Five bouts of breathtaking world-class boxing marked Thursday night’s first leg of the WSB Season VI Semi-Final between the British Lionhearts and Astana Arlans Kazakhstan, and by the end there was little to call between two excellent teams determined to reach the final and meet Cuba Domadores.
The secret to the Lionhearts’ success this season has been the coming of age of a wealth of young talent finally getting to grips with the gruelling five-round format, and Galai Yafai has been a key part of that revolution. Leading the line at light flyweight, Team GB’s Olympic hope Yafai’s lightening-fast combinations and brilliant movement helped his team get off to the ideal start against Arlans’ resilient Zhomart Yerzhan.
Liverpool’s Peter McGrail had a tough WSB debut in Miami against USA Knockouts’ Shakur Stevenson, but the 19 year-old has grown in stature since and started well against the compact Nursultan Kochshegulov. McGrail’s movement made it almost impossible to score against in the opening rounds but the Arlans bantamweight stayed in the contest to the end and edged a close final round to level the match at 1-1 by the tightest of margins.
Step forward Lionhearts’ revelation Pat McCormack, unbeaten in Season VI and the Boxer of the Regular Season, the light welterweight faced a tough test in Arlans’ captain and experienced WSB campaigner Samat Bashenov, but never looked in trouble across the five rounds. Like his teammates, McCormack found most success working from distance, and some sharp counter-attacking in the third round all but sealed a remarkably composed win for the talented young Brit.
Lionhearts’ middleweight Troy Williamson has gained precious experience in his debut WSB season, and despite hitting the floor after a heavy first-round left, he looked on course for his first win after three rounds against Meiirim Nursaltanov. With an impressive 11-1 WSB record to his name, the Kazakh’s experience and stamina showed as the bout drew to a close, however, and the judges’ split decision tied the night at 2-2.
That brought the Lionhearts’ Croatian heavyweight Josip-Bepo Filipi to the ring, with the majority of the packed crowd desperate for a win and a crucial advantage going into Friday’s match. Up against Arlans’ Yerkin Mukhametzhan, there was little to call between the two after the opening rounds, but a stirring third from Filip turned the tide and as his opponent tired, the tall Croat hammered home the advantage, leaving the Lionhearts 3-2 up ahead of the all-important second leg.
Friday night will see the flyweight, lightweight, welterweight, light heavyweight and super heavyweights in action to decide who will meet Cuba Domadores in the Season VI final.
Key bout 1 – Luke McCormack GBR vs. Zakir Safiullin KAZ (60kg)
Pat McCormack’s twin brother Luke will be looking to replicate his sibling’s success after a memorable WSB campaign so far. Respected for his hard body shots, he will meet Arlans’ 28 year-old Zakir Safiullin in the second bout of the night. The experienced Safiullin has won four of his last six WSB bouts and has already tasted success in a final, making for a brilliantly poised and potentially crucial encounter.
Key bout 2 – Frazer Clarke GBR vs. Kamshybek Kunkabayev KAZ (91+kg)
The final bout of the semi-final will see Britain’s big-hitting Frazer Clarke coming off the back of three important wins so far this season, finishing his last two bouts before the final bell. Arlans’ Kamshybek Kunkabayev is the number two super heavyweight in Kazakhstan behind the mighty Ivan Dychko, and will be out to prove a point in what could be a spectacular finale to an incredible WSB match.