On Saturday night we welcome the first instalment of Matchroom’s highly anticipated Fight Camp, live from the gardens of the promotional outfit’s Essex HQ.
While it is Matchroom’s first contribution to the “new normal” world of COVID combat sports, we have already seen BT’s studio contests, the offerings of Top Rank in the USand the UFC Fight Island cards. Although there will be no fans in attendance, Matchroom intends to earmark their return in a big way with fireworks, and the London skyline marking the backdrop to create as exciting an atmosphere as possible.
Matchroom have gone all out in their preparations for Fight Camp. They procured a hotel specifically for the fighters and their teams to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. Once fighters arrive at Fight Camp at the start of the week, they are subject to a COVID test. They are then quarantined in their room until they receive confirmation that they are negative for COVID. Once given the green light, they are freeto use the facilities and prepare for their respective bouts. If a fighter tests positive for COVID, there are sadly no stand-ins available, so hopefully each pugilist taking part in Fight Camp turns up in good health.
Regarding the contests, the first card features five very well-matched bouts and some of the most fan-friendly fighters on Sky's roster. Kicking off proceedings with some real barnstormers is a sign of intent from Matchroom as they look to return with a bang.
Ted Cheeseman 15(9)–2(0)–1 vs Sam Eggington 28(17)–6(2)–0
12 x 3 mins IBF International Super-Welterweight Title
The first serving of Fight Camp is headlined by a fascinatingsuper-welterweight contest between Londoner Ted Cheeseman and Stourbridge man Sam Eggington for Eggington’s IBF ranking belt. Both men are not averse to going at it toe to toe and do not shy away from a fight. Fans will hope they meet in the centre of the ring and go straight into a ferocious battle.
One would be forgiven for forgetting Sam Eggington is still only 26. Despite his young age, he has amassed 34 professional contests already, and to say it has been a roller-coaster journey so far for Eggington would be to put it mildly.
He initially entered Jon Pegg’s Eastside gym in Birmingham as a young forklift truck driver, wanting to turn over as a journeyman to earn some extra money to support his young family. After Pegg saw Eggington’s relentless high-outputstyle in sparring, he knew Sam could not be a journeyman because he simply loved to scrap too much. Pegg advised him they had to aim higher, and under Pegg’s guidance Eggington set to work in the welterweight division.
At different points, Eggington has held the Commonwealth, British, European and WBC International championships. He has amassed some huge wins over the likes of Dale Evans, Shayne Singleton, Johnny Garton, Britain’s first amateur world champion Frankie Gavin, former world champ Paulie Malignaggi and Spanish prospect Ceferino Rodriguez. In each of these victories, he tussled tooth and nail and ground down his opponents with an unrelenting barrage of punches.
Despite his successes, The Savage has always struggled with trickier boxers, and this is evidenced by him losing decisions to silky fighters like Bradley Skeete and Mohammed Mimoune. After the Mimoune loss, Eggington moved to super-welterweight because he simply could not manage the weight cut at welter any longer. Sam has always been hit a little too often and a little too cleanly, and at 147lbs, it was never a huge issue. However, with the move up in weight, it was his undoing in his shock second-round loss to Hassan Mwakinyo on the undercard of Khan vs Vargas, and his dismantling at the hands of former world champ, Liam Smith.
No one can dispute that Eggington is one of the most exciting and aggressive combatants in British boxing. The Midlands man always turns up to fight, has a cast iron chin, doesn’t shy away from any challenge and has produced some unbelievablecontests such as his local derby grudge match with Frankie Gavin. And although many have written off Eggington after his losses, he always bounces back, which is evidenced by his second-round knockout of prospect Orlando Fiordigiglio in the Italian’s own backyard back in September. After this eye-catching performance, Eggington proved he is still very much a force to be reckoned with in the 154lbs division.
Like Eggington, Cheeseman is deceivingly young at 24. The Bermondsey man fights out of the Matchroom gym under thetutelage of Tony Sims and was a well versed amateur. When signed by Matchroom at the tender age of 19, Cheeseman was earmarked by Hearn as a potential star. To that effect, The Big Cheese looked superb in his first fifteen paid bouts. He collected wins over the likes of American veteran Carson Jones, Pauly Upton and Asinia Byfield, and has won the English and British super-welterweight titles in the process.
Everything was going hunky-dory for Ted, and he signed a deal to challenge Sergio Martinez's Spanish protegee Sergio Garcia, for his European title in February 2019 as the headline contest at the O2. However, it was not to be, and the Spaniard cruised to a points victory over Cheeseman. As clinical as Garcia looked, it was the worst Cheeseman appeared in a professional ring. Following this uncharacteristically lacklustre performance, Cheeseman came out as a compulsive gambler and attributed his display to his issues with his addiction. After owning up to this, Cheeseman sought therapyin Gamblers Anonymous and began putting his life backtogether.
