By John Hargate
Tony Conquest made a mockery of his 8-0 (2) record last Saturday night on an Olivia Woodwin in front of a capacity York Hall crowd, stunning former British cruiserweight champion Leon “Solid” Williams with a lightning counter right hand from his southpaw stance that sent a shocked Williams sprawling to the canvas. The Sothern Area cruiserweight title bout had looked like a straightforward contest between the speed and skill of Conquest, who celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday in style, and the power of stocky Williams.
Williams (14st 5lbs) pressed forward from the opening bell, looking to land his big hooks and overhand right, and connected early on with a hard uppercut that lifted Conquest’s head. Conquest (14st 2lbs) switched between stances, popping the advancing Williams with accurate shots from both hands.
As Williams threw a wide left hook, Conquest stepped inside and fired a chopping right that put Williams down hard. Leon made it up at eight, but looked dazed, and Conquest pressed him to the ropes and flurried, causing referee Ken Curtis to wave the fight off after 2.38 of the first.
The bout had previously been scheduled for the William’s British title, only for Conquest to pull out due to a case of shingles. Some had questioned Tony’s desire to fight his friend Williams, who’d blasted him out inside a round in the amateurs, but Conquest sent a devastating retort to those who had questioned his heart, chin and ability with this most convincing of wins.
Post-fight, I started by asking Conquest if he felt that this performance had put those sort of doubts to bed once and for all? “I really do hope so,” Conquest beamed. “Every fighter is scared. If they tell you they’re not, they’re lying. It’s just the way you feed off of those feelings. If Leon hadn’t have beaten me as an amateur a few years ago I probably wouldn’t be the fighter I am today, because I saw what I needed to do to improve in so many areas. I’d fight anyone, I really would.”
“The plan was to try and feint a little bit and get him to try and throw something,” Tony continued. “I knew he was going look for one big shot. That was his plan, because obviously when we got into the later rounds, I get better. He was always going to come out and look for the big overhand right and blast me as quick as he could. [Trainer] Jason [Rowland] always says, ‘Feint and make them work, and when they miss, you make them pay’. I feinted a couple of times, caught him with a couple of hard sharp shots, and when I saw that I hurt him, I just put it straight on him. I saw him on the ropes, hurt, and I just steamed right in and got him out of the way as quick as I could. I knew if I put together a real big barrage together and hurt him it’d be over.”
With only the two stoppages on his record, many thought that if anyone was going to record a stoppage in this bout it would be Williams. Conquest explained why his KO percentage is misleading.
He said: “The truth of the matter is that I was suffering with bad hands up until a couple of months ago. It got to a point where I was in quite a bad place mentally, as well as physically. Now my hand troubles seem to have resolved themselves, I’m punching with full power, without worrying about what kind of injury I’m going to do. I always used to punch and worry about the pain straight away, because I knew my hands couldn’t take it. Obviously those problems are aside now, and I can punch with my full force.”
Former British cruiserweight title holder Shane McPhilbin and current English cruiserweight title holder John Lewis Dickinson look set to meet for the vacant British title. Conquest wants the winner.
“You never know what’s around the corner,” he said. “The division is wide open. Anyone can jump in at any time and claim that belt, it’s been proven. Hopefully I’ll get straight in the mix. Fingers crossed.”
I asked how much beating Williams, to exercise the demons of the first fight and to silence his critics, meant to Tony. “Boxing-wise, it feels terrific,” Conquest replied, delight and relief palpable in his voice. “It feels fantastic. It’s just a shame that it came against a very good friend. Obviously he’d have done the same thing to me, this is boxing. I’m sure he understands it, and I’m sure we’ll have a chat on the phone later tonight or tomorrow and we’ll be fine again.
“It does mean the world to me because a lot of people have said for years, ‘Oh, if he ever boxes Leon he’s going to get his head taken off’. I’ve heard it, I’ve had to put up with it since I turned pro, people have been on my case about it. Obviously the last year I’ve been injured, and then I had shingles, it’s just been one continuous thing after another. It’s been hard mentally because you’re always going to have naysayer’s. And when it’s always about one specific person, you’re just like, ‘Leave it out’.”
Conquest has opened up a new chapter in his career with this win. If he can keep injury free, and build experience by fighting more regularly, he has the ability to become a serious force in one of Britain’s weakest divisions.
Leon Williams was obviously devastated after the loss. He was in the process of throwing back as referee Ken Curtis stopped the fight, which made some question if the stoppage had been a little premature. Speaking to Leon afterwards, it was clear that Curtis had done the right thing. The towel had come in low from Williams’s experienced corner of Johnny Eames, Barry Smith and Jimmy Tibbs seconds before Curtis waved the fight off, although this wasn’t immediately obvious from ringside.
