Ted Cheeseman survived a brutal 12th round to land a points win over Sam Eggington in a thrilling affair at promoter Eddie Hearn’s childhood home.
The British rivals served up a bout which deserved the presence of a crowd in Hearn’s first behind-closed-doors event since the coronavirus shutdown.
Cheeseman – close to being stopped in the final round – scored a unanimous 116-113 116-113 115-114 points win.
“This lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me,” he said.
“I cried my eyes out after losses last year,” added the 24-year-old, who has battled gambling addiction. “I am a winner, I give my heart and soul to this sport and I stayed determined and pushed on.”
Hearn follows rival promoter Frank Warren in bringing boxing back to UK television screens since the shutdown and has promised close-fought contests across four fight nights in what is now the garden at the headquarters of his family’s Matchroom Sport business.
Cheeseman and Eggington served up a gripping 36 minutes of light-middleweight action and, in a brilliant eighth round, both showed guts to follow moments of vulnerability with attacks of their own.
Trainers, promoters and fighters varied wildly in their scoring on social media going into the 12th, where Cheeseman fired home a desperate hook at a point where he looked on the brink of being floored.
“I’m sure people would love to see a rematch with a crowd maybe,” said Birmingham’s Eggington, 26.
Promoter Hearn tweeted the bout was “one of the best fights I have ever seen live”, adding: “Can you imagine if that was in front of 10 or 15 thousand fans?”
From white collar boxing to the Hearn garden
Boxing’s biggest promoters continue to state they will lose money as they face the challenge of staging fights without ticket revenue but with a lengthy list of costly coronavirus safety measures to deliver.
Hearn’s Essex venue took 10 days to build and saw fighters walk from temporary changing areas, down steps and through the garden where he used to play as a child to reach the ring.
Those on the card tested negative for Covid-19 on Tuesday and spent the days since unable to leave the fight’s private ‘bubble’ at a nearby hotel.
And while the PPE equipment worn by corner men, the masks worn by referees and the lack of a fan singalong to Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ may appear peculiar, those in the ring could not afford to be distracted if they were to keep their careers on track after the shutdown.
Northern Ireland’s James Tennyson became British lightweight champion by stopping Wales’ Gavin Gwynne six rounds into a gruelling bout.
Decorated Sheffield amateur Dalton Smith extended his undefeated run as a professional to six wins with a clinical fifth-round knockout of Liverpool’s Nathan Bennett.
Asked about performing in the garden surroundings, Smith said: “To be honest when I was walking to the ring it was like I was coming out to spar.
“In the ring it felt the same in that you block everything out around you.”
British featherweight Jordan Gill moved his record to 25 wins from 26 outings with a unanimous points win over Reece Bellotti, while heavyweight Fabio Wardley beat Simon Valilly to become English champion in his ninth bout since turning professional after a handful of white collar fights.
“I started boxing for a bit of fun as it was something to enjoy,” Wardley, 25, said. “Four white collar fights later, a few more professional fights and somehow I’ve managed to land a heavyweight title. I’m massively humbled and grateful.”