Card of the Year at London’s 02 Arena

Eddie Hearns’ Matchroom Boxing provided London fight fans with the Card of the Year at London’s 02 Arena on Saturday evening.

Hearn has had bigger nights in the last 2 years but I’d wager he’s never offered such a long; varied & stimulating from multiple perspectives card as was the case last night:

Dave Ryan W John Wayne Hibbert TKO 9
Scott Cardle W Craig Evans UD 12
Kell Brook W Frankie Gavin TKO 6
John Ryder L Nick Blackwell TKO 7
Jorge Linares W Kevin Mitchell TKO 10
Evgeny Gradovich L Lee Selby TD 8
Anthony Joshua W Kevin Johnson TKO 2
Nathan Cleverly W Tomas Man KO 1
Lucien Reid W Elemir Rafael TKO 4

Kevin Mitchell

Kevin Mitchell took heavy facial damage in a brave but ultimately losing effort. Photo courtesy of Anthony Leaver/Matchroom Boxing.

With the exception of the Cleverly bout which was over in under 25 seconds none of these contests failed to deliver some dynamite in one form or another. The events production value was also world class with Michael Buffer & Paulie Malignaggi both drafted in for the big night.

The promoter’s chargers endured a mixed bag of results on the night with losses for John Wayne HibbertKevin Mitchell & John Ryder. John Wayne Hibbert was on the wrong side of a fight of the year candidate against Derby’s Dave Ryan. Mitchell put in a valiant effort against Jorge Linares in what was nominally a ‘world’ title fight. Indeed the entire concept of a world title has taken on the utility of marketing tool first; being based on reality a distant second.

Mitchell had been on a six fight winning streak following his last loss to Ricky Burns in 2012 – against varied opposition. This marks Kevin’s first loss under Hearns’ promotional banner. The end, when it came, was as humane a referring decision as you’re ever likely to witness.

Nick Blackwell’s 7th round TKO victory over the quality international level operator John Ryder was a minor shock to many. Ryder has suffered from a dearth of quality opposition since losing a highly competitive contest to the world rated Billy Joe Saunders back in September of 2013.

Anthony Joshua

Anthony Joshua almost knocked Kevin Johnson out cold at the end of Round 1. Photo courtesy of Anthony Leaver/Matchroom Boxing.

Anthony Joshua made the most noteworthy statement of his 13 fight career with a brutal 2nd round TKO victory over Kevin Johnson – a man who once went 12 rounds with Vitali Klitschko. His display of sickening power punching will have got the attention of every major name in the division. Referee Ian John-Lewis was rightly chastised in many circles for allowing a near out-cold Kevin Johnson to continue beyond the first round. Throw in his laughable scoring of the Mitchell-Linares bout (he had Mitchell up by 6 points at the time of being stopped in a far more competitive bout than that implies) & you do ask yourself what qualifies someone to officiate in these contests.

James ‘Chunky’ DeGale was also on hand to parade his recently won belt in front of an adoring London crowd of some 18,000.

Lee Selby boxed his way to a somewhat fortuitous 8th Round Technical Decision over Evgeny Gradovich who was stopped on a cut caused by an accidental clash of heads which meant they went to the scorecards with the Welshman leading 72-80, 73-79 & 73-79 at that time. Selby entered this contest as the #9 ranked featherweight in the world according to & is in the perverse position of having won an alphabet title against a man ranked below him on that same mathematically grounded ranking system. According to Hearn there are no plans for Selby to unify any titles anytime soon – so where they’re headed in terms of matching remains somewhat unclear at this juncture although Gary Russell Jr might be a name they’d consider in the medium term.

Kell Brook

Kell Brook clinically dispatched Frankie Gavin. Photo courtesy of Anthony Leaver/Matchroom Boxing.

Frankie Gavin failed to consistently exploit the awkwardness his southpaw stance created for Kell Brook. Besides the second round where the former (& Britain’s first ever) amateur world champion presented a very illusive target he was systematically dismantled by the far larger at the weight opponent. Brook appears resigned to being swerved by Amir Khan as another big fight appears to go begging for the time being – Keith ThurmanManny PacquiaoBrandon Rios are all possible next opponents for Sheffield’s now 35-0 welterweight. After consecutive sideways steps since beating Shawn Porter this would represent some form of positive professional development for one of the more protected 35-0 records in boxing history.

Frankie Gavin, who drops to 22-2, for his part is apparently heading down a level to campaign at European level.

All in all a superb evening of boxing with upsets, devastating performances & a uniquely 21st century British fight atmosphere – London was buzzing under the wave that is the Eddie Hearn factor – a man who has seemingly single-handedly reinvigorated the trajectory of the once ailing UK fight scene. News that Hearn & SkySports have extended their exclusive contractual relationship through 2021 can thus only be viewed in a positive light by anyone with an interest in British boxing – bar the now largely irrelevant other promoters in the United Kingdom.

Hearn’s continued willingness to play a high risk brand of matching his impressive stable of fighters is good news for fans – although John RyderFrankie GavinKevin MitchellJohn Wayne Hibbert all suffering defeats on one night might well have the net effect of slowing this tendency or impulse in the Matchroom boss in the short term.