Tag Archives: O2 Arena

Josh Taylor delivers in fight of the year contender

Josh Taylor became Britain’s newest boxing star with a sensational points win over unbeaten American Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena.

Taylor is not only the World Boxing Super Series winner, but now unified champion in the super-lightweight division, holding both the IBF and WBA world titles, as well as the Ring Magazine belt.

The pair could barely be split by pundits before the first bell and this was reflected in a fight which was decided by very fine margins.

One judge was unable to separate them, scoring the contest 114-114, with the other two giving the nod to the Scot, 117-112 and 115-113 respectively.

Ever since the tournament began back in October 2018, there had been much anticipation amongst boxing fans over a potential final involving the pair.

Both made it through the opening two stages with relative ease, each picking up their maiden world titles at the semi-final stage, setting up a mouth-watering clash for the Ali Trophy.

Not all fights of such magnitude live up to the hype they receive, but this London bill-topper undoubtedly did.

Headline worthy

The early build-up was in part overshadowed by comments from heavyweight Dereck Chisora, who claimed he should be headlining the show in his fight with Joseph Parker, who later pulled out due to a spider bite.

“I’m not going to sell out the O2 for them guys to be the main event,” the Londoner exclaimed at the announcement press conference. “I’m being serious, you want me to sell it out to the London crowd, my London fans, then put these little guys that no-one knows about on my show and mug me off.”

However, any suggestion that the wrong fight was heading the card was put to bed almost as soon as the first bell rung.

The atmosphere in the O2 was electric. There were many Scots in attendance, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at Hampden Park with “Flower of Scotland” being belted out around the arena.


Pure heart and desire from both men, a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.

It was all action right from the off. You could tell straight away that it was going to be a tough one to score – the opening rounds could’ve gone either way.

Prograis impressed early on with his fast hands and slick head movement, showing off the skills which earned him a record of 24-0, with 20 of those coming by way of knockout.

However, it was the less experienced Taylor, boasting a record of 15-0 pre-fight including 12 KOs, who dominated the middle rounds. He appeared to be throwing considerably more punches than his opponent, and although Prograis was evading many, the ones that landed certainly did enough to win him rounds.


“In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with.” – Referee Marcus McDonnell with high praise

The American finished strongly but it wasn’t enough to stop the 28-year-old from Edinburgh etching his name into the record books.

It was all action, pure heart and desire from both men, and a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.

It was a fight so good, referee Marcus McDonnell said: “In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with. It was an honour to share the ring with two great champions.”

There was no protesting from the New Orleans native following the announcement of the result, as he admitted: “He won, I can’t make no excuses. The best man won tonight. I’ll be back.”

It almost seems unfair that someone had to lose. Taylor walks away the victor, deservedly so, but Prograis gained far more than he lost. He won the respect of everyone watching and can certainly come again. Far too many boxers fear getting that first ‘L’ on their record, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when it comes against the best.

Respect between the two warriors following an epic battle

Road to undisputed?

For Taylor, his next goal will ultimately be becoming undisputed champion at super-lightweight. The man who stands in his way is Jose Ramirez, who became unified champion earlier this year, beating fellow American Maurice Hooker to retain his WBC title and win the WBO strap.

A fight between the pair certainly seems realistic and likely to happen sometime next year, once Ramirez has dealt with his next mandatory challenger.

Should the Scotsman win, he would become Britain’s first ever four-belt undisputed champion. Lennox Lewis was the last fighter from Britain to hold all the belts in a division, securing the three belts in existence back in 1999 to become undisputed champion at heavyweight.

Should Taylor manage this achievement, he would undoubtedly go down in boxing history as one of Britain’s greatest-ever fighters, and one of the greatest overall in his weight class.  

Chisora marches on

The highlight of a packed undercard was undoubtedly Chisora securing a third successive win over David Price, whose corner threw in the towel at the end of the fourth round.

It was an entertaining scrap while it lasted, with Chisora landing several nice shots before being buzzed by a lovely uppercut from Price right at the end of the third.

But it was a knockdown, delivered by the man from Finchley in the fourth which ended the night for Price. The brave Liverpudlian got up and wanted to carry on, but his corner took matters out of his hands.


‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely

For Chisora, a fight with Joseph Parker seems likely to finally happen next year. Having been talked about for months, it was finally set to happen on this bill, before the Kiwi was forced to pull out.

‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely unless he is able to work his way up to a mandatory position.

