Elite boxing championship Week 10: The finale

Darren McCosker Roar Rookie

By , Darren McCosker is a Roar Rookie

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    Elite Boxing Championships Week 7 is about to begin (Photo credit: Terry Long)

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    Well here we are – the finale of the first complete season of Elite Boxing on Australian TV in history.

    When one considers this series has provided more on-air fight time than Jeff Horn in 2017 for a collection of boxers who have never been on TV before its quite an achievement. Congrats to the organisers, production teams, sponsors, boxers, trainers and volunteers who pulled together to make this happen.

    Down to business, this is it. After Skye Nicolson’s win last week in the 56kg division over Luci Hand – whose guts had her rated on local radio as the delivering the toughest Queenslander performance since Trevor Gilmeister yanked his IV drip to play state of Origin – it’s time for the three heavier divisions.

    Before we do though – a moment to recognise Nicolson is off to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and deserves a wave of support from Australian boxing fans.

    63 kg – Rhys ‘The Big E’ Evans (Gladstone Boxing Queensland ) versus Michael ‘Boom Boom’ Black (The Boxing Shop Queensland )

    What to say about these two? Evans, the multiple Australian title winner and all round star of the sport entered the Championship as a clear favourite, both in terms of shot at the title and crowd support.

    Black, less well known but highly regarded, with whispers that the pro ranks will be a better platform to showcase his lightness fast hands and immense strength and durability.

    To top off the lead in, these two met in the early rounds in what was clearly a fight of the night war in which Black picked up a very close but not disputed win. One of the biggest questions heading into the night was whether the rematch could live up to the excitement of that bout.

    Both are talented, willing and not afraid to mix it up, so hopes were high. However, for every Ward/Gatti or Pacquiao versus Marquez repeat performance there are dozens of snoozefest rematches.

    As the bell sounded they two fighters quickly showed that they wanted the title badly. While not at the manic pace that featured I their first bout there was plenty of action to get the crowd warmed up. Then about a minute in Evans reeled away from a clinch with blood pouring down his face.

    The cut saw the referee immediately order the boxers to stop. The crowd held its breath as the doctor was summoned – the promoter admitted post-fight at this point they didn’t know whether to have a stroke or heart attack first – after a good look and the obligatory “do you want to continue” question it was back to business. (As an aside one can’t picture evans ever saying no to that question.)

    What followed was a series of exchange that words don’t do justice. Both men blazed away, landing and receiving at a wicked pace. Seriously, if you did not see the episode, in about a week Google ‘Michael Black and Rhys Evans After the Cut’ and prepare to be clapping an event already passed.

    The die now cast, the two fighters picked up where they left it off. Blacks sizzling jab is a weapon of beauty, while Evans ability to slip and counter, switch stances, and work some brilliant hooks all combined to make this a brilliant exhibition of boxing. The action continued through rounds two and three. Neither gained an obvious advantage, and both demonstrated why they were in the grand final.

    This has been an excellent, action packed division and this bout was worth the season pass price on its own. The roar of applause and genuine hugs from opposition corners at the bouts conclusion said all that one can about the quality of these boxers and their performance on this stage. They receive excellent support in their respective Gladstone and Redlands bases and one hopes this continues to grow as they both deserve it.

    In the end Blacks hand was raised in victory in another close contest. He collected the winners ring and very impressive prize pack (more about that at the end), while Evans retains the support of a large base of admirers and everyone in attendance begs for them to go around again.

    70 kg ‘Fijis Own’ Winston Hill versus Marcus ‘Hollywood’ Nelson
    If the 63kg grand final bought a celebration atmosphere the room was much tenser as these two stepped into the ring. Hill; 2016 Olympian, invitee to this year’s World Champs (he passed on this to showcase his goods in this series) and a star in his native land had one through to this bout with a vicious knockout of the highly thought of Steve Filitoga – a video of which is now on high rotation on the Roar Website.

    For his part Nelson had fought in the fight of the opening day (interestingly also against Filitoga who must wonder how he managed to draw them both in the same tournament) before stopping the raging bull of the division, Jack Littlefield, with the sort of one punch body shot that causes you to wince every time you see it.

    The anticipation of having two combatants who each possess the power and skill to stop their opponent with one punch led to a restless, nervous buzz of anticipation. Anthems out of the way and we were into the action. Immediately the contrast in their approach to boxing was apparent.

    Hill, who amazingly initially learned boxing by watching YouTube and copying what he saw, has since been well schooled and holds a reserved, classical approach. Hands held high with chin tucked in, he paws his lead hand measuring his distance before launching a sharp jab, strong power hand to the body and cracking left hook.

