Former world title challenger Kevin Mitchell should have faced Brunet Zamora, but shone brightly against late substitute Karim El Ouazghari, prevailing by ninth-round technical knockout in a scheduled 12-round lightweight attraction in London.
The time was 2:07.
Out of nowhere a rocket left hook stunned El Ouazghari, who reacted by glancing at the referee and pointing to his right elbow. Mitchell closed the gap in a flash and unloaded a right-left-right combination, which sent his opponent sprawling into the corner, as the towel and referee arrived a touch late.
Mitchell (The RING No. 8 at 135 pounds) used the jab brilliantly, exhibited defensive finesse and continually put El Ouazghari in his place with precise counterpunching. Despite the Spaniard taking the fight on 72 hours’ notice, he made the lightweight limit comfortably, but Mitchell’s skillset was simply a level above.
Mitchell was making his third appearance since losing a WBO title bout to Ricky Burns in September of last year. He has undoubted quality and power, but an opponent such as this was made to order for the former British and Commonwealth junior lightweight champion, who improves to 36-2 with 26 knockouts.
“I felt great in there tonight,” said Mitchell. “I told everyone that regardless of who I was fighting they would be getting stopped.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn has big things planned for the lightweight ace, including a possible domestic showdown with Tommy Coyle, but his longterm plan is to target IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez.
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Unbeaten Leonard Bundu impressively defended his European welterweight championship for the fifth time with an immaculately timed twelfth-round knockout over former world title challenger Lee Purdy.
A quick combination wobbled the British challenger, before a powerful straight right hand sent him down heavily. Purdy, 26, beat the count but his tank was empty and the referee halted the action with only seven seconds remaining on the clock.
The southpaw champion was ahead on all three judge’s scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
Bundu came out to make a statement in the early rounds, but was matched by Purdy who spat defiance and trudged forward, punishing the body with left hooks. When the 39-year-old champion did find time to release a combination he was, more often than not, met with a wry smile or a mocking gesture.
In the fifth Bundu switched gears and presented his opponent with angles and complex switch hitting. Purdy had attempted to extract a toll on the older man, but found himself in with an exceptional athlete who danced around the ring, fired off rapid bursts and turned his man with ease.
The British contender did have his moments after that, but Bundu was a notch above in the championship rounds.
Purdy (20-5, 13 KOs) had been out of the ring since May when, as a late replacement, he succumbed to a seventh-round stoppage to then-IBF titlist Devon Alexander. Once again he fought courageously but fell short against a quality operator in Bundu.
“He was a very tough guy,” said the champion, who is based in Italy. “The referee made the right decision (to stop the fight). Purdy will be back, but I’m 39 years old and I can’t afford a loss at this stage of my career.”
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Former IBF bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell (THE RING No. 7 at 118 pounds) won his second non-title bout in three weeks with a hard-fought eight-round decision over Abigail Medina. The score was 78-75 in a tougher-than-expected encounter.
McDonnell (23-2, 10 KOs) was nowhere near his best and endured more than one awkward moment against the game Spaniard, who took the wind from the former world titlist in Round 6. The Doncaster man did work well behind his jab, piling up enough points to snare victory, but clearly lacked motivation against an inferior opponent.
It’s been a bittersweet year for McDonnell, who made his dreams come true by winning the vacant IBF strap with a majority decision over the previously unbeaten Julio Ceja. On the crest of a wave he then failed to agree to terms for a mandatory assignment and was subsequently stripped.
“I’m coming back for those world titles” said McDonnell. “My last two fights were to shake off the rust and 2014 will be a big year for me. In my eyes I’m still a world champion.”
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Former two-time world title challenger Martin Murray (26-1-1, 11 KOs) went over old ground in a rematch with Sergey Khomitsky, prevailing by a score of 77-75 in an eight-round middleweight attraction.
This was Murray’s first appearance since he pushed RING champion Sergio Martinez to the wire in April, and there were clear signs of ring rust. He labored through the first two rounds, absorbing some strong body shots from his opponent, before finding some form and pulling away on the cards.
Murray (THE RING No.6 at 160 pounds) was scheduled to appear on the Carl Froch vs. George Groves show on Nov. 23, but pulled out due to a virus. One did get the impression that the effects on his body still lingered, as he lacked the energy and enthusiasm to follow up on attacks throughout the contest.
“After my last fight (against Martinez) it was difficult to get up for this one,” said Murray, who is promoted by Hatton Promotions. “I don’t want to blame the virus and I was just happy to get the rounds in. I look forward to a big fight in the early part of 2014.”
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Two-time British super middleweight champion Paul Smith (34-3, 19 KOs) returned after a six-month layoff to pound out a routine six-round decision over experienced journeyman Jamie Ambler. The shutout score of 60-54 was reflective of a serious gulf in class.
Ambler had a significant height advantage, but his long-range tactics were dismissed by Smith, who used his experience to close the gap and release quality punches. Eye-catching single shots landed with authority throughout and the Liverpool man will be very happy to get some rounds in the bank.
Smith has mixed with some of the very best domestic fighters at 168 pounds; the 31-year-old did suffer heartbreaking losses to countrymen James De Gale and George Groves, but is in search of another big fight, which he fully deserves after such a long and distinguished career.
An opportunity to appear on tonight’s card arose when Olympic gold medalist Anthony Joshua pulled out due to injury.
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Olympic bronze medalist Anthony Ogogo returned to action after a five-month layoff to outpoint Dan Blackwell at middleweight. The Norfolk-born star posted a 60-53 shutout.
Ogogo held ring center and did whatever he pleased in a disciplined and sharp display. Blackwell was careful not to get ambitious with his output, or his night would likely have been cut short by the talented boxer-puncher, who has won all four of his professional bouts this year.
As the bout drew to a close Blackwell retreated to the ropes, prompting Ogogo to seek the finish, but the journeyman’s defenses were water tight and he was determined to last the course.
“It’s good to be back,” said Ogogo, who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. “I’ve spoken to Richard Schaefer and there’s a chance I could make an appearance on the next Floyd Mayweather card, which is scheduled for May.”
Injury prevented the 25-year-old from appearing on the Mayweather vs. Canelo card in September.
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Junior bantamweight Khalid “Kal” Yafai extended his unbeaten run to (10-0, 7 KOs) with a fourth-round stoppage of Ashley Lane. The time was 2:59.
Yafai didn’t display his best form in the opening sessions, largely due to his opponent lacking the skills to seriously threaten him, but he was always a step ahead of Lane.
A low-blow deduction brought about the desired urgency and the Birmingham man closed the show with a whipping blur of hooks to head and body, which forced referee Marcus McDonnell to halt the action.
The professional learning curve was going smoothly for Yafai but a bicep injury, sustained during his bout with Michael Ramabeletsa in March, stunted his progress. This is his second victory since that setback and he is now targeting the best domestic competition available.
“I’d fight Paul Butler anytime,” said Yafai. “The better the opponent the better I’ll be and Butler is the British and Commonwealth champion. It’s all to play for and I’m back.”
Photos by Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing