This Saturday evening’s big show at the Kings Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland has been a nightmare for promoter Frank Warren. Originally topping the bill was Scottish hero Scott Harrison taking on unbeaten Dominican puncher Joan Guzman in a highly anticipated match up. With everyone getting excited at Harrison’s biggest test for years, Guzman suddenly decided he couldn’t make featherweight any longer. Evidence of this came recently as the muscular little knockout artist failed to even make SUPER-featherweight for a ten rounder against Javier Jauregui at the big De La Hoya fight last week.
Replacements were searched for, and eventually Guyanese/Australian veteran Gary St. Clair was decided upon. It wasn’t Ali-Frazier IV, but it was a decent match between a current world class operator and a former one.
However, even at this late stage it was not over for poor Frank Warren and his Sports Network team. Harrison was arrested on Sunday night after an alleged incident at a nightclub which reportedly saw a drunken brawl that Harrison may or may not have been involved in. Whatever happened, the Scottish WBO titlist now awaits trial in September.
But we’re not done yet, either. With just three days to go before the fight, Harrison admitted himself to the Priory Clinic in Glasgow suffering from depression, something manager Frank Maloney confirmed at a press conference yesterday, obviously leaving the St. Clair fight off the card for this weekend.
And so, with all that drama preceding the show, Warren was left with no option but to hastily rearrange the order of the event, bumping up the eagerly awaited Mehrdud Takaloo-Eamon Magee welterweight fight to main event status, and drafting in heavyweight contender Danny Williams to appear at late notice in a tune up before his big July showdown with Matt Skelton. With Amir Khan also making his Irish debut, the withdrawal of Harrison hardly damages what is still a first class show that should entertain the ITV audience watching across the United Kingdom.
The Takaloo-Magee match had always been the big attraction for me on this card. Two years ago, this would have been one weird pairing of fighters. At the time, Takaloo, an English-Iranian, was campaigning as a decent-sized jr middleweight, who I was expecting to make a move up to middleweight any time soon. Magee, on the other hand, was a former highly ranked jr welter who was recovering from a horrific incident when a gang of thugs set about him with baseball bats, leaving his legs broken.
It seemed that Magee would not fight again...but the tough-guy Irishman was back in the gym remarkably quickly, and not only that, returned to the ring as a welterweight to destroy former world contender Alan Vester in three rounds in March of last year.
So to see him now taking on former jr middleweight puncher Mehrdud Takaloo is a surreal thought indeed...and one that holds much lustre. Both are evenly matched in the skill department, Takaloo is noted as a puncher, Magee is recognised for his resilience and toughness. It makes for a greatly anticipated set up.
Other questions add extra intrigue to the proceedings...can Takaloo be strong at welter having campaigned as a big jr middle for his entire career? Is Magee, at 34, ready to come apart after a hard career and the nasty 2004 incident? Can Magee handle a big guy’s power? Can Takaloo handle a little guy’s speed?
Magee proved in a 2002 meeting with now-WBA titlist Ricky Hatton what a decent fighter he is. He floored Hatton with a counter shot in the opening round, and rocked Ricky to his boots in the second. It remains the only time Hatton has been on the deck following fights with the likes of Kostya Tszyu, Carlos Maussa, Vince Phillips and Luis Collazo. Not only that, but Hatton was forced to relinquish his usual game plan and turn boxer for the night, using raiding tactics to blitz Magee and dash out of range whilst the Irishman lay on the ropes, waiting for another chance to land his big counter punch. In all truthfulness, the fight was there to win for Magee on that night. His power had hurt Hatton, his boxing skills were giving the Manchester hero fits, and Hatton simply couldn’t dent the gritty veteran. It was only Magee’s lack of workrate that saw him drop a close but unanimous decision.
It was the same story in a European title match against world class Oktay Urkal, who slightly outworked him for a controversial decision win in Germany the following year.
Then followed the vicious attack and a year of recovery, but against Vester at the same Kings Hall as this weekend’s fight, Magee looked back to his best, easily blowing away the Dane and bringing his record to 26-4-0 (17).
Takaloo has also given several quality performances in a 9 year professional career. Earmarked as a smooth boxer with a big punch from the start, the Iranian born, Margate-based Englishman emerged as a possible world contender in 2001 when destroying 26-0-0 Anthony Farnell in a round. He followed that with two exciting wins over British favourites Scott Dixon and Gary Logan before getting a shot at Daniel Santos, holder of the lesser-regarded WBO title but still a recognised world class operator. Takaloo gave a brave performance against the Puerto Rican, overcoming a nasty cut to score a knockdown and shake the southpaw puncher several times before dropping a unanimous decision.
Takaloo came back with three wins but then suffered a horrendous 2004, in which he was outhustled over eight rounds by journeyman Eugenio Monteiro and then knocked cold in two rounds by Croydon’s powerful Wayne Alexander. The world class pretensions of the likeable 31 yr old looked over at that point, but he knuckled down to two comfortable points wins in a comeback, squeezing himself down to the 147lb division for another title run.
This looks like being headed to a points verdict either way. Magee, whilst a sharp puncher, will probably not have real power at welterweight, especially against a former jr middle. And Takaloo, 24-5-0 (17) has been boxing more than punching since being blasted out by Alexander, so will probably look to control from a distance, backing Magee up to the ropes with a long jab and following in with straight rights and hooks to the body. Magee, whilst measured in his output, is very accurate and counters very effectively. We may get long spells of ‘feeling out’ where both fighters jockey for position, followed by exciting and dramatic exchanges as they simultaneously attempt to win the upper hand. If it does go the judges score cards, it will probably be a tight decision, and will go down to whether they prefer Takaloo’s harder shots or Magee’s accurate counter punches.
In a closely fought and absorbing scrap, I think Magee will pull off one more big performance to counter effectively off the ropes and outspeed the bigger man to clinch a close split decision in a truly 50/50 match up.
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