He fought again in the June and defended his British title against Northampton’s Kieran Conway. This contest ended in disappointment for Cheeseman when it was declared an SD draw, and a very controversial one at that, with most thinking Cheeseman did enough to take home the victory. He then returned on the Ritson vs Davies undercard against Scott Fitzgerald. Cheeseman, typically a come forward box fighter,boxed on the backfoot primarily against Fitzgerald and looked well in the process. It was a very close contest, and in reality, it could have gone either way. However, it was the Madman Fitzgerald who took home an SD decision, much to the anguish of Cheeseman.
To his credit, despite a challenging year without a win, Ted has maintained his abstinence from gambling. He will hope to kick on and get back to getting results with a victory against domestic rival Eggington.
Domestically the 154lbs is arguably the most competitive with Fitzgerald, Fowler, Eggington, and Fowler all believing they are the top dog in the division. Whoever avails on Saturday night could expect to face off against Anthony Fowler next time out providing he is successful in his forthcoming contest in the second episode of Fight Camp.
In terms of how the fight will go on Saturday night, I feel Cheeseman will take a decision victory. He has shown better skills, and in the Fitzgerald fight he showcased his backfootboxing ability, and habitually Eggington has previously struggled with that kind of style. If Cheeseman can emulate something similar to his performance against Fitzgerald, he could make it a very frustrating evening for Eggington. However, Cheeseman could adopt his typical box fighter, high-hands style, and try and emulate Liam Smith. Having said that, The Savage has readied himself diligently for those tactics by sparring his former opponent Smith; the perfect preparation for the normal Ted Cheeseman stylistically. Therefore Eggington should be well equipped if Cheeseman decides to box fight.
One sure thing is, as ever, Sam Eggington will not take a backward step. He is a rugged individual who has never been on the canvas as a professional and is never in a bad fight. He will give his all and can grind down and pull to piecesanybody who is not a hundred percent at their best. If Cheeseman is not on his game expect Eggington to take full advantage of it.
However, I believe Cheeseman will come back stronger from his setbacks in 2019, and just has a bit more variety in his game to call upon. Whatever happens, they are two of boxing’s nicest young men, and both deserve immense credit for taking the bout, and they are equally young enough torebuild after a loss.
Prediction: Cheeseman points.
Gavin Gwynne 12(2)–1(0)-0 vs James Tennyson 26(22)– 3(3)-0
12 X 3 Mins Vacant British Lightweight Title
The coveted British lightweight title previously held by the likes of former world champions Gavin Rees, Anthony Crolla and Terry Flanagan in recent years will be on the line for the clash between Gwynne and Tennyson.
Welshman Gwynne’s only previous blemish is a UD loss at the hands of countryman Joe Cordina, and Saturday’s contest will be his second shot at securing the coveted Lord Lonsdale bout. Gwynne is very tall for the weight at 6ft, and succeeded in taking the fight to 2016 Olympian Cordina, in an entertaining contest where Gwynne showcased a good chin. Although he kept up the pressure, Gwynne never succeeded in hurting the dynamic Cordina, and aside from that contest, hehasn't fought any notable or live opposition, and that is precisely what Tennyson is.
Belfast man Tennyson is a former Irish, Commonwealth and European champion at super featherweight with dynamite in his hands. He is another surprisingly young fighter at 26 andhas three losses on his record: A surprise loss against journeyman Pavels Senkovs in his ninth fight, a stoppage at the hands of British Featherweight champion Ryan Walsh, and a world title loss versus former IBF 130lbs champ Tevin Farmer. The Assassin Tennyson holds notable stoppage wins that are a testament to his incredible power against highly rated opponents like Martin Ward, Ryan Doyle, Declan Geraghty, Atif Shafiq and Craig Evans.
Tennyson is another one who cannot produce a boring fight, and although he punches like a mule, he has been dropped on several occasions himself. However, that could be attributed to his previous weight cut to super-feather as he is yet to beput down at lightweight in his few contests there. If Gwynne tries to take the fight to him like he did Joe Cordina, the Welshman will walk onto a massive punch. Although he has displayed a good chin, there are only so many of them punches you can take from someone as explosive as James Tennyson. If you cannot take Tennyson out over championship distance, he will get to you. I believe the man from Belfast continue to look all the better for his move to lightweight and will readily dispatch Gwynne.
Prediction: Stoppage Tennyson.
Reece Bellotti 14(12)–3(1)–0 vs Jordan Gill 24(7)–1(1)-0
10 X 3 Mins British Featherweight Title Eliminator
Gill versus Belotti presents a fascinating match-up betweentwo men who, at different points, were the most promising British prospects in the featherweight division.
After making his debut in 2015, former ABA champion Reece Belotti nicknamed “The Bomber” had an air of invincibilityabout him as he blasted his way through the pro ranks. Given his destructive nature, the former stablemate of James DeGalebecame touted as the next big thing, and it seemed big things were coming for the Commonwealth champion.
