Willie McLaughlin, from the Illies Golden Gloves BC in Buncrana ,gained a fifth successive win in the World Series Boxing semi-final last night. But he left it late, and indeed at one stage it looked as if he would lose his unbeaten record.
This report on the night’s proceedings from wsb.com
This was a mouth-watering tie with two of the most exciting teams looking to take a major step towards progression to the WSB Team Finals in the first leg of this fixture. Both camps were in confident mood in the build-up to Saturday’s action with the classy home team Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder having declared that they would adopt a no-fear approach against the irrepressible Baku Fires. It was some spectacle when these two locked horns but Milano will have surprised everyone with the character of this first showing at the Mediolanum Forum.
In the first encounter of the evening, top ranked Bantamweight Gairbek Germakhanov of Baku Fires represented one of the toughest tests of Vincenzo Picardi WSB career, but with home advantage, this was the opportunity for the Italian 27-year-old to shine. The experienced Picardi was clearly buoyed by the partisan crowd chanting his name as he used his height and reach advantage to gain the upper hand in the first round. It was an all action display by both fighters in the second with the explosive Germakhanov just edging it. The fans were being treated to a fight of the highest calibre with two explosive fighters going for it. Midway through the third, Picardi connected with a hard right that cut the Azeri’s left brow. The gash was so severe that the ringside doctor could not stem the bleeding and the fight unfortunately had to be stopped. With Picardi ahead on the judges’ scorecards, the Italian orthodox fighter was awarded the win to the delight of the home crowd.
With Milano Thunder now with the early advantage, it was as predicted a fascinating Lightweight contest as Branimir Stankovic proved his pedigree with a sumptuous display against 27-year-old Baku Fires Tajik Madadi Nagzibekov. Stankovic looked so motivated right from the off, very positive in his approach, unafraid of throwing the big punches. Boxing at close-quarters, it was a fight of pure passion by Stankovic, who was mixing his shots to great effect as he worked the body of his opponent, throwing punches from all angles. Starting to feel the effect after four intense rounds, Stankovic then switched to using the jab to great effect as he won the bout to record his first WSB career victory. The young Serb delighted his corner and the rest of his team with a performance of the highest standard as Milano doubled their advantage in the match.
In the Middleweight contest, undefeated Irishman William McLaughlin of the Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder was surprised by his opponent Osman Aliyev’s bright start. The Azeri debutant was throwing a lot of punches, with several connecting to his rival’s body. The man from Ireland though was standing strong, his high guard soaking up those punches. McLaughlin then slowly started asserting his authority to dictate from the centre of the canvas and although he managed to connect with some solid left hooks, Aliyev’s positive opening saw him take the first round. The Azeri continued to look sharp, evading McLaughlin’s attacks and hitting him with some exquisite counter punches as he took the second round in similar fashion. The 26-year-old orthodox Milano fighter changed tactic in the third to great effect, as he hounded down his fast moving opponent, going toe-to-toe with him and throwing some hard combination punches. The crowd were really enjoying this one as McLaughlin was giving his all against the accomplished Aliyev. The Irishman’s endeavour saw him take the third. After that, McLaughlin continued to unleash an array of punches though with Aliyev putting up a brave resistance and not allowing his rival to dominate. This was a pulsating fight with the Milano man doing enough to claw himself back on level terms with one round to go. With the fans boisterous, McLaughlin found the reserves to unleash several flurries of punches as he emphatically finished the final round by rocking his opponent to win the contest. As the final bell went, the Irishman knew he had won it as he celebrated wildly, punching the air and hugging his coach. He had battled from the brink to win; it was simply an irresistible performance. Milano were now 3-0 up on the night.
With the spectators now cheering loudly, Imre Szello entered the ring for the Light Heavyweight contest. He used a measured approach against the young up-and-coming Baku Fires 19-year-old southpaw Vatan Huseynli to great effect. This tactic was spot on for the 28-year-old, as he kept his opponent at bay with the clever use of his jab to take the first round. Although Huseynli was very positive in the early stages, he was a bit wild and the experienced Szello showcased excellent technique to notch up the next two rounds. The young Azeri was now running out of ideas and could not find a way past Szello’s solid defences. Szello was now picking his spots and his rival apart as he turned on the pressure by alternating punches between the head and the body to devastating effect. The bout was now turning into an exhibition by the Hungarian icon. Throwing a repertoire of shots with some penetrating combinations, Szello looked like he could go on forever; he was really enjoying himself out there. Milano Head Coach, Francesco Damiani, was all smiles by the end, recognising the quality of Szello’s performance as he stormed to a resounding victory.
With his unbeaten record on the line, WSB Heavyweight World Champion Clemente Russo kept his distance from the taller Azeri southpaw Haji Murtuzaliyev in the opening exchanges of the final contest. It was once again a tactical fight from the 29-year-old Italian, who is one of the quickest Heavyweights you will see in this competition, as he threw some hard overheads into his opponents face before quickly retreating. The game-plan was working to perfection and although not easy on the eye, this strategy was paying dividends. In the third round, Russo’s confidence seemed sky-high as he went into showboating mode, shuffling and looking the other way before throwing some hard connecting shots. That overhead left continued to do the damage and had the Azeri on the back foot. Murtuzaliyev was having a go but could not get to grips with the Italian, he threw quite a few punches but Russo’s movement was excellent. The fifth and final round was a scrappy affair but Russo knew he had the win in the bag as he raised his fist when he connected with another hard left. When the final bell rang, Russo’s arms pointed to the sky. There were high-fives aplenty when the superstar made his way through the crowd as the spectators enjoyed a sensational overall 5:0 win.
This monumental victory now sees Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder within touching distance of the WSB Finals on the 2 May at the ExCeL in London. All they need now is to win one of their five fights in Baku to guarantee passage. However one thing is for sure, Baku Fires will be pumped for that one and will be going all out for the win in front of their home fans. Can the Azeri outfit battle back from this deficit and force a sudden death bout. Tune in next weekend for more thrilling WSB semi-final action in the return leg.