Sky Sports got the 2022 British boxing schedule off to a solid start on Saturday at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. The predominantly Welsh crowd witnessed an eventful domestic clash between Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Williams, the former emerging winner after scoring four knockdowns across the twelve rounds. Claressa Shields also defended her unified Middleweight title before clashing with bitter rival Savannah Marshall at ringside, while Samuel Antwi had his hand raised in a closely contested fight which has already thrown its name into the hot for a potential domestic fight of the year.
Sky Sports’ Boxing YouTube channel kicked off the evening with Andy Scott and Matthew Macklin on commentary, and the Eubank family got off to a great start to the night with cousin of Chris, Harlem Eubank moving to 13-0 as a professional, forcing Viorel Simion to retire between the fifth and sixth rounds. Eubank demonstrated sharp hand-speed all night and enjoyed lots of success with the straight right-hand down the centre, often following up with punishing hooks which rocked the head of the Romanian. The fifth was the most punishing session of the evening for Simion, who turned away and appeared hurt by a heavy hook to the body halfway into the round. Eubank responded with barrages of hooks to head and body as he sought to mount his authority. There’s no doubting that it was not the same Simion who went twelve rounds with the likes of Scott Quigg and Lee Selby in years gone by, but it was a great performance from Eubank in his thirteenth pro-outing, with promoter Kalle Sauerland teasing ‘big plans’ for Harlem in April which will be revealed next week.
English Welterweight Champion Samuel Antwi told Sky’s Adam Smith that his clash with Conah Walker would steal the show at the midweek press conference, and the pair did not disappoint. A hellacious pace was set by both from the off, with Walker enjoying early success in the opening rounds from the centre of the ring, coming forward and landing multiple right hands to the chin of Antwi who fought primarily off the backfoot. Antwi grew into the fight in the third, displaying an accurate jab and began to grow in confidence. Walker appeared hurt by a hook to the body from Antwi during the fourth, his legs unsteady as the champion targeted upstairs, but the Wolverhampton man recovered quickly and continued to bear down on his opponent. The challenger looked to smother his man whose back was to the ropes over the next couple, but again appeared hurt in the seventh by another body shot.
Antwi noticed immediately and targeted more whipping hooks to the ribcage of Walker whose arms sagged by his side, his energy tank looking drained with another three rounds yet to come. There can be no doubting the heart and desire of Walker who, somehow, regathered in the eighth and threw clubbing hooks towards the head of Antwi whose back was again to the ropes, but the champion appeared to be absorbing the pressure much better now than earlier on in the fight. Both appeared fatigued in the final few rounds, taking in turns to land punishing blows in what is surely an early contender for the domestic fight of the year. The ferocious pace and back-and-forth nature of the bout made it a nightmare to score, but the referee and judges reached a unanimous decision to declare Samuel Antwi the victor in the first defence of his English Welterweight title. Both men should be proud of their efforts and grit demonstrated, and will no doubt leave the ring in a stronger position than the one they walked in with.
If the Antwi – Walker clash set the Motorpoint Arena alight, the next fight between Heavyweights Otto Wallin and Kamil Sokolowski no doubt poured water over the atmosphere in what Macklin likened to a sparring session in commentary, noting his disappointment at a ‘missed opportunity’ for Wallin to remind the sport of his capabilities after going twelve rounds with Tyson Fury back in 2019. Wallin ran out a comfortable winner by a score of 97-94 but showed little urgency throughout, setting a slow pace with neither man particularly looking to assert themselves and make the most of the occasion. Every fighter has fights like this one where they do not look at their sharpest, but if Wallin is to attain another shot at the ‘big boys’ atop of the premier division, he is going to have to improve considerably on this performance in Cardiff.
Adam Smith replaced Andy Scott on commentary alongside Macklin and Wales’ Enzo Maccarinelli for the televised broadcast, which first saw the first professional defeat of Newcastle Heavyweight Steve Robinson at the hands of Tipton’s Shane Gill. The West Midlander regularly rocked the chin of Robinson with damaging barrages of hooks and even beat the Newcastle man to the jab throughout despite his significant disadvantage in size. Both are clearly very raw, and Robinson particularly has a lot to learn regarding the use of the jab to control distance. Gill also appeared to find the chin of Robinson with relative ease across the scheduled six rounds, the latter unsure of how to respond, and Gill was a deserved winner on referee Reece Carter’s scorecard (58-56).
