Full report from the MTK Golden Contract semi-finals at 126lbs as Leigh Wood clashed with Jazza Dickens and Ryan Walsh faced Tyrone McCullagh
There was a reason the Golden Contract tournament featherweight semi-finals went on after their super-lightweight counterparts in London tonight. Both matches were, on paper, excellent, near 50-50 affairs featuring three noted crowd-pleasers and a slippery box of tricks who also happened to be the only unbeaten man left in either division.
That awkward operator, Tyrone McCullagh, was in the first 126lb semi-final, against long-reigning British champion Ryan Walsh, no easy night’s work himself and who had received the coveted Golden Ball in Tuesday’s draw, picking the less experienced Derry southpaw as his opponent. Over 10 rounds, they had to try and work each other out at a York Hall that, even in winter, was pretty warm.
Walsh raced across the ring at the opening bell, looking to quickly close down a fleet-footed foe. There was more posing than punching in the first but McCullagh increased his output from the second, snapping off straight punches then quickly moving away. The onus was on Walsh to close the gap and make his heavier blows count.
The rounds were both tedious and repetitive. McCullagh was perpetual motion and the chances of Walsh landing more than one shot in succession appeared minimal. He needed to slow Tyrone down but how could he when he so rarely connected? On the flip side, McCullagh was doing just enough to edge quiet sessions, rather than imposing any kind of authority.
Walsh, who switched stances, landed a southpaw right hook in the fifth but McCullagh was unfazed, circling and throwing as he moved. In round six, Walsh finally broke through with a right hand, clattering McCullagh repeatedly as the Derry man tried and failed to hold. McCullagh ultimately lost his balance and was rightly given a count, though did not appear particularly hurt. Still, Walsh had something he could build on.
Walsh came forward with more confidence and patience in the next as McCullagh slowed and his output diminished. The better punches were now coming from the Cromer warrior and he had McCullagh in serious bother in round eight, as the oft-retreating Ulsterman got away with holding and at times sitting on the ropes.
Tyrone got his boxing back together to an extent in the ninth but took another count in the last minute of that session, from a pair of big left hooks. As McCullagh’s resistance waned, Walsh grew in determination.
McCullagh remained brave, despite his legs never really recovering from the first knockdown, but he must have known, as the seconds ticked away, he was striving only to survive. Walsh duly took the points victory, with scores of 96-92 and 97-91 (twice).
The “Farmy Army” can watch their hero vie for the Golden Contract tournament triumph against Jazza Dickens, who came through the second semi-final and de facto main event, versus Commonwealth king (title not at stake) Leigh Wood.
These two had argued feistily at the press conference and their hard-fought 10-rounder reflected the keen rivalry. Nottingham’s Wood had the reach advantage over Liverpool southpaw Dickens, but the latter made the faster start. Jazza made Wood’s knees dip in the opener but then pushed him to the canvas and it was rightly ruled as no knockdown.
Dickens was a bobbing and weaving buzzsaw, while Wood preferred to work at mid-range. Dickens used his faster feet to beat Wood to the punch. Leigh switched stances, looking for a way into the fight, but by the end of round three still appeared a little shell-shocked by his adversary’s rapid early assault.
Dickens’ upper body movement, in attack and defence, was excellent. It enabled him to find angles and to avoid counters. Wood, though presumably behind, had landed enough to have Jazza marked up quite significantly by the halfway point. The Nottingham man connected with a sharp long right in the fifth and began to throw more shots in combination.
A big left hand snapped Wood’s head back in round six but he was making Dickens miss more overall. His own workrate needed to be better, however. Dickens often came forward with his head down and outmuscled Wood on the inside. Leigh took on a weary look from the seventh but landed a great straight left, his best punch of the fight, at the end of the session.
Dickens emerged for the eighth with his nose looking in a very bad way. Wood was still waiting too long. He seemingly needed a knockout or stoppage but was looking for a massive single shot rather than effective flurries.
Jazza had a huge round in the ninth, hammering Wood around the ring, smashing him with a number of hard, clean shots. It looked as if the referee was poised to step in and few would have complained, but Wood found a second amid the barrage to bang his own chest in a gesture of defiance and he made it to the bell.
He also made it to the end of a gripping fight, but there could be only one winner, despite a rousing rally at the close of the final round. Dickens took a deserved decision, albeit via surprisingly close tallies of 95-94, 96-94 and 95-95.