Alex Dilmaghani’s IBO Super Featherweight World Title clash with Nicaraguan Francisco Fonesca was an ode to hard work. It was a well-matched, watchable, top class fight with plenty of old-fashioned grit and determination on display.
Dilmaghani’s decision to cross the Atlantic and re-invent himself in Mexico shows in his fighting style, which is tough, uncompromising and hard-working. He fires off rat-tat-tat combinations and keeps a tight guard. He also seems to be incredibly strong and able to push forward consistently against good quality opposition.
Pitting him against Francisco Fonesca was equal parts fantastic and sadistic. These men are two peas in a pod as far as I’m concerned. They’re two fighters with big hearts and great engines, they went toe-to-toe from the opening bell, firing similar three and four punch combinations of hooks and uppercuts from behind similarly tight guards. They were also similar in that their game focuses on intensity, rather than relying on counter-punching or concussive knockout power. Both have a lot in common as boxers and even their shorts matched.
In the early rounds Dilmaghani edged into the lead, on my scorecard at least. Clinching close rounds with slightly crisper, more accurate work. But, the two consistently fired off big combinations while pretty much standing on each other’s toes. For fight fans who like old fashioned hard work and punch output, this was a fight to savour.
In the second round, a couple of Dilmaghani right hooks flashed over the shoulder of his opponent, finding his chin and sending flecks of sweat dramatically pinging off the Nicaraguan’s head. The Englishman had more moments of notable success like this, landing clean shots upstairs and down than his South American opposite number, who too often only hit gloves and arms. This was the rhythm of the fight, in my eyes, basically until round nine. They exchanged mainly in centre ring, working away at close range to head and body- neither man interested in taking a backwards step.
Fonseca looked to have been hurt by Dilmaghani’s accurate body work in the sixth and seventh rounds. His guard lowered noticeably, turning into a sort of poorly-approximated Philly shell at one point. It was awkward and clearly not a choice Fonseca wanted to make.
A head clash in round nine changed the fight entirely. Both men suffered the effects of it and York Hall was, for a brief moment, eerily quiet, as the fighters reeled away in pain. After taking a moment to compose themselves, they resumed.
Dilmaghani was bleeding profusely and had seemingly come out worst of the head clash. Fonseca, encouraged, barrelled forwards and got on top of the Englishman for the remainder of the fight.
As the final bell sounded Dilmaghani looked to be in very real trouble.
Personally, sitting at ringside, I expected an Alex Dilmaghani victory, despite his ebbing away in the final rounds. I believed his work early on had been enough to clinch the fight, but speaking to reporters around me it was clear there was no consensus on the outcome.
With one judge awarding a 115-114 victory to the Nicaraguan and the other two marking up 114-114 draws, a majority draw was awarded. So, the belt stays with the IBO for now.
I, for one, would love to see this fight again, but I will admit that it won’t be the cup-of-tea of every boxing fan. At times it slipped into a rhythm where both men took turns firing off their three, four and five punch combinations at each other. They were both tight defensively, with high guards often taking the place of dynamic head movement or footwork. In some periods of the fight this turned into a slightly simplistic shoot-out, but one thing is for sure, these two have engines that could put Jaguar Land Rover to shame.
I’d love to see those engines raced again but it was a gruelling fight and re-running it will doubtless be a daunting prospect. The IBO World Title should be enough of a carrot to lure these two back though. Despite shots after the bell and a recent history of antagonism, these two boxers clearly respected each other after the fight, starting the final round with a hug, not the traditional touch of gloves. Two warriors recognised each other and so did the York Hall crowd.