Heavyweight boxing can be weird at times, and it certainly was this evening on DAZN as we saw 37 year old Chinese fighter Zhang Zhilei (22-0-1, 17) [张志磊] barely escape with a draw, despite dropping Jerry Forrest (26-4-1, 20) in each of the first 3 rounds!
Forrest, a very clear under-dog, looked under-sized from the off, but of course it's the fight in the dog that matters, not the size of the dog in the fight. Despite being dwarfed by the Chinese giant Forrest started well, and seemed to win the first 2 minutes 50 seconds of the bout, before being dropped at the end of the round. The knockdown secured Zhang his first 10-8 round of the fight. That was followed by another in round 2, as he dropped Forrest a second time, and again in round 3.
It seemed, through all 3 rounds, that Forrest was the much better boxer. He was the one landing far more shots, he was the one dictating the action, but he was also the one being hurt, if not dropped, pretty much every time he was tagged. It seemed like it was inevitable that he would be stopped. But then things started to change. Suddenly the 37 year old body of Zhang began to look a lot, lot older than it was. He began to struggle with everything. He was starting to do less and lesser and from round 5 onwards it was almost impossible to give Zhang anything. He was holding, spoiling, looking exhausted, out on his fight and stumbling around the ring like a man who needed to lean on Forrest to just stay up right.
Round, after round, after round, Zhang held, held and held some more. He had gone from being able to hurt Forrest every time he landed, to being unable to throw punches and unable to much at all. His only saving grace was Forrest's relative lack of power, though Forrest did manage to shake Zhang late on. Zhang had been ground down and was mentally crumbling, with things getting worse courtesy of a cut, from an accidental headclash in round 8, and then a point being taken for holding in round 9. A point that could have been taken much, much earlier in the bout.
Thankfully for Zhang this was only a 10 rounder, though in fairness he barely survived the final 3 minutes. He was spent, and seemed on the verge of being stopped as we got the bell. A bell that, ultimately, saved him from a loss and helped him salvage a draw. A draw that, in fairness he didn't really deserve.
After 10 rounds the scores were read out, with one judge having Forrest the winner 95-93, and the other two judges having the bout 93-93, giving us a majority draw.
Sadly for Zhang, and Eddie Hearn, this performance almost certainly kills the long rumoured bout between Zhang and Anthony Joshua at the Bird's Nest in China. The Chinese Heavyweight giant has never been a "star" in China, where he has fought just 4 times as a professional, and now, aged 37 and on the back of this performance, it seems father time has caught up with him.
As for Jerry Forrest, fingers crossed he gets another good opportunity on the back of this. His gutsy effort and determination were incredible here, and it'll be great to see him rewarded with another solid match up and opportunity on DAZN.
Just moments ago in the UK we saw UK based Afghan fighter Quaise Khademi (8-1, 2) suffer his first loss, as he narrowly lost out to Ijaz Ahmed (8-2) in a fantastic little bout for the WBO European Super Flyweight title.
From the off the tactics were obvious. The taller, longer, rangier man, Khademi, was looking to box on the back foot, using his skills to keep it at range and land straight shots, Ahmed on the other hand had a totally different plan, pressing the action and coming forward.
After 2 rounds Ahmed's pressure was having success, but in round 3 it seemed that he couldn't keep up the intensity that he had set off with, and the third certainly seemed an easier one for Khademi, who managed to get the space he needed more often.
Ahmed refused to let Khademi build on his success though and in rounds 4 and 5 the pressure of Ahmed began to increase again with Khademi struggling to create the space he needed for his flashy boxing. The pressure of Ahmed couldn't last forever and rounds 7 and 8 were better ones for Khademi, who seemed to land the better shots whilst Ahmed's output slowed down.
Going into the final 2 rounds it felt like the bout could go either way, and those rounds were fought as if both men knew the fight depended on how the final 6 minutes went. That meant that both men did everything they could to try and convince the judges they deserved the win.
