Its an immense card that supports the big Josh Warrington v Carl Frampton bout this Saturday. To do it justice, I will cover the main chief supports in this article, and a “best of the rest” in a separate article, such is the enormity of the bill that Frank Warren has assembled.
Its a pressure cooker of a match for World Title bridesmaid, Martin Murray (37-4-1, KO17). The St Helens man has suffered heartbreak in four separate World Title challenges, as well as seeing two challenges for Billy Joe Saunders’ WBO Middleweight Title this year fall through. He looks to catapult himself back into the reckoning when he meets the dangerous French Cameroonian, Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (36-3, KO25), who himself has been unsuccessful on two occasions in attempts at world honours, but captured the WBA Title in May last year. Defeat for either man could signal the end of the line at top level.
Murray is a former British and Commonwealth Champion at Middleweight, as well as a Prizefighter winner back in 2008. He first challenged for a version of the World Title in December 2011, where he agonisingly had to settle for a three way split draw against then WBA (Super) Middleweight Champion, Felix Sturm in Germany, in a fight it looked like he had done enough to win.
Three fights later, it was an away day in hostile Argentina for Murray, where he knocked down pound for pound star Sergio Martinez, but couldn’t finish the job, losing a tight decision for the WBC Title. Two years later he was back in World Title action, but Gennady Golvkin ruthlessly stropped him in ten rounds in Monte Carlo, in another challenge for the WBA (Super) Title.
Murray moved to Super Middle, and in November 2015, a chance against Arthur Abraham for the WBO Title presented itself. It was heartbreak again though, as Abraham clinched a split decision on German soil. Since then Murray has lost once more, to George Groves back in June 2016 via wide decision. He is unbeaten in four, but against lower level opposition. He has looked laboured in recent times, and has also suffered setbacks with two proposed meetings with Billy Joe Saunders falling through, so he will hope his meeting with N’Dam N’Jikam this weekend is just what he needs.
N’Dam N’Jikam’s first World Title challenge came in 2012, when WBO Middleweight Champion, Peter Quillin, knocked him down six times, en route to a massive points win. The same happened in June 2015, as David Lemieux picked up the vacant IBF Title, knocking Hassan down four times for a comfortable points victory. It was third time lucky though for him, as he travelled to Japan in May last year, and outpointed home favourite Ryota Murata to lift the WBA Title.
It’s set to be a gruelling contest, with both men tough enough to last the distance in multiple championship scheduled fights. N’Dam N’Jikam is prone to being floored, and wouldn’t be surprised to see this happen again at least once this weekend. I think this could be crucial, as my gut tells me this will be a close fight, with the pick Murray to take it by razor thin split decision.
It may end up taking place down the card, but Saturday marks the return of the aforementioned Billy Joe Saunders (26-0, KO12), who ends a turbulent 2018 with a run out against Hungarian trial horse, Zoltan Sera (32-17-1, KO22).Saunders hasn’t fought at all this year through a combination of injury, and a disastrous surrendering of his WBO Middleweight Title due to a failed drug test ahead of a fight with Demetrius Andrade. He will now take his frustration out on Sera, who has been stopped thirteen times in seventeen defeats, so I anticipate a ruthless win inside a few rounds for the frustrated Hatfield man.
A cracker of a domestic match takes place at Middleweight, where the vacant British Title is on the line. Oldham’s Mark Heffron (21-0, KO17) has been patiently waiting for a shot at the belt, and, with Jason Welborn relinquishing, Clydach Vale’s Liam Williams (18-2-1, KO13), a former British and Commonwealth Super Welterweight Champion, steps in to take the challenge.
Heffron has faced limited opposition thus far in his career, with his best win being a sixth round stoppage win against Andrew Robinson to win the WBC International Title in June. He marked time as number one contender for the British Title with a fourth round stoppage win over Aryee Ayittey in Leicester in October. Williams marks a significant step up for him this weekend.
The only hurdle for Williams may be the step up in weight, but the Welshman wont mind this. He already holds a win over a Heffron in Mark’s brother Ronnie back in July 2014 via sixth round retirement. He picked up the Commonwealth Super Welterweight Title in November of the same year, stopping Michael Lomax in the opener at the Hilton Hotel, Mayfair.
He added the British Title in his next fight with a second round win over Kris Carslaw. He also holds an eleventh round win over former World Title challenger, Gary Corcoran. He suffered heartbreak in April last year in a brilliant contest with Liam Smith at the same venue as this weekend. The rematch was immediate, but Williams didn’t have the same intensity, and lost out via majority decision seven months later in Newcastle. He has since notched two easy knockout wins, and took this fight when a proposed match against JJ Metcalfe fell through.
I fancy Williams strongly in this fight, and feel he is very much under rated. Heffron has been nowhere near this class before, so we don’t truly know how good he is, where as Williams has touched world level. I think Williams relentless style can force a late stoppage in this one.
Michael Conlan (9-0, KO6) finds himself in the unusual position of not headlining a card, when he meets former two weight Commonwealth Champion, Jason Cunningham (24-5, KO6) at Featherweight.
Conlan was a Bronze Medallist at the London Olympic in 2012, but in 2016 in Rio, he was denied a medal in a controversial defeat in the quarter finals, where he promptly quit the amateur code. He has since headlined Madison Square Garden on debut on St Patricks Day, and fought in Australia, and his native Belfast. He is unbeaten in nine, but is now at the point where a significant step up is needed.
Cunningham may not be that man though. The Doncaster fighter has won Commonwealth belts at Bantamweight and Featherweight, but has lost two of his last three outings. Reece Bellotti stopped him in six rounds in October last year to relieve him of his Title, and Jordan Gill comfortably outscored him over ten in February. He has since rebounded with a razor thin 96-95 victory over Paul Economides for the Central Area Super Bantamweight Title in Doncaster in June. Conlan will want to steal the show I’m sure, and I can see him going through his full repertoire to stop Cunningham before halfway.
Up at Heavyweight, Nathan Gorman (14-0, KO11) is stepped up in class. His original opponent was supposed to be the Australian based Samoan, Alex Leapai, who challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA (Super) IBF, WBO and IBO Titles back in 2013, losing by fifth round knockout. Leapai was forced to pull out due to injury, and his replacement will now be Razvan Cojanu (16-4, KO9), the Romanian who was scheduled to meet Daniel Dubois in Brentwood last Saturday, before “DDD” had to withdraw with ‘flu. Cojanu also has World Title challenger on his CV, failing in a tame points defeat to then WBO Heavyweight boss, Joseph Parker in May last year.
Gorman has been impressive so far in his fledgling career, on a diet of limited opposition. His breakout win came in June this year at the Manchester Arena, when he ruthlessly stopped the never been stopped Sean Turner in three.
Cojanu is currently on back to back defeats, as he backed up the Parker reverse with a two round shellacking at the hands of Luis Ortiz. Californian resident Cojanu is definitely the type of fighter that when he steps up in levels, he gets soundly beaten, but this is a good test at this stage of 22 year old Gorman’s career. I think that if Gorman cant catch Cojanu early on in the contest, then the chance for a knockout win could be lost. The safe pick is for Gorman to post a wide points win.
Another of the Fury production line makes his debut on the card. Tommy Fury, a Light Heavyweight, and the brother of Tyson, is matched with an extremely experienced opponent in Latvian Jevgenijs Andrejevs (10-102-3, KO4).