It was a quality night’s action in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) Group B as British Lionhearts came out on top in a riveting match against Astana Arlans Kazakhstan at the iconic York Hall in London. The Welsh duo of Andrew Selby and Fred Evans were made to work hard for their victories as Joseph Joyce put the gloss on a scintillating performance by the home team with a sensational defeat of WSB Champion Filip Hrgovic.
The night began with the Light Heavyweight (80-85kg) contest as the Arlans’ Croatian heavy-hitter Hrvoje Sep came out of the blocks firing, throwing a huge number of punches as he stamped his authority on proceedings early on against Swedish 31-year-old Babacar Kamara. The two went toe-to-toe in the second but the sheer volume of shots being aimed by Sep saw him continue to dominate as he worked effectively at close quarters. The crowd were enjoying Sep’s all action style as he nullified Kamara’s big height advantage by working him on the inside, one sumptuous right uppercut lighting up the third round. Sep continued with his unrelenting assaults in rounds four and five as he claimed a third victory of the season in style to move provisionally up to first in the individual rankings and give his team the early lead in the tie.
It was very evenly matched in the first two rounds between Britain’s Samuel Maxwell and Kazakhstan’s WSB season one’s top ranked Lightweight (57-61kg) boxer Yerzhan Mussafirov. The tall 24-year-old Lionhearts orthodox fighter used his jab and range to good effect and although he got caught a few times, managed to edge out the exchanges. Maxwell then threw some good shots with a swinging right and a good uppercut seeing him take the third round. With hardly anything to separate the two, they continued to move forward, but as Mussafirov showed better conditioning he claimed round four with some crisp shots. A scrappy final frame had Maxwell hanging on but after taking the first three rounds, he had done enough to record his first career WSB victory and bring the Lionhearts back on level terms in the match.
Welsh southpaw Evans then battled 22-year-old orthodox Kazak Miras Bairkhanov in the Middleweight (68-73kg) bout and the 2012 Olympic silver medallist looked calm and composed in the first, picking his opponent on the counter as he took the round. Evans, also the reigning European Champion, controlled the pace, dictated proceedings and picked his shots to perfection as he also claimed round two. Bairkhanov then upped the tempo in the third, getting up close and personal, catching his rival with some effective punches on the inside to claw his way back into the contest. Clearly buoyed by his winning tactics in the third, the Kazak orthodox continued to draw Evans in to fight at close quarters as he edged it to go into the final round almost level on the judges’ scorecards. Creating space and boxing at range, Evans began to box better early in the fifth and that was enough to see him win it by split decision following a hard-fought contest.
The highly anticipated showdown between electric Lionhearts Bantamweight (50-54kg) Selby and Kazak debutant Meirbolat Toitov saw the unbeaten AIBA World Championships silver medallist begin tentatively as he tried to get a feel for his southpaw boxing opponent. The accomplished Welshman got the crowd going in the first with an ‘Ali’ style shuffle after getting caught by a big left but still managed to edge a close round after throwing more punches. Toitov was using his jab effectively as his long reach had Selby in a bit of trouble early in the next frame but the classy Lionhearts 24-year-old managed to counter well by moving on the inside and using his superior hand speed to claim that round. Superb defensive skills by Selby saw him connect with the better punches in rounds three and four before an assured fifth gave him a unanimous win to give the Lionhearts the overall victory.
There was frenetic pace in the opening exchanges of last bout of the evening as giants Joyce of the Lionhearts and Kazakhstan’s Croatian 2012 WSB Champion Hrgovic collided at Heavyweight (+91kg). The 27-year-old Englishman did well with that stiff left jab as he connected time and time again to take the first. It was a pulsating affair between two exciting fighters. Hrgovic responded well in the second, putting together some good flurries of punches with the one-two combinations giving him the round. A fantastic third saw both boxers exchange some punishing shots but Joyce’s poise and good movement had Hrgovic on the back foot as the Croatian struggled to get to grips with the durable Londoner. Showing good variety and excellent accuracy, Joyce was boxing out of his skin as he dominated the fourth and fifth with some sensational shots as he maintained his undefeated record with a sublime win against one of the division’s top boxers.
British Lionhearts now travel to Germany to face the Eagles at the Kuppelsaal Congress Centrum on Saturday 23 February whilst Astana Arlans Kazakhstan are away to Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder that same night.