The entire 10 round bout was a fantastic back and forth, with regular momentum shifts and styles that gelled perfectly. The only real problem was that it was a bout that was a nightmare for the judges, and that showed in their scorecards, which saw one judge unable to split the men, scoring the bout 95-95. Sadly for Khademi the other two judges both favoured Ahmed, by scores of 96-95 and 96-94, giving him the majority win, and the title.
Whilst the bout wasn't a high profile one, it was certainly a very, very entertaining one and good solid one to save a show that had been ravaged by issues away from the ring, which had caused two bouts from it to be cancelled at relatively short notice.
Just moments ago we saw the end of a show from Kazakhstan, shown live from Almaty from IFL TV. The card was certainly not the most exciting or competitive, but it was one with several noteworthy bouts on it.
One of the first bouts of real note saw Kazakh fighter Abay Tolesh (7-1, 5) [Абай Толеш] score a brutal KO win over Russian Vasily Shtyk (2-3, 2). The bout had been fairly competitive until Tolesh hurt Shtyk in round 5, and then dropped him. Surprisingly Shtyk got to his feet quickly, and it was probably too quickly with Tolesh going after him, and finishing in highlight reel fashion. Sadly whilst the KO it's self was fantastic questions need to be asked of the referee who should have stepped in earlier and saved Shtyk from the final few shots.
Another bout of note saw talented youngster Talgat Shayken (4-0, 2) [Талгат Шайкен] battle against Russian fighter Evgeny Pavko (18-4-1, 13). This one started with drama as Shayken was shaken within seconds, though he recovered very well and by the end of round 3 he looked in control of his more experienced foe. Despite looking super aggressive in his first 3 bouts, he showed real calmness here, and boxed well, dictating the bout with his boxing skills, and easily took the 8 rounds decision.
The chief support bout saw unbeaten Kazakh Nurtas Azhbenov (11-0, 4) [Нуртас Ажбенов] take on once beaten Russian fighter Evgeny Smirnov (13-2-3, 3) in a 10 rounder for the WBC Asian Boxing Council Continental Lightweight title. On paper this looked a really interesting match up, and it proved to be competitive, though not the most exciting. The skilled Azhbenov used his skills on the outside to take an early lead, but it was the pressure of Smirnov that made the fight, especially in the second half as he forced Azhbenov to work. Sadly two of the judges failed to give Smirnov any credit for his work, scoring it wide for Azhbenov, but in reality he was forced to work for this win.
Despite the win we're still unconvinced that the 26 year old Azhbenov has the tools to go all the way. He's clearly a skilled fighter but he lacks power and he lacks intensity, and we suspect those issues will cost him sooner rather than later.
In the main event Kazakh standout Kamshybek Kunkabayev (3-0, 3) [Камшыбек Кункабаев] scored his latest win, as he over-came Server Emurlaiev (23-2, 8), who was a late replacement for Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4), and claimed the WBO Asia Pacific Crusierweight title.
From the opening round Kunkabayev dictated pretty much everything behind his sharp jab and his composed boxing. There was a feeling that he was fighting well within himself and was wanting rounds, rather than wanting to impress, and he seemed to remain in first gear through the first 5 rounds. In round 6 he finally rocked his man and then hurt him again on the bell. After the 6th round Emurlaiev and his team decided enough was enough and pulled out of the corner before the start of round 7.
Earlier today in Thailand we saw the first Thai of 2021 thanks to TL Promotions and their "The Fighter" series of shows. The card wasn't a massive one, but was an interesting one with a major, albeit very faded, name in the main event taking on a man some see as part of the future of the Thai boxing scene.
That main event saw former IBF Flyweight king Amnat Ruenroeng (21-5, 6), best known for his wins against the likes of Zou Shiming, Kazuto Ioka and Johnriel Casimero, battling against the promising Arnon Yupang (7-1, 3). Up for grabs, for the winner, was the vacant WBA Asia South Featherweight title.
