Capped off by the settling of a bitter feud, ‘SLB Fight Night: Zerafa vs Hardman’ ended up being a memorable night for a number of fighters.
Heading into the event, the prevailing narrative centred around how the clash between rivals Michael Zerafa and Issac Hardman would play out. Here, a plethora of questions arose, all of which were emphatically answered once the final bell rang.
Almost forgotten among these storylines, a new female World champion was also crowned in the Super Bantamweight division.
More than just a fight, the meeting between Cherneka Johnson and Melissa Esquivel, as well as two other action packed contests, served as glowing evidence of the women’s boxing boom that is taking place in Australia.
Without further ado, here are the five talking points from the card.
Zerafa makes statement with dominant outing
After Michael Zerafa (30-4, 19 KOs) withdrew from his blockbuster bout with Tim Tszyu (21-0, 15 KOs) in July 2021, he was outright condemned in the court of public opinion.
An already polarising figure, the ‘Pretty Boy’ was labelled, among many things, a ‘coward’ and a ‘wannabe’ by boxing fans across the country. The same feelings soon carried over to include Issac Hardman (12-1, 10 KOs), a hard-hitting fighter not shy in sharing his dislike for Zerafa.
As such, a harsh war of words broke out, culminating in a feud that could only be settled in the ring.
Facing a combination of heavy criticism, a bitter rivalry and the threat of a hungry knockout artist, Zerafa met the challenges head on, looking past the pressure to finish Hardman inside two rounds.
The 30 year old started the sharper of the two, landing an educated lead hand with stiff jabs and left hooks throughout the opening moments of the fight.
Still, Hardman stalked in hope of connecting with a venomous shot, only to be alluded. Leaning on his boxing skills, Zerafa continued to circle his opponent to avoid danger.
Seeing this advantage, the Melbournian began to punch in combinations. Soon after the bell to start the second sounded, a well timed one-two, followed by another left hook sent Hardman crashing to the canvas.
Returning to his feet still feeling the affects of the knockdown, ‘The Headsplitter’ was met with a ferocious foe who could see that the end was near. As Zerafa followed with a string of fight ending blows, referee Will Soulos was left no choice but to stop the contest.
Afterwards, both men, their coaches and their families embraced, suggesting that a burying of the hatchet had taken place.
By winning in such fashion though, the Middleweight reminded any doubters that he is not to be taken lightly, solidifying his place as thenation’s best fighter in the division domestically.
Moreover, Zerafa moves closer to a shot at the IBF World Middleweight belt, as the Hardman bout served as an official title eliminator for the governing body.
Johnson grits teeth to claim World title gold
Australia has it’s newest World champion in the form of Cherneka Johnson (14-1, 6 KOs).
After a tough, back and forth ten rounds with Mexico’s Melissa Esquivel (12-3-1, 4 KOs), the Melbournian was awarded a split decision win (95-96, 96-94, 97-93) and the IBF Super Bantamweight title.
From the outset, it was clear that an entertaining clash of styles was about to ensue.
Immediately, Johnson began establishing a comfortable distance behind her jab. Conversely, Esquivel marched forward willingly, fighting in a similar fashion to that of her compatriots of the past and present.
While the wild left hooks of the Los Mochis native caused early problems, Johnson remained resolute. Timing her opponent’s forward movements, the New Zealand born Australian made an impression by landing multiple overhand rights.
With each combatant having their moments, the bout was there for the taking at the halfway mark. Sensing this, the pair threw caution to the wind across rounds six and seven, both scoring with jarring shots in the four minute block.
The ‘neck and neck’ nature of the contest was further highlighted by the eighth round. For every left uppercut landed by Esquivel, ‘Sugar Neekz’ rallied with a series of one-two combinations.
Sadly for the Mexican, her output late in the fight was hampered by further damage to an already braced left knee, causing her to fall to the canvas.
Picking up on this, Johnson found another gear in the final two rounds and somehow increased her workrate. This final push ultimately put an exclamation point on the exceptionally close fight.
