Professional boxing looked very different on its return in the UK on Friday, but in the main event Brad Foster ensured his status as British junior featherweight champion remained the same with a unanimous points win over James Beech Jr.
No crowd and referees wearing face masks were the obvious visible differences for television viewers of the five-bout show staged at BT Studios in Stratford, London, on a Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions. But behind the scenes there was so much more hard work to make the show a reality, such as coronavirus tests for about 70 people involved on the night, who also had to self-quarantine at the same hotel from earlier this week.
After no professional boxing in the UK for four months due to restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, Foster (12-0-2, 5 KOs) and Beech (12-0, 2 KOs) served up a close and entertaining fight on the sport's comeback, which Foster won by unanimous scores of 116-113, 117-111 and 117-111 in a fourth defense of his British and Commonwealth belts.
Foster, from Lichfield, who spent his lockdown working 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. shifts loading food trucks at a supermarket chain, just edged the ferocious, close-range exchanges early on with his handspeed. Beech, 23, from Bloxwich, suffered a cut by his left eye from a left hand in the fourth round, but he responded well to keep it close.
Foster finished the eighth with blood streaming from above his left eye, but generally his quick reactions meant he slipped a lot of Beech's punches. Beech was busier in the ninth as he pressed back his Midlands rival Foster, who slowed in some of the latter rounds. Foster was still dangerous on the inside in a better 11th round from the champion, who finished the fight strong by unloading fast combinations.
As this was the third win of former kickboxer Foster's reign, he gets to keep the Lonsdale belt outright.
"I didn't feel great in there, I didn't feel I woke up until the seventh round, but I've got these belts and that's all that matters," Foster said. "With this training, I've just been working and training, and I need a bit of a rest."
There were also impressive displays from two more of British boxing's most exciting young prospects in junior middleweight Hamzah Sheeraz and heavyweight David Adeleye.
Sheeraz (11-0, 6 KOs) looked razor sharp in a dominant win over Dundee's Paul Kean (12-2, 1 KO), who was retired by his corner before the start of the seventh round of a ten-round junior middleweight contest. Sheeraz, 21, from Ilford in east London, scored a knockdown with a right hand after only 90 seconds, but Kean's head quickly cleared and he showed some brave resistance.
Sheeraz is tall, and he utilized his reach, repeatedly catching Kean with clean, spearing jabs to leave the Scotsman bleeding from his nose by the middle rounds. Kean's corner did the sensible thing as he had lost every minute of the fight, and Sheeraz looks a prospect to keep an eye on.
"It was a mature performance and a performance I can build on," Sheeraz said.
Another exciting, young boxer on show was London-based heavyweight Adeleye (2-0, 2 KO) who left Matt Gordon (2-3-1) on legs of jelly in the second round. Adeleye, from Ladbroke Grove, sparred with Tyson Fury ahead of the WBC world heavyweight champion's rematch with Deontay Wilder in February, and his quality was evident from the first round.
The 23-year-old has power and impressive handspeed, and he caught Gordon with an overhand right in the first round. Adeleye, who is 6-4 and a bit lighter than 224 pounds, unloaded a series of right hooks when Gordon was trapped in a corner. Gordon sunk to his knees and when he got up was on jelly legs, prompting the referee to stop the fight after two minutes, 44 seconds of the second round.
"I definitely think I'm big enough for heavyweight, I've got fast hands and fast feet," Adeleye said.
Earlier in the evening, the first professional bout since March did not even last a minute, as Portsmouth lightweight Mark Chamberlain (6-0, 4 KOs), 21, raced to a first-round stoppage win over Stu Greener (3-5, 1 KO), from Devizes. Chamberlain did not hang about and caught Greener with a left hook to floor his opponent in the first 30 seconds. Chamberlain followed up, and referee Michael Alexander stopped the fight after 55 seconds.
"It was a bit different, there was probably more people in the gym when I was sparring," Chamberlain said.
London-based Ukrainian heavyweight Dorin Krasmaru extended his record to 3-0, 2 KOs with a 40-36 points win over Swindon journeyman Phil Williams (3-25-1, 1 KO).