The first two MTK Golden Contract quarter-finals are in the books, as we report on Hosea Burton vs Bob Ajisafe and Tommy Philbin vs Serge Michel
The third edition of MTK’s Golden Contract tournament kicked off at the Brentwood Centre tonight, with four quarter-finals in the light-heavyweight division. Something of a surprise had occurred at the draw earlier in the week when former British champions Hosea Burton and Bob Ajisafe – arguably the two best in the field – were left unselected until the end and, thus, had to face each other. Manchester’s Burton, a lean giant at 6ft 4ins, predicted he would win a boring fight with the 6ft 2in, rangy southpaw Ajisafe, given both are awkward stylists.
It looked like Burton might only be half right when he dropped Ajisafe after just six seconds with a long right or, for Hosea, just a right. Bob, presumably caught cold, recovered well but remained open to that particular shot. His trainer Joe Gallagher told me earlier in the week Burton was the biggest puncher in a gym which includes Callum Johnson and Callum Smith.
Thereafter, it developed into the anticipated chess match, featuring more feints than exchanges, although I did not find it at all tedious; there was plenty to admire. The rounds were unsurprisingly tight, with Burton perhaps just a little sharper, his work cleaner. Ajisafe was too often out of range which, for the Yorkshireman, is surely a rarity. No one has an easy night with Bob however and he’s never been stopped. He came into things more from the halfway point, but being a natural pot-shotting counter-puncher it wasn’t easy to press the issue against a younger, fresher version of himself.
To Burton’s credit, he remained switched on throughout, paced himself impeccably and never deviated from a gameplan that was working. Hosea took a clear decision, 98-91, 99-90 and 99-92. The 31-year-old fully justified his status as Golden Contract favourite.
Undefeated Edinburgh man Tommy Philbin, until recently a super-middle at least when fighting for championships, looked decidedly the smaller man against once-beaten, Russia-born German Serge Michel, who represented his country at the 2016 Olympics. Michel’s first defeat came in April by KO to decent Canadian Ryan Ford, who then fell to Joshua Buatsi in August.
Long-armed Michel took ring centre from the start of the tournament’s first quarter-final, adopting a patient approach to pinning his opponent back. The German’s straight right to the body was eye-catching. It was a looping left hook downstairs that first hurt Philbin towards the end of the third round. Tommy retreated, took a another one before a third saw him sink to his knees by the ropes. The Scot rose bravely to see out the session. Philbin decided aggression, not discretion, was the better part of valour in the next as he met Michel head-on and enjoyed some success with left hooks and a neat uppercut inside.
It grew more competitive but spiteful Michel was still in charge, scoring well with arcing uppercuts from each hand. Philbin showed heart to hang in there and keep trying to take the play away. You had to wonder if Philbin who got the first pick in the draw, ever regretted choosing Michel who was a loose and heavy hitter. Just what this tournament needed, another rangy puncher.
Tommy increased the pressure in the seventh, his best round of the fight, and Michel looked weary as he walked to his stool. Serge continued to give ground in the next, with Philbin pressing forward and scoring to head and body. The Brit was riding some momentum but surely needed the stoppage and Michel was content to move laterally and tie him up when necessary. A counter right hand off the back foot decked Philbin briefly in the last to seal a wide victory for Michel, who advanced to the semi-finals with tallies of 99-90 (twice) and 98-90.
Earlier in the night, and continuing the light-heavyweight theme, Lewisham’s Dan Azeez won the vacant English belt with a clear 10-round decision over fellow unbeaten Lawrence Osueke of Newcastle, a former Team GB amateur. Azeez, now 11-0 (7), took the unanimous verdict via scores of 99-91, 98-93 and 98-92.