20 March 2011 – Steve Wellings
Ian Tims is the new Irish cruiserweight champion after defeating co-challenger Michael Sweeney on the big March 19 City West undercard. Tims dug deep, gritted his teeth and never stopped motoring forward, claiming a deserved 97-95 win on Emile Tiedts scorecard.
Question marks will hover over Sweeneys conditioning, with the Ballinrobe man coming in just one pound under the cruiserweight limit of 14st 4lb, sporting a bulging midriff. Tims immediately set about testing it with right hooks to the body. He maintained this approach throughout the fight and stuck rigidly to the game plan devised by an extremely vocal Paschal Collins, working his corner. Sweeney failed to hit any real rhythm until the third round when he raked in an impressive combination. Both men were warned for liberal use of the heads and elbows and Collins was barking at the ref constantly throughout the fourth round. Third man Emile Tiedt eventually tired of the commentary and leaned his head through the ropes to ask the question, do you want to referee this fight? Collins declined a response but he did have a point. Proof of this came in the sixth when Tims came out of an exchange with a cut to the right eye.
The corner dealt with it well and despite the bleeding, it never became a major issue. Sweeneys nose was dribbling claret in round seven and he found himself gasping for breath at times. Tims was also slowing down, crowding his work and pushing Michael on to the ropes but without the energy to capitilise. Sweeneys left hook came into play but made only fleeting appearances in what was an absorbing battle, proof of the extra levels fighters are willing to travel to when national pride is at stake.
Tims dug in well for the remaining two rounds and blocked the majority of Sweeneys ripostes. This would make for a good rematch, particularly if Sweeney was in better shape.
Sweeney did well and I take my hat off to him but I felt comfortable in there, said Tims. I thought he would have come out faster but the plan was to win the early rounds. I was fit, trained hard for 10 rounds and I wasnt even worried about the cut. He was getting caught so he came in with the head looking for a split but he ran out of steam in the end anyway.
Anthony Fitzgerald claimed the EBA title on the main support bout. Opponent Affif Belghecham represented a steep incline in the quality of Fitzgeralds CV and the Dubliner dealt with it admirably, even if the ending was controversial. Belghecham seemed surprise by Anthonys aggressive start and covered up immediately, lying on the ropes and giving plenty of ground to his marauding opponent. He was cut on the bridge of the nose and rode out the storm of the opener.
By the second he had a taste for the fight and started moving into range, becoming the fight-forcer and pushing out the jab. Fitzgerald looked lean at 11st 5lb and introduced a snappy jab of his own, proving he can box and move off the back foot and showing that he is maturing into a more rounded professional. Affifs cut on the nose was worsening but the fun and games were yet to come. Midway through the fifth round Fitzgerald found a lease of life and unleashed a flurry of blows. Belghecham covered up tightly and was pushed back to the ropes. Fitz continued to throw and in fairness the Frenchman did not fire back a grave mistake of any fighter under pressure and about to be stopped. The referee decided that he was under reasonable duress and dived in to halt the bout. To say that Belghecham was annoyed is putting it mildly. He had never been stopped before and held a proud reputation for toughness; he will now be facing a lengthy ban for his after-fight antics.
Screaming like a man possessed Belghecham charged the referee and pushed him across the ring. The bemused official attempted to stay cool and hope that the irate visitor would cool down fans were no doubt wondering why Belghecham was more aggressive after the fight than during the action. He punched the ref in the throat and got in another shove before security intervened and Affifs trainer stood around the referee, creating a barrier to protect him. It was a distasteful ending to a good scrap.
I think that the man who lasted the distance with Andy Lee and Darren Barker should have been allowed to continue, as his experienced record suggests he can last the course at championship level. He should not, however, have given a referee -unaware of his reputation for durability- the opportunity to jump in and stop the fight, by not returning any fire to ward Fitzgerald off. Either way, his reaction was disgraceful and reminded me of the time Merqui Sosa flipped out and attacked the referee after Roy Jones Jnr stopped him, way back in 1996.
We knew from the first round that he was afraid and expected him to go, but we just didnt know when, Fitzgerald beamed, clutching his EBA strap. What was that reaction all about? Was he trying to say that he shouldnt have been stopped? He wasnt throwing any punches back at me. I think that I can beat both Darren Barker and Andy Lee and I proved it tonight by beating Belghecham like that. People were saying I didnt belong up at that level but I stopped him in five rounds and they couldnt stop him. Ill leave my next move to Phil and the team.