Five takeaways from the Queensberry vs Matchroom 5v5

 | Monday 3rd June 2024, 11:59am

Monday 3rd June 2024, 11:59am

zhilei zhang

A penny for the thoughts of Eddie Hearn. The Matchroom supremo had to watch his troops routed in Riyadh on Saturday, with Frank Warren’s Queensberry contingent winning all five fights of their 5v5 promotional series.

While the result was a whitewash, the card delivered in all the ways that mattered. While the Hearn vs Warren element was pushed hard in the build-up and on the broadcast, for most fans the quality of the match-ups took precedence. On that score, the 5v5 concept ticked every box. 

Here are five takeaways from the maiden voyage of this concept.

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Remember Wilder How He Was, Not How He Is

The biggest story on the show was Zhilei Zhang’s five-round decimation of Deontay Wilder. ‘Big Bang’ brutalised the former WBC heavyweight champion, handing ‘The Bronze Bomber’ his fourth loss in five fights.

Wilder will surely retire now. At the age of 38, he is further than ever from the top of the mountain. The thrilling, brutal and draining trilogy he shared with Tyson Fury seems to have sapped what was left of his abilities.

But it is my sincere hope that this is not the version of Wilder that is remembered. His timid performance against Joseph Parker in December suggested he wasn’t the same fighter who lit up the heavyweight division in the 2010s.

Wilder became the first American world heavyweight champion since 2007 when he annexed Bermane Stiverne’s WBC belt in 2015. Wilder would make ten defences of the crown, including nine knockout wins and a draw with Tyson Fury. This is the Wilder that warrants remembrance. A thrill-a-minute knockout artist with dynamite in his gloves.

Fury would defeat him in two rematches, the second of which came in the best heavyweight fight in decades. That 11th-round knockout loss seems to have sapped what was left of Deontay Wilder. But, if he does walk away, he does so with an excellent legacy.

Put Some Respect On Dubois’ Name

After being stopped by Joe Joyce in 2020, many were quick to label Daniel Dubois a quitter. The fact he had withdrawn with a gruesome orbital bone injury in the 10th round mattered little. The boxing tastemakers had deemed him mentally weak.

Four stoppage wins saw ‘Dynamite’ lift the spurious WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight title and, some hairy moments as Kevin Lerena knocked him down three times aside, he looked good doing it. But Oleksandr Usyk meted out a dose of reality in a world title challenge last year. Dubois had Usyk on the canvas in that one, but his punch was deemed a low blow and the Brit was stopped in the ninth round.

Once again, despite holding his own against the best heavyweight in the world, Dubois was written off. Dubois rebuilt with a 10th-round knockout of unbeaten America Jarrell Miller in December.

Now, he holds the IBF interim title after knocking out Filip Hrgovic in a stunning upset. The Croatian was expected to have too much for Dubois, but the 26-year-old rose to the occasion brilliantly. ‘Dynamite’ already has so much experience for one so young and finally we are seeing that come to fruition. If he keeps going on this trajectory, imagine the fighter he will be at the age of 30. Exciting times ahead for the Greenwich man.

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 No More Waiting For AJ

Those exciting times look set to come against Anthony Joshua. ‘AJ’ has been long overdue for a truly thrilling encounter. Ultimately, promotional flourishes have stalled his career, as stakeholders tried to manoeuvre him into a fight with Deontay Wilder in a way that proved fatally elaborate.

Joshua and Wilder shared the same card in December. But instead of facing each other in a long-anticipated bout, the decision was made to pit them against other opponents. The idea was that each would win their fights before meeting this year. Of course we know now that while ‘AJ” stopped Otto Wallin impressively, Joseph Parker outpointed Wilder to scupper the plan.

But with Joshua having no dates in the diary after his March thrashing of Francis Ngannou, the fight could have been revived. What was stopping Joshua fighting Wilder this summer? Well instead, the American was given an opponent who ultimately proved beyond him in Zhilei Zhang.

Now the talk is of Joshua fighting Daniel Dubois with the latter’s IBF interim title at stake. The winner would then have the right to either face the winner of Oleksandr Usyk’s rematch with Tyson Fury or be upgraded to full championship status if the undisputed champion refuses to face them.

Here’s hoping that the attractive ‘AJ’ vs Dubois bout is not subject to any silly delays. We can do without the pair facing different opponents on the same card or taking any dangerous warm-up fights. Lessons must be learned from the Joshua-Wilder debacle.

Bivol vs Beterbiev Thankfully Survives

Dmitry Bivol’s replacement fight with Malik Zinad went largely as expected. Despite a spirited effort from the challenger, the only real intrigue here was whether the WBA light heavyweight champion would settle for a points win. As it happened, Bivol scored his first knockout victory for six years.

Bivol was supposed to headline the card in an undisputed light heavyweight title unification fight with WBC, WBO and IBF boss Artur Beterbiev. An injury to the latter put paid to that dream fight, but thankfully it has been rescheduled rather than abandoned.

Saudi boxing overlord Turki Alalshikh confirmed that the undisputed 175-pound clash will still take place. October 12 is the new date for one of the most attractive fights in boxing. It is a great thing for the sport that this desperately-needed clash was not allowed to fall by the wayside.

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Boxing Needs Shows Like This

Whether you were engrossed in the Queensberry vs Matchroom rivalry itself or just appreciative of a card stacked with good fights, boxing needs shows like the one on Saturday. While the involvement of Saudi Arabia and their motivations behind it will always invite questions, one cannot question the quality of the event itself.

Every fight could have headlined a show of some kind. The youth vs experience clash of Willy Hutchinson’s win over Craig Richards would be at home in any mid-size venue in the UK. So too Hamzah Sheeraz’s breakout win over highly-touted Austin ‘Ammo’ Williams. 

Nick Ball’s exhilarating WBA title win could have headlined arenas on either side of the Atlantic. Daniel Dubois vs Filip Hrgovic was one of the biggest fights of either man’s career. Bivol headlines everywhere he fights usually. Then the main event of Zhilei Zhang vs Deontay Wilder felt like a worthy headliner.

One thing these Saudi shows have in abundance is deep cards with largely competitive fights. For too long, a solid headline fight has seen a ropey undercard of fights where the A-side is miles ahead of his opponent. But that is no longer the norm. 

The Saudi shows have led the way in making boxing shows a top-to-bottom attraction. One need only look at the Queensberry Magnificent Seven shows to see the influence. Boxing is belatedly realising what the likes of UFC did long ago. That fans want a card to get excited about, not just one fight.

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