Conor Benn main events for the first time and provides thrills, but it’s hard going for Ted Cheeseman and Craig Richards
There is rarely a dull moment with Conor Benn, unbeaten super-lightweight and son of the legendary Nigel Benn. His lack of amateur experience has necessitated a slow-and-steady approach to the pro game, yet Conor still managers to leave his supporters’ hearts in their mouths.
Headlining for the first time on this Matchroom NXTGEN show, and at Bethnal Green’s famous York Hall where his dad had topped many moons ago, Benn the Younger overcame a tough but thrilling first round, in which he was hit clean several times, to walk through decent Finn Jussi Koivula in the next. Benn was aggressive but reckless early before making his more powerful blows count. Koivula had been dropped twice and was in trouble when the referee stepped in.
Ted Cheeseman made the first defence of his British super-welterweight title in a fight even more enthralling than Benn’s, in part because his war with Northampton’s Kieron Conway went the full 12-round distance.
Cheeseman has recently opened up about his gambling problem and lost for the first time in February, to European champ Sergio Garcia. Here, despite newfound focus and a 14-week training camp, the Bermondsey fighter, still only 23, exhibited many of the same flaws as against Garcia. Though on the front foot throughout, Cheeseman failed to move his head or feet enough, two qualities which helped redeem a punishing style on the way up.
Conway, who came in at three weeks’ notice having never previously made the 154lb super-welter limit, was a revelation. Durable and game, Conway looked a division bigger and showed exemplary handspeed and punch-picking. Some of his work was a delight but the weight-making, heat in the venue and Cheeseman’s relentless pressure inevitably caught up with Conway in the last four rounds.
The champion appeared to have pulled away in a gripping clash of styles but the judges ruled a split draw. A rematch, with Conway having the luxury of a full camp, would be intriguing, but Cheeseman has a daunting mandatory against Scott Fitzgerald to deal with first.
The other 12-rounder on the show was a final eliminator for the British light-heavyweight title held by the excellent Joshua Buatsi. Crystal Palace’s Craig Richards did not know what to do with rough, awkward Andre Sterling for much of the fight, but eventually his conditioning and greater high-level experience saw "Spider" through. Sterling, from New Cross, would land to head then body before holding Richards around the waist, perennially denying his upright opponent the space he required to obtain full leverage on his snappy straight shots.
Richards broke through in the sixth, dropping Sterling, but could not dissuade him. Craig was forced to get on his toes in the latter stages and outbox a tiring Sterling to seal a deserved unanimous decision and tarnish his unbeaten record.
Promoter Eddie Hearn said he would like to make Buatsi vs Richards for the autumn but the pair are longtime friends and Craig recently said they could not meet with only the Lonsdale Belt at stake, so watch this space.