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PRIZEFIGHTER: The Welterweights III previewed

By Graham Houston

The ever-popular Prizefighter event is back today, featuring the welterweight division for the third time. Sky Sports will be televising as usual in the U.K., while Wealth TV is bringing the event to U.S. viewers. As always the fights will be three-rounders, if a fighter gets cut from a head clash and can’t continue then his opponent will get the win (the “no decision/technical draw ruling has been suspended where Prizefighter events are concerned), if the judges score a fight a draw, the referee gives his casting vote to find a winner — and promoter Eddie Hearn has spiced things up by offering a £2,000 bonus to any fighter who wins a bout by KO or TKO. Mark Thompson is the most experienced boxer in the field and he is the favourite, but anything can happen with this three rounds format.

Here’s a look at the quarterfinals:

MARK THOMPSON vs ROB HUNT

The oldest and most experienced of the entrants, 31-year-old Mark Thompson (24-2: 14 KOs) is the obvious favourite to win Saturday’s Prizefighter tournament. In his last fight Thompson was boxing well against Jack Culcay before he got caught and stopped — somewhat controversially — by his unbeaten opponent in the fifth round.

Thompson has been boxing in the light-middleweight division but says he can make welterweight comfortably when he’s given adequate notice.

A tall, rangy boxer-puncher, Thompson has scored nine wins inside two rounds and told a Matchroom Sports interviewer that he is looking to get a £2,000 bonus from promoter Eddie Hearn for each fight by winning all three fights by stoppage. Thompson says that the tournament’s three-round format won’t give him the chance to show his talent to best advantage but he plans to be aggressive and says he knows what he has to do on the night. After boxing at 154 pounds in his last two fights, Thompson says he will be “massive” physically at welterweight and says hopefully he will “get into it in super style” in Prizefighter. However, Thompson has been somewhat inactive, in part due to a prison term, and it is a little worrying that his two losses were both by stoppage although the referee’s intervention in the Jack Culcay fight seemed hasty.

A lanky six-footer, the 27-year-old Hunt lost on a sixth-round stoppage to Ben Lawler, a boxer he had previously beaten, in his only defeat in 17 bouts.

“Over three rounds, I need to use my long arms and move,” Hunt said in a video interview conducted by Matchroom Sports. “I have fast hands and I am super-agile. I won’t let the opposition walk me down. “I will find angles and, if I can mix it, I will mix it and jump on them, but I will be clever and box well. You can expect fast hands, lots of workrate, lots of movement. “I have the right tools to win. I am fast, I can move well and it is three rounds, not 12 rounds, so I can just go for it.” Unfortunately Hunt does not look very durable, having been dropped three times in the first two rounds by Lawler, then rocked so severely by a right hand in the sixth that the referee intervened — and Lawler had lost four bouts in a row going into that bout and has lost nine of his last 10 fights. Thompson should be far too strong for this level of opponent and I think he might be able to stop Hunt although three rounds isn’t a lot of time to work with.

DALE EVANS vs SAM EGGINGTON

Evans, 21, has a record of 4-0-1 (3 KOs) and he spars with European lightweight champion Gavin Rees in Wales, where former middleweight Gary Lockett trains him. Evans describes himself as a fighter who “likes to get stuck in” and feels his style is suited for Prizefighter, three rounds “going hell for leather”.

As an amateur Evans was British Youth champion in 2008 and boxed internationally for Wales. I haven’t seen Evans fight but my information is that he has a nice variety of punches and goes to the body quite effectively. Three KOs in four wins (two of them against opponents who had never previously been stopped) suggests that Evans can punch, and indeed he promises to be “throwing a few bombs” in Prizefighter.

Eggington is the youngest entrant at 19 and he has won all three of his professional bouts, all on points. He was originally a reserve but got the chance to box in Prizefighter because one of the original entrants was on his honeymoon in Mexico. I haven’t seen Eggington box but I hear that he has a crowd-pleasing, busy-punching style. He’s almost 6-foot tall, and he’s boxed as a light-middle, so I think that physically he might be a bit of a handful. Eggington was an English novice champion and junior championships quarterfinalist in the amateurs. While Eggington has had only three bouts, all four-rounders, he holds a win over a boxer named Leon Findlay, who held Prizefighter entrant Dale Evans to a draw in Evans’s second professional bout.

