The WBO middleweight title has a new owner after Savannah Marshall vs Hannah Rankin, while Tommy McCarthy wins the European cruiser belt
Savannah Marshall, a longtime Team GB rep and World Amateur champion way back in 2012, belatedly translated some of that pedigree to a slow-burn pro career, stopping Scotland’s smaller but more experienced Hannah Rankin for the vacant WBO middleweight title, on Matchroom’s Oleksandr Usyk vs Dereck Chisora card, at Wembley Arena. The fight had been postponed, albeit by only two weeks, when Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury tested positive for Covid-19, but the upset suffered by the two talented ladies was presumably mitigated by the rearranged clash happening on a bigger stage, a ppv show. Marshall certainly rose to the occasion, producing a superb performance to become the first to halt Hannah, who had mixed in exalted company.
Over 10-twos, Rankin was generally the busier, but undefeated Marshall moved her head well and utilised her advantages in height and reach, popping out long jabs and rights up and down. The Hartlepool ‘Silent Assassin’, fleet of foot, looked a division bigger in a match for which she made 160lbs for the first time. She deftly resisted Rankin’s dogged efforts to outhustle her.
Rankin, from the small village of Luss, did all the things you are supposed to do against a rangier opponent. She tried to roll her way in, through punches in bunches and closed the distance with her feet. Marshall was often a step ahead, however, dictating the distance and proved the more accurate. Her right uppercut was particularly potent.
Towards the end of round seven, Marshall broke through and piled on the pressure. Her fists formed a blizzard of blows, dazzling in their variety and the rapid changing of angles. Rankin took a knee under fire and was rightly ruled out after rising.
Marshall is of course the last fighter to defeat three-weight world champion Claressa Shields, a friend, sparring partner and previous conqueror of Rankin. It was Shields who relinquished the WBO strap for this bout, and while she would doubtless have preferred her pal to have prevailed, the “GWOAT” now has a ready-made opponent for a marquee showdown.
On a card reduced during fight week by two contests – Dave Allen’s return scuppered by his scheduled opponent’s contractual dispute, then a member of bantamweight Kash Farooq’s team testing positive for Covid-19 – Tommy McCarthy provided a feel-good moment as a professional career that has at times lacked consistency and direction reached a belated peak.
The Belfast cruiser, coming off a great win over previously unbeaten local hero Fabio Turchi in Italy a year ago, captured the vacant European title by outscoring decent Belgian Bilal Laggoune, who had drawn in a previous bid for this belt. McCarthy took a majority decision after 12 watchable rounds, 116-112 and 116-113 against an even 114-114.
Laggoune, seemingly the heavier hitter, pressed from the off but leaned over his front foot at times and telegraphed many of his power shots. McCarthy showed greater variety, based his work off an excellent jab and moved laterally. He also targeted the body with quick single blows.
Early on, it was McCarthy’s languid punch-picking against Laggoune’s persistent pressure and robust strength. From the sixth, Tommy came forward more and began to sit down on his shots and the Belgian, from Aalst, signalled a problem with his eyes in that session, though survived a doctor’s inspection mid-round. Laggoune continued to be discomfited and McCarthy became increasingly aggressive. The Ulster man hurt his opponent in round nine, but Laggoune shook it off and beckoned McCarthy in as it got gruelling down the stretch.
McCarthy becomes the first black Irishman to win a European title and reaffirmed his aim to achieve a similar feat at world level.