NEWPORT’S Justyn Hugh produced a performance of resilience, bravery and fighting spirit on Saturday night at the Newport Centre, but he succumbed to the old sporting adage of nothing being a substitute for class.
The 28-year-old found it unlucky 13 on a fun night at the Newport Centre, beaten for the first time in his career by Dean Francis in a British Masters light-heavyweight title bout.
Hugh’s dozen previous fights – 11 wins, one draw – had never been against anybody with Francis’ class but there were several question marks against the Bristol fighter.
At 38 years old Francis’ chances were hard to assess, especially as he hasn’t stepped in the ring for three years, but under Chris Sanigar’s watchful eye he’s proved unequivocally that he still has the tools that took him to British, Commonwealth and European titles.
A raucous crowd were absolutely delighted by the start made by St Joseph’s boxer Hugh, his workrate and discipline in sticking to a game plan with a heavy emphasis on dominating Francis working beautifully for four rounds.
Hugh looked the busier and more effective fighter in the first two sessions and then scored a knockdown in the third, though Francis seemed to be slipping anyway when the knockdown occurred.
Hugh maintained the offensive strategy until the dying embers of the fourth session, when a couple of counters from Francis forced a grimace and from then on it was a fight transformed.
Francis simply threw off the ring rust with some sparkling combinations and he began to dominate Hugh.
He mixed shots to the body with jabs and hooks to Hugh, whose defence on the night simply wasn’t up to the task.
Francis won rounds five to nine before Hugh attempted an all-guns-blazing approach in the final session, Francis catching him again and pinning Hugh onto the ropes by his own corner, another vicious onslaught leaving official Wynford Jones with no choice but to wave it off.
The disappointment for Hugh was a sad note for the Newport crowd to leave on, but they couldn’t complain about the action on the Steve Sims/Tony Borg bill.
In the undoubted highlight of the night, Tony Pace won a thrilling 10-rounder to claim the British Masters lightweight title against former amateur rival Lance Sheehan.
The battle of Talbot Green and Aberdare appeared to be heading towards a Sheehan victory, with the Aberdare fighter taking the initiative to Pace.
In round five he absolutely stormed to the offensive, Pace taking so much punishment it seemed a certainty Jones would stop it. He didn’t, a big call, but clearly the right one as Pace recovered, winning all the remaining rounds to claim a 97-93 win with the suspicion, surely, that Sheehan punched himself out in attempting to force the stoppage.
In the anticipated return match between Gwent up-and-comers, Newport’s Adam Goldsmith and Blackwood’s Dai Jones drew 29-29 when a bad cut over Jones’ left eye forced a premature ending.
It now seems certain we’ll see the pair in action again to complete the trilogy.
Taz Jones was a winner in his first fight for three years, taking all four sessions against the infuriatingly awkward Jay Morris, who was also docked a point for failing to obey the referee’s instructions to stop holding.
Gwent’s disappointing night in the ring was completed in Belfast, where Chris Eubank Jr, under the watchful eye of his father, maintained his unbeaten record at the expense of Newbridge’s Bradley Pryce.
The 23-year-old Eubank was given an 80-73 verdict over eight threes, but many ringside observers – and live TV viewers, the bout on Channel 5 – felt 31-year-old Pryce deserved a closer verdict.
“The fellow (Pryce) had 33 wins and from Christopher’s viewpoint, in another five fights he’s going to be speaking only about James DeGale,” Chris Eubank senior said.