Jazza Dickens and Ricards Bolotniks are the final two MTK Golden Contract champions this season, defeating Ryan Walsh and Serge Michel, respectively
After an elongated and winding road, delayed by the global Covid-19 pandemic both indirectly and when one of the featherweight finalists tested positive for the virus just days before his ultimate battle, MTK Global’s Golden Contract concept – eight-man elimination tournaments in three divisions – was still completed in just over a year. Not bad going at all.
While Ohara Davies had assumed the 140lb mantle with a debatable decision over Tyrone McKenna in September, the feather final between WBO No. 1 Ryan Walsh of Cromer and Liverpool’s former world title challenger Jazza Dickens (third with the IBF) was postponed from the same bill when the latter and his trainer both flagged for Covid. Tonight, at Production Park Studios in Wakefield, their rearranged clash took headline status on a quality card that also featured the light-heavyweight final, which saw Latvia’s Ricards Bolotniks take on Serge Michel of Germany. At stake in both 10-round contests was an MTK promotional contract with sizeable guarantees.
There were similarities connecting Dickens (29) and 34-year-old Walsh. Both honest, hard working pros who aren’t necessarily fashionable but are undeniably talented and had been avoided over the years. Smart switch-hitter Walsh is part of a trio of boxing brothers, including his twin Liam, while Jazza – real name James – is a compact southpaw with a feint-filled jerky style. Of Walsh’s two defeats, he lost clearly to future world champion Lee Selby, at domestic level, and dropped a contentious verdict to Denis Ceylan out in Denmark for the European strap, in 2016. Dickens had fallen only to proven world-class in Guillermo Rigondeaux and Kid Galahad, plus highly rated Tommy Ward. This was the very definition of a 50-50 fight.
Walsh began in the southpaw stance, mirroring his opponent, and landed some sharp combinations to head and body. The footwork and head movement from both was exemplary. Dickens landed a pair of long, straight lefts. Dickens got busier with the jab from round two, but their movement and feints were so good, it was difficult for either boxer to land more than single shots. Jazza led off more in the third, conceding the centre of the ring and finding counters. Walsh upped his own workrate from round four and focused on the body, but it was nip and tuck. I had it 2-1-1 Walsh but, in all honesty, none of these sessions had a clear winner.
The fifth was the easiest round to score thus far, with Dickens in a rhythm and regularly beating Walsh to the punch. Ryan went orthodox for the first time in the contest, but was back as a southpaw in the next. It made little difference as Dickens used his fast feet to pivot and create angles for sharp hooks and uppercuts. Walsh enjoyed success but it was another Jazza round. The Cromer man, nicked on the nose, landed a good right hook in round seven but Dickens popped out straight shots and edged it for me. I had him 4-2-1 ahead going into the final three heats.
Dickens circled the perimeter in the eighth, continuing to land leads and one-twos, preventing the advancing Walsh from setting himself. As the Liverpudlian grew in confidence, Walsh seemed to become increasingly dispirited. Jazza’s reactions were just that vital bit quicker. Walsh bobbed and weaved well as he advanced in the next but Dickens threw just enough to keep him occupied. His concentration was absolute, with his timing not far behind. I had Walsh four behind as they entered the final stanza, but there were plenty of tight rounds. Neither fighter appeared to be seeking the knockout, but Walsh was the more persistent and connected with a notable right hook. Dickens closed out strongly but I felt Dickens had taken it 97-94 or 6-3-1 in rounds.
The decision was unanimous – 98-93, 97-94 and 96-94 – in favour of Dickens.
The light-heavy final pitted strong Bolotniks, who had won just four of his first eight pro contests but upset Steven Ward then Hosea Burton in this tournament, against the slicker Michel, who vanquished Tommy Philbin and Liam Conroy to get here.
It was Michel’s rangy boxing versus the power of the ponderous Bolotniks. The former worked well for the first few rounds but Bolotniks, slow but patient and determined broke through in the fourth, hurting Michel to the body and following up to have him in trouble as the session ended. Ricards knocked the German into the ropes in the next and it was ruled a knockdown; upon the resumption, Michel attempted to respond in kind, churning his long arms up and down.
It was a different fight from the fourth, Michel’s movement now compromised and having to trade more as Bolotniks doggedly walked him down. The Latvian’s shot selection was impressive as he broke his opponent up, backing him to ropes and corners. Michel hit back when he could but no longer had the legs to move and work from distance. He was in dire danger towards the end of the ninth, from a right over the top and an energy-sapping left downstairs.
The best Michel could hope for was survival but that was beyond his gritty grasp. He was dropped again in the last and his corner threw in the towel after he got up. Credit to Bolotniks for imposing his will on a skilful operator and deservedly taking the tournament victory.