I think Evans should be a bit too heavy hitting for Eggington and I am expecting Evans to advance to the semifinals.

CHAD GAYNOR vs CALUM COOPER

Gaynor, 21, was 2009 English national junior champion in the amateurs and as a professional he is probably best known for his competitive sparring sessions with world-class welterweight Kell Brook. While sparring isn’t the same as real fighting, and Brook was no doubt taking it easy, YouTube footage shows that Gaynor (9-0; 4 KOs) provided spirited opposition in the sparring sessions.

It’s difficult to gauge Gaynor’s potential because he has yet to meet a boxer with a winning record, but Gaynor hasn’t lost a round in his nine pro bouts. Interestingly, though, he gave away six and a half pounds to journeyman middleweight Dee Mitchell and “had a fairly trouble-free evening” according to a report of the bout that I came across, with a heavy right hand in the last round causing the bigger man to hold on. Another report contained the information that Gaynor has “fast hands” and a “flashy style”.

Cooper, 24, was a Midlands Counties champion in the amateurs and reached the quarterfinals of the English national championships, losing on a countback (after the scores were originally tied) to Mark Heffron, who is now an unbeaten professional middleweight. My information on Cooper is that he is a smart-boxing southpaw with a nice jab and a solid left hand from the southpaw posture. Cooper hasn’t lost a round as a professional — four bouts, four wins on points, all against boxers with losing records.

This looks like being a competitive contest but Gaynor looks the more gifted of the two boxers and I think he should get through to the semifinals.

GLENN FOOT vs STEVEN PEARCE

Foot, 25, says he trained over the Christmas holidays for this tournament and has prepared himself for three fast rounds for three fights. As an amateur welterweight Foot was finalist in the 2010 English national championships, losing very narrowly to a tall, rangy boxer named Dudley O’Shaughnessy. Previously Foot had lost controversially on points in the 2008 English championships semifinals and then lost in the 2009 quarterfinals. Foot has won seven in a row as a professional, four by stoppage, and most of the early money has been going on him.

Amateur boxing authority Daniel Herbert described Foot as “a whirlwind, throwing barrages of hooks from first bell to last”, and this sort of style doesn’t always bring reward in the amateurs.

Foot’s bout with O’Shaughnessy was probably one of the most exciting English championship finals in years, with Foot storming into the attack and seeming to win the first two rounds, then O’Shaughnessy coming on strongly in the last round after Foot seemed to have run out of steam. The bout was so close that the punches landed came out equal on the electronic scoring system, but the more orthodox and stylish O’Shaughnessy got the verdict on the “judges’ preference” tie-breaker.

Unfortunately, Foot boxed just once in 2012 after a jury found him guilty of assaulting a doorman (or “bouncer”). Due to the confused nature of the incident, though, instead of being given a custodial sentence Foot was given a community order that involved a nighttime curfew.

Foot has the aggressive, pressure-fighter style that could work for him in this tournament’s format, and I give him a good chance of coming away with the winner’s trophy.

Pearce is another entrant who says he trained over the Christmas holidays to ensure he is in the best possible condition for this tournament. The shaven-headed Pearce, 28, says he has always been a fast starter. “I’m a strong, come-forward fighter,” Pearce said in a Matchroom video interview. “There’s no way I am going to take a step backwards.”

Pearce (6-0; 1 KO) is quite a nice, busy-punching boxer who has shown a good variety of punches, and goes to the body from both sides, but he seems to me to be a bit of an arm puncher. He’s won every round of his six bouts but he has never faced a boxer with anywhere near a winning record.

I see Pearce as being outgunned in this fight and I’m expecting Foot to win a fairly clear points decision.

* * * * *

Who wins the tournament outright? Prizefighter events are something of a crapshoot. An experienced fighter can blow a three-round fight by taking too long to get going. This is why there are many upsets in Prizefighter. The seasoned and capable Mark Thompson should win the tournament outright, but being the oddsmakers’ favourite is often a bad omen in these events.

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