    In contrast Nelson, who goes by the moniker ‘Hollywood’ approaches his craft much like a veteran of the silver screen. With arms held low as soon as he is out of range, and a casual, almost dismissive look as he sizes up his opponent, his natural confidence could be confused with arrogance. This is not the case though – once in the pocket, his hands up high against the cheekbones that made him a favourite among the ladies in the audience, Nelson loves to go to work. He doesn’t welcome being hit, but rather appears to accept that it is the price of being close enough to sink his withering body shots. It makes his bouts must see events.

    By midway through the first round both had delivered and received the sort of punches that would have felled many a competitor. While blessed with strong chins, their ability to walk through the body shots on offer reflects the outstanding conditioning both carry. By the end of the first, Hill would have returned to his corner for a deep discussion on strategy. He had delivered some of his textbook punches that had stopped people on his way to the grand final only to see Nelson walk straight through them. Obviously, power wouldn’t be enough tonight.

    By mid-way through the second round both had done enough to win a normal bout. However, this just made them even. The bout had been reduced to a chess match played out by two young men who believe their mix of skill and will is enough to win. Don’t take this as though it was boring though – this is one of those bouts where it suddenly dawns on you that both boxers had just thrown and worn combinations that would end 75 per cent of their bouts. Such is the quality of them you start taking their performance for granted.

    As they came out for the third the title was there for the taking and both sensed it. Still respecting the others capacity to turn the lights out, the smouldering tension continued to rise as the pace kept increasing. At this point Nelson found an extra gear. Perhaps it was his natural confidence, or the significant amount of work he had put into Hills ribs in the earlier rounds, but he now looked a split second faster and in this bout, that was all that was needed.

    The decision wasn’t assured for this was a very tight contest, however it did seem fair. Taking the title from a current Olympian in front of the largest crowd he had faced and under the bright TV lights seemed to underscore that this man is suited for bigger things. For his part Hill can leave this tournament with his head held high. He entered it as perhaps the highest profile boxer (albeit in his native Fiji where he is a genuine celebrity) and delivered at the highest standard both in and out of the ring.

    (Photo Credit: Terry Long)

    78 kg Jack ‘Pretty Boy’ Bowen versus Tim ‘The Hitman’ Hannan
    This one had the makings of an Agatha Christie thriller. Hannan has been dropping people courtesy of his smashing left hook and pummelling over hand right. He would now be pitted against Bowen who has proved as easy to catch as a shadow in an undefeated run to the grand final. Would the slugger be turning out the lights or the pretty boys’ fast feet and counter shots prove to be the difference?

    The first round continued the intrigue with no clear leader emerging. Both had scored with combinations but neither had landed a decisive blow. It was already apparent that Hannan had the edge in power while Bowen’s evasive skills had allowed him to escape on multiple occasions, before delivering some fast responses. Both headed to their corner feeling that the title was within their reach.

    As they worked through the second Bowen was in the ascendancy. He is obviously very well-schooled and can stick to a game plan, which on this occasion had him relying on excellent evasive skills to draw Hannan’s attack and then score on the counter. It was working often enough that by the bend of the round the Sydneysider had upped the power as he looked to grab back some momentum.

    In the corner between rounds, Hannan’s coach suggested that his best move would be to take the decision out of the judges’ hands and as he came out he was clearly taking the instruction seriously.

    The final round involved some great action as Hannan continued his search and destroy mission while Bowen continued to duck, bob, roll and move before firing back more freely with some cracking combinations. This only inspired Hannan more and he rocked Bowens body on multiple occasions though the elusive KO punch remained elusive. At times Hannan’s punches swung that fast and hard the wind whistling off them is now being blamed for an outbreak of colds caught by people in the front row. Bowens coach looked worried for it was obvious that should any of these powerful blows connect it would be lights out immediately.

    He need not have stressed too much for Bowen stuck to the game plan to take a clear though not comfortable victory. A clearly well supported fighter, to finish taking out the title was very well received by the crowd.

    For his part Hannan received much praise for his skill and the highlight reel of action he had provided throughout the tournament, and one trusts a very warm welcome upon his return to the All Sorts Fitness and Wellbeing Centre in Alexandria. So, now one hopes these two excellent prospects get to take a well-deserved break and Bowen gets to eat his food.

    And that, is that! An experimental series has proved that Elite Boxers can provide the sort if action and intrigue that makes them compelling viewing. There have already been enough applicants for series II to fill 60 per cent of the available spots, reflecting both the interest the series has generated and the fact that the nation’s elite boxers recognise this is an opportunity that cannot be provided elsewhere.

    So, keep the eyes peeled for video highlights on The ROAR and look out for the next generation of stars continuing to be unveiled in 2018.