Amongst the other fights, Welshman Lee Selby got the better of the other Scotsman on the card, veteran Ricky Burns, in an entertaining lightweight clash which went the distance. The British derby was not short of controversy; it spilled over at the end of several rounds, with Selby accusing Burns of punching him after the bell. The man from Barry has now moved himself back into world title contention.

Laurence Okolie picked up the European title, knocking out previously unbeaten Belgian Yves Ngabu in the seventh round of their cruiserweight scrap. Okolie is now set for a world title challenge at some point next year and looks well placed to become the latest British world champion.

Nigel Benn might be set for a comeback, but it was his son Conor who shone in the first televised fight of the evening, moving to 16-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of tough Belgian Stephane Jamoye.

Overall it was a fantastic night of boxing, topped off by a sensational main event which delivered beyond expectations. Britain now has a new boxing superstar, and you can only see Taylor’s career going from strength to strength.

Photo by Harry Currall

02 Arena awaits ATP 2018 finale

As the men’s tennis season draws to a close, there is still plenty to play for at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

The tournament in its earlier format was originally known as the Masters Cup, and first played in Tokyo in December 1970. Since then, it has become the most prestigious event in the men’s game outside of the four grand slams – a season-ending finale featuring the eight top-ranked players in the world.

However, it was staged in various cities around the world until 2009, when it first came to London and was renamed the ATP World Tour Finals. The name and location has stayed the same ever since.

The Finals, which run from November 11-18, also feature a doubles competition, but the main focus is on the singles event.

If the winner remains undefeated, they will take home a cool $2.7m. If they lose one of their three round-robin group matches but go on to lift the trophy, they still pocket $1.2m.

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov won the title in 2017, but does not feature in this year’s field. So, who are the contenders? 

Group Guga Kurten

Novak Djokovic

‘The Serbinator’ is the man  who currently holds the No.1 spot in the world rankings. He returned to the top after Rafael Nadal pulled out of last week’s Paris Masters (and subsequently the World Tour Finals) and is favourite to triumph at the O2.

However, Djokovic  heads into the tournament on the back of a defeat in the Paris final against Karen Khachanov of Russia. Although he lost in France, earlier this year he became the first player to win all nine Masters Series titles.

The 31-year-old has also claimed two grand slam titles this year, beating Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open. Can add to his five ATP World Tour Finals victories?

Alexander Zverev

The 21-year-old, widely seen as a future grand slam winner, is the youngest player in this year’s Finals.

Ranked fifth in the world, he has achieved an impressive win/loss record of 46-16 for the season, including titles in Washington, Madrid and Munich

This will be the German’s first ATP Finals – but can he shine on the biggest stage of all outside of the four slam events?

John Isner

Rafael Nadal’s late withdrawal gives  an opportunity for the big-serving American to experience his first-ever World Tour Finals.

Isner holds the record for the third-fastest serve in the men’s game – 253 km/h (157.2 mph) – behind second-placed Alberto Olivetti of France and Sam Groth from Australia.

Aged 33, he claimed his first ATP Masters title in Miami in June where he defeated Zverev in the final in three sets. There is no doubt that his serve poses a huge threat.

Marin Čilić

The 30-year-old is often considered a dark horse, but has arguably not achieved as much as he should have since winning his first grand slam in 2014.

That year saw him defeat Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the US Open final, as well as winning three other tour titles.

The seventh seed has only won five ATP tournaments in the past four years, the latest being the Ageon Championships in June at London’s Queen’s Club.  Can he sign off 2018 in style at the O2?

Leyton Hewett Group

Roger Federer

At the age of 37, it’s hard to credit that the Swiss superstar is still playing at the very highest level of the game. Federer will be aiming for a seventh ATP World Tour title at his 16th World Tour Finals, but his most recent came back in 2011.

The former world number one is currently ranked in third place behind Djokovic and Nadal. Will he be able to deliver a strong finish to 2018 by making it 100 career titles, including his 19 majors?

Kevin Anderson

The big-serving South African is an outsider at the O2 next week but shouldn’t be discounted. After a fine 2018 season, he is currently ranked in sixth place.

Anderson achieved his best finish in a grand slam when he became only the second South African male player to reached the final at Wimbledon, where he was beaten by Djokovic in three straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.

This will be the 32-year old’s first ATP World Tour Finals, and he will surely want to make the most of his belated debut at the O2 Arena.  