Home fighter Chris Jenkins emerged a more than worthy winner over former Super-Lightweight Champion Julius Indongo over eight rounds (78-75 on referee Reece Carter’s scorecard). Indongo enjoyed some early success with the southpaw jab as he aimed to maintain the distance between himself and the oncoming Jenkins, who displayed an increase in urgency in the second. From then on, Jenkins seemed to enjoy more success and was beating Indongo to the punch, the Namibian looking slow, dragging his feet and was also marked up over his right eye. Though commentary failed to acknowledge a lot of the work from Indongo, Jenkins edged an affair which marked a good win for the Welshman in what was being dubbed as a crossroads fight following the loss of his British title to Ekow Essuman last July.
Tokyo Olympian Caroline Dubois marked her professional debut with a whitewash of the experienced Vaida Masiokaite. Dubois dominated from the opening bell, initially appearing to force the Lithuanian to touch down in the third with a big right hand, although replays revealed remarkable agility from Masiokaite to maintain her footing. Blistering hand-speed and phenomenal footwork particularly stood out across the six rounds, her amateur pedigree shining through. Dubois adds her name to a growing list of female prospects to watch in British boxing.
The chief support of the evening saw ‘the GWOAT’ Claressa Shields cruise past (100-90 on all three cards) Slovenia’s Ema Kozin as she successfully defended her WBA, IBF and WBC Middleweight Titles. Shields, a two-time Olympic Gold medallist and three division champion, dominated throughout and proved to be several levels above the determined but limited Kozin. On several occasions, Shields looked as though she was about to plant her feet and put Kozin away after a barrage of hooks to the body but could not seem to find the shots to score what would have been the third knockout of her professional career. There is no doubting that the amount would be much greater if Shields were allowed to fight over three-minute rounds and not two, with Shields not the only victim of the shorter rounds in the female code.
One fighter in women’s boxing who does not need three minutes to get a knockout is her bitter rival Savannah Marshall who, at the time of writing, is the only fighter to beat Shields both amateur and pro and was ringside to witness Shields’ points victory on Saturday night. The two were at each other’s throats post-fight, with promoter Ben Shalom and Sky’s Andy Scott having to stand between the pair at one point to prevent a scuffle taking place. Marshall said ‘she would wipe the floor’ with Shields if the American was to perform that way against her, telling Shields ‘she had just gone ten rounds with an absolute child’. Shields responded with a reminder that Shields was the one chasing Marshall, that the Brit ‘didn’t come to America’ and poked fun at Marshall for ‘having no gold medals’.
The facts are that Marshall possesses the only strap evading Shields’ Middleweight collection, although Shields did once hold it before vacating a number of years back, and a fight between the pair would crown an Undisputed Champion in the division providing Marshall successfully disposes of Femke Hermans in March. A Shields-Marshall belt would be a blockbuster event, one of the biggest female fights in the history of the sport, and the pre-fight narratives write themselves. Fingers-crossed we get to see one of the most anticipated matchups available in the sport, both male and female, today.
THE MAIN EVENT:
And so, attention turned to the main event, with the Welshman Williams walking first to the sound of Tupac’s ‘Hail Mary’, a determined look on his face as he strode to the ring with real purpose. He was ready for war. Eubank Jr followed minutes later, also to the tune of a West Coast Hip-Hop legend in Dr Dre’s ‘Still D.R.E.’. As predicted, the Welsh fans were not as accommodating for the marmite man from Brighton who responded to the heckles and gestures with a small smirk as he approached the square circle.
The relevant announcements were made and the fighters were soon stripped down to their shorts, moments away from the opening bell. The first session seemed to be a promising start from Williams who settled behind his jab, all until a miss with a straight right saw Eubank Jr counter with a stiff jab of his own, sending the Welshman to the canvas in the opening round. Williams did not appear to be hurt, more a case of the precision catching him at the perfect moment as he stepped in with a shot of his own. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the greatest of starts for Williams who found himself on the canvas in the opening round of his last fight against Demetrius Andrade for the WBO title. Moments after the restart, Williams looked to be in trouble again, the same shot catching him on the chin and appearing to stiffen his legs. Big opening round for Eubank.
