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Europe won’t budge as Matchroom struggle to unearth Britain’s next star

With a spate of retirements over the past few years, Hearn continues to roll the dice of youth.

Boxing at The O2 Photo by James Chance/Getty Images
Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

On Saturday night in East London, Matchroom UK’s latest contender for a European title, Ted Cheeseman, was soundly outclassed, outworked and outperformed.

It was at the hands of Sergio Garcia. No, not the golfer, but the EBU super-welterweight champion who remains unbeaten after 29 professional bouts since his debut in 2012.

This wasn’t in the script. Over the past couple of years, Matchroom and Eddie Hearn have searched high and low in their stable for the next “break-out” star to take the mantle of the pay-per-view expectations in years to come. With Matchroom’s current stock of stars coming to the twilights in their respective careers, the weight of expectation on the new breed hangs heavy, with deep waters proving too dangerous for some.

Heavyweights aside, Matchroom’s stable has struggled to keep up with the precedent that was set a couple of years ago when world champions reigned across Britain. Currently, Anthony Joshua, Callum Smith, Kal Yafai and Charlie Edwards hold straps at world level, with a void left beneath for genuine title challengers.

This has lead to mismatching of the highest level in recent attempts to fast-track British domestic fighters onto the world scene, with damning results.

Ignoring those that have challenged for world honours (Rocky Fielding, Callum Johnson et. al), the two recent attempts to jump up to European level have underlined the levels that operate in boxing.

Lewis Ritson was found wanting last October losing a comfortable split decision to Belgian Francesco Patera in a fight where he was a heavy favourite with the bookmakers in an attempt to land the EBU lightweight title, and despite Ritson not being 100% for that fight, similarities could be found on Saturday as Ted Cheeseman got dismantled by Sergio Garcia.

Cheeseman was a 4/6 favourite going into this bout, with Garcia’s lack of experience outside Spain and minimal KO record a big enough straw for the odds compilers to clutch onto; perhaps they were banking on the judges inside the O2 Arena to pull a fast one on Spaniard. It turns out, only one did with a 115-114 scorecard.

In reality, Cheeseman should have concentrated on defending his British championship and building his career at super-welterweight against the rich pool of domestic foes. He isn’t short of options, and with only 15 fights under his belt before the Garcia loss, Cheeseman has a lot to learn at 23 years of age. One thing is for sure: the kid has got balls.

Fighters won’t turn down these opportunities to be fast-tracked. Cheeseman was even talking of a fight with Jaime Munguia before he was humbled by the Spaniard over 12 gruelling rounds, however, it’s the responsibility of their managers and promoters to temper their expectations so early in their careers.

I’d hate to think Ted was being used as cannon-fodder by Matchroom to sell one of the first Saturday Night Fight Nights of the year, but when you consider the level of opposition he was blasting out before Garcia, it’s hard, in hindsight, to understand the move.

Josh Kelly, Joshua Buatsi and Anthony Fowler appear to be best placed to provide Hearn with the much needed next generation. Their market value is obvious, with Matchroom taking careful steps in not pushing them to the same fate as Ritson or Cheeseman.

Kelly’s trainer Adam Booth claimed he would be “disappointed” if his fighter isn’t knocking on the door of the top five in the division in the next 18 months; a clear emphasis on the talent that they regard PBK to be.

Buatsi faces domestic challenger Liam Conroy on March 23, with Fowler fighting Scott Fitzgerald a week later in Liverpool. Both will be confident in keeping their unbeaten records alive in style.

Cheeseman bit off more than he could chew on Saturday, but it’s time that the European belts were taken a little more seriously. It’s no longer a fast-track for young unproven domestic-level fighters to pick up an easy strap, on a path to world level.

Mohamed Mimoune. Kerman Lejarraga. Francesco Patera. Sergio Garcia. The list will continue to grow of “underrated” Europeans. Let’s stop acting surprised.

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