As London Chessboxing descended on Bethnal Green’s York Hall on November 28th a palpable sense of excitement began to build at the iconic east-end boxing venue. This was a moment of truth for the chessboxers in hard training since June this year, an opportunity to test themselves for the first time in a major arena.
And the contestants did not let us down. The night began with a warm-up exhibition match between Henry Blanchard and Rob Fletcher in the light-heavyweight division. Fletcher boxed within himself but showed some unorthodox and effective skills, while Blanchard concentrated on wearing his man down in the rounds of chess, eventually scoring a checkmate in round 7.
The second bout of the night featured LCB favourite Matt “Crazy Arms” Read against the confident debutant Liam “Yogi” Macpherson. Fans of Crazy Arms are used to seeing him soak up physical punishment only to emerge victorious (but usually bloodied) thanks to his superior chess skills. On this occasion however Read dominated in both elements of the fight, using his long reach to devastating effect and in round 4 landing a hard uppercut that rocked Yogi and nearly sent him to the canvas. The proud Scot continued to the end of the round but ringside medics advised him not to continue the fight. In a gallant attempt he fought through the pain barrier and played the final chess round in a forlorn hop of upsetting Read at the board but when that did not succeed the bout was declared in Read’s favour by TKO.
The standout fight of the night came next – an 11 round thriller between Sean “The Machine” Mooney and Paul “The Hitman” Roberts. Earlier in the day the event organisers had received news that lightweight world champion contender Guram Guberidze from Georgia had pulled out of his scheduled contest at the last minute. In order to satisfy the 800 strong crowd who had come to see a title fight WCBA officials expeditiously sanctioned the Mooney V Roberts bout as a decider for the vacant world middleweight throne.
A battle royale ensued with both men showing themselves worthy contenders for the prestigious belt. But it was the more experienced Mooney who gained the upper hand, first on the chessboard and then via a devastating three punch combination ending with a solid uppercut that landed flush on Roberts’ nose causing blood to jet onto the canvas.
The bout was suspended while medics stemmed the bleeding before Roberts could continue. Showing enormous heart he battled his way back into the contest but it was an uphill struggle all the way and in at the end of the 11th and final round Mooney’s technique and fitness were sufficient to overcome The Hitman’s strength and commitment.
In a final coda to the evening, Vladimir Agasaryan who was to have fought for the WCBA lightweight title before his opponent withdrew, made an appearance against stand-in Khalidas …. from Lithuania. Agasaryan, in peak physical condition made short work of his plucky but under-prepared opponent, winning after four rounds of total domination.