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All the doubters and cynics were shown once again that fairy tales do come true, as former footballer Curtis Woodhouse made good his promise to his dying father by winning the British title (at light-welterweight) in his very last fight. It proved to be just one of the highlights of Matchroom's terrific show at the Hull Ice Arena tonight.
The fight between Woodhouse, 22-6 (13), and champion Darren Hamilton, 14-3 (3), was only third-billed on the night, due to the presence on the card of Hull's two favourite sons, Luke Campbell and Tommy Coyle, but with Woodhouse being a Yorkshireman and also hugely popular, the crowd were heavily involved throughout the fight. Hamilton, who is a rather unfashionable character, must have felt very alone in the arena and it is possible that the hostile atmosphere got to him, as he lost his title on a split decision to the emotional favourite.
Woodhouse surprised most watchers when he came to the ring flanked by not only his own trainer, Ryan Rhodes, but also Adam Booth and Gary Logan, from the Hayemaker team. Unbeknownst to some, Woodhouse had spent time in London recently training at Booth's gym in Vauxhall, and it proved to be a masterstroke. Woodhouse boxed to a level that he has never reached before and constantly made Hamilton miss with his punches. He matched the far bigger champion jab for jab during the first five rounds and, if anything, scored with the harder, more eye-catching shots. Woodhouse knew that this was his final fling and he was going to give everything he had to take the title.
For his part, Hamilton was never able to establish dominance the way he had in his first two title defences. Obviously, a lot of the credit for this has to go to his opponent, who refused to be intimidated by Hamilton's burgeoning reputation. It did seem to this writer though that Hamilton's better work rate, and constant prodding out of the jab, started to take control of the fight from the eighth round onwards, as Woodhouse was wearing down from his efforts. I had Hamilton sweeping rounds eight through eleven inclusive, to take a winning lead on my scorecard. He particularly dominated round 11, after his cornerman had told him the fight was in the balance. He seemed shocked to be told this in the corner but it had the desired effect.
Hamilton also came out fast in the twelfth in order to clinch his victory, but it turned out to be one of the best rounds of the fight for Woodhouse as he caught Hamilton with at least three clean head shots, which appeared to shake Hamilton up. The crowd was in uproar as the final bell sounded and Woodhouse's team rushed into the ring to congratulate him. Sure enough, two of the judges were impressed enough by what Woodhouse did to give him the shock victory and make his dream came true. As heart-warming as this story was, I just could not see that Woodhouse had done enough to win, scoring 116-112 for Hamilton. Woodhouse definitely ran out of gas in the final third, apart from his rally in the last round, but fate had decided this was to be his night. The judges' scores were 116-115 (Steve Gray once again scoring plenty of even rounds), and 116-114 for Woodhouse and 116-113 for Hamilton.
In the post-fight interview, Woodhouse reiterated his plan to retire, as he rightly said that nothing could ever top this night for him. As for Hamilton and his new promoter Eddie Hearn, this was nothing short of a disaster. Hearn had promised to provide a European title fight for Hamilton should he come through this defence safely. That now appears to have gone up in smoke and, at 35 years of age, Hamilton just could not afford such a major setback.
If we thought that was to be the highlight of the evening we were so wrong, because there was another emotional rollercoaster on the card, as local Tommy Coyle, 18-2 (8), had to come off the canvas four times in order to win a sensational lightweight fight with Argentine rival Daniel Brizuela, 25-3-2 (8). Nobody could have expected this to be such a war, as it was meant to be a fairly comfortable hurdle for Coyle to climb over prior to his mooted match with British rival Kevin Mitchell this coming May. Brizuela had the reputation of being a boxer who carried little power. However, from the first bell, he came forward, looking to draw the leads from Coyle and score with his excellent counters.
Brizuela looked classy, as you might expect from a former Olympian, and as early as the second round shocked the local fans by putting Coyle on the canvas with an excellent right hand over the top of Coyle's guard. Coyle recovered well though and went on to take the next two rounds, in the process landing a crunching right hand of his own in round three. The rounds were highly competitive and Brizuela was giving as good as he got. The advantage went to the Argentine in the fifth round as at one point he trapped Coyle on the ropes and scored well with his fast, educated shots to head and body. The body attack was clearly bothering Coyle, so Brizuela continued with this in the sixth and was a hair's-breadth away from winning the fight in this round with Coyle going down twice from sickening left hooks downstairs. Coyle did amazingly well to recover from the second knockdown, as the pain was fully evidenced on his face.
