NXTGEN: The future stars continue to shine

Tom Dunstan

The summer break is over and the new boxing season is officially back underway. Once again the NXTGEN show offered a stellar night of action and British boxing’s next crop of potential world champions showcased their talents in front of a sellout crowd.

Before we look at the stars of the show, Eddie Hearn and Sky deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the publicity and the platform they have created for their future champions, they really have made these shows feel like an important event.

It might not be a 90,000 capacity Wembley mega fight but, York Hall is considered sacred turf in British boxing and with a prime time spot on Sky, it gives the fighters a taste of the big time. The shows are even attracting attention from some of the sports biggest names.

Now, onto the fighters. Overall it was another successful night for our NXTGEN stars, with Conor Benn, Lawrence Okolie, Joe Cordina & Joshua Buatsi all picking up convincing wins against some very game competition.

The show was headlined by arguably the NXTGEN’s most exciting young prospect, Olympic bronze medalist Joshua Buatsi. In only his second outing among the paid ranks, the 24-year-old showed exactly why there is so much hype around him.

Earning a fifth-round stoppage win over French opponent Baptiste Castegnaro, the light-heavyweight showed no signs of his inexperience as a fiery York Hall crowd saw their hometown boy go about his business with the composure similar to a seasoned vet.

“I was glad to get the rounds in. Again I felt it was a fantastic opportunity and I am eternally grateful for it and I hope I made the most of it.” – Joshua Buatsi

Although a first round highlight reel knockout is good, at this stage of his career getting the rounds under his belt against a stubborn opponent are far more important. Buatsi demonstrated his power and when he let his hands fly in combinations, the Frenchman realised he was out of his depth.

Credit to Castegnaro, he looked to frustrate Buatsi and would have opted to carry on had the referee decided he had seen enough in the fifth round.

Although Buatsi may have closed the show, one man stole the show. Well, we use ‘man’ as a loose term, still only aged 20, when Conor Benn is at his destructive best we tend to forget that he is still only a novice.

After a seven month absence from the professional circuit to recover from injury and to polish his fundamentals, Benn promised fireworks on his York Hall debut and he did not disappoint.

By now Conor Benn must be used to the constant comparisons to his father, showing a similar aggression and explosive punching power. Clearly ‘The Dark Destroyer’ has passed on the fighting DNA and following a second round KO over the previously unbeaten Kane Baker, ‘The Destroyer’ looks on the path to building his own legacy.

In a fiery slugfest of a first round, Baker somehow managed to stay on his feet after he was bounced off the ropes and back to unsteady legs as Benn showed some of his devastating power.

At the start of the second, Baker was deducted an ultimately useless point for a very clear and very deliberate headbutt. But, this new Conor Benn showed his maturity, rather than becoming upset, he kept his composure and answered back with a crunching left hook, which took Baker’s legs right from under him, followed with a clubbing right hand. Baker stood up visibly dazed and the referee had no option but to wave off the fight. Benn now marches on to 8-0 with six of them come by way of knockout.

Elsewhere on the undercard, ‘The Welsh Wizard’ Joe Cordina improved his record to 4-0 with another dazzling performance, this time his victim was a very capable Jamie Speight.

The 2016 Olympian looked filled with confidence after stepping up in weight. Coming off the back of a training camp that saw him sparring with lightweight king Jorge Linares, Cordina is still to be taken past the first round in the paid ranks.

“I loved that in there, it was a long, hard camp, we trained for six rounds and got the job done. I really enjoyed the first show of the season.” – Joe Cordina

Image Source: Twitter

For Lawrence Okolie it really must have felt like a strange nights work. Previously boasting a record of four fights and four first round knockouts, ‘The Sauce’ went the scheduled six round distance with Blaise Mendouo. With emerging rival Isaac Chamberlain watching on from ringside, the cruiserweight showed he isn’t just a one punch specialist.

Okolie did, however, show a glimpse of his power as he managed to send the 32-year-old crashing to the canvas in the fourth round. He had to settle for a unanimous decision, the fight was scored 59:54 and Okolie had a much-needed test.

As for Jake Ball, ‘The Blade’ was involved in a thrilling English title eliminator with the previously unbeaten Joe Sherriff.

On his journey to a convincing 97-94 points win, Ball managed to score two knockdowns, who now looks like a certainty for a shot at the English light-heavyweight belt.

English super-welterweight champion Ted Cheeseman was involved in arguably the most bizarre moment of the night, the finish came in the third round as Lezzi was disqualified for pushing the referee, Cheeseman remains unbeaten on 10-0.

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