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Ponce breaks down Ritson in 10, but Gray display causes dismay

From the first bell to the last blow of a breathless encounter, Argentine whirlwind Jeremias Ponce never stopped throwing leather, eventually overwhelming local favourite Lewis Ritson in the 10th round of a final eliminator for the IBF 140lbs title at the Eagles Community Arena in Newcastle on Saturday night.

Ponce’s feverish workrate and ceaseless body-punching paid off with three knockdowns in the crucial 10th, but the events of the round were overshadowed by ‘curious’ officiating from British referee Steve Gray.

After the first knockdown from a right to the body in the 10th, Ritson’s trainer and father Dave compassionately threw in the towel with his son on the ropes; their relationship delving far deeper than the sport that has dominated so much of their lives. Incredibly, referee Gray ignored Dave Ritson’s intervention in plain sight. Any possibility that Gray had missed the towel was soon dismissed as he picked it up and threw it out of the ring!

Under British Boxing Board of Control rules the referee’s discretion is final, but it made for deeply uncomfortable viewing with Ritson being hammered from pillar to post and his own father deeming enough was enough.

Fortunately, from a sporting standpoint, Ponce (28-0, 18 KOs) retained his focus, dropping the game but outgunned Ritson two more times until Gray had no option but to wave the fight off.

Yet it was deeply uneasy viewing on a day where Christian Eriksen collapsed amid shocking scenes during Denmark’s Euro 2020 match with Finland. Life trumps sport in every instance and officials must view a participant’s long-term health and quality of life over sporting endeavour, especially when the corner, the people who know a boxer most, decide the fight is done. Allowing Ritson to get needlessly punished was not the referee’s call over the boxer’s corner and father, even if Gray believed the house fighter wasn’t in trouble or somehow ahead on the scorecards.

But what was Gray’s thought process in this unsettling episode? Why did he feel that Ritson should carry on in a losing cause when his father and trainer felt the fight was over?

Surprisingly, the answer came later that night on an official Matchroom Boxing video where Gray entered Ritson’s dressing room to explain the decision to the Geordie’s camp. “I still thought you had something left,” said Gray. “I did it purely on ‘Is he fit to continue?'”

It was an uncomfortable and unconvincing exchange with Ritson’s team insisting their man hadn’t been right from the first round and Ponce’s opening blitz that never relented. Would Gray have extended the same courtesy to an away fighter in similar distress? Unlikely.

The episode will add another question mark to British boxing’s recent, checkered history of officiating, where duff decisions – like Ritson’s gift points victory over Miguel Vazquez in October last year – have become a worrying occurrence. It feels like an overseas fighter needs a knockout to win in Britain, fortunately Ponce got the stoppage before any possible indecency on the scorecards.

“It was a very tough fight, a lot tougher than I expected it to be. I expected a war with Ritson and he’s a tough fighter – tougher than I expected,” Ponce told Chris Lloyd afterwards via a translator.

“I did think it was over in the first round – it was a great body shot that I hit him with. Any other boxer would have gone down. I hit him right on the button and it would have hurt him. He showed his toughness that he was able to recover from that.

“It was a bit confusing when we were in the ring because I thought the fight was over as soon as I saw the towel come in. Then I saw the ref throw it out – to be honest it was a bit of a shock. He’s probably hurt in the rib area now and he wouldn’t have been if he stopped the fight when we saw the towel come in.

“It’s one step closer to my dream. It’s the dream that you always have as a fighter. I’m one step away from that now. Thank you very much, I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as you expected, but thank you very much.”

Credit must go to the unrelenting Argentine who promised a stoppage and delivered in fine fashion, never taking a backward step and throwing three if Ritson landed one.

Ponce laid siege to Ritson’s body with a scything body attack in a breakneck opening round that set the tone for the fight. A left hook had the Geordie in serious trouble but he weathered the following storm and regained his sharpness as the round drew to a close.

Ritson (21-2, 12 KOs) was far more competitive in a brisk second that saw the duo effortlessly swap leather without referee Gray’s intervention. A hefty left hook buzzed Ponce and gave Ritson renewed hope. A series of uppercuts bounced off Ritson’s chin in the third as the fireworks continued unabated. But Ponce maintained his advantage.

