At the start of April, with the UK in the midst of a lockdown, British boxing and its combatants were left fearing a period of extended uncertainty.
Since then, much to the credit of some of the leading promoters on these shores, we have seen the sport adapt rapidly to a ‘new normal’ staging a plethora of enticing domestic shows, which have featured scintillating dustups, have taken place.
In the face of adversity and unprecedented times, unlikely opportunities have arisen, with a myriad of domestic names stepping up and thriving to elevate their stock and stature.
Following up a decision defeat to Liam Walsh with a routine four-round win a month before the lockdown, an opportunity to derail the momentum of Jono Carroll was something Maxi Hughes grasped with both hands.
Hughes went into the fight with Carrol, who had just defeated Scott Quigg, as a relatively clear underdog. However, all the momentum that Carroll had built up, was snatched away by Hughes, who boxed brilliantly and thrived behind-closed-doors.
The opportunity, that only presented itself because of the unusual circumstances, saw Hughes battle to something of a breakthrough and provide his career with a substantial shot of life.
After the bout, he stated: “It’s about time. I’ve been in with all of the top boys and pushed them all the way, and I always thought am I just going to be a nearly man. I knew I always had it and thought would I ever pull it off, and tonight’s the night.
“Jono is world-class, he just missed out on a world title and has been at that level for a while. Jono brought the best out of me so thanks to him, he was gracious in defeat and is humble, so I really like him.”
Just two months later, Hughes returned on another MTK show, as he handed Kazakhstan’s Viktor Kotochigov his first defeat in Dubai, capturing the WBC International title in the process.
Against a game opponent, who very much had intentions of winning, Hughes looked assured and was clearly comfortable on the big stage as his power told when he rocked Kotochigov on numerous occasions.
Never one to shy away from a scrap, ‘Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver’, Jack Cullen was always going to be one of the first names to throw his hat in the ring for a short-notice dustup.
Having just earnt a stoppage victory in March, Cullen was once again given the opportunity to showcase his skill on the big stage when he took on the undefeated Zak Chelli on Sky Box Office.
In what was a clash of styles that was always going to produce fireworks, Cullen and Chelli battled back and forth to a split decision draw over ten rounds. Although the argument rumbled on over the decision, the nature of the fight meant that both fighters prospered from the battle.
Equally as challenging, but also as potentially fruitful, Cullen’s second lockdown opportunity also arrived on a Matchroom show as he caused an upset in handing John Docherty his first defeat.
Cullen underlined why he belongs on the big stage in the fight, overpowering and outworking the highly-touted prospect.
Having seemingly found a home at super-middleweight and having forged a reputation for always being in electric fights, Cullen’s future looks undeniably bright.
Cullen’s inaugural lockdown foe, Zak Chelli has also seen his stock rise throughout the lockdown.
Many felt Chelli was unlucky not to get the nod against Cullen in their split decision draw, however, the likeable Londoner moved on quickly benefiting from the exposure of the BT and ITV cameras as he pulverised through Vladimir Georgiev and Mike McGoldrick to capture the Boxxer crown.
In total, including the Boxxer tournament, Chelli has competed three times throughout the lockdown, all of which have been entertaining battles, with his final showcasing his power and maliciousness as he produced a brutal finish following spiteful bodyshots.
One of the most positive boxing stories of the lockdown has been the return of Isaac Chamberlain.
After an extensive layoff, the Brixton fighter has returned with intent signing a new partnership with Mick Hennessy and storming to consecutive knockout victories over Antony Woolery and Matt Sen.
Speaking to BBTV just prior to his comeback, Chamberlain underlined his ambitions to reach it to the top of the sport, he stated: “Boxing is such a big passion of mine and it’s my dream to be WBC Champion, this (coronavirus) has delayed that, we wanted to target a world title by next year, but I think that’s going to be postponed now.”
He added: “I have to take my time, be patient and make the right decisions at the right time. It’s not really a one-man thing anymore, I have a whole team of people backing me and they know how good I can be because Mick has a great eye for spotting talent.
“He signs great, great fighters that always become world champion and he said I’m one of the best people he’s signed. It’s a great privilege to have him say that, I feel honoured to have someone who knows so much about boxing say something like that.
“I know he is very passionate about his boxing, so I hope one day I can fulfil my dream of being a world champion and make him very happy as well. I’m blessed to be there and have access to him right now, any problems that I have or any advice he helps me a lot.”
Arguably the fighter whose fanbase and status has elevated most since the start of the year is that of Midlands boxer Rachel Ball.
At Matchroom Fight Camp she stepped up to end the undefeated record of Shannon Courtenay in what was one of the most talked-about bouts of the series.
Ball took to the big stage beautifully, producing a lightning left hook in the opening round of her clash – forcing Courtenay to hit the canvas for the first time in her career.
Following the win, Ball endeared herself to fans even further expressing just how much the victory and career breakthrough meant to her during an emotive post-fight interview.
Three months later, Ball’s story became even more encapsulating as she landed a huge opportunity on a historic Matchroom Card, when she outboxed the game Jorgelina Guanini to become the interim WBC champion.
Ball was originally scheduled to take on Ebanie Bridges for the WBO title that night, however, the Australian was forced to pull out with an injury. Nonetheless, it seems likely that a collision with Bridges is next for Ball, as well as an opportunity to add another titler to her collection.
When Denzel Bentley began the lockdown with an impressive victory over the gritty Mick Hall, he immediately called for a mouthwatering domestic meeting with fearsome puncher Mark Heffron.
The callout arose excitement amongst fans, especially when it was echoed by the Oldham man. It led to the pair meeting in a back and forth battle that eventually was deemed a unanimous draw over ten rounds.
The stakes were raised when they met for a second time, as the British title was up for grabs over 12 rounds. Bentley changed his approach and stamped his authority on the fight, a move that paid off substantially as he sliced home spiteful combinations before Heffron was pulled out with a gruesome eye injury and Bentley was crowned British champion.