In victory, Johnson becomes the second Australian woman in as many months to capture a World title. Last month, Ebanie Bridges (8-1, 3 KOs) turned in a career best performance to win the IBF Bantamweight title in Leeds, Engalnd.
Given that both champions fight in similar weight divisions, a potential meeting between the two would not be beyond the realm of possibility.
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Prominent women’s boxing a nod to changing tide
Although the Johnson vs Esquivel title bout was the highest profile of them, the card played host to three evenly matched, action packed women’s fights.
The first of the trio saw debutants Zoe Poturak (0-0-1) and Kim-Alina Ross (0-0-1) clash over four rounds. Taking place early in the night, the pair left no stone unturned in pursuit of a win. The volume punching of Poturak began to take over in the fight, following two rounds of heavy hitting from Ross.
When the final bell sounded, the judges could not seperate them, resulting in a split draw (39-37, 37-39, 38-38).
Moments later, Carly Salmon (2-0) and Krystina Jacobs (5-3) fought with a similar amount of vigour in their Australasian Super Featherweight title clash.
Their six razor close rounds were only seperated by Salmon’s ability to find a home for her right hand. These exchanges proved to be a crucial difference in a fight where both women were willing to work on the inside.
Despite peppering with snapping left hooks, Jacobs did not have an answer for the overhand punches coming her way. The judges saw similar, unanimously scoring in favour of Salmon (59-55, 58-56 x 2).
In all, these contests are indicative of a greater shift.
Rarely do we see women’s boxing play such a key role in Australian fight nights. If this series of bouts is anything to go by however, it is a trend we should welcome in the future.
Complementing the championship feats of Bridges and the newly crowned Johnson, Shannon O’Connell (22-6-1, 10 KOs) and Beck Hawker (5-0, 2 KOs) occupy places in the rankings of major governing bodies. Meanwhile, 23 year old sensation Taylah Robertson (4-1, 1 KO) is slated to fight for a youth World title in the near future.
As boxing booms globally, so too does the female game. The landscape of the sport ‘Down Under’ is beginning to follow suit.
Somerville shines after long hiatus
After two years away from the ring, Campbell Somerville (2-0, 2 KOs) hit the ground running in his return against debutant Lawrence Glover (0-1).
Clearly champing at the bit to compete, the 2018 Commonwealth games representative was aggressive from the opening bell.
In fact, it seemed that he was in flow state.
Throughout the course of the first round, Somerville mixed his attacks to both body and head. On serveral occassions, these came in eight punch combinations from mid-range.
Despite boasting a 190cm frame, the 25 year old was also unafraid of fighting on the inside. Marching past the overhand right of the much shorter Glover, Somerville landed rips and uppercuts with both hands.
It was here that the sheer volume of punches broke an incredibly tough dam wall in the second round, forcing a referee stoppage after a knockdown at the midway point.
Having dealt with injury troubles in recent years, the win is a nod to the resilience of Somerville. With a second professional outing now behind him, the decorated amateur will be gunning to become a key player in Australia’s stacked Super Welterweight division in 2022.
Gipp shows talent, ready for step up
Throughout boxing circles, the name Jack Gipp (5-0, 3 KOs) has been a cause of great buzz.
At just 23 years of age, the Marcos Amado trained prospect seems to have all of the tools required for a great future in the sport. This potential was on full display in the opening bout of the card.
Facing Fijian Lepani Levatia (1-6, 1 KO), Gipp scored three knockdowns on the way to a first round TKO win. From the force of his punches, to the ability to put together combinations, the Mornington Penninsula product showed that he was a class above his game opponent.
Now having a strong foothold in the professional ranks, it appears that the time is right for a step up in competition for Gipp, against a fighter that will force him to become accustomed to fighting through uncomfortable situations.
With a deep pool of battle hardened boxers in the Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions, there will not be a shortage of options avaiable for such a test.
Regardless of who his next opponent may be, every sign points to the next step in Gipp’s boxing journey being a very exciting one.
For all of the results from SLB Fight Night’s Zerafa vs Hardman card, click here.
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