Mismatches are a part of boxing. They happen. A realistic hope is that when we have to deal with them in the main event matches of a show, the undercard might make up for that with some better matchups, either in terms of competitive matchmaking or at least good action.
This past weekend, we didn’t get much at all in the two biggest shows on the schedule. In Chicago, Matchroom’s Oleksandr Usyk vs Chazz Witherspoon main event wasn’t much, and it was joined by Dmitry Bivol vs Lenin Castillo as the co-feature. The rest of the show was mostly prospects in with also-rans. And in Leeds, England, Josh Warrington routed Sofiane Takoucht and Zelfa Barrett dominated Jordan McCorry; to be fair, Lyndon Arthur didn’t have it easy with Emmanuel Anim, but the rest of the broadcast featured dull showcase fights that all went the distance.
But this weekend looks better. Friday has Top Rank’s excellent Artur Beterbiev vs Oleksandr Gvozdyk main event from Philadelphia, and on Saturday, DAZN will have another Matchroom event, as Eddie Hearn’s show goes back home to the United Kingdom with a nice looking doubleheader from Newcastle, featuring a pair of evenly-matched bouts.
Ted Cheeseman vs Scott Fitzgerald
Cheeseman, 24, will be defending his British junior middleweight title in this matchup, taking on the 27-year-old Fitzgerald, who is coming off of a career-best win, giving him momentum.
Cheeseman (15-1-1, 9 KO) does not have momentum, but it’s not really as bad as him being 0-1-1 in his last two fights may seem on the surface. In February, he took a stab at the European 154-pound title against Sergio Garcia, who came in to London for the fight, giving Cheeseman home field advantage.
But Garcia was simply too good, outboxing Cheeseman handily over 12 rounds. Two of the scores, both 119-109, were realistic, while Italian judge Massimiliano Bianco did his best to help “The Big Cheese” out, scoring it an absurd 115-114 for the clearly superior Garcia.
That loss was a setback, without question, and probably did its share to damage Cheeseman’s confidence. Before that fight, he’d pretty much had it all his way as a professional — wins over veteran Carson Jones and previously-unbeaten Paul Upton led him to a British title fight in Oct. 2018, where he claimed the vacant belt with a solid victory over Asinia Byfield.
But Garcia reality checked the youngster when he tried to go right to the next level, sending Cheeseman somewhat crawling back to that Lonsdale belt for a defense on June 21 against Kieron Conway.
In that one, Cheeseman left York Hall with a controversial split draw, retaining his title but not getting the W. It was, frankly, a poor decision; Cheeseman deserved the victory in what was a good fight, with Conway indeed having some success, but not enough to rationalize an even card from judge Robert Williams, let alone one that went the challenger’s way from judge Marcus McDonnell.
Even the score that went to Cheeseman — 115-114 from Terry O’Connor — was too close, but it speaks to the often legitimate difference between scoring by what we see on TV and what judges see ringside. This one appears to have been one of those fights that just plain looked different without the benefit of TV cameras and screens. I had it 116-112 for Cheeseman, while DAZN commentators went 117-111 and 118-110 for him, watching through their monitors.
Seated ringside next to Conway, Cheeseman tried not to be too disappointed with the result.
“I believe I clearly won by three or four rounds. I think he knows and everyone in here knows the real result,” Cheeseman said. “I trained like a warrior for eight weeks. I fought my heart out in there tonight.”
A genuine question now is whether or not Cheeseman again had his confidence rattled by that outcome. He may well truly believe he won, and you can reasonably tell him the same, but he didn’t get the win. The judges saw it even overall. One thought he’d lost a second straight outing.
If there remains doubt in Cheeseman, if that has festered for him as a rocky 2019 comes to a close, Scott Fitzgerald is every bit good enough to keep him winless for the year.
On March 30 in Liverpool, Fitzgerald and rival Anthony Fowler came into a much-hyped meeting both unbeaten, striving for a breakout victory. Fowler, the more celebrated prospect, had the home field, and just like Cheeseman against Garcia, it didn’t matter.
