The latest instalment of Matchroom’s JD NXTGEN arrived at the Walker Activity Dome, Newcastle last night – with exciting prospect Josh Kelly topping the bill in front of 2,000 noisy locals.
Though the purpose of the NXTGEN series since its launch has been to give the up-and-comers a chance to impress – and progress – on their own show, last night’s card also presented an opportunity for a couple of already-established names to shake off some rust.
Following a torrid 18 months out of the ring, a rejuvenated Bradley Saunders marked his return with a first-round stoppage of Casey Blair (4-29-0). Though a chronic mismatch, Saunders seemed delighted to exorcise some demons after being plagued with injuries and experiencing a catalogue of out-of-the-ring issues in recent times. He told BNTV:
“I definitely had a few demons in my head, but I enjoyed that. I’ve had a big problem with thinking and overthinking too much. I’ve quite often had question marks in my head, but that’s that one out of the way.
“I’ve knocked out a kid there who has lost a few, but he doesn’t really get stopped in the first round. And, he was at super-middleweight. He had a lot of weight on me and I still got him out of there quickly. I’ve proved there that weight meant nothing, and I’ve got rid of a few question marks in my own head.”
Similarly, former world champion and North-East local Stuart Hall featured on the bill in a tune-up fight against Jose Aguilar (16-36-4). Hall won all six rounds in a one-sided contest, which provided little in the way of entertainment. Hall – similarly to Saunders – was delighted to step into the ring after nine months of inactivity following a controversial loss to Lee Haskins.
“It felt brilliant to get the rust off,” Hall said. “I got some rounds in, and overall, I was happy with the performance. There’s a few things to work on, but I’d been out for nine months. I could’ve let a few more big shots go, but I landed some good combinations.
“Hopefully my next fight will be a big fight. I’d be more than ready after some rounds tonight to shake the rust off. If I can get a big fight in September or October, that’d be good. I’d like to come through a big fight, then try and challenge for a world title early next year.”
Elsewhere on the undercard, Natasha Jonas made her professional debut under the Matchroom banner – winning via TKO just after halfway through the first round against Monika Antonik (1-4-0). Jonas came out of the blocks flying – landing with both spite and speed at will, and as she told BNTV, she will forever cherish her first outing as a pro in what was a cauldron-like atmosphere.
“I think Geordies are very similar to Scousers in the way that they get behind their boxers,” An elated Jonas said. “They’re very into their boxing, and they greeted me like one of their own. To get that reception on my debut… it’ll always be special, and it’ll always be something I remember.”
Jonas added that she wishes to fight another 3-4 times before the year is out, and trainer Joe I Gallagher certainly believes the future is bright for the former Olympian. Clearly delighted with what he saw, Gallagher reflected upon Jonas’ performance, and paid homage to her work ethic in the gym. He said:
“I think people will be impressed with what they saw tonight in the arena and on television. She came out fast, punched with bad intentions and showed she’s got a great skill set. I was really happy with her tonight. I didn’t think she’d get a stoppage, and if she did, I thought it’d be in the third or fourth round when her opponent ran out of gas.
“Natasha has made a statement tonight. Her work ethic in the gym is exceptional, she’s a perfectionist and she’ll take the time to study. It’s a pleasure to train her, and she’s set an example to a few of the lads in the gym as to how they should approach things.”
Jonas headed straight out of her changing room after a brief turnaround to watch fellow scouser Anthony Fowler make his second pro outing in front of an excited crowd. Fowler’s first round debut win at Bramall Lane had been cloaked in controversy following a nasty punch on his already-grounded opponent, but the ‘Machine’ found himself in with a far more durable opponent this time around against Nikoloz Gvajava (9-7-1).
Gvajava seemed to be enjoying himself in the early exchanges – even landing a few punches of his own and showboating before an amused Walker crowd. Fowler found it far less funny than those onlooking, however, and by the third round, he began pounding in heavy body shots – flooring his opponent three times en route to a fourth round stoppage. Beaming from ear-to-ear, Fowler reflected upon his performance to BNTV, saying:
“He was a perfect opponent for me really. He was a tough fighter, and he’s only been stopped by middleweights until tonight. I was the first at this weight to stop him.
“Now and then, I got a bit carried away. I was swinging a bit wildly, and he caught me with a good shot in the second round. It was a reminder to not get too involved, and to pick my shots and show my class.
“Rounds three and four, that’s what I did. I sat back, showed my class and got the stoppage. He tried a bit of reverse psychology with me, and tried to show me he wasn’t hurt by showboating. I know I punch hard though, and the crowd could see it too. When he laughed at me, I thought ‘here’s a few more mate, you won’t be laughing in a minute’.
“He had a head like a brick, and body shots kill. Everybody knows that body shots can be sickening. I switched downstairs, and he couldn’t handle it. Once I realised that, he was vulnerable.”
Elsewhere on the undercard, there were wins for Jordan King, Simon Vallily, Warren Baister, Kyle Redfearn, Darren Reay, Jamie Humble and Kris Pilkinton drew with Micheal Mooney.
Though the card was fairly underwhelming all-in-all, the main event did not disappoint. Exciting local prospect Josh Kelly was matched against the well-supported Tom Whitfield (4-1-0) – who many locals felt would give a good account of himself.
Kelly, however, was too elusive, too smart and too fast for his helpless opponent. ‘Pretty Boy’ controlled the ring while barely throwing a punch in the early exchanges – mesmerising the crowd with his clever feints, effortless footwork and exceptional head movement.
The first jab he threw landed crisp and wobbled Whitfield, and following a misplaced right hand, an incredible combination of seven (yes, seven) left hooks brought the fight to an end before the end of the first round. It was the perfect performance from Kelly in front of an electric home support, and as he told BNTV, in-ring entertainment is something he values highly, and something we can continue to expect in the future.
“It wasn’t just about the fight tonight,” he said. “It was also about the experience of headlining and walking out in a loud atmosphere at the top of the bill, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“You’ve got to be a showman in there. People pay to come and watch a showman – they don’t want something ordinary. I want to entertain people and do the business as well. Adam [Booth] is always very businesslike. We need to do the business like we did tonight, but with my style, there’s always going to be that excitement too.
“It was the most enjoyable fight of my professional career so far. I think I’ve picked up an arm injury throwing a right hand, and he caught me with a left hook coming back when it happened as well. With training, sparring and all of the preparation we’ve done, I was prepared for a big performance tonight, and technically speaking, that was probably my best performance so far.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn added that he expects to bring a similar show to Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena in October following a successful night, and the North-East could well end up providing the loyal fan base to accompany Josh Kelly’s undoubtedly bright future.