By Frankie Mines
The Brentwood Centre may appear more equipped for a large sports day rather than a British title showdown, but the searing intensity within the crowd on Saturday filtered through to the ring easily enough, as Johnny Garton and Gary Corcoran squared off for the vacant British Welterweight title in a brutal bout that will be remembered for some time.
The opening round set the tone for the rest of the action perfectly. Both men came forward, cautious but unafraid, firing off shots at will – Corcoran leading with his jab (he held an inch advantage in both height and reach) and firing off big hooks, Garton forcing him back with a beautiful right-left-right hook combo.
Neither man showed any interest in letting up, with rounds two and three continuing to deliver relentless action, Corcoran nicking the second, trapping Garton in a corner and unleashing a flurry of shots. Importantly, nothing that either man threw went unanswered.
Garton re-grouped in the third, finding his jab and delivering the much neater work, getting the opportunity to release the left hook that would feature prominently as the bout went on. A clash of heads, another hallmark of the vicious toe-to-toe nature of the fight, resulted in a cut for Garton who marched on undeterred.
Corocan’s plan before the fight was to counter any forward movement and to “hunt Garton down and try and outbox him”, and at moments during the fourth, he was starting to execute it. Corocan was upping the energy, cannoning off the more powerful shots and forcing Garton back – a man nicknamed ‘Hellraiser’ was never going to heed his corner’s advice of “calm down”, and unfortunately for Gary, Johnny Garton loves a brawl.
Garton played to his strengths, exhibiting cleaner shots and better head movement throughout the mid-rounds, channelling his aggression more effectively, and even throughout the flashpoints in the fifth and sixth rounds where it appeared Gary may have been too big and too strong, Garton dug-in.
Corcoran continued to stalk Garton, trying to pin him down and force a pace which he might have believed Garton couldn’t keep up with, and going into the ninth round, the scoring was tight. Ringside, there was an atmosphere to suggest Gary was leading and he had certainly been the more active puncher, but thrown punches alone can’t win you fights, and the tidier work was still coming from Garton.
The ninth carried the same frenetic pace as previous, with a left-hand jab from Garton snapping Corcoran’s head back and some effective right hooks to the body piling on more damage. This allowed Garton’s left hook to cause trouble again, each time visibly sapping more and more of the exuberance Corcoran had led with – Gary’s plans had started to unravel and his misspent energy in the early exchanges meant there was scarce time for a plan b.
A ferocious and barbaric contest was nearing its ending, that ninth round as good as any we’ve seen in a British title blockbuster, and into the championship rounds Garton thunder-bolted out of his corner straight back into the action. Corcoran hurled combos, desperate to prove he was still very much alive, refusing to settle despite appearing devoid of spirit. Garton was having none of it, forcing Gary into a corner, rolling under every retaliated shot and discharging that left hook with aplomb. Corcoran was battered and bruised and came back with a couple of rights to prevent referee Steve Gray asking a question – Garton had laid the foundations, however, and in the eleventh made his move.
They traded again, and again, before that incessant left hook opened Corcoran up to a massive right-hander that sent him hurtling toward the ropes – Garton was in, and he capitalised instantly, picking him off shot-by-shot, before another slashing left hook sent Corcoran flying – had it not been for the ropes, he’d have been flat on his back, and it proved to be the ultimate punch with Steve Gray stepping in to wave it off.
Arguments for a premature stoppage are futile. Gary Corcoran is one of the toughest men in boxing and would have carried on fighting until taken out of the ring by force – the beating he was sustaining wasn’t clever, however, and Gray had every right to call a halt to it, no matter how mouth-watering the action.
As boxing fans, we rarely seem to talk about fights long into the following week, at least not for the best of reasons. Increasingly of late, the unavoidable talking points surround forgettable cards, unforgivable judging decisions and lacklustre ring action; on this occasion though, the image of Bradley Skeete hoisting up a bloodied but victorious Johnny Garton is an enduring one that recapitulates a brutal in-ring war, one that the spectators will cherish for an age.