By the end of that round, Coyle was punching back and it transpired that Brizuela had almost punched himself out, as Coyle took over in the next three rounds, at last forcing his foe onto the back foot and scoring well with his own shots. At last he was bullying his smaller opponent around the ring. The drama continued, with both fighters having a point deducted for low blows, and Coyle scoring a knockdown of his own when landing a sickening right hand, followed up by a couple of body shots in the eighth round.
Brizuela got his second wind in the tenth, outworking Coyle in what was an unusually incident-free round. This put the Argentine one point up on my card with two to play. His good work continued right at the start of the eleventh as he hurt Coyle yet again with a left hook to the body. Coyle rapidly retreated to the ropes but Brizuela got home again with the same shot and Coyle collapsed to the canvas for the fourth time. That looked like the end, but Coyle proved himself to be made of stern stuff. He arose from the knockdown and immediately came back to put Brizuela down with a right hand. Before this riotous round ended Brizuela had gone down again from another right hand and Coyle had a point deducted for punching on the break.
The fight looked up for grabs going into the last, but Coyle was not to be denied and he put Brizuela down, also for the fourth time, with another right hander. Referee Steve Gray administered the eight count and then rather harshly waved the fight over, with Brizuela looking ready to continue. All three judges had Coyle ahead going into the last, so he would have won anyway. With this victory then, the path seems clear for the match with Londoner Mitchell to be made. Seeing how often Coyle was hurt by a supposed non-puncher, who is really only a super-featherweight, the cockney will go into that fight full of confidence.
Although it only lasted less than six rounds, the vacant British super-bantamweight title fight between Doncaster's Gavin McDonnell, 11-0-1 (4), and Leigh Wood, 11-1 (4), was also full of drama. Going into the fight, McDonnell, twin brother of the more famous Jamie, was expected to win fairly comfortably. For five rounds though he was on the end of a bit of a boxing lesson from the inexperienced Wood. Apart from the first round, when a spurious knockdown (more of a slip) gave the round to McDonnell, Wood dominated all of the action. He stood in range and simply outclassed his favoured rival, scoring with his classy shots almost at will. Wood switched constantly from orthodox to southpaw and looked equally adept in both stances. It looked as though the famed Ingle gym in Wincobank, Sheffield, had come up with another champion.
McDonnell suffered a nasty cut over his left eye, with a swelling underneath, in the second round, which only added to his woes. He also seemed to be hurt on several occasions, particularly to the body. The doubts were always there though as to whether Wood would be able to keep up this pace. After all, he had only boxed as far as 6 x 2s before. Indeed, there were already signs in the fifth round that Wood was slowing down, although he still did enough to take yet another round. Then, just like that, the fight was over. McDonnell caught Wood in the sixth round with a combination, and the Nottinghamshire fighter just fell apart. He was like a rabbit in the headlights, as McDonnell went for broke and threw everything he had at his stricken foe. The referee, Marcus McDonnell, gave Wood every chance to fight back, but in the end he had to intervene as the punishment rained in.
Another record was therefore broken, as the McDonnells became the first twins ever to win the British title. Yet Gavin has an awful long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Jamie. He laughed off notions of a rematch after the fight, saying that Wood should get to the back of the queue. However, Gavin's top contender being Scouser Jazza Dickens, perhaps Gavin should not be so hasty, as Dickens would go into such a fight as a hot favourite. McDonnell showed great patience and fortitude to see this out but was alarmingly easy to hit and it seemed that Wood's inexperience, more than anything else, was responsible for McDonnell taking the title.
Also on the card was the fifth straight victory of Hull's Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell. Luke did well to force a final round stoppage over awkward opponent Scott Moises, in their scheduled eight-rounder. It looked as though Campbell might be in for a sensational win, when a straight left shot out like a scorpion's sting and sent Moises careening into the ropes in the second round. Moises survived the count and the round and was never in trouble again until the eighth, when a looping left to the body took all the wind out of him and sent him down breathless. The referee stepped in when Campbell had his man all at sea with the follow up attack.
Campbell won every second of every round, and really cannot have learned much from this exercise. Still, he did get eight brisk rounds of action and will be featured again on Matchroom's April show. Campbell looked poised and polished and the only criticism to be noted would be a lack of body work, which he clearly excels at. Before this year is out, Campbell should be in the mix in the fascinating domestic title picture at lightweight.
Credit must go to Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport for this outstandingly entertaining show. We are still only in February and this promotional team have already provided us with what will be two of the fights of the year with Coyle's victory tonight and the previous all-Welsh match between Rees and Buckland.