THE vacant European super-bantamweight championship is on the line at the Telford International Center on Saturday night when local favorite Liam Davies faces Ionut Baluta.
BT Sport televised a Queensberry Promotions show that also features Anthony Yarde tuning up for his shot at light-heavyweight king Artur Beterbiev in a 10-rounder against Stefani Koykov, a 30-year-old from Bulgaria who’s based in Germany.
Baluta and Davies both pulled off huge wins in the space of three weeks earlier this year.
Baluta shocked Brad Foster, the former British and Commonwealth champion, at the York Hall in May and then Davies defied pre-fight odds of 11/4 to take the British title off Salford southpaw Marc Leach.
That was a measured, composed display by Davies. The 26-year-old was known as a boxer-puncher who gets dragged into fights, but against Leach he kept his discipline after dropping him in the first.
Davies didn’t rush anything, didn’t over reach, picked his moments and won by two, three and six points on the cards. There were never six rounds between them, but the consensus was, the right man won a tight fight and there were no complaints from the Leach camp.
Baluta, from Romania and now living in Watford and training with Josh Burnham in Bushey, is a step up from Leach and everyone else Davies has faced in his 12-0 pro career.
Baluta’s last five opponents have had a combined record of 73-4-2 – and he’s beaten four of them, losing the other on a majority points vote. He upset TJ Doheny (22-1), ambushed David Oliver Joyce (12-1), pushed Michael Conlan (14-0) to the point one judge had them level and then shocked Foster (14-1-2).
Baluta isn’t the most gifted of boxers, doesn’t carry the biggest punch, but he gets the most out of himself.
Burnham says Baluta was sparring 10 four-minute rounds with Joe Cordina in the countdown to his successful IBF title challenge earlier this year.
Baluta, nicknamed ‘Il Capo’ or ‘The Boss,’ represented Romania at the European Youth and European Senior Championships before turning pro aged 22 and as a pro, he’s learned to win fights on the right-hand side of the bill.
The 28-year-old says he will go for the knockout, so perhaps he will jump all over Davies the way he jumped all over Joyce at the York Hall in September, 2020.
Baluta really went for the Irishman, unloading combination after combination before dropping him in the third and forcing the stoppage.
Perhaps Baluta fancies if he puts it on Davies, he can drag him into a scrap the way Nicaragua’s Dixon Flores did in the early rounds before Liam followed trainer Errol Johnson’s instructions to “box your way home.”
Burnham said: “I like Liam, but he’s trying to move a bit too quickly. He’s fought 11 journeymen and Marc Leach. Twelve rounds with a southpaw counter puncher like Leach is different to 12 rounds with a psycho like Baluta.”
Davies will surely grow as a fighter after the Leach fight and says he wasn’t fully fit that night.
He was still troubled by a rotator cuff injury that forced him out of fighting Andrew Cain in April.
Davies says that with both hands working, he will have too much for Baluta. He told Boxing News: “He’s readable with what he does. He throws a lot of punches and tries to overwhelm you and I won’t let him do that. I believe he tires and my power will slow him right down.
“I’m going to stamp my authority on the fight, slow the pace down and take away the confidence he’s built up.”
Interesting that Davies says Baluta is “readable.” Conlan described him as “unpredictable.”
Conlan pulled away in the closing rounds to win a majority vote over 12 and perhaps it’s significant that Baluta’s best wins have come over eight and 10 rounds, rather than 12.
This fight could well be in the balance going into the championship rounds and we go for Baluta to snatch a close decision.
Easier to predict is the 10-rounder between Yarde and Koykov.
Promoter Frank Warren says Yarde “needs some time in the ring” before he challenges Artur Beterbiev for his 175lbs belts in January, given that he hasn’t boxed since his rematch victory over Lyndon Arthur last December.
Yarde walked through Arthur in four and Koykov is unlikely to last that long. He has 12 early wins on his 14-1 record, but in his third pro fight, Koykov was dropped three times and stopped in two rounds by Rene Molik (1-3). The Czech is currently 3-10-1.
Yarde has won 21 of his 24 fights early and was close to winning his other three by stoppage as well, including his challenge for Sergey Kovalev’s WBO strap in August, 2019.
He can get rid of Koykov inside four.
Also on the bill is the promising 9-0 Eithan James. The 22-year-old super-lightweight from Northampton steps up from the eight-round level to take on Woodville’s Connor Parker, 14-1 (1). Parker, a southpaw, is a former Midlands Area champion but his career stalled following a November 2019 loss to Sam Maxwell. James’ activity could favor him here. We expect hm to win a close one on points.
Crowd-pleaser Jamie Stewart, 3-2-2, makes the second defense of his Midlands Area welterweight title against Worcester’s Owen Cooper, 6-0 (2). The man from Longton is a narrow favorite but this could go either way.
THE VERDICT: Three solid ‘trade’ fights have the potential to entertain while Yarde should win in a flash.