From the off it was clear this wasn't going to be the most entertaining bout we'd ever see. It was cagey from the off with neither man in a rush to take risks. The caginess was likely to suit Amnat, who has made a career out of being cagey, and dirty, but it was actually Yupang who made the most of things. He was the quicker man, the younger man, and the sharper man. That speed and youth allowed him to land single shots and get away before Amnat caught him with anything too serious.
To his credit Amnat looked the stronger man, the powerful man and the bigger man. He also looked the more willing to press and pressure, but at 41 years old his tired body couldn't keep up the intensity for long and when the two men did let their hands go for something resembling an exchange it was Yupang who was out landing his man in terms of volume.
Through the first 6 rounds neither man was hurt, though at the very start of round 7 a huge counter left hook from Yupang dropped the former champion. Sadly due to Thairath showing replays from the previous round the knockdown wasn't shown live, and it wasn't until the end of the round that we got to fully understand why Amnat was on the canvas. To his credit, once again, Amnat didn't seem too badly hurt and got to his feet before taking the fight to Yupang, but it was clearly a 10-8 round for the younger man.
Yupang continued to use his speed in the final rounds, not letting Amnat lure him into anything stupid.
After 10 rounds we went to the scorecards, and whilst we didn't get the scoring specifics, Yupang was announced the winner, and the new champion.
Interestingly Yupang is now a 2-time WBA Asia South Featherweight champion, first winning the title in July 2020 when he beat Inthanon Sithchamuang, but lost just weeks after winning it. This time around he'll be hoping for a much longer reign.
Despite the loss Amnat showed that he can continue to be matched at this level, even at 41, and we're really hoping he doesn't call it a day. Instead we're hoping that he takes on more aggressive fighters, which allows him to use some of tricks, rather than younger, faster, speedy boxers like Yupang.
Back in January MTK Global announced a series of shows taking place in Dubai under their "Dubai Fight Series". One of the most interest parts of the announcement was that Filipino legend Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23) was set to fight on the third of those shows, set for April 3rd, though he had no opponent named at the time of the announcement.
The bout was set to be the first for Nietes since his split decision win over Kazuto Ioka at the very end of 2018, which saw him win the WBO Super Flyweight title.
The win over Ioka saw Nietes become only the third man in history to win world titles at 105lbs, 108lbs, 112lbs and 115lbs, following Leo Gamez and Roman Gonzalez. Sadly however the Filipino star failed to build on that win, vacating the title and later becoming a free agent, when ALA Gym Closed it's doors last year. That later lead him to signing with D4G Promotions and MTK, hence him being placed on the April show.
Today we finally found out who Nietes would be facing in April, with Ian Melodillar informing us that Nietes would be up against the unbeaten Orlando Penalba (10-0, 2), from Panama,
Given he's been out of the ring for more than 2 years we weren't expecting anyone too notable for Nietes here, but we'll admit that Penalba isn't someone we're too familiar with. What is known is that he's a 27 year old, dubbed "El Jaguar", who has never previously fought outside of Panama. So far he's yet to face a recognisable opponent, though he has taken the 0's of Angel Mojica, then 5-0, and Keiver Fernandez, then 20-0-1. He has also picked up the WBO Latino Super Flyweight title. Those wins have done enough to earn him world rankings with the WBO (#13) and WBA (#15), at Super Flyweight.
From the footage of him that's out there he doesn't look too spectacular, though he certainly knows his way around the ring, has a nice jab and decent speed. Sadly though he has been fighting at such a low level that it's hard to read much into his performances so far.
Given Penalba's world rankings a win over him would move Nietes towards a world title fight, however the Filipino is now 38, and that's ancient for a fighter in the lower weights, and he is also coming into the ring after more than 2 years away, so it is very hard to know what he has in the tank. If he's half the fighter he once was he should win this easily, but that is, of course, a big "if".
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