Dominic Thiem

The Austrian was the last player to clinch a spot in this season’s ATP Finals. The eight seed reached the final four of the Paris Masters, where he was beaten by eventual winner Khachanov.

Thiem, 25, has won three titles this year, in St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Lyon. However, all of them came in first half of the season, and in his three appearances in the Tour Finals to date,  he has yet to progress beyond the round-robin stage.

Kei Nishikori

The final contender in this season’s finals claimed his spot following Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal due to a knee injury.

The current world No.9 has featured in three previous World Tour Finals, his best results coming when he reached the semi-finals on his debut in 2014 and again in 2016.

The US-based Japanese player, 28, returned to the tour in January after a five-month break due to a wrist injury.

Nishikori has captured 11 ATP career titles, his last coming in 2016 at the Memphis Open.  The World Tour Finals will be a tougher nut to crack…

Doubles event

There will be some British interest in this year’s Finals as Jamie Murray will be competing alongside Bruno Soares for the doubles title. The duo are currently fourth in the double’s rankings.

The British-Brazilian partnership have managed to qualify for semi-finals in the past two years at the O2 and will hoping to go one step further.

Elsewhere in the doubles field, the Bryan brothers are not competing together as Bob is still recovering from hip surgery, which took place in early August.

That means sibling Mike will play alongside a different doubles partner for the 12th time in his career, lining up in London with fellow American Jack Sock.

The draw – how it works

The top-seeded players/team is placed in Group A and the second-seeded player/team is placed in Group B. Players/teams seeded 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, are then drawn in pairs with the first drawn placed in Group A. Each player/team plays the three other players/teams in his group

The winner of each group is placed in separate semi-final brackets, with the top player/team in Group A playing the runner-up in Group B, and vice versa.

If two or more players/teams are tied after the round-robin matches, the outcome is decided by: 1) highest percentage of sets won; then 2) highest percentage of games won. If that still fails to separate them, their positions in the world rankings will come into play.

Overpriced and underwhelming – the UK’s UFC fans are suffering

This year’s London UFC event took place at that mecca of commercial extortion, the O2 arena. 

And the venue continued its tradition of crippling prices, a pain only paralleled by the card’s mediocrity.

For the longest time, UK mixed martial arts (MMA) has been a respected marketplace for the UFC, having produced thoroughbred fighters such as Brad Pickett, Michael Bisping, and more recently Darren Till – all of them participating in the narrative of the charismatic and outspoken Brit.

However, the announcement of this year’s London UFC card had many fans feeling undervalued.

Upset at the lack of notable names, having anticipated the possible retirement fight of Bisping, or even a title eliminator for Liverpool’s up-and-comer Till.

Instead, what fans were presented with was an assortment of unranked British fighters – aside from Jimi Manuwa largely unrecognisable – and the prospect of having to pay £14.50 for a burger and cheap lager; an unwelcome expense having already paid £60-£200 for seats.

The night was a less-than spectacular affair considering the price of tickets, but probably worth the trip all the same – the rematch between South London’s Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blaschowitz being the saving grace.

Hindsight

Having previously suffered a defeat to Manuwa in his native Poland, Blaschowitz avenged the loss with a beautiful display in the co-main event; cutting clean angles and dominating all three rounds behind a stiff jab, earning himself a deserved decision victory.

It wasn’t, however, without a fight. Having only won their previous contest via the judges, Manuwa expressed his desire to right the only decision victory of his career with a knockout this time around.

Speaking to the BBC, he said. “My coaches told me a win’s a win, no matter how you do it. But I wasn’t happy. He’s the only decision win on my record, and I plan on rectifying that.”

A ruthless intent that shone through in the fight, both seemingly rocking the other at points, but neither able to close the show.

In hindsight, maybe the UFC brass would’ve bumped this light-heavyweight bout to top of the bill, considering the calibre and the fact that both looked fairly fresh getting off the stool.

The question is raised however, with this being the second time the pair have left it up to the judges: would a main-event slot and ultimately an extra two rounds have affected the result at all?

Mauna’s bloody defeat on home soil sets up the potential for a third match held at a neutral location in the future, whilst wetting our appetite for the final fight of the night.

The ceremonial weigh-in to our main-event saw Russia’s well represented Alexander Volkov, tower over Brazil’s heavyweight pride by four inches when they finally faced off.

Stood before a London crowd, Fabricio Werdum recognising his opponent’s stark height advantage, jokingly leapt onto a chair; briefly restoring his usual domineering superiority whilst reclaiming poll position in the battle of wits.