A subdued Williams spoke to BoxingScene in a sombre dressing room post-fight. “It was a big shot,” Leon acknowledged. “I didn’t expect that to happen. I wasn’t going into the fight complacent – I just know that I’m strong, I can come forward and put pressure on. That was my plan, letting him work. And then I got caught. I remember getting up off of the canvas and thinking, ‘What the fuck?’. The referee’s in front of me counting. I think I got up at eight.”
He added: “I didn’t even know someone threw the towel in. Someone told me. I just remember getting up and the referee saying ‘eight’, then ‘No’, and me just thinking, ‘huh?’”
“I’d recovered – I wasn’t dizzy,” Leon protested, although his legs had told a different story. “I got caught with a shocking shot and went down, first round. That was that. Well done to Tony.”
I asked Leon if he still felt he could get his career back on track after two devastating stoppage defeats in a row? “I’m not very optimistic right now,” he admitted glumly. Then, cracking a wry smile, he invoked memories of James Toney in his pomp. “I’m not even going to get McDonalds! That was my plan after. Or Burger King. I’m not going there either!”
Twenty-eight year-old Williams drops to 10-5 (4), but don’t be surprised to see the resilient Streatham man work his way back into title contention again.
In the official co-feature, Ryan Toms iced Nathan Weise in two rounds of their rematch to move to 11-2-1 (2). The bout, for the Southern Area light middleweight title, saw both men meet in the knowledge that the winner would resurrect his faltering career, while the loser would have almost nowhere to go.
Southpaw Toms, who weighed in on the 11st limit, immediately took the centre of the ring and pushed Weise back with cracking body blows. Weise (10st 13lbs) tried to establish his long jab, while Toms looked to slip it and close the distance. Toms started Weise going with a short left hook, and then dumped him on the seat of his pants with a longer follow-up left.
Weise began to rise, only to fall face first to the mat. He valiantly dragged himself up by eight, only to be put down again straight away by a chopping Toms left as the Northolt fighter came steaming in to finish the job. Toms, in his eagerness, fell over Weise as he went down, and the bell went to end the round as Weise was receiving the mandatory eight.
The result seemed a formality at that stage, and heavy-handed Toms came out at the start of the second looking to end proceedings a bit lively. Weise, to his credit, tried his best to fight his way back, but couldn’t keep a rampant Toms off him and was soon dropped again from another left hand. He again made it up, only to be pushed to the ropes and ultimately saved by referee Bob Williams at 1.28 of the round, as Toms once again unloaded.
A quick word must be given to Bob Williams for his superb performance. He gave Weise, who drops to 8-3-2 (2), every chance to recover, when a more squeamish referee might have stopped the fight sooner. This kind of refereeing gives the fans their money’s worth, allows the fighter the chance to stage a ‘Little Red’ Lopez style comeback, and removes controversy or complaint from the decision. Great job.
Toms was buoyant post-fight. He said: “As I said to everyone, that’s me back to normal. Good head, good training camp, that’s how I can fight. This is not even half of what I can do - I can go back foot, I can go front foot, I can throw body shots - and the left hand is like dynamite. If I catch any of those lot in the top ten - they’ll all go - all of them!”
It must have been tough to get over the first round KO loss to local rival Steve O’Meara in September last year? “Very, very,” Toms conceded ruefully. “But it was my own fault because I made the weight, 10st 10lbs, six weeks before. Now I put a stone on [between fights] and that makes the difference.”
A re-match with O’Meara would be popular with the fans, who came out in droves for the first fight. “I’d take it tomorrow,” Toms grinned. “I’d let him have another go at the Southern Area now I’ve got the belt back. I’d fight O’Meara again no problem, but I can go onto the British or the English title, there are other doors for me.”
Heading a lengthy undercard was heavyweight prospect Dillian ‘The Villian’ Whyte. He met Hungarian trial horse Gabor Farkas, 6-24-5 (3), over six threes. Whyte picked his shots nicely after a wild start to get Farkas out of there at 1.38 of round two.
Farkas came out in round one swinging for the hills, which seemed to take Whyte a little by surprise. Dillian soon regained his composure, however, and worked off a tidy jab, landing decent rights to the torso of the lanky Hungarian. A barrage of hooks and heavy right hands to the head did for Farkas, who was dropped for the eight count, and then rescued on the ropes by referee Ken Curtis.
Twenty-four year-old Whyte improves to 7-0 (4) and looks like a decent prospect. “I just tried to relax and get some punches off”, he told me amidst a crowd of his jubilant followers, “but I started a bit fast. Second round, I slowed down and started picking my shots. I knew it was just a matter of time before I caught him. It wasn’t a great performance from me, but it was alright. It’s early days and I’m still improving.”
“I’m actually a good body puncher,” shouted Whyte over the noise of a deafening York Hall crowd, “but I don’t use them enough sometimes. I’m going back to using them. The fight before this I hit the guy with one punch to the body and broke two of his ribs.”
I wondered how soon it would be before we saw Whyte challenging for titles? “I just take my time, my team is responsible for all of that,” he said cagily. “Whoever they tell me to fight, I just fight. Just work my way up slowly.”