Conor Benn took a significant step up the ranks of the welterweight division, which is the most competitive category in contemporary boxing, when he stopped the American veteran Chris Algieri with a finish of clinical brutality near the end of the fourth round in Liverpool on Saturday night. It was a devastating stoppage, which was greeted ecstatically by Nigel Benn, Conor’s father, who roared his approval at ringside.
Almost as impressively, the 25-year-old Benn boxed with a new maturity and calm throughout the contest. He also showed good defence as he slid away from Algieri’s punches with such alacrity that the crowd responded with appreciative applause. But from the outset, the contest looked one-sided as Benn backed Algieri against the ropes. The older fighter stuck his tongue out in the opening round as if he had nothing to fear but at the break his cornermen were already trying to curb the swelling around his eyes.
Algieri went down for the first time in the second round when a cuffing left hook caught him off balance. He tumbled heavily to the canvas and rolled towards the ropes but Algieri looked more aggrieved than hurt as he was forced to take a standing eight count.
Benn retained his discipline through the next two rounds and, in the finest performance of his career so far, he sealed his 20th straight victory with authority. He forced Algieri to retreat to the ropes and, with 10 seconds left in the fourth round, produced his stunning knockout. A left jab down the pipe was followed by a perfect right hand which made Algieri crumple forward, in slow motion, before falling face first towards the canvas. It was a worrying knockout but, fortunately, Algieri was helped to his feet after a few minutes. Benn consoled him but it was a sad end to Algieri’s career.
Beyond Benn’s impressive improvement, this was a skilful piece of matchmaking. Algieri is well known in America, where he now works as a boxing pundit, and he remains in excellent condition. He had also lost only three bouts in his previous 28 contests and those defeats had been against Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Errol Spence. Pacquiao and Spence are supreme talents and Benn has never faced a fighter of their calibre. Algieri used to be a solid pro and he would once have been a real test for Benn. But he is now 37.
Victory over a faded Algieri does not mean Benn is ready to fight the prodigies of the division. Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz are the two most intriguing young welterweights in boxing and Eddie Hearn, Benn’s promoter, knows that he needs to keep his fighter away from such gifted company in the immediate future. Spence and Terence Crawford, the two kings of the division, offer an even more formidable threat. They are so good that they are both in the top five pound-for-pound rankings.
Benn is hungry and intense, and he carries real power allied to his new composure, but he is still some way from being ready for any of the premier American welterweights. At least beating Algieri so decisively allows him to believe he is closing the gap which separates him from the very best in his red-hot division.
In the other headline bout, Ireland’s Katie Taylor, the undisputed world lightweight champion, won a clear decision on all three scorecards against Firuza Sharipova – her unheralded but tough opponent from Kazakhstan. Taylor has had some hard and testing bouts in recent years while compiling her flawless 20-0 record and she would have hoped for an easier night.
Sharipova, who had exuded feisty confidence all week, came to win and she was ready to resort to roughhouse tactics to try to unsettle the far more experienced champion. But Taylor was willing to trade, trusting her faster hands against the technically sound and rugged challenger. The champion was far from her best but early in the second round she backed up Sharipova and caught her with a sharp left. In the corner after the round, ice had to be applied to a swelling to Sharipova’s left eye.
But Sharipova remained full of ambition and she won some rounds with her aggressive and determined boxing. She seemed undeterred by the cut over her left eye which bloodied her white top. She was intent on turning their battle into a dogfight and in the sixth round she was warned and deducted a point for hitting Taylor after they were told to break.
There was plenty of brawling and Taylor looked a little flat but she still did the more accomplished work – although Sharipova won the eighth to show that she was still trying to find a way to win. But in the ninth Taylor snapped back Sharipova’s head with some accurate counters. The last of these landed just as the bell rang and the 27-year-old fighter from Kazakhstan smiled wearily at the champion.
Sharipova came out fast from her corner for the last round and flurries of punches were greeted by whoops from her corner. But Taylor was still in control and, amid the grappling and brawling, she landed a final few combinations in mild rebuke of her spiky opponent.
Taylor had told me a few weeks ago that, while knowing little about her opponent, she expected that Sharipova would have excellent technical skills – as most fighters schooled in Kazakhstan are good technicians. Sharipova matched that prediction, with added dollops of hostility and grit, but there was little doubt that Taylor had won the decision.
The way is now clear for Taylor to fight Amanda Serrano, the great Puerto Rican, in the most lucrative contest in the history of women’s boxing. There are legitimate expectations that both Taylor and Serrano will make more than a million dollars when they meet in the ring next year. That will be a contest of great significance and, with Christmas looming and after a testing year, the 35-year-old champion deserves a break from the ring after another bruising if decisive victory.