They called it “The Grand Prix Gala” as it was Grand Prix Weekend in Montreal, and a gala it was, complete with tributes to local luminaries as well as Muhammad Ali, but the real focus of the night was light heavyweight power puncher Artur Beterbiev and the eagerness of fight fans to see him return to his dominating ways. For those attending the live show at the Bell Centre in Montreal, patience was required, though ultimately rewarded, as excitement came from a most unlikely source and “King Artur” did not disappoint.
The night began with an ungainly four round struggle between novices Parnell Fisher (1-1) of Toronto and Mexico’s Larami Carmona (1-3), which saw the lanky Fisher take a unanimous decision and then almost injure himself with an attempted celebratory backflip. Next up, young prospect Dario Bredicean (9-0) got a first round KO over pitiful Balazs Horvath who boasts a record of 25-17, which makes no sense as he performed like someone who had stepped into a boxing gym for the first first time a few days before. As Bredicean’s co-trainer Otis Grant said afterwards, “I would hate to see the 25 boxers that guy beat.”
Next up was Russian transplant Vislan Dalkhaev (7-0), who outpointed game Javier Franco (25-18-4) of Mexico. The undefeated super bantamweight gave one of the night’s more impressive performances as he neutralized Franco’s offense with patience, precision and sharp punching. Dalkhaev’s body attack put some serious hurt on Franco and a left hook to the liver resulted in a knockdown in round five. Franco beat the count and Dalkhaev pursued, slinging big shots to the body. However, one of them strayed low and when Franco collapsed a second time referee Michael Griffin correctly cited the foul and ruled no-knockdown before giving Franco plenty of time to recover.
Franco deserves credit for trying to stay in it with the technically superior and more powerful native of Boragangechu, Russia, but another heavy blow to the liver put the Mexican on the run in the eighth and final round. Franco was relieved to hear the final bell and the unanimous decision went to Dalkhaev. One of the night’s better fights and a solid win for the Yvon Michel prospect.
The show’s next bout featured another GYM prospect, super welterweight Sebastian Bouchard, who improved to 13-1 with a unanimous decision win over Belgian journeyman Arnaud Dimidschtein. The more talented Bouchard scored a knockdown in round three but that prompted him to spend much of the rest of the fight looking to repeat his success. Instead of applying effective pressure, he kept loading up on big right hands and showboating when they landed and the result was a match that was far more difficult than it needed to be.
An unintentional head butt appeared to disturb Bouchard in round five and Dimidshtein actually appeared to be taking the initiative. Bouchard reasserted himself in the next two rounds but Dimidshtein gave as good as he got in the final stanza as the local fighter again looked to load up on big shots. Bouchard got the decision win but moving forward he will need to work on punch output and intensity.
After a lengthy wait, it was time for some heavyweight action as rising big man Oscar Rivas (19-0) took on Jeremy “The Beast” Bates (26-18-1), but it proved a return to the mismatches of earlier as Bates folded the second he took a solid punch from Rivas. Before the opening round was half over “The Beast” had been floored twice; a third knockdown prompted the referee to halt the action. Yvon Michel is hoping for big things from the 240 pound Rivas, who was set to face Gerald Washington last February before the bout was scrapped after the native of Columbia failed an eye test. Apparently the surgically repaired eye is now fine and he is being groomed for a significant match in the near future.
A seemingly interminable wait followed that mismatch as the Premier Boxing Champions and ESPN cameras got warmed up. On the arena’s big screen Artur Beterbiev highlights and Muhammad Ali flashbacks were being shown before finally the broadcast portion of the event got underway, beginning with a somewhat cursory tribute to the passing of “The Greatest,” the bell being struck ten times as the crowd stood in silence with Ali’s image on the screen.
Next up, a pair of undefeated welterweight prospects, Bryant Perrell (14-0) and David Grayton (14-1), wasted no time getting down to business and giving fans an action-packed opening round. Grayton showed Perrella no respect and it cost him the fight as he repeatedly bore in and unleashed power shots, evidently looking for an early KO win.