The Argentine was peppering Ritson with punches in the fourth, but though the local favourite landed some sharp right hands, there wasn’t nearly enough of them. It was a taxing and exhausting encounter for the protagonists, but made compelling viewing with neither man taking a backward step and both throwing punches with impunity in a furious fifth.

Ponce’s pressure and industry held the edge at the midway point and he started to gain a tighter grip on the contest as each round passed. He was a blur of punches and hurtful body shots. Ritson seemed to be gradually flagging as Ponce poured forward in the eighth.

Ritson’s left eye was showing signs of wear after a one-sided ninth and the home crowd were eerily quiet. A body shot in 10th dropped Ritson and he looked done. He rose but his father Dave in the corner threw in the towel shortly afterwards. Incredibly, referee Gray ignored the towel and then threw it out of the ring, overruling the corner and ‘giving Ritson a chance’.

But the fight was finished for all intents and purposes. Ponce hammered Ritson without relent dropping him two more times before Gray belatedly intervened. A fine away result for Ponce, who earns a crack at undisputed 140lbs champion Josh Taylor with the win, but referee Gray stole the show with his odd piece of decision making.

World-rated super-bantam Thomas Patrick Ward (30-0-1, 4 KOs) suffered a flash knockdown but comprehensively outboxed Mexican southpaw Edy Valencia Mercado (17-6-6, 5 KOs) in a featherweight 10-rounder. Scores were 98-92 (twice) and 97-93.

WBO No.3 Ward laboured to an eight-round technical draw with Thomas Essomba last October but was in far better form here. His neat boxing and movement posed a conundrum that the Mexican was just unable to solve.

Yet, in the fifth, an off-balance Ward took a trip to the canvas from a swiping left hand that was ruled a knockdown by referee Howard Foster. That success gave the visitor some encouragement but West Rainton’s Ward rediscovered his fluid jab and fast feet in the following round. It was plain sailing thereafter. Ward was too smooth and classy, cantering to a clear-points win despite the huff and puff of the visitor. Afterwards, Ward hinted he may stay at 126lbs to pursue a fight with WBO champion Emanuel Navarrete.

“I hadn’t boxed for nearly a year before Essomba,” Ward told Sky Sports. “It was a bad year, and that wasn’t me on that night. We’re only humans and not machines, but tonight was a better night. It was a great fight for the fans, and I’m so happy to have them back. I really enjoyed it in there.

“At super-bantamweight, I had a great ranking with the WBO, IBF and WBC. This fight was at 128lbs, but I’ve been chasing Emanuel Navarrete for a while.

“He’s a great fighter, and I got close to fighting him at super-bantamweight and thought I would have got my shot. We have both moved up now and I want to fight him.”

The self-styled ‘Savage’ Alen Babic (7-0, 7 KOs) simply bulldozed Lancashire cruiser Damian Chambers (11-2, 7 KOs) to defeat in a three-round heavyweight brawl. It maintained Babic’s record of never having travelled past the third round.

In his typical ‘seek and destroy’ mode, the bulkier Babic mowed Chambers down with his non-stop pressing and heavier hands. A big left hook sent Chambers into the ropes in the opener where referee Ron Kearney correctly ruled a knockdown. Babic spent the rest of the session smashing a backpedalling Chambers around the ring and wobbling him with industrial right hands.

Chambers’ more conventional skillset stemmed the tide in the second, but Babic just walked through him. In the third, a huge left hook swivelled Chambers’ head on his shoulders by the ropes and referee Ron Kearney jumped in immediately.

“[It’s] the third time I’ve gone into the third round, but it’s good it’s only another half a minute probably,” Babic told Matchroom. “All kudos to Damian Chambers, I love him, he’s a very tough guy. I have the power to knock guys out who are 130 kilos, he was like 89 and took those shots. I thought, ‘what is this guy made of?’. I love Damian Chambers.

