London’s Southern Area lightweight champion Jeff “Jeffy” Ofori will make the first defence of his title on the 29th June in Portsmouth against Lucas Ballingall. Ofori, 29, won the title thanks to a relentless performance against fellow Londoner Jumaane Camero in October last year, and kept busy with a points win over the rugged Jordan Ellison in February. In Ballingall, he meets a fellow undefeated fighter who will be challenging for the belt in his home town.
“I’m fighting away [from home],” Ofori said to Wraps On TV, “but it doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got an 8-week [training] camp, I’m putting everything in, my heart, sweat, tears… I’m going to leave it all in the ring.”
One suspects that he will need to if he is to walk away with the title still in his possession. Ballingall, fighting for his first title, nevertheless has several advantages over the champion. Taller, younger and with a greater number of professional rounds on his ledger, he is also better travelled than the champion, having competed in London, Brentwood, Belfast, and several other towns and cities along his native South coast. By contrast, the only time Ofori ventured outside York Hall in Bethnal Green was to win the title he currently holds, which he did so in a leisure centre in Tottenham.
This is not lost on him: “I know going over there, it’s on his turf. His dad is promoting [the show], so for me, I’ve got nine rounds or less [to win]… I’m not going to leave it in somebody else’s hands.” His opponent’s height and reach do not phase him either: “I’ve always been a good in-fighter. Most guys I fight are taller than me. Cutting down [an opponent’s reach] is the best thing I do.” This, he believes, is what served him well in winning his title. “Jumaane… he got caught up into my fight – that was my game plan; stick to the body, stick to the body and take it out of him.”
It is hard to read too much into a favourite beyond the tale of the tape. Ofori’s best win is Camero, who was 6-2 at the time. Ballingall stopped Frenchman Michael Dehamnia, 8-4-2 at time, in two rounds for his most notable victory – they would both would be one another’s best win by some margin. Ballingall, who possesses a sharp jab, will look to establish the distance early on, keeping Ofori at bay as he comes forward. The trick, however, will be in maintaining that distance. Ofori was happy to concede the early rounds against the much taller and rangier Camero, to then take the fight to him in the middle and later sessions. Whether Ballingall, who hasn’t fought beyond the sixth round before, can keep Ofori off him for the duration is likely where the fight will be won and lost.
Beyond this fight lie a number of options. The jump from Area level to English level is appreciable, but not impossible; current champion Myron Mills bounced back from a British eliminator defeat last year with a 6-round win in May, and will look to defend the title he still possesses towards the end of the year. The winner of Ofori-Ballingall will likely be on the shortlist of opponents.
True, there is a glass ceiling somewhere. Lightweight is crammed with British talent: Lee Selby, Ricky Burns, Luke Campbell, Anthony Crolla, James Tennyson, Tommy Coyle, most of whom have either shared the ring with world champions or have been champions themselves, are still vying for the division’s biggest spoils. Ultimately this doesn’t matter, and shouldn’t detract from what will in some way or another be a domestically meaningful fight.
Also on the card, local lightweight Garry Neale hopes to bounce back from a knockout defeat to James Tennyson – he faces relative novice Christofer Paredes over 6. In the third lightweight contest of the evening, David Birmingham, who has been stopped in his last two contests, hopes to return to winning ways against experienced and valuable journeyman Jamie Speight, also scheduled for 6. Finally, the combined records of Mwenya Chisanga and Dylan Draper is 2-39-1, with 1 win apiece. The victory won’t mean much to whoever wins their 6 rounder, but they may produce a fun contest to watch nonetheless.