Can Wales’ 2016 Olympian Joe Cordina graduate to world title honours on Saturday night when he challenges for Kenichi Ogawa’s IBF super-featherweight title? Luke G. Williams previews the action.
The path from representing Great Britain at the Olympic games to success at the highest level of professional boxing is not always a smooth one.
Just ask Joe Cordina (14-0, 8 KOs), the ‘Welsh Wizard’ who on Saturday night will seek to become just the second male British fighter from the Rio Olympics to lift a professional world title when he takes on Japan’s IBF super-featherweight champion Kenichi Ogawa at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.
The 30-year-old Cordina has endured a rocky ride since turning over in 2017. He has fought for the majority of his career at lightweight, indeed he won the British and Commonwealth straps at 135lbs, only to later move back down in weight to 130lbs in search of further opportunities.
In October 2018, however, he suffered an injury to his right hand in sparring which eventually required career-saving surgery after he fought three times in fights where – in his own words – “I couldn’t really throw my right hand”.
Surgery and the pandemic kept Cordina out of the ring for 16 months. He returned last year, and fought three times, but is yet to meet anyone even remotely resembling a world level operator. Cordina’s promoters Matchroom have also missed the opportunity to build up his profile in Wales by largely featuring his bouts on the undercard of ‘major’ shows, rather than as a local headliner (Inexplicably, Cordina has fought just three times in Wales in his 14 pro bouts, and it will be interesting to see how many tickets are sold for this fight).
It is not a promising omen for Cordina that of the ten men who represented Team GB at the 2016 Olympics, thus far only Lawrence Okolie has graduated to world title honours. Elsewhere amid that decade of boxers who fought in Brazil cautionary tales abound – Anthony Fowler and Josh Kelly have yet to fulfill their promise, while the likes of Muhammad Ali and Qais Ashfaq have all but been forgotten.
On a more positive note, Joe Joyce is still undefeated as a pro, although he is nearly 37 and a world title shot does not seem imminent, while Joshua Buatsi is apparently closing in on a world title tilt. As for Galal Yafai and Pat McCormack, they have only just begun their pro journeys and may yet make it to world level.
The low-profile Cordina therefore has a golden opportunity to steal a march on the majority of his former unpaid teammates by claiming a world belt and making a name for himself this weekend.
The cards are certainly stacked nicely in favour of the likeable and talented 30-year-old of Maltese extraction from Cardiff. After all, Cordina will enter the ring bolstered by hometown and ‘house fighter’ advantage (Britain is the new Germany for hometown scorecard cooking remember) and in Ogawa he faces a dangerous but eminently beatable foe.
Cordina certainly has the pedigree to box his way to a clear points victory, and thus become the 13th Welshman to win a boxing world title, and the second to win a super-feather world strap, following in the footsteps of Barry Jones, who was crowned WBO champion after beating Wilson Palacio in a fight that took place 25 years ago this December
“Talent wise Joe is better and me and [former Welsh WBO world featherweight champion] Steve Robinson combined,” reflected Jones this week on the Boxing Social podcast. “But talent isn’t the deciding factor in whether you make it or not. It takes more than that. I think he [Cordina] has it but he hasn’t had to show it as a professional. We’ve never seen him under the cosh, that’s my only reservation.”
A slick boxer, Cordina has added decent inside fighting to his repertoire since turning over and in Tony Sims he has one of the best trainers in the business at improving young talented fighters.
In Ogawa (26-1, with one no contest), however, he faces a tough operator. The 34-year-old Tokyo based pugilist proved himself too strong and relentless for the talented but fragile Azinga Fuzile last November, dropping the South African three times en route to a clear and deserved points victory, thus regaining the IBF title that he had won from Tevin Farmer in 2017 only to lose it after testing positive for banned substance androstanediol.
Cordina is more than capable of boxing his way to a clear points victory, but if he displays any weakness, particularly when hurt, then the heavy-handed Ogawa (who has 18 stoppages in his 26 wins) has the ability and ruthlessness to take advantage, as well as the ability to close the distance if Cordina boxes in an overly negative fashion on the back foot.
All in all, picking a winner here is a tough call. Ogawa is more proven at this level, and how Cordina will hold up under pressure over 12 rounds is a completely unknown quantity.
However my hunch is that the Welshman will eke out a points win, possibly controversial, and possibly after visiting the canvas at some stage in a fight that a decent share of observers feel should have ended with Ogawa’s hand raised.