A tactical Lewis Ritson vs Miguel Vazquez main event is supported by exciting fights between Qais Ashfaq and Mark leach, plus Joe Laws and Rylan Charlton
Forest Hall super-lightweight Lewis Ritson had to keep busy while awaiting a world title shot. Ranked No. 2 by the WBA but with unified world champions Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez seemingly on a collision course, Ritson was targeting a big fight with Regis Prograis for 2021, by which time the big ticket seller hoped fans would be allowed back into live sporting events.
Therefore, in the meantime, Ritson needed an opponent who could give him rounds and pose questions but not actually beat him. In Mexico’s awkward veteran Miguel Vazquez, an IBF champ at lightweight six years ago, promoters Matchroom felt they had found the ideal candidate for this role, and someone with the credibility to headline over 12 rounds against Ritson on Sky Sports and behind closed doors at the East of England Arena in Peterborough.
Vazquez had lost four of his last seven, although the decision defeat to Ohara Davies on a previous UK visit last year was particularly contentious. Ritson had won all three since moving up from 135lbs. One could see the rationale, but fights are not fought on paper and Vazquez showed why, seemingly cruising to a clear win against the odds and on away turf. Two of the three judges did not concur, however, awarding Ritson a hard-to-fathom split decision, scores of 115-113 and 117-111 against a 116-113 to Vazquez.
The contest swiftly settled into a predictable pattern. Ritson advanced behind a high guard and stiff jab, looking for openings. Vazquez moved laterally, dipping and jerking, aiming quick but lighter shots up and down. The clear plan for the Ritson corner was to take the older man (by six years) into the later rounds and ultimately overwhelm him. By the halfway mark, however, that strategy looked rather risky, given Vazquez had outmanoeuvred the Brit and won at least four of the sessions. The shot selection of the Mexican was especially good and Ritson was guilty of following him around, rather than cutting the ring off.
Wary of being countered, Ritson waited too long so was often beaten to the punch. He needed to throw more than single blows to land on such a slippery opponent, and perhaps target the body more, in order to slow the veteran down. As the ninth came to a close, Vazquez looked remarkably comfortable, apparently having not seen anything new or especially threatening from the Forest Hall battler.
Ritson was dogged in his pursuit, but not particularly varied. He never looked hurt or discouraged, just outworked and outclassed for long periods. Ritson’s trainer, who told his man before the last round that he was winning, felt he was boxing “smoothly” given he had been out of the ring for a year but Vazquez had been inactive for 10 months himself and was significantly the sharper. He closed out admirably, keeping his boxing together and looking as spry in the last as the opening round.
The chief support, a British title eliminator at super-bantam, had a sub-plot. Unbeaten Qais Ashfaq, former Olympian and European silver medallist recently left trainer Kelvin Travis to work alongside Angel Fernandez. His opponent Marc Leach, from Salford, is coached by Jamie Moore and the latter’s assistant Nigel Travis is Kelvin’s son. They all used to work out of the same facility and Leach, talented albeit more accustomed to the weight below, has sparred plenty of rounds with Leeds’ Ashfaq; he agreed initially to meet former British king Kash Farooq on this card before jumping at the chance to face his former gym-mate in an all-southpaw duel.
Ashfaq looked considerably bigger in the ring but Leach darted in and out, using fast hands in an attempt to unsettle the technically adept Yorkshireman. Both natural counter-punchers, they feinted and circled, waiting on the other to make a pivotal mistake. Ashfaq’s right jab was a quality weapon, but when Leach was able to get past it, he landed quick flurries and had success forcing Qais to lead off.
A monster left hook badly hurt Ashfaq in the fourth and as he tried to hold, Leach followed up to put him over. Ashfaq complained but ended the round under pressure. Buoyed by that breakthrough, Leach boxed with increasing composure and fluidity, while Ashfaq tried to time him with straight shots and negotiate a way back in. Leach’s head movement was excellent. Ashfaq was just starting to enjoy a good seventh when he was dropped again by a left hook than landed near the back of the head. He appeared to have a mountain to climb with three sessions remaining, yet showed little urgency, although deserves credit for not falling apart.
Leach took a unanimous verdict with scores of 95-93, 96-93 and 96-92.
In a battle of unbeaten welterweights, Benwell’s Joe Laws, invariably exciting and, during less alien times, usually backed by a vociferous crowd, met stocky Rylan Charlton, from Norwich, in front of an almost empty arena, over a scheduled six. Perhaps Laws missed the support, as he was dropped three times and counted out in round three.
Laws, powerful but reckless, was hurt by a body shot in the opener from long-armed Charlton, before the latter unleashed a long left hook counter to put him down just before the bell. Laws came out angry for the second, switching stances but still open at times. He often loaded up and hit thin air, while Charlton remained composed and landed accurate combinations.
Laws, bleeding from the nose, was decked twice in the third, the first by a shot high on the head, then, definitively, as Charlton topped off a fast combination with a left to the body, short right uppercut. It was a beautiful finish.