Shot at the title

To the fighters; maybe just a touch of playful showmanship to calm pre-fight jitters. To fans; an unwelcome reminder that our main-event lacks any kind of palpable magnitude.

What materialised the day following, was the former heavyweight champ Werdum persisting in his attempts to drag his 6ft 7” opponent to the floor where he would utilise his BJJ black-belt to a finish.

Although being largely successful in his take-downs, Werdum was unable to mount any credible threat from the ground – ending back on his feet more often than not.

Having dealt with most of Werdum’s attacks, the Russian began utilising his five-inch reach advantage, keeping on the outside and continuing to fight long before eventually stopping the 40-year-old veteran in the fourth round.

The victory extends Volkov’s UFC win streak four-fights-wide, being credited with performance bonuses for two of those.

Which beckons the question: is the Russian ready for a shot at the title?

Yes, a finish in the main event. But what did you expect from heavyweights? The card was still sub-standard, crying out for a name of some stature.

To some parts of the world, more prominently North America, UFC events are a regular occurrence.

Like the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, they’re guaranteed five pay-per-view cards a year with the same assurance.

Pitfalls

Unfortunately, for most countries in Europe, being satisfied with a couple of Fight Nights, a possible Manchester card (if you reside in England) and late night/early morning viewings is something we’ve had to come to terms with.

The justifying to family or housemates why a 2pm Sunday surfacing is out of necessity and not laziness is something that will never sit well with us.

The countless Saturday nights spilled over to Sunday mornings have proven on more than one occasion to be the catalyst for a debate over, ‘Why you can’t just record it and watch it in the morning?’ – they don’t understand.

Despite all of these pitfalls, we persist. We persist as fans of the sport and in the faith that our market will never be depreciated, that the quality of our annual London card will remain sacred. And that CM Punk remains British-visa-less.

And that maybe the UFC can make it up to us in the future? We wait patiently across the pond…

London ideal for World Tour Finals says ATP’s Chris Kermode

Men’s tennis boss Chris Kermode says London will remain the home of the World Tour Finals because no other city’s sporting fans can provide the same level of enthusiasm and support for the season-ending event.

Speaking in an exclusive interview, ATP president Kermode said tournament organisers had considered offers from other cities to host the illustrious event, but London’s ability to sell out tickets made signing an extension until 2020, with the O2 Arena, host since 2009, a no-brainer.

This year’s men’s tour finale, featuring the top eight singles players and best eight doubles partnerships, takes place from November 12-19.

London partnership

“It’s a tournament which has a tradition of being moved around [the Tour Finals were hosted in Shanghai and Houston in the mid to early 2000s],” said the ATP chief.

“We looked at where we could go to, but we wanted to make sure that if we moved it would better than London.

“We had offers from three big financial cities. We weighed up the benefits and negatives and decided to stay in London.

“For the reason being that there’s no other city in the world that would sell 250,000 tickets for two sessions a day.”

The standing of the World Tour Finals has elevated hugely since its move to London eight years ago, so much so, that it is now considered the unofficial ‘fifth major’.

Yet, in the early years at the O2 Arena, many questioned whether the tournament would be a success.

“Very few people thought this tournament would work in London at the level it is now,” said Kermode. “Many doubted that the O2 Arena would work as a host, too.

“People said nobody is going to travel out there to watch tennis. It was a risk. It’s primarily a west London market, Queen’s and Wimbledon, it’s a summer sport. ‘Can tennis work in the winter in the UK?’ was a question that was frequently asked.”

Federer and Nadal

Incredibly, veteran pair Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will head to the season’s finale in London as the world’s top two after a year which has seen both players return to dominate the game’s premier prizes.

Ominously for the sport, the duo are still the main attraction for tennis fans, despite being now in their 30s.

Kermode, however, doesn’t think the game needs to worry about their eventual retirement.

“I was in Australia at the start of the year and there was nobody there who would have thought we’d get a Federer/Nadal final [Federer won the Australian Open over five sets],” said Kermode.

“Everybody was shocked by the final and the level they were playing at. It’s incredible that they’ve continued play like that for the whole season. To do that is astonishing.

“They’ve been huge icons for tennis. They’ve transcended the sport. Clearly the game will miss them. But I’m old enough to have seen quite a few generations of equal standing. Our sport has this uncanny ability to produce another superstar. There will be one after Federer and Nadal.”

