With less than two weeks remaining until fight fans experience Ultimate Boxxer IV, the BT Sport cameras rolled into central Manchester to livestream the draw for fight night, in front of a packed-out conference room at the city’s iconic Manchester235 casino.
Fighters, managers, media, celebrity fans and sponsors travelled far and wide to attend the event, with boxing royalty Steve Bunce and former WBA Lightweight Champion Anthony Crolla drawing the eight fighters who will compete for the £50,000 prize fund at the Altrincham Ice Arena on July 19.
The Ultimate Boxxer format offers fans an opportunity to watch three, three-minute-round contests, with the winner progressing to the semi-final and then on to the final all in the same night, guaranteeing excitement and fast-paced action. Each fighter is assigned coloured shorts, making it easy to follow for casual fight fans as well as boxing purists, and Crolla revealed his admiration for the exciting concept live on BT Sport.
‘The first fight is so important, do you try to pace yourself but risk the fight going by you, or do you get involved in a war a bit early, only for it to come back and bite you in the semi-final or final? We’ll know a lot more after the quarter-finals are done,’ he told Bunce ahead of the highly-anticipated draw.
Pre-fight favourite Mikael Lawal will face Antony Woolery in the first quarter-final, and the Nigerian-born power-puncher was confident that he’d add to his impressive 67% knockout record when quizzed by host David Alorka, and told the audience he’d been working hard to adapt his style to the unique format.
‘Usually I tend to start a bit slow, and I like to get my work in during the later rounds, but I’ve been trying to start a bit faster, find my tempo a bit sooner. I’ll give him the respect for getting into the ring with me, but I’m trying to get him out of there. Looking into his eyes here today, I think I’ve got this.’
Woolery – a former semi-professional footballer from Wolverhampton – acknowledged he had a tough ask to oust the pre-tournament favourite, but was insistent that he could get the job done.
‘It is what it is, he’s the favourite but it suits me fine. I’m the underdog, I knew I would be coming into the draw. There’s no pressure on me, it’s all on Mikael. I’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose – in two weeks’ time, I’m going to bring it and leave it all in that ring,’ the 34-year-old told the media.
Engaging with Crolla after the draw, Bunce was adamant that whilst Woolery was handed a tough draw, it was the unique format of Ultimate Boxxer that made this fight such a fascinating prospect.
‘If you look at the first quarter-final. On the one hand, you’ve got Woolery who has had two fights, a loss and a win, and hasn’t fought in a year. And he’s up against Mikael Lawal who last year was on the undercard of George Groves against Chris Eubank Jnr! This is the sort of match-up that is unique to Ultimate Boxxer, it can only happen here,’ said Bunce.
In the second quarter-final, former Leicester Tigers professional rugby player Dan Cooper will face Kent Kauppinen, who enters UBIV with a MMA background under his belt, and the 27-year-old insisted he was ready for the challenge of Grantham-born Cooper.
‘I’m very tough, I hit hard but I’ve got to fight my fight. These guys are all probably better boxers than me, but if I fight my fight it’s not going to be a boxing match. It will be fun, we’ll have a good tear-up,’ he added, and the winner of that contest will take on the victor of Lawal v Woolery.
Quarter-final three features the vastly-experienced Tony Conquest up against Rhasian Earlington, the youngest in UBIV, but Conquest refused to take the starlet from Staffordshire lightly when Alorka suggested his experience could play a key role in the contest.
‘I am extremely experienced, but I don’t think that counts for anything in the Ultimate Boxxer format, it’s a sprint, so anything I’ve done in the past during 10, or 12-round contests doesn’t count for much on July 19. But it does suit my style, I’ve always been quite a fast cruiserweight, pretty fast hands, decent boxing ability, good movement so it suits me quite well.’
The former Commonwealth champion, now aged 34, also opened up about his appreciation for the Ultimate Boxxer concept during the press conference and how it could have helped him had it been a fighting platform earlier in his impressive career.
‘Had this been around when I was younger, it probably would have got me onto the European scene a bit earlier, but it’s doing more for my career now because it will get me back in the public eye, and get people talking about me again, especially if I can win it in good style,’ he added.
The final quarter-final will see Matt Sen face local boy, Mancunian Damian Chambers, a match that Crolla believes could be the most explosive of the four, and renowned trainer Matthew Hatton – who was representing Chambers at the press conference while his charge trained abroad – was happy to place the weight of expectation on his fighter’s sizeable shoulders.
‘This is a great opportunity for Damian – he’s not very experienced, but he’s never lost a fight in his amateur days or in the seven professional fights he’s had. I don’t let my kids watch some of his knockouts, because they’re frightening! He’s a quality fighter. I put fighters into events like this expecting them to win, and this is no different,’ said Hatton, a former European Welterweight title holder himself.
Birmingham-pugilist Sen, who listened keenly to Hatton’s appraisal of his fighter, insisted that he was ready to put on a show for those coming to fight night and also made light of his former bodybuilding background when it came to the sweet science of boxing.
‘They’re totally different sports. When it comes to strength and power, when someone’s punching you in the face, it doesn’t matter how much you can deadlift or squat! But for me, it’s all about entertainment. There are some great fighters here, and I’m really happy to be here, but I’m in it to win it and people are spending their hard-earned money to come and support, so I want to put on some great entertainment on the night. There’s no better place than being in the ring and getting it on,’ said the 31-year-old.
Speaking to media after the conclusion of the draw, live on BT Sport, Ultimate Boxxer founder Benjamin Shalom was pleased with how the fights had unfolded.
‘We’ve got eight fighters in great shape, all ready to go, and we’ve got four incredible fights to start off the night on July 19. We have an incredibly-exciting product here at Ultimate Boxxer – it’s fast, aggressive, but also potentially life-changing for whoever wins it. And that’s what we had in mind when we developed the concept – we want to give casual and seasoned fight fans a brilliant night, but also change the way people think about this great sport. We want the best to rise to the top, and that’s what we believe Ultimate Boxxer can do.’