Matchroom’s first offering of the new season was a successful “NXTGEN” card at a jam packed York Hall, showcasing their emerging talent. Shows such as this often feature young prospects blowing out overmatched opponents with hard to pronounce names but the majority of the fighters on display tonight were given a thorough work out and made to graft for their W.
The main event set touted Olympian Joshua Buatsi (12st 8lbs 6oz) against Frenchman Baptiste Castegnaro (12st 4lbs 5oz). Buatsi’s pedigree was immediately obvious as he landed a ram rod jab whenever he threw it and also showed good strength when wrestling the ungainly Castegnaro while up close. Perhaps guilty of loading up a bit too much, Buatsi struggled to find a rhythm even though he dominated proceedings. A left to the body finally put an end to the Frenchman’s resistance in the 5th but he’d put up a brave performance and asked questions of Buatsi. Ideal at this stage of his career. Buatsi looked quality. I’d like to see him double up on the jab but it’s nitpicking to criticise after only two pro fights, and he really does look to the manner born.
Conor Benn (10st 6lbs 3 oz) brought the crowd to it’s feet with an explosive 2nd round stoppage of a game but outgunned Kane Baker (10st 4lbs 9 oz). The pair stood toe to toe from the off with Benn enjoying the better of the exchanges. Baker had a point deducted for an obvious headbutt but it made no odds as Benn finished the fight with an excellent left hook, right uppercut, right hook combination. Conor gets some criticism for not having an amateur background but he appears to be learning on the job as his improvement from his first couple of fights is evident. He may not be one for the purists but he’s only 20 years old, is an entertaining fighter and it will be a fun ride following his career. I, for one, am firmly on board
In an entertaining scrap, Jake Ball (12st 6lbs 1 oz) squared off against Joe Sherriff (12st 7lbs) over ten rounds at light heavyweight. An early blow out looked likely as Ball dropped Sherriff twice in the 2nd round but Sherriff bravely battled back and gave Ball plenty to think about over the remainder of the fight. The two knock downs proved telling on the cards with a 97-94 verdict for Ball.
Another Olympian in the shape of Lawrence Okolie (14st 4lbs 7oz) was made to sweat by Blaise Mendouo (14st 4lbs 5oz) over six threes at cruiserweight. Okolie was guilty of loading up a bit too much but still managed to land some good stuff, notably a right hook in the 4th that put Mendouo on the floor. It was a good learning fight for Okolie against an awkard opponent and the 59-54 scorecard was hard earned. He’ll need to improve if he’s to tangle with the elite of this divsion but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t.
We also saw a potential future star in Wales’ Joe Cordina, also an Olympian, stop the normally durable Jamie Speight inside a round. Landing crisp, menacing shots with both hands, he hurt Speight straight away, uppercuts looking particulalry heavy. Referee Jeff Hinds had seen enough before the end of the first round and waived it off to save Speight from further punishment.