Last Saturday boxing was back at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time in 13 years and it was a night to remember as a new breed of young, hungry British fighters demonstrated their talent in front of an ecstatic and boisterous crowd.
At one point it had looked as though the show may have to be cancelled after the headliner Nathan Cleverly was forced to pull out of the defence of his WBO light-heavyweight title against Robin Krasniqi.
The Welsh fighter is one of only two current British world champions, the other being Scotland’s Ricky Burns, and despite not quite achieving the fanatical support that the Coatbridge fighter manages to garner, he was still a major attraction for fans attending the show in London.
Fortunately the decision was made for the show to go ahead, and what a show it was. Just one night previously Tony Bellew had thrilled boxing fans with a punch perfect display against former European champion Danny McIntosh and on Saturday the fans were treated to an equally impressive showing by all involved.
First of all a mention must go to Sam Webb who returned to the ring more than 11 months after being stopped in the 12th round by Prince Arron to lose his British light-middleweight title. Some won’t be aware of the damage that was done on that night but the 31-year-old suffered a horrific injury in the fifth round yet somehow battled on.
“I perforated my eardrum and that meant I couldn't go into the gym for two-and-a-half months afterwards. I couldn't even stand up for a month-and-a-half,” Webb told The Wharf after the defeat. “I cried for two weeks after I lost the fight and I've never done that before, that's how much it hurt to lose.”
Congratulations to Sam for coming back from that serious injury and gaining a split decision win over Matthew Hall.
The undercard at the Albert Hall was stacked with promising young talent, who at the very early stages of their professional career were looking to emulate some of the greats that have graced the famous old venue.
One such fighter was Bradley Saunders who made just his second outing as a pro. The former 2008 Olympian had more than 180 amateur fights and only lost around 20 times. Now managed by Frank Warren, there are big things expected of the 26-year-old and he delivered last Saturday.
Saunders took on a seasoned fighter in Danny Dontchev, who has only been stopped eight times in 49 contests, and sent him to the canvas twice in the opening 70 seconds. He did show some inexperience at times, throwing some pretty wild shots as he looked for the knockout but the damage had been done and Dontchev retired on his stool at the end of the first round.
It was a night of first round action for the new breed of British fighters and another future star produced arguably the punch of the night. Bradley Skeete, the 24-year-old welterweight, and close friend of James DeGale, thoroughly impressed and certainly looks set to emulate his fellow Londoner.
At 6ft 1” he is a rangy boxer with a superb jab and good skills in the ring. Last Saturday he also demonstrated his raw power as he caught Ross Payne with a flush right-hand after just a minute of the contest that forced the referee to call a halt to proceedings.
It was a brutal punch and Payne did well to get up before the count but the referee was right to stop the contest. Skeete now has eight wins and will be looking to move quickly through the British ranks, which possesses some talented fighters in Lee Purdy, Frankie Gavin and John O’Donnell.
There was another first round stoppage victory on the undercard for one of the most exciting talents coming out of London. Frank Buglioni is quickly building a loyal following and sold more than 400 tickets for the show, with his fans celebrating his victory over Daniel Borisov in style by emulating Manchester City’s ‘Poznan’ dance.
I spoke to Frank just a few days before the show and he is a very level-headed fighter who knows that it will take time before he can emulate the likes of James DeGale and George Groves, who in-turn are making waves in the super-middleweight division.
Having already sparred with the likes of Groves and Carl Froch, he showed why he is so exciting as he decked his opponent on three occasions before the fight was brought to a halt 10 seconds before the end of the first round. It was his third first round victory in just four fights, and you can expect big things from the fighter from Enfield.
Buglioni’s fellow TKO gym member Billy Joe Saunders saved the best for last on Saturday night. The fighter from Hatfield was promoted to top of the bill and was in no mood make it a long night’s work as he claimed the Commonwealth title.
Tony Hill, who had never been stopped, had previously lost a relatively close points decision to new European middleweight champion Kerry Hope but was blown away by a brutal display of punching that left him simply covering up on the ropes.
Saunders has always displayed a tremendous work rate in the ring but has often been plagued by hand problems. Now unhampered by injury he looks a real threat to the British middleweight scene as the contest was stopped after just 30 seconds, with Hill under a barrage of powerful blows.
With the likes of Andy Lee, Matthew Macklin, Martin Murray and Darren Barker all earning world title fights, Saunders will be looking to emulate the quartet. It may not be for some time, but the 22-year-old is certainly one to look out for over the next couple of years.
It was a superb night of boxing by an array of exciting young fighters and the perfect way to announce the sports return to the Royal Albert Hall. Both Joe Calzaghe and Prince Nazeem Hamed featured at the famous venue on their way to world titles, and while it may be too soon for some of the aforementioned, we could be one day be uttering their names in the same breath as those two greats.