I barely recognised the Bowlers Exhibition Centre.
On Friday night, Kieran Farrell promoted his second professional show and managed to transform the famous Trafford Park venue in Manchester from a cold, drab, draughty hanger into the perfect small hall venue.
Farrell is making great strides outside the ropes. His stable of fighters seems to expand daily and he clearly has a very definite idea of the way he wants his shows to look and feel. Fighters made their way to the ring down a ramp and through a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke and the entire show was recorded live to be broadcast at a later date by Front Runner TV. Most importantly, the fights were entertaining. There were seven four round bouts on the bill and they produced a spectacular knockout for Bilal Rehman, two victories for away fighters and the emergence of a good prospect, more of whom later.
The venue itself has had more than a lick of paint. The fighters will now enjoy the luxury of getting changed in warm, modern dressing rooms and there is a full, excellently equipped gym available for any last minute warm ups. The entrance has been spruced up and the whole place just feels better.
If you have ever been to Bowlers for one of their Happy Hardcore nights or gone to a reunion of ‘The Pleasuredome’ there, there’s a very high likelihood that you wouldn’t be able to recognise the place anyway. Let me assure you that the new owners deserve a lot of credit for revamping the big, old hall.
— the13thround.com (@the13thround) September 6, 2016
Carl Thompson, Jamie Moore, Michael Brodie and countless other Manchester fighters have graced the arena over the years and it also played host to the unforgettable war between Michael Ayers and Wayne Rigby back in 2000. It would be good to see the venue get a new lease of life.
Don’t worry, nostalgia fans. The cafe still exists and you can still get your chip muffins and hot dogs. Nowadays, however, the coffee is freshly ground and there is red velvet cake for sale. Come to think of it, ’Red Velvet’ sounds very much like something that you might be able to buy at a hardcore rave night…………………..
There are certain items that, without which, a night of professional boxing simply cannot go ahead. A ring and a couple of pairs of gloves are obviously crucial. An ambulance must be positioned outside the venue, the ring girls need their round cards and it would be pretty difficult for the night to run smoothly without a bell. The MC’s tuxedo, which acts as a superhero costume, and transforms the man on the street into a man with the power to control an entire arena, is also indispensable.
Michael Pass is one of our better known announcers and always has a ready supply of tales on tap. This weekend, he got another story to add to his repertoire. ‘Passo’ was booked to carry out ring announcing duties at Steve Wood’s show in Wigan.
He arrived at the train station, hair coiffed to perfection and with his brand new tuxedo jacket safely wrapped in a suit carrier. He hailed a cab, opened the back door and hung his jacket up.
‘The Robin Park Arena, please.’
At which point, the taxi driver took off with the jacket, leaving Pass to helplessly watch his ring attire disappear off down Wallgate. How the driver thought an inanimate object would be able to pay the fare, and where the jacket spent the two hours it took to arrive at the venue are questions that it may be best to leave unanswered.
Last week, I expressed my delight that the opening weekend of the new season would see two Central Area titles contested. On paper [or on BoxRec, if we are going to be modern], both the Merseyside derby between Sean Lewis and Adam Ismail for the welterweight belt and Lee Appleyard’s Roses clash with Chris Conwell for the super featherweight title looked certain to provide closely contested encounters. On canvas, both fights exceeded expectations.
In Wigan, the shorter, aggressive Lewis, 6-1-1, walked down the rangy Ismail, 9-2, and built momentum down the stretch. He pinched a 96-95 decision and justified his decision to return from almost three years away from the sport earlier this year. In Doncaster, the shorter, aggressive Conwell, 9-1 (2 KO’s), walked down the rangy Appleyard. In round six, Conwell slipped inside and uncorked a left hook which hurt Appleyard. He didn’t let the Yorkshireman off the hook.
Both fights were exciting, well matched and were fought amid excellent atmospheres. Credit goes to all four fighters and the promoters and managers involved in making and accepting the fights.
As well as providing us with big world title fights and , the new season always throws up a couple of new names to watch. On Friday, Kieran Farrell let his young hope George Brennan loose on the professional scene. The 19 year old super bantamweight looked cool and calm and used nice ‘in-and-out’ movement to completely bamboozle his Latvian opponent, forcing him to retire after just two rounds. Nicknamed ‘The Cereal Killer’ due to his day job working at Kelloggs, Altrincham’s Brennan is one to keep an eye on.
In Wigan on Saturday night, Liverpool’s Luke Willis put in an extremely impressive professional debut. Willis has boxing in his genes. His father, Kenny, was an ABA champion and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and his uncle Tony won bronze at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The southpaw – who will fight at lightweight or light welterweight – showed something different in each of the four rounds he won against Ibrar Riyaz. “Whether I like it or not, boxing is in my blood,” Willis said afterwards. “The division is there for the taking. I’ll fight anybody.”
Kristian Laight (top pic) got his season off to a winning start but outpointing Sean Crowley over four rounds in Wigan. The victory took Laight’s record to 12-228-7. Yes, to anybody outside the British Isles who may be reading this. You read that correctly. That’s 12 – two hundred and twenty eight – 7. ‘Mr Reliable’ is one of the cornerstones of British boxing and will be back out again next weekend. He will lose a lot more than he wins this season but, if a young prospect isn’t on his game or takes him for granted, he is more than capable of sniffing out a victory.
On Friday night, another of my favourite opponents, Lee Connelly, also got a victory on the road. Connolly, 5-20-1, is a whippersnapper compared to Laight but always comes to fight. He beat Middlesborough’s Ross Jameson this weekend and will upset plenty during the course of his career.
Before closing, I have to give a mention to my favourite journeyman of all time. Mark McKray has a record of 6-36-1 (5 KO’s) and campaigns around the light welterweight limit. McKray is an opponent with bone fide one punch knockout power. Switch off against him and he won’t just fiddle his way to a decision victory, he might just switch you off completely.