The second saw more punishment from Eubank Jr with a stabbing jab, and the Welshman soon found himself down again, this time the result of a damaging right-hand down the centre which appeared to stun the Welshman before a left hook crashed against the temple of Williams. The home fighter could not seem to see anything coming his way and was in dire straits, already finding himself on the seat of his trunks twice in as many rounds. It was no doubt the best two rounds of Eubank’s career so far, who looked sharp and frankly a level above his bitter rival. The third was a quieter round, with Eubank Jr moving well off the back foot, looking to walk Williams onto a big shot again. The away man was oozing confidence, finding plenty of time for showboating with little dances as Williams’ shots sailed past his head, much to the dismay of the Welsh fans. Referee Mark Lyson did administer a stern telling off to Eubank at the end of the round after he appeared to throw a shot after the bell.
The fourth session saw Williams on the canvas again for a third time, with Eubank Jr yet again walking his man on to a stiff jab as Williams sought to close the distance. Williams had left himself with a mountain to climb and twelve minutes of boxing had hardly been completed. The punch resistance of the Welshman was brought into question by those on commentary for Sky, who pondered whether an explanation could possibly lie in potential issues with Williams cutting weight leading into the fight. The fifth saw some signs of encouragement for Williams who seemed to have more rhythm and coordination as he sought to close Eubank down, although the latter still crashed a number of powerful uppercuts against the chin of his adversary.
The sixth was certainly the best of the night so far for the Wales man, who enjoyed some success with the jab and appeared to be finding his range with the straight right-hand. The same could be said of the seventh and eighth, with Williams appearing more measured and not coming over his front foot and leaving himself open to a counter as much as he was earlier on. Eubank Jr still looked very sharp on his feet however, bouncing round the ring encouraging Williams to track him down, testament to the fitness and conditioning of the Brighton man whose athleticism can never be questioned. Williams was definitely enjoying much more success in the middle rounds, most of which he arguably won, but the result of the early knockdowns meant a mammoth task still lay ahead of him if he was to stand any chance of having his hand raised.
While Williams was no doubt enjoying more success and winning rounds, his fate was sealed in the eleventh where he was sent to the canvas for a fourth time. Unlike the first three, this knockdown did look to be contentious with Williams perhaps pushed to the floor more than anything, but Williams undoubtedly needed a knockout now if he was to attain victory in front of his home fans. While some ground had been clawed back by the Welshman in the last few rounds, Eubank Jr rode everything that came his way brilliantly all night, taking power out of the shots with superb upper body and head movement. Williams had to throw everything he had left in the oncoming twelfth if he was to stand any chance.
The final session saw more goading from Eubank Jr. It would be an understatement to say he was not the most popular man in the building as he even found time to throw in an Ali shuffle, mocking his opponent, assured he was moments away from victory. The move saw more boos and gesturing from the home crowd, and neither fighter looked particularly eager to embrace at the sound of the final bell. Williams was put out of his misery upon the announcement of the scorecards, all three judges finding Eubank Jr a winner by scores of 117-109, 116-109 and 116-108 respectively. The atmosphere inside the Motorpoint Arena was so tense that the British Boxing Board of Control decided post-fight interviews should be conducted backstage to prevent further chaos ensuing from the Welsh spectators who were not fond of the way Eubank had conducted himself in the second half of the fight with his constant goading and showboating.
Credit should be given to Eubank Jr who took one giant step towards a second shot at world honours, while Williams should also be praised for his perseverance and the way he re-gathered himself after a nightmare start in the first half. The fight marked a positive start to the year with a solid overall card at the Motorpoint Arena, and fans have even more to look forward to on Sky with upcoming clashes between Amir Khan and Kell Brook, as well as Josh Taylor’s defence of his Undisputed crown in front of his adoring Scottish fans against mandatory challenger Jack Catterall.