The latest round of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) took place in Glasgow, Scotland on Saturday night. Given that I had watched with interest most, if not all, of the previous WBSS events from locations around the world it would have been rude not to attend Saturday’s card which unfolded just 25 miles away from where I live.
I have written in previous articles about the tournament format being a breath of fresh air for boxing – it is slightly strange but comforting knowing that when a fighter emerges victorious the next opponent is already set in stone. No politics or shady maneuvers can get in the way. It is the way forward for our sport.
The card in Glasgow offered up two tournament bouts. In the bantamweight competition Ryan Burnett and Nonito Donaire met for the right to face Zolani Tete in the semi-final. At light-welterweight home fighter Josh Taylor looked to continue his rapid ascent against Ryan Martin of America. IBF title holder Ivan Baranchyk is the next foe for the victor.
The fact that two tournament fights were on the same card (a new wrinkle the organisers have added this year) instantly made this feel like a value for money two-for-one deal. I considered covering the bouts from ringside but then I decided against it. The different setup of WBSS events made me want to sample it for the first time from a fan’s perspective. From the light show to the stage managed fighter introductions featuring the now familiar theme music it made going to the fights on Saturday feel new to this veteran of many boxing events.
I hope to convey some of this in the rest of this article as well as describing how I saw the fights from my seat in section 231 at The Hydro.
The arena was quiet when we arrived and we quickly found our seats in the upper tier. The view to the ring was terrific and it also served as a fine vantage point to look at the huge circular lighting rig which is in place at all WBSS events in order to provide the pre-fight light spectacular. To match the overhead setup the ringside seating is also laid out in a circle around the ring as opposed to the traditional straight rows you see at all other boxing promotions. Perhaps it was an optical illusion but this made the ring seem even more prominent – the true center of attention so to speak.
The undercard passed swiftly and it was soon approaching 9pm local time – time for the first of the two WBSS fights to begin. There were still plenty of empty seats around us as the lights danced while Ryan Burnett and Nonito Donaire made their way to the podiums and waited for the WBSS music to finish before they were invited to “step into the light” by the ring announcer. As this happened the lights from above faded out in the shape of the Muhammad Ali trophy – the prize on offer for the eventual tournament winners. This subtle light trick impressed me and I wondered if I had been seated at ringside if this would have been noticeable from that lower down vantage point. That silhouette was the last view of the trophy though – this night was all about progressing from the quarter-finals for the fighters.
Burnett V Donaire
Once the pre-fight fanfare had subsided it was boxing as we all know and love it. Belfast’s Ryan Burnett, the number one seed in the bantamweight tournament and WBA “Super” title holder was expected to remain unbeaten and see off the challenge of Nonito Donaire. It was an interesting matchup, we were intrigued to see if Donaire could turn the clock back and use his experience to his advantage against an opponent in his prime.
The answer was yes, he could. Nonito was quick to get on the front foot in the contest and he wasted no time establishing his jab and working his left hook off that setup punch. Burnett was landing some nice counters but seemed content to concede the middle of the ring to Donaire. We wondered if he was trying to let the older man punch himself out or set an elaborate trap but rounds two and three progressed in the same manner with Donaire backing his man up on the ropes on more than one occasion. It was a great opening nine minutes for the former four weight world champion and a competitive fight was in the works.
Then it was over.
Round four saw Burnett on the canvas from what looked like a body shot. The count began and the Irishman struggled to his feet, clearly limping. We speculated that some kind of injury, possibly hip, had occurred and sadly Burnett’s mobility was seriously compromised. He made it to the end of the fourth session but it was clear he wouldn’t be coming out for any more. That was what happened and Donaire was declared the winner. It was an upset victory, sadly not achieved in ideal circumstances. Donaire himself was quick to console and check on his injured foe. It was harsh on Burnett as it was later revealed he had suffered from some kind of freak back spasm. The timing of the spasm meant that we didn’t get to see how the bout, which had began in a fascinating manner, would have played out. Donaire left the ring with the belt and moves forward to the bantamweight semi-final.
Taylor V Martin
The main event was fast approaching. The venue had filled up slightly but was by no means full which was disappointing to see. Several sections up high were closed off and there were pockets of empty seats all around. One of the ushers told me they had sold 6000 tickets but the venue had been scaled for 8500. Nevertheless the noise levels had increased as the fight most fans had come to see was imminent.
Taylor and Martin made their way to the ring in the same manner as Burnett and Donaire and without any delay for national anthems (for some reason I was expecting these to be played) the light-welterweight quarter-final was underway just after 10pm local time.
Both men came in undefeated in the professional ranks after enjoying stellar amateur careers. I expected a cagey opening few rounds but Taylor started very quickly. Martin barely threw a punch during the first two rounds and this allowed the Scotsman to get to work. Martin held a tight, high guard and seemed content to keep his hands there so Taylor targeted the body. Thudding lefts and rights were rattling the visiting fighter’s ribs. By the time the third round started Taylor was into a rhythm while Martin looked like he was shocked and overwhelmed with the whole situation. More punishment was dished out by the relentless home fighter and what had looked to be a competitive fight on paper was quickly turning into a mis-match.
From an offensive point of view this was the best I’ve seen Taylor. He was quick and his spiteful punches were landing and beginning to break Martin’s resolve. When an even contest doesn’t transpire all we can do is admire the work from the fighter who is dominating proceedings. On this night it was Taylor’s desire to close the show which kept the crowd transfixed on the ring. For Martin he must have wondered how he could exit the labyrinth of pain he was seemingly trapped in.
That exit arrived for Martin in the seventh round. Taylor had backed the American up on the ropes and suddenly the man in the stars and stripes shorts was on the canvas. The referee rushed over and waved the fight off as Martin was rising to his feet. It was perhaps a slightly quick stoppage but the referee has to consider the safety of the fighters so I suspect he used this as his chance to prevent Martin from absorbing any more punishment.
The crowd were on their feet celebrating as Taylor climbed the ropes to express his joy. While he wasn’t tested defensively at all by Martin’s gun shy showing the skill and expertise he showed in an attacking sense was worth the ticket price. While there will be tougher fights ahead for Josh, starting with his next outing against Baranchyk in the semi-final, this was a satisfying night’s work.
It was also satisfying from a fans perspective as the early finish afforded us the opportunity for a couple of drinks in Glasgow city centre before the last train home.
Overall it was a good night at the fights in Glasgow. While neither tournament bout caught fire there was enough high standard boxing witnessed to keep almost everyone happy. The Hydro is a quality venue for boxing – perfect sight lines to the ring no matter where you are seated. It is also not too cavernous that you feel detached from the action in any way.
The only mildly disheartening aspect of the night was the fact that the venue wasn’t packed out. Perhaps those of us who actively follow the sport need to do a better job of getting the word out there to friends and work colleagues. The word being that going to live boxing is a great way to spend an evening. It would be nice if WBSS returned to Glasgow for Taylor’s semi-final but they will make the best decision for themselves from a business point of view.
It was excellent having a night out with friends at the fights. While covering boxing from ringside is a joy and a privilege it is also good from time to time to step back and watch from the cheap seats. I loved it and I love the refreshing slant The World Boxing Super Series has given boxing, so to borrow a phrase from old Scots dialect I say to them “haste ye back” (come back quickly).