Brad Foster and Jason Cunningham battle for the three major domestic titles, writes Matt Bozeat
QUEENSBERRY PROMOTIONS are back in Birmingham on Saturday night where Brad Foster looks to add Jason Cunningham’s European super-bantamweight title to his British and Commonwealth belts.
Frank Warren outbid Eddie Hearn to secure home advantage for Foster, who should have around 300 supporters making the trip from his home city, Lichfield, Staffs. The fight was scheduled for August 28 before Foster was ruled out through injury, and now tops the bill at the Utilita Arena after the Lyndon Arthur-Anthony Yarde rematch fell through.
Boxing 13 days before his 24th birthday, Foster, who has won a Lonsdale Belt outright after turning pro at 18 years old, is the younger fighter by nine years, but Cunningham (29-6) is coming off the best win of his career.
In May, the Doncaster southpaw dethroned European champion Gamal Yafai (18-1) in Manchester after taking the fight at only three weeks’ notice.
The feeling was that at 31 years old, we had seen the best of Cunningham after a spell of three defeats in four fights between October 2017 and December 2018. He was also widely outscored by Gamal’s brother, Kal Yafai, in 2015.
The losses were to Reece Bellotti (10-0) – Cunningham’s only stoppage defeat – Jordan Gill (18-0) and Michael Conlan (10-0). Cunningham was competitive in those stebacks, but still, he was a massive outsider when he challenged Yafai, who had taken the title off Luca Rigoldi in Milan five months earlier. Boxing sharply from the outset, Cunningham scored knockdowns in the second, fourth and sixth rounds and toughed it out when Yafai ferociously attacked his body to win unanimously on the cards.
Cunningham told Boxing News: “Everything that’s happened has brought me here. I believe I’m in my peak.”
He draws parallels with Maxi Hughes, another from Stefy Bull’s stable who’s defying those who thought he had found his level.
Cunningham and Hughes were also amateur gym mates at Doncaster Plantworks ABC. Both are tidy southpaws who box around their opponents. Foster has yet to fight a left-hander in his 14-0-2 career, but his team, who believe in Brad’s all-round ability, are not unduly concerned.
Foster has proved himself in five fights at British and Commonwealth level. He won the vacant British title by outboxing veteran gunslinger Josh Wale (27-10-2) and added the Commonwealth belt with a 12th-round stoppage of common opponent Ashley Lane (13-8-2). Wale and Lane are possibly better suited to fighting at 118lbs.
That was followed by a draw with Lucien Reid (8-0-1) when Foster was troubled by the East Londoner’s movement and a one-sided rematch. Reid’s corner had seen enough after six rounds.
Foster won the Lonsdale Belt outright by outpointing James Beech Jnr (12-0) last July with a strong start and finish.
Foster tends to do his best work at the beginning and end of fights. He stopped Lane late after dropping him in the first and had Beech and Spanish champion Alvaro Rodriguez in trouble in the dying seconds. Rodriguez (10-3-1) had been soundly outpointed by Thomas Ward and Tyrone McCullagh, and Foster did a comparable job in March, winning every round on all three scorecards. The win over Yafai is the best result on either fighter’s record.
Cunningham has also won Commonwealth honours at bantamweight and featherweight and, the Kal Yafai defeat apart, Cunningham has had his moments when he’s lost, rocking Conlan briefly in the points defeat. Galal fought as though he believed he would walk through Cunningham but such a tactic left him open and vulnerable.
He may find Foster harder to hit and quicker to close the gap.
Lane has fought both, losing on points to Cunningham in February, 2016 and stopped in 12 by Foster three years later. He told us: “Foster is more elusive, has more skills, is bigger and punches harder. Cunningham has experience, but I think Foster edges it if he doesn’t let him get into a rhythm on the outside.”
Beech, who’s fought Foster and sparred Cunningham, said: “Brad is determined, but I think Cunningham is a better boxer, he’s a bit wiser. They are both strong. I don’t think Foster will be able to push him around.”
I’m not sure Foster was at his best against Beech at an empty TV studio. Cunningham should bring the best out of Foster, who can win on points.
Also in Birmingham, Nottingham’s Ekow Essuman (15-0) makes the first defence of his British and Commonwealth welterweight titles against former sparring partner Danny Ball, from Kingswinford and fighting out of Errol Johnson’s Black Country Boxing stable. Essuman took the belts from Chris Jenkins (22-3-3) in July with an eighth-round stoppage. Jenkins had suffered broken ribs early, but kept it competitive until Essuman hurt him and forced the stoppage.
Ball (10-0-1) is coming off a fan-friendly 10-round points win over Sam Gilley (11-0) in March. Ball has long levers, heavy hands and is gritty, but we go for the fit, but rather one-paced Essuman to grind out a points win in a good fight.
Also in Birmingham, Callum Johnson, the Joe Gallagher-trained light-heavyweight from Boston, Lincs, who had the formidable Artur Beterbiev on the floor in a world-title challenge, meets Russia’s Server Emurlaev (24-2) over 10.
Emurlaev is 2-1 since returning this year after a break of more than eight years. The loss was a six-round retirement defeat to Kamshybek Konkabayev, a bronze medalist for Kazakhstan at super-heavyweight in Tokyo.
Emurlaev was pulled out after losing the opening six rounds on all three scorecards. Emurlaev mixed in world class around a decade ago at 168lbs, losing a split vote to Stanislav Kashtanov for a minor belt, and in Johnson he faces a robust, heavy handed fast starter who made an exciting return in April after two years away.
Johnson out-toughed Emil Markic (32-2) after both were shaken up in a wild first round to force an emphatic second-round stoppage, his left hook unravelling the Bosnian. Johnson may take a bit longer to get rid of Emurlaev, probably forcing a stoppage around the midway stage.
BT Sport televise.
The Verdict Solid matchmaking at the top end of the bill with Foster-Cunningham almost certain to be interesting.