Fitzgerald (13-0, 9 KO) didn’t outclass Fowler the way Garcia did Cheeseman the prior month, but he won all the same, sealing the victory with a 10th round knockdown. That extra point off of Fowler’s tally was the difference, as Fitzgerald scraped two cards, 95-94, with the third going 96-94 to Fowler.
There was talk of a rematch. There was talk even of Fitzgerald setting his sights on a world title, as the win had given him a WBA regional belt and a top 15 ranking. But once everything settled, the plan to face Cheeseman was set into motion, and now it’s here.
Fitzgerald was able to take advantage of Fowler’s overconfidence in March. Fowler had banged on about how he was going to embarrass Fitzgerald and get him out early, and he fought like he truly believed that in his heart, starting fast but fading, while Fitzgerald bided his time and took over in the middle rounds. Fowler emptied the tank with a big ninth round, which led to him getting caught and beaten in the 10th.
It’s highly unlikely Cheeseman makes the mistake of underestimating Fitzgerald. Cheeseman brings the pressure and Fitzgerald isn’t afraid to mix it up, either. This should be a good fight, and has a chance to be more than that.
Robbie Davies Jr vs Lewis Ritson
30-year-old Robbie Davies Jr has big designs. In fact, his designs are such that this isn’t a fight he really wanted, as he would have preferred to mix it at world level.
And why not? Davies (19-1, 13 KO) has won the British, Commonwealth, and European titles at 140 pounds. Whether or not you think he’s a real world-level fighter at 140, the only level left is the world level.
Davies was on the rise before a July 2017 loss to Poland’s Michal Syrowatka. It was a fight with action, as Syrowatka went down in the ninth round before roaring back to stop Davies 1:48 into the 12th and final frame.
But Davies came back from that. He rematched Syrowatka immediately, returning the favor with a stoppage at 2:30 in March 2018, and then he started his belt collecting.
In Oct. 2018, Davies took the British and Commonwealth titles with a bloody win over Glenn Foot, dominating on the scorecards in the victory. It wasn’t an easy win despite the pretty lopsided scores, nor was Davies’ win in March of this year with Joe Hughes, which was closer (on two cards, at least), but saw Davies add the European title to his collection.
He holds none of those belts at this point, though, because he doesn’t see those levels as where he wants to stay. He’s said as much when the idea to fight Ritson came up, sort of scoffing at the idea that he’d want to be in a “domestic tear-up” instead of something bigger.
But that’s what he’s got on his plate at the moment.
Ritson, the younger man at 26, is a former British lightweight champion, winning that title by overwhelming and stopping Robbie Barrett in Oct. 2017. The Newcastle native defended the 135-pound belt three times, a series of early stoppages where Joe Murray and Paul Hyland Jr were both finished inside the first round, and between them, Scott Cardle only made it into the second.
Ritson, then, looked a rising star. After a tune-up victory over club fighter Oscar Amador in Sept. 2018, “The Sandman” took a crack the next month at the European title, vacant at the time. He was matched against Belgium’s Francesco Patera, a former holder of the belt.
Like happened to the aforementioned Cheeseman, the move from British to European level proved too much for Ritson, as he dropped a split decision to Patera at home in Newcastle. The decision shouldn’t have been a split, either. There was no question Patera was the better man that evening.
Ritson made the decision to move to 140 this year as he started his comeback effort. In March, he won wide buy wasn’t exactly sensational against German Benitez, then he stopped Marek Jedrzejewski in three on Aug. 2. Neither fight was meant to be a serious test of Ritson, just to get him acclimated to a new weight, and put some confidence back in his step.
Davies is a whole other ball of wax. Not only is Davies on a good run, but his self-belief in the ring is sky high at this point, while Ritson (19-1, 12 KO) may still be shaking the ghosts of the loss to Patera.
Davies would like to prove to promoter Eddie Hearn, conclusively, that this should be his last task before Hearn tries to find him something more substantial on the world stage at 140 pounds. Ritson would like to prove that Davies has gotten ahead of himself, and that he had an off-night with the Belgian last year, a bump in the road before getting back to the rise he once was on.