By John MacDonald
Reigning British light heavyweight champion, Bob Ajisafe 12-2 (3) is looking for a triumphant homecoming when he faces Leon Senior 10-2-1 (0) in the semi-finals of the Maxinutrition Knockout tournament in Leeds on Saturday.
Ajisafe’s journey to this point has seen him fight all across England; from Darlington to London and most recently in Reading where he claimed the vacant Lonsdale belt against Dean Francis.
Now the 29 year old has the opportunity to fight in his hometown for the first time as a professional.
“It’s the first time I’ve fought in Leeds since the amateur days where I fought close-by in the ABAs. I’m on a big card like this, headlining my own show which feels good. I couldn’t ask for more really,” Ajisafe told BoxingScene.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. I knew if I could get through my first fight [in the tournament, UD12 against Dean Francis] I’d get this fight - and it’s obviously come to fruition. I knew in the back of my mind it was going to happen so that urged me on as well. Now I’m just really pleased it’s here and I’m looking to showcase my skills in front of my fans.”
Whereas some fighters would feel the weight of expectation to put on a good performance in front of their local support, Ajisafe is more relaxed entering this contest than the previous one. A combination of factors such as; fighting in unfamiliar surroundings and the British title on the line played on his mind in the lead-up to his fight with Francis.
“There’s not as much added pressure on me as there was last time. Last time there was a lot more pressure on me because I knew the British title was on the line, I had to go and perform in Reading which is somewhere that isn’t familiar to me.
“Now it’s in Leeds, it’s my hometown, I know I have to look good, put a good performance on because I can’t afford to not look good now as British champion.”
The tournament, which has been shown live on Channel 5 has breathed new life in to a division that has stagnated somewhat in the past few years. Ajisafe’s bout with the veteran, Dean Francis was the perfect curtain raiser for the contest as both men fought toe-to-toe for large periods of the fight, knowing the prize at stake. For many it showed a different side to Ajisafe who, as a product of the famous Ingle Gym, has a reputation as an awkward, southpaw, counter puncher.
“I had to dig in sometimes in that fight. Not to take anything away from Dean Francis, he was a top operator and I didn’t expect him to come in as sharp and as savvy as he was but that’s obviously the experience he’s had being a former British, European and Commonwealth champion and being a big puncher as well. I had to use everything, all my ability. I had to fight him at points, I had to take a good shot - which I can - and obviously fight him in the trenches as well as box him to keep winning the rounds.”
Saturday’s opponent, current Southern Area champion, Leon Senior progressed to this stage after his quarter-final with Tony Hill was ruled a non-contest after an accidental clash of heads in the second round left Hill in no state to continue. The British Boxing Board of Control rejected Senior as a voluntary challenger and as a result Ajisafe’s title will not be at stake.
Having defeated a man who had won everything, bar a world title, in his previous fight, Ajisafe is confident that Senior is simply not at his level, yet remains focussed on the task at hand.
“I’m not overlooking that guy but I think it’s an easier fight. Leon Senior, to be honest with you, I’d never heard of the guy before this competition. I’d never ever heard of him and by looking at him I don’t think he’s ever fought anyone in my class or anywhere near my class. I don’t recognise anyone he’s fought and I think he got knocked out before coming in to the competition by another novice [Arfan Irqbal 7-0 (3)], who I hadn’t heard of either.”
“He’s definitely not the same calibre of fighter as Dean Francis who had 40-odd fights and who was former British, European, Commonwealth champion. So compared to him I can’t seeing Senior being in that class. I know he’s not going to be in my class, me being the British champion as well. He’ll come and have a go because that’s all he can do, this is his opportunity so he’s going for broke. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for him but I’ve got to show my class and the reason why I’m champion.”