By David McIntosh
There is definitely something poetic about attending a Scottish boxing bout on Burns night on the day Hugh McIlvanney passed away. McIlvanney, immortalised in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 as one of the sport’s greatest ever writers, would have described the culmination of events much more elegantly I’m sure (Robert Burns too, obviously). I’m also sure McIlvanney would have had a brilliant turn of phrase or two on Hannah Rankin’s dominant display over Eva Bajic as the headline act of the evening’s entertainment. Rankin powered through Bajic in a 78-74 eight round contest showcasing all the credentials she displayed in her gritty world title points defeat to the great Claressa Shields last year. Powerful, strong, fit, tough and relentless. Women’s boxing is being redefined and Hannah Rankin is one of a growing number of fighters shaking up the old world. Interest in her career is growing and her 6th win, under the lights of yet another busy, bustling and well-staged Kynoch Boxing promotion, will certainly see that momentum continue.
Bajic, a former IBF Welterweight world champion, brought a highly credible 30 fight record to the ring on Friday night and she clearly knew how to box. But from the outset Rankin’s excellent conditioning, focus and determination were clear advantages over her experienced 34-year-old opponent. Rankin’s long pawing jab, out of the orthodox stance, consistently pushed Bajic onto the backfoot and teed up power shots from the backhand. With Bajic content to coax Rankin in and attempt counter punches at closer range, the pattern of the fight was set early in Round 1. Rankin certainly doesn’t play at boxing and the Loch Lomond native is entirely comfortable taking a punch or three to land a telling punch of her own, making her fights all-action and highly enjoyable. In Round 2 she followed up her range finding jab with a peach of an overhand right and ploughed through Bajic’s retaliation with minimal respect. The looping over-hand right was to continue to be Rankin’s stand out shot of the evening. Round 3 and 4 saw Rankin the aggressor, pressing forward on the front foot, finding success again with the hard right hand. Bajic’s demeanour at the end of the fourth suggested a potential collapse under pressures but to her credit, she rallied in the fifth, timing and tagging Rankin with a nice right hand of her own. That was about the end of Bajic’s success for the night (with the fifth the only round I gave her) with Rankin re-establishing control in some style in the 6thand dominating the rest of the fight. A series of jolting right hands buzzed Bajic in the 6th and 7th sending her back into the ropes. Rankin, now pouring forward, clearly smelled a stoppage and applied relentless pressure in pursuit of what would have been a well-deserved KO. Bajic’s survival instincts, however, honed over a 10-year career, prevailed but she, nor the judges, were in any doubt of the victor. Rankin following up her spirited world title attempt with a classy display and putting the governing bodies on notice that she will be back competing for further world honours in quick time.
The undercard saw another fighter with a growing reputation and fan base complete a fairly routine win. Glasgow’s Ahmed Ibrahim outpointed Gary McGuire to secure his 8th victory and tee up an exciting 2019 for the fast developing lightweight. Ibrahim, who has already shared the ring with heralded Ohara Davies and contested the Celtic lightweight title during a busy 2018, secured a 59-55 win over 6 rounds, warming to the task in the early rounds by cutting McGuire off and firing in stinging body attacks. All credit to McGuire who came to fight and rightly deserved to take the 4th round through punch volume and hard work alone. Ibrahim, who is in fantastic shape, stepped up the tempo at will in the remaining three rounds and looked sharp, fast and classy the higher his work rate. Sterner tests await Ibrahim in 2019 but he carries real momentum, purpose and belief into the new year and his journey, which began in Uganda before moving to Scotland at age 10, will be fascinating to follow.
Completing the card at the Crowne Plaza hotel was an equally entertaining newcomer in Featherweight Neil McCubbin who notched up an impressive shut-out of journeyman Ricky Leach over 4 rounds. McCubbin is a real handful. Constant motion, quick feet, real pop in both hands and a controlled intensity – an excellent performance to go 2-0. Leach somehow managed to survive a battering over the four rounds, showing real toughness and a seemingly cast-iron midriff. McCubbin will certainly be fun to watch as he continues his progress.
The Burn’s Night draw is the first of a series of busy shows from promoter Sam Kynoch in 2019. Saturday 2nd February sees an ingenious afternoon show from 12pm to 4.30pm again at the Crowne Plaza, showcasing a range of talent from the Kynoch stable including Ross Murray and Jay Carrigan-McFarlane. Saturday 2nd March sees the action move to Trump Turnberry for the return of rising Welterweight star Dean Sutherland and a Scottish Lightweight Title bout with Calvin McCord.
There is much to look forward to in Scottish boxing in 2019 already.
A final word on McIlvanney. Please look up his newspaper review from 1974, the day after the Rumble in the Jungle, where he sat and spoke with a victorious, yet thoughtful and disarmed Ali for nearly two hours. Scotland’s boxing poet at his very finest.