Big names missing

Elsewhere, some other big names like reigning ATP champion Andy Murray, Career Slam holder Novak Djokovic and three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka will be missing from the O2 this year after suffering long-term injuries earlier in the season.

But Kermode believes the tournament’s attraction itself and the emergence of exciting youngsters like Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev will make up for the high-profile absentees.

“In the early years we would have missed them in the finals massively,” said the 53-year-old.

“But now the tournament has established itself, I think we can cope. Ticket sales are at the same level as last year.

“With the likes of Zverev qualified this year we are in a good place. He’s very young but he’s incredibly focused and driven. Wants to be number one. Wants to win multiple Slams and leave a legacy.

“So the new storylines we have got with exciting new faces like him will make up for the absence of Murray and the others.”

For more information about the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena, visit the ATP website.

Joshua on course for great things

We’ve known for some time that Anthony Joshua has got what it takes to become Britain’s new heavyweight boxing hero.

A world champion in the making, the Olympic gold medallist has made a smooth switch to the professional ranks, winning all 14 of his fights. But how would he fare against a man who beat him in the amateur ranks, Dillian Whyte?

I was among the the 20,000 capacity crowd gathered at London’s O2 Arena to find out as Joshua’s acrimonious clash with Whyte – also unbeaten in 16 fights as a pro – for the British and Commonwealth titles topped the bill.

It’s an understatement to say there’s no love lost between the pair, but could Watford’s Joshua had remain calm and composed in the build-up as he sought to avenge that early defeat against his Jamaican-born opponent.

Aggressor

After an evening of good bouts on the undercard, the atmosphere as the main event arrived was something like I had never witnessed – the buzz and sense of anticipation was huge.

“The ugly scenes caused a huge commotion in the packed venue, super-charging the already-electric atmosphere”

Joshua made his entrance to the ring to the backing of music from UK grime act Stormzy,  the title of his song ‘Shut Up’ acting as a repost to Whyte’s trash talk in the run-up to their meeting.

The first round started evenly. Whyte was aiming to be the aggressor with unpredictable round-house hits but he wasn’t a match for Joshua’s defensive skills and quickly became frustrated.

The bell sounded but a late punch by Joshua caused Whyte to retaliate while he was being held back by the referee, and this lead to both of the boxers’ entourages and security to invading the ring.

The ugly scenes caused a huge commotion in the packed venue, super-charging the already-electric atmosphere. The incident was also perhaps the cause of Joshua’s most tricky moment at the start of the second round.

Unfamiliar territory

As it began, he continued to taunt Whyte and paid the price as he was caught by a huge left hook. But although the 26-year-old was clearly hurt, Whyte was unable capitalise on his breakthrough.

“When Whyte offered to touch gloves as a sign of respect at the beginning of the seventh round, it seemed to be a sign of imminent defeat”

Although written off as a contender by many pundits and experts, it was clear by the end of the third round that Whyte had earned the full respect of Joshua who now found himself in the unfamiliar territory of an even-looking contest.

In the fourth, Joshua gained the initiative as backed Whyte up and created space with his quick, direct jabs which got the crowd going, only for his rival to counter attack with an impressive swing. Whyte was able to land some grazing hits of his own but his recovery wasn’t enough to upset Joshua’s gathering momentum.

It looked as if Whyte was starting to tire – he was taking in huge gulps of air by the end of the sixth round – and when he offered to touch gloves as a sign of respect for Joshua’s performance at the beginning of the seventh round, it seemed to be a sign of imminent defeat.

Retreat

Whyte, however, was still carving out opportunities and managed to land a shot to Joshua’s temple, but by this stage it was clear for all to see that his classy rival was not to be denied for much longer. 

Whyte had to retreat to the ropes several times until the point he was finally caught flush by an huge uppercut that looked to have finished him off, triggering a massive roar from the crowd.

“I give Whyte credit for landing some good shots which tested Joshua’s resilience, but he didn’t have enough to dominate an opponent who is destined for great things”

The 27-year-old gamely fought on but it was effectively all over as another big Joshua blow sent him to the canvas, delivering the victory, the belts and revenge.

Looking back, it was clear that Whyte’s plan had been to pile on the pressure in the first round, but even at that point the flaws in his gameplan – and Joshua’s superior fitness and conditioning – were obvious.

I give Whyte credit for landing some good shots which tested Anthony’s resilience, but he didn’t have enough to dominate an opponent who is destined for great things. He will surely fight for a version of the world heavyweight championship within the next 18 months.