By Matt Winsper



Slick boxing Souleymane M'Baye from France by way of Senegal surprisingly turned slugger for the night to outfight Argentina's Raul Balbi, thus claiming Ricky Hatton's old WBA Jr. Welter crown on the Woods-Johnson III card in Bolton, England.
M'Baye, 35-1-0 (20), was the pre-fight favourite, but was expected to win with movement and a fast jab. Instead, after being rocked in the opening round by former lightweight titlist Balbi, M'Baye was forced to tough it out, trading heavy punches with the stocky slugger. To the shock of the enthralled Bolton crowd, M'Baye actually came out best, flooring Balbi, 54-7-1 (34) with a hard right hand in the 2nd, and then again in the 4th before forcing the stoppage from referee Paul Thomas.
Balbi, cut under the right eye and visibly hurt, was upset at the stoppage, and whilst it did seem a little early (as is often the case in British rings), contrary to pre-fight predictions it was M'Baye who had the extra power in there. Whilst Balbi got home a good right hand that shook M'Baye in the opening seconds, when the two traded power punches, the new French champion generally came off best.
And so, instead of what was a virtually guaranteed twelve rounder, we got four fast 'n' furious rounds of quality action, livening up what has been a rather dull division since the departure of Ricky Hatton, Floyd Mayweather and Arturo Gatti from it's ranks.
But with this exciting performance from M'Baye, the return to 140lbs of Hatton, the re-emergence of Vivian Harris as a credible contender and the upcoming pick 'em between Junior Witter and DeMarcus Corley for the vacant WBC belt, we could see the division pick up again.
Certainly this fight surpassed expectations for pure action. Balbi's short arms and powerful punching saw him trying to crowd M'Baye and wing away with meaty body shots, whilst M'Baye, stung from his opponent's opening salvo and unable to create space, was forced to fight fire with fire. This would have been expected to be a futile task beforehand...but in the second round Balbi found himself on the deck. M'Baye pot shotted him with spearing jabs and long rights, but Balbi came storming back in to hurt M'Baye again in the third round. Once more M'Baye was forced to trade, and once more he came off best, as early in the fourth the Frenchman caught his man coming in, bouncing a hard right off the Argentinian's chin that decked him heavily. He staggered up to take Paul Thomas' mandatory eight count, but when M'Baye resumed the attack and fired away as Balbi lay on the ropes, Thomas jumped in to crown a new champion.
M'Baye's promoter, Frank Warren, will undoubtedly try to coax his former charge, Hatton, into a unification match if the former jr welter king regains his old IBF belt from Juan Urango next month. Whilst that match would have been scoffed at before tonight, 31 year old M'Baye showed that perhaps he may be a true world force after all.


Send questions and comments to: mattwinsper@yahoo.co.uk