Danny Flexen reports from ringside on Richard Riakporhe vs Jack Massey for the vacant British cruiserweight title and a notably entertaining undercard including Craig Richards drawing
We have a new British cruiserweight champion and his name is Richard Riakporhe, after he won a unanimous decision (115-113 x 2 and 117-111) in a disappointing main event with Jack Massey. European ruler Lawrence Okolie recently vacated the title as he awaits a shot at the vacant WBO strap, against Kryzstof Glowacki, leading to the British Boxing Board of Control matching Walworth’s Riakporhe, a protégé of Dillian Whyte trained as the heavyweight is by Mark Tibbs, against fellow unbeaten Massey from Chapel-en-le-frith in Derbyshire. “One Smack” had been lined up for a Manchester challenge to Okolie in July before a ruptured right bicep ruled him out, and scuppered the entire show, at around two weeks’ notice. As a result, Massey had not fought since March and had to travel to Riakporhe’s native London (York Hall in Bethnal Green to be exact) to face a rangy operator who boasts wins over quality victims in Tommy McCarthy, Sam Hyde and, most recently in July, Chris Billam-Smith, who went on to capture the Commonwealth title. Massey, though a talented fighter, had amassed a 16-0 record against mostly undemanding opposition, but Riakporhe, 10-0 going in, was a clear step up.
A tentative opening session (of a scheduled 12) saw both tall fighters probing with their jabs, Riakporhe edging it with a few well-placed body shots. I gave Massey a close second as he forced the pace more, but clean shots remained at a premium. Both were seemingly wary of the other’s power. There was already too much clinching and referee Phil Edwards had a word with the two competitors in the third. Riakporhe appeared to be the main culprit, smothering Massey’s work as he continued to take the initiative. Richard then took the play away with his trademark long right hand rocking Massey at the end of the stanza. Jack had the superior handspeed but Riakporhe stayed patient into the fourth, targeting single blows then moving or holding. I had it all square at this stage.
It was overly messy by round five, referee-enforced breaks outnumbering eye-catching blows. Edwards had admonished them three times by this point and, like him on occasion, I couldn’t split them. Both cruisers had stated pre-fight that this would fail to go beyond six rounds, but by the start of that session this seemed a fanciful ambition. The wrestling continued but unfortunately without suplexes or powerbombs, forcing Edwards into warning No. 4. Riakporhe would throw then duck low and move forward, seemingly forcing Massey into claiming him. Massey was the aggressor and for that I awarded him the sixth to have him a point up at halfway, 58-57, in what was a bit of a stinker. For all Edwards’ efforts, I felt he’d have been wise to deduct a point from one or both men early, to stamp out the infractions. Riakporhe landed a long right to the body in the seventh and Massey, still bouncing on his toes, was waiting too long. The Londoner broke through with a big right in the eighth to have Massey’s legs dancing, and connected with a number of follow-up punches, including another right clearly after the bell. 77-76 Riakporhe.
They went back to apprehension in the next, but Massey jabbed well and caught Riakporhe with a sharp left hook. In round 10, a right combined with a push had Massey on one knee, the ref adjudging a knockdown despite Jack’s protests. Riakporhe’s nose bled and he held even more as they tired. I gave Massey the 11th for effort but Riakporhe smashed a right off his jaw to start the final round. He finally began unloading the heavy artillery, exciting a crowd who, to their eternal credit, had stayed engaged throughout what was a turgid affair at times. Massey responded in kind and clattered lefts off Richard’s head. He turned the session around and I made it 114-114 at the finish, though in a contest with this many close rounds almost any score would have been acceptable.
There were three ostensibly well-matched fights on a deep Matchroom NXTGen card and no shortage of diversity. At welter, Luther Clay, a Bracknell-based South African met Freddie Kiwitt, a German born in Liberia and currently residing in London. Clay picked up a good victory, and a WBO fringe bauble, over native Dario Morello in Italy three months ago, his seventh straight triumph, while Kiwitt was on a winning run of five, including beating the formidable Paddy Gallagher.
In a very pleasing clash of styles over 10, rangy Kiwitt moved and punch-picked, while compact Clay bobbed, weaved and mixed his shots well to head and body. Clay nailed his man with a big left hook in the fifth and had him in trouble up against the topes in the next, but Kiwitt proved tough and made it competitive down the stretch. Sill, Clay was too busy and persistent over the course, winning on a unanimous verdict with scores of 97-93 all round.
A battle of once-beaten super-welters saw Northampton man Kieron Conway, only defeated in the short Ultimate Boxxer format and who pushed Ted Cheeseman to a draw in a British title challenge earlier this year, take on Craig O’Brien, the Dubliner was stopped by Anthony Fowler in 2018.
Their respective ring walk games were strong, O’Brien adopting a seasonal theme with Fairytale of New York and Conway countering sharply with Bobby Darin classic Dream Lover. The bar was set high but the contest itself comfortably soared over it, with 10 rounds of brutal, competitive brawling between two usually technical boxers. The long-armed antagonists chose to mostly wage war at close quarters, O’Brien often denying his rival space to use leverage. Conway looked the heavier puncher and outworked the Irishman in the majority of rounds, but O’Brien hung in and always answered back. It was a compelling tussle, with the right winner as Conway took the referee’s 97-94 verdict.
Crystal Palace stylist Craig Richards was nominated to meet Shakan Pitters for the vacant domestic crown at light-heavyweight but, despite efforts from Matchroom, that could not be confirmed for this show. It will take place on a Hennessy Sports Channel 5 bill in the New Year, so Richards kept busy here against Newark’s late substitute Chad Sugden.
Well, that was the plan. Instead the two produced one of the best UK eight-rounders of the year that ended in a 76-76 draw, which is exactly how I scored it. Richards, though accomplished technically, is very upright and did not move his head enough. Sugden, physically smaller, moved deftly around the target, using fast hands to offset the bigger hitter’s rhythm. His nose bled from the second but he boxed beautifully at times, as they went back and forth in a gripping battle. Richards was tagged cleanly in the sixth but took it well, and took over to an extent as Sugden tired. It was excellent fare on a great-value night. Credit Richards for taking a risky fight in his position and Sugden for a tremendous effort.