But in round two it was the more composed Perrella who struck, flooring his aggressive opponent with a left hand. Grayton never recovered; he beat the count but couldn’t avoid Perrella’s follow-up shots. A right hook staggered him and then another big left sent him stumbling across the ring. Perrella pounced on his wounded prey and the referee had no choice but to end the fight.
After such a rousing battle everyone present was anxious to move on to the main event, but as is often the case with televised fight cards, the timetable called for a longer wait before Beterbiev could finally appear. Instead, fans got a “swing bout,” a time-filler as it were, between Cincinatti’s Jamontay Clark (10-0) and Edgar Ortega (16-5) of Mexico but this super-welterweight match ended up being the most eventful and entertaining battle of the night.
Clark wasted no time bringing the fight to Ortega, who had reportedly taken the bout on nine days notice. Coming forward behind a sharp jab he looked to unload early but the young Clark paid for his aggression when Ortega struck with a sharp right hand that floored the taller man. Clark beat the count and then just tore back in for more, both men slinging leather like there was no tomorrow. The fast pace continued in round two with the crowd applauding the action as Clark landed big shots but then was too overanxious in his follow-up attack. Ortega hung in there, landing when he could and refusing to be intimidated by Clark’s aggression.
It was now a full-out brawl featuring plenty of holding and hitting, wrestling and rough-housing, with the fighters even tumbling together to the floor at one point. Ortega injured his ankle in round four and when he went to one knee Clark responded by tagging him three or four times. A point deduction would have been appropriate but the referee overlooked the fouls and just let them battle on.
Ortega hobbled about the ring and spent long stretches on the ropes as Clark never stopped attacking. But it was Ortega who was taunting Clark at the fight’s end, waving him in and pointing to his chin before unleashing wild punches which impressed the crowd even as they missed their target. By the final bell Ortega’s bravado had won over the fans, but the judges gave Clark a well-deserved six round decision while the crowd applauded both men. It had been a very entertaining battle and the kind of show the patient Montreal fight fans deserved.
Now it was time for the return of Artur Beterbiev, his ring entrance accompanied by the crunching power chords of “Hail To The King.” His opponent, Ezequiel “El Olimpico” Maderna of Argentina, had some difficulty making weight the day before but the moment the fighters took off their robes it was clear Beterbiev was the bigger and stronger man. The opening round was competitive as the Russian appeared slightly rusty, no surprise after a year out of action. Maderna boxed smartly, using a pesky jab and angles to neutralize the patient Beterbiev’s offensive forays.
In round two the pace quickened and Maderna found himself constantly on the back foot. Ducking to avoid Beterbiev’s attack he went down from a rabbit punch and the referee called no-knockdown. Beterbiev was throwing more but Maderna stayed composed and fired back and already the Argentinian had proved himself more competitive than Tavoris Cloud or Gabriel Campillo had been when they faced “King Artur.”
That said, the second round clearly belonged to Beterbiev and in the third his punches had more snap. A right hand stunned Maderna and a follow-up right caused him to fold to the canvas. He beat the count but Beterbiev continued to attack and unleash right hands which resulted in a second knockdown and Maderna, who received a point deduction for delaying the fight by spitting out his mouthpiece, was fortunate to survive the round. He would not survive the next.
In the fourth Beterbiev was now dominating with ease and battering his opponent. Another heavy right hand to the head put Maderna down and the Argentinian looked to his corner and waved as if to say, “Aren’t you going to stop this already?” They did and Beterbiev had his his tenth KO in as many wins.
Overall, a successful night for Groupe Yvon Michel, Premier Boxing Champions and Montreal boxing. All of Michel’s prospects were winners, the eye problems of Oscar Rivas appear to be in the past, Vislan Dalkhaev looks like a champion in the making, and the fans got some entertaining action from Perrella vs Grayton and Clark vs Ortega. But most importantly, Artur Beterbiev is back and it does not appear he has lost his knockout touch. Michel’s stated plan is to keep Beterbiev active and work towards a showdown with fellow Russian Sergey Kovalev; here’s hoping those plans are realized.
— Michael Carbert