However, a spanner was thrown into the works when he was knocked out by Ryan Doyle in 2016. After the loss to Doyle, the air of invincibility Belotti had built evaporated. He bounced back with a points victory against Brayan Mairena,before getting a shot at the criminally underrated Ryan Walsh for Walsh’s British title. In the fight with Walsh, Belotti was on the losing end of a split decision, however, the card for Belotti was very questionable as the Watford man looked nervous and apprehensive throughout. After six months out, he returned with a routine win against journeyman JosueBendana before rolling the dice and travelling to Italy to take on Francesco Grandelli in October 2019. Belotti dropped a razor-thin SD to Grandelli, and in reality, the fight could have gone either way, but sadly for Belotti it was to be yet another setback. Despite his less than compelling recent form, Belottistill hits very hard. On Saturday, he finds himself in the position where he has nothing to lose and everything to gain with a victory against Jordan Gill.
Jordan, "The Thrill" Gill, has looked impressive since linking up with Dave Coldwell. He amassed some decent victories against the likes of Jason Cunningham, Ryan Doyle and Emmanuel Dominguez, and looked quite remarkable in each of these contests. Such performances earned him many plaudits, and there was talk of him challenging for British and European titles until he was railroaded by a shock loss when headlining the Nottingham Arena against Mario Tinoco.
From the opening bell, the typically electric Gill looked sluggish, and Tinoco succeeded in dropping him thrice before Coldwell withdrew his fighter in the 8th. It later emerged that Gill had a sickness bug and elected to fight to avoid letting down his fans. After a few months out, Gill set about rebuilding and cruised to a six-round decision in Italy againstTalavera to get some rounds in the bank.
Like Belotti, Gill was considered the next big thing, andthings have gone a little quiet for him since his loss. He needs to make a statement against Belotti to prove his illness was just a blip, and that he is still very much the real deal. Both men will desperately want to win and impress doing so to send a message to the featherweight division. For me, the styles should gel fantastically, and it could well transpire to be the fight of the night.
Prediction: Jordan Gill decision win.
Simon Vallily 17(7)–2(2)-1 Vs Fabio Wardley 8(7)–0-0
10 X 3 Mins Vacant English Heavyweight Title
Another interesting domestic dust-up, this time in the money division when Middlesbrough’s Simon Vallily faces off withIpswich’s Fabio Wardley.
As a former member of the Team GB podium squad and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Vallily was a consummate amateur. He turned pro in 2013, and previouslycampaigned at cruiserweight. He has losses at the hands of bigpunching scouser Craig Glover, and current cruiserweight world champion and World Boxing Super Series finalist Mairis Breidis, who’s only loss was against pound-for-poundstar Oleksandr Uysk, when he gave Uysk his hardest fight as a professional. After his draw against Afran Iqbal for the English cruiserweight title, Vallily decided to move up to heavyweight. Since moving up, he has looked well, however, the biggest victory at heavyweight comes against DorianDarch, so he remains an untested entity at the maximum weight.
Wardley is one of Dillian Whyte’s protegees, and is yet to put a foot wrong in his eight contests. Like Vallily, he too is yet to fight any notable heavyweight opposition, so very muchremains a bit of an unknown quantity regarding how far he can go. At the minute the heavyweight division is on firedomestically and is jampacked with talent. If Wardley wins the English title against a talented operator like Vallily,Wardley can look to announce himself as a player on the domestic scene.
Again, it is a contest where neither fighter is coming to make up the numbers, and both men have everything to gain with a victory. Although Vallily has more experience, I would imagine the 25-year-old Wardley will emerge victorious as he is the younger man, the natural heavyweight and is still learning. Vallily is experienced but has so far been one of those fighters who could not quite carry his amateur pedigreeinto the pro ranks. He is long enough in the tooth to make it difficult, and he might surprise me and prove to be invigorated for the move to heavyweight, although I personally doubt it. Whatever the result, fighting a quality operator like Vallily will serve as a decent yardstick for how talented Wardley actually is.
Prediction: Wardley stoppage.
Nathan Bennett 9(2)–1–0 vs Dalton Smith 5(4)–0–0
8 X 3 Mins Super-Lightweight Contest
A good step up for Sheffield man Dalton Smith against scouser Nathan Bennett. Smith is England’s most successful amateur boxer, winning many medals including the junior European championships and Commonwealth Games. He trains with his dad out of his hometown of Sheffield and is expected to go far.
The 23-year-old Smith makes a big step up against a largeNathan Bennett, who’s only loss is to bogeyman Ben Fieldswho has taken the unbeaten records of former prospects like Kane Gardner, Andrew Fleming, Sean Daly and Bennett himself. If Smith wins as expected, I anticipate him being fast-tracked to some domestic titles in the near future.
Prediction: Dalton Smith win.
By Aaron Ludford.