Once again, the O2 Arena in London played host to another epic fight, claiming its spot as the darling of British boxing venues.
The magic of a venue can only come from the performances of the participants in the ring which in turn elevates the passion of the crowd and this place seems to bring the very best out of fighters and the crowd, alike.
In just over a decade the ‘Big tent’ has shaken off its Millennium Dome nightmare and etched itself into boxing folklore with memorable fights that even the great MSG and MGM Grand would be envious of.
From the first ever boxing event headlined by Amir Khan – a spearhead for the sport in 2007 – to its most recent fight night between Josh Taylor & Regis Prograis last Saturday, the O2 Arena has become a place that attracts huge knowledgeable boxing enthusiasts to the capital in their droves with the expectation of witnessing something special.
Short but Rich History…
In 33 boxing events staged at the O2 Arena most have delivered, whether that be a memorable fight, a hot prospect delivering the goods or a top-notch fighter making his first appearance on these shores.
David Haye stopped Enzo Maccarinelli in two-rounds a year after Khan won his Commonwealth Lightweight title. Three years later Olympic gold medalist James DeGale dropped a close decision to George Groves in domestic war fest.
Anthony Joshua defeated Dillian Whyte in their grudge match for the vacant British heavyweight title ahead of the formidable and feared Gennadiy Golovkin’s appearance that broke Kell Brook’s spirit and eye socket in five pulsating rounds.
American Charles Martin surrendered his IBF heavyweight strap to Joshua in a farcical of a defence but a historical moment for British Boxing nonetheless. The new face of boxing made the O2 Arena his fortress before relocating to Wembley. He made his first defence of the IBF title and last appearance at the O2 against Dominic Breazeale.
In 2017, Haye tried to rekindle his career and love affair with the Arena but ruptured his Achilles tendon in the sixth-round before getting stopped in the eleventh against Tony Bellew, and then blown away in the rematch a year later.
Whyte sent Lucas Browne to sleep with a stunning left-hook, then had an engrossing fight with Joseph Parker which also featured Dereck Chisora’s slugfest victory over Carlos Takam on the undercard, igniting the Whyte verses Chisora rematch.
However, it hasn’t been plain sailing with some good, some bad and some dam right ugly fight cards which is probably due to its increased usage of the venue, a clear indication that less is more.
One of the worst headliners was Lawrence Okolie’s win over Isaac Chamberlain in a stinker of a fight and Ted Cheeseman’s failed attempt at European glory against Sergio Garcia was bad business. Dave Allen’s knock out victory against an over-the-hill Browne was a brilliant body-shot but it downplayed this glorious Arena. Sometimes you got to take the rough with the smooth, as not every fight will produce it’s promise.
Thankfully this year has had better moments, even before Taylor and Prograis graced the ring. Rising heavyweight star Daniel Dubois stopped the undefeated Nathan Gorman in five and DeGale’s career came to a shuttering end when he lost to Chris Eubank Jr.
Whyte had another special night with a win over Oscar Rivas – even though he had failed a UKAD drugs test – before the pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko arrived in town to showcase his ‘Hi-Tech’ skills and defend his unified titles against a game Luke Campbell.
Taylor-Prograis, O2 Arena’s greatest?
With all these fantastic and dramatic nights now firmly etched into boxing and the O2 Arena’s short history, where does Saturday night’s action sit amongst it all?
In terms of its magnitude, technicality and level of intensity this must be the greatest 12-rounder under the ‘Big tent’ in Greenwich, London. The only fight that could rival it, is when Carl Froch outpointed Mikkel Kessler to unify the Super-Middleweight Division on May 25th, 2013.
There are some interesting comparisons, with those same, ‘It’s a real 50/50 fight’ clichés which were being touted around pre-fight. Both British fighters held the IBF versions of their respective division with the overseas fighter taking their WBA straps into the belly of the beast.
Both fights were fought at an extremely high level of intensity and skill and in doing so they delivered exactly what most boxing purists predicted, twelve exhilarating rounds which could have gone either way, although Froch’s victory was slightly more convincing then Taylor’s. But what sets the Taylor verses Prograis battle apart from that excellent bout back in 2013?
Not much, but the fact that Taylor and Prograis fought in their prime, whereas Froch and Kessler were both 35 & 34-years-old respectively gives their matchup the edge.
With the Taylor-Prograis fight being the final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) and the winner taking home the prestigious Muhammed Ali trophy, plus the addition of the WBC Diamond belt – which quite simply is a load of nonsense – and of course the addition of $10 million in prize-money increased the stakes a little more than Froch-Kessler 2.
Boxing’s dangerous Language…
Boxing has always had a black mark against it for many, many years due to its brutality and savagery. The dangers of the sport have never been more evident following the recent passing of Patrick Day.
As a fan it can be difficult to justify our love for the sport to someone who doesn’t understand the noble art, and it can become exhausting when defending it against questions of safety.
Hugh McIlvanney, explained it best with his beautiful piece for the The Observer in a tribute to Johnny Owen, following his death from injuries sustained in the ring on November 4th, 1980.
“Quite a few of us who have been involved with it most of our lives share the doubts. [About Safety]
“But our reactions are bound to be complicated by the knowledge that it was boxing that gave Johnny Owen his one positive means of self-expression. Outside the ring he was an inaudible and almost invisible personality. Inside, he became astonishingly positive and self-assured. He seemed to be more at home there than anywhere else. It is his tragedy that he found himself articulate in such a dangerous language.”
It’s the dangerous language that we must all be aware of but it’s also that same language that makes the Taylor and Prograis fight such a spectacle. Their performances make it that little bit easier for us to describe the beauty of the sport of boxing.
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