped 10 times in his 13 defeats – clearly power doesn’t run in the Wilder family.
On the same night in the UK, another upset was taking place. Joe Laws (12-1) had failed his first prime-time televised test again Rylan Charlton but had registered 3 consecutive wins since then, all against journeymen. He was hoping to make it 4 wins from 4 against Alexey Tukhtarov in Newcastle, in another televised bout on Eurosport. It might be the pressure of such occasions getting the better of him, but he once again found himself on the wrong side of a decision, losing on points to the Russian who enjoyed only his 5th win in 38 contests.
Meanwhile, a few miles further south in Doncaster, a Stefy Bull-promoted event showcased a handful of prospects furthering their education against journeymen in 4 and 6-round fights. All produced routine victories… all apart from super-welterweight Jack Roberts, whose ambitions to go 5-0 were abruptly halted by Yorkshire’s Jake Bray, who registered his first professional win thanks to a 39-38 points verdict. Incidentally, Bray then went 2 wins from 2 by outpointing another prospect Owen Kirk in Blackpool. He aims to make it 3 from 3 against debutant Thomas Galbraith in June.
Temirlan Raimkulov isn’t exactly a journeyman, but his 4-1-2 record is nevertheless modest in comparison to Isiah Seldon’s 14-4-1 slate. When the two faced off in Philadelphia, the sensible money was on Seldon to return to winning ways – Raimkulov knocked him out in the 4th round of a scheduled 6 to boost his value and his momentum considerably. He’s out again in June, at the same venue where he stopped Seldon last month. Meanwhile back in the UK, Kristaps Zulgis might not be the most defensively slick of fighters but he can certainly punch a bit, as undefeated Bradley Spencer found out at York Hall this past Saturday. Zulgis caught and dropped him in the second round and again in the third before the contest was waived off. He moves to 7-26-3, with 4 of his wins coming via stoppage. Spencer is now 5-1, with the only KO to feature on his record coming via his only loss.
The fight that perhaps best illustrates my point was a British Title fight, usually only reserved for the best British boxers. It is the last place you would expect to find a journeyman, yet for Craig Derbyshire, an 8-28-3 flyweight, it is exactly where he found himself on Sunday 3rd April in Rotherham. Opposite him stood the 15-2 champion Tommy Frank, who had already beaten Derbyshire for the Central Area title over 10 rounds in 2018.
Derbyshire had started out as a journeyman, going 5-27-2 in his first 34 bouts before a reversal in form delivered a 3-1 record in his most recent 4 contests, along with an Area Title and an English Title. A fighter reborn, Derbyshire came out firing from the first bell and dragged the champion into a shootout at every opportunity. He doubled the jab to the head and chest nicely, and was the busier of the two when they traded shots. Despite being downed in the fifth round and again in the twelfth (which looked like a push to most spectators) he had done enough to win the fight on all the commentators’ cards. The judges, however, saw things differently, giving a verdict of split decision draw to a crestfallen Derbyshire, who deserves a rematch at the very least.
All the above examples have taken place in the last few weeks, and there are many others like them. A final example comes from a little while ago. One of the most memorable knockouts I have seen live didn’t come from a world champion knockout artist, and it didn’t take place in a sold-out arena on a televised card. It happened at a half-full York Hall in 2018. Prospect Davis Pagan was looking to go 9-1 and win his seventh contest in a row, hoping to challenge for a domestic belt the following year. Journeyman Jan Balog, his opponent for the night, had other ideas. In the second round of a scheduled 8, Balog pressed Pagan into a corner and detonated the Over Hand From Hell, right on his chin. Pagan’s head whiplashed backwards and he slumped, eyes open yet totally unconscious, to the floor. The crowd watched in stunned silence as Pagan received immediate treatment.
Journeymen won’t suddenly start winning world titles [but could a few wins put them in Area Title contention? ED], but the prospects who dream of such things shouldn’t look too far into the future in case they miss what is standing right in front of them. On many a card, up-and-coming fighters will win a shutout points victory thanks only to the good grace of the travelling man opposite. Failing to train properly or failing to perform (or, in some instances, cocky showboating) might provoke a reaction from your humble opponent that not many realise they are capable of.
Perhaps as a subtle reminder of this, Lewis van Poetsch (himself with a win in March) will often ride out the first few rounds of a fight before moving up a gear in the final session to at least take a share of the points. He, and other away fighters like him, are capable of taking more than that if they wish; so, prospects, think twice before you encourage them to do so.