“That’s why I didn’t do any trash talk, the guy took a fight on six days’ notice against ‘The Savage’ and he saw my knockouts. I have nothing but respect for the guy, I’ll never disrespect guys like that.

“I saw the whole arena, they’re on my side, my heart is so full, I love Newcastle. I’m going to come back and drink brown ale tonight. I just feel so blessed to be here, I sense the synergy between Newcastle and me since day one. I’m so grateful.

“I want to involve the fans as much as I can in my fights, that’s why I do these kinds of things so they can participate. Yesterday I wrote a post on Facebook saying, I’m just waiting for a dream, this is all a big dream, seeing myself on big billboards, trending on Twitter. I can’t believe it, I’m a simple and humble guy so this is all just a pure blessing to me – every day and every minute.

“This fight gets me closer to that, when I get Matchroom in Croatia that is my goal. I’d give all my money from the tickets to the children so they can see the real sportsmanship. I really want that, and this is just one step closer to fulfilling my dream which is to involve people in boxing. I can’t just hold it to myself, that’s selfish.

“We were supposed to announce a [Nick Webb] fight for Fight Camp but of course we won’t do that people, he bitched out, he’s just a little bitch. I have no respect for him no more, he avoided Fabio Wardley for three years, me for two, it’s getting silly – I must move on to bigger and better guys.

“I don’t care about belts; I just want a good fight for the fans. I want to bring stadiums to life, I want to bring energy, that’s my goal. Just give me whoever you want, don’t tell me who it is, I don’t care.”

The pro journey of Newcastle’s former Team GB representative Cyrus Pattinson (1-0, 1 KOs) got off to a positive start with a slick second-round dismissal of Bulgarian import Yoncho Markov (4-3, 2 KOs).

Southpaw Pattinson’s body work and sharper shots told in the second as he dropped his foe twice with Markov unwilling to continue after the final knockdown from a right hook downstairs. He’s one to watch.

“I was really happy with my performance, it was a bit cagey early on, we knew he was eager – he’s been game as a badger all week,” Pattinson told Matchroom. “It was a bit unorthodox, stepping through his shots sometimes, couldn’t judge the distance but after the first round I started settling down. I told Graham in the corner that this was only going to go one way from there.

“I put my shots together well, I know that I dug them in – head and body. I was really happy with where we went in the second round. This was better than I ever could have imagined it, the support I got tonight was overwhelming, I didn’t realise it was going to be like that. I’ve always said that the atmosphere in Newcastle is second to none so what a way to start your debut.

“Last year we were lining up for the show and everything happened, so it got put on the back burner. A couple dates come up, they were elsewhere but we couldn’t get the medicals or licences through on time, when everything came together it was Newcastle and spectators were back – it was like someone was looking out for me.

“I want to be tested, I don’t want to be taking any backwards steps, I’m taking each fight as they come. I’m enjoying the ride and soaking it up because it’s soon over and you wish you were back in the moment.

“In the tunnel when everyone was chanting and my ring walk kicked in, I started getting hairs up on the back of my neck. I just remember Graham telling me to be calm, calculated and stay sharp. That got a bit cloudy first round, which it does, but take a bit from it – I’m happy.

“I feel like I’m a lot more suited for the professionals, certain shot selections are hard to get off in the amateurs – a lot of people are flighty and don’t hold their feet as much. I’m definitely more suited for this game.”

Earlier, Birmingham heavy Solomon Dacres (2-0, 1 KOs) ground down Spaniard Alvaro Terrero (5-12-2, 3 KOs) in four rounds. Terrero suffered a cut left eye and showed some resistance, but was starting to take too many lumps when referee Ron Kearney stepped in after a hefty left-right salvo.

Wallsend’s charismatic April Hunter (4-0, 0 KOs) extended her winning run with a clear verdict over Hungarian visitor Klaudia Vigh (3-28-1, 2 KOs) at 147lbs. Referee Victor Loughlin scored 40-37.

Benwell ticket-seller Joe Laws (10-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first defeat against Rylan Charlton with a six-round points win over Plymouth stalwart Chris Adaway (10-74-4, 1 KO) at welterweight. Referee Ron Kearney scored 60-54.

Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.