Written by Tom Humber, Photos by Chris Royle

Carnival means party. Carnival means celebration. Carnival means excitement.

Bracknell Boxing Carnival lived up to the definition in every sense of the word on Saturday night. Returning to the West Berkshire town for the second time this summer, Siesta Promotions played ringleader as the humble settings of Bracknell Leisure Centre was transformed into a Big Top stage ready for its performers to take the stage. Small hall promoting is a steep learning curve, and often plays a merciless and ruthless role in the unforgiving sport of boxing. Cancelled fights, lower than expected footfall and surprise expenditures can all be noted as possible banana skins in a balancing act that few have mastered.

Saturday night played host to one of the best evenings of small hall boxing I have had the pleasure of witnessing live. Being a local lad to the Bracknell area, I was present at the July show as simply a representative of the media. I returned to the Carnival as the doors opened, this time playing a role as part of the commentary team. Speaking to promoter Al Siesta before the first bell rung, I listened to his concerns regarding the evening ahead. The emotions were real and I assured the upcoming promotor that the calibre of fights on the card would shine through and leave every punter leaving with a smile.

The evening began with Landry Kore facing off against Christian Gomez. The 8-0 Danish fighter had pedigree stemming from the Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas and this shone from the opening bell. A commanding performance over Gomez set the scene for an evening of excitement as the slickster boxed his way around the game and forthcoming Welshman, Gomez. The bout was simmering and beginning to tip over into a tasty hotpot; Gomez was finding success of his own and simply refused to play the role of the lame away fighter. Unfortunately for the Welshman and for the onlooking crowd, a nasty cut above the left eye brought the proceedings to an end. An exciting start to the evening had set the standard and tone for the rest of the performers who were about to descend onto the circus party.

Well supported local lad Andre Grant was up next. The Camberley boxer faced off against the familiar face of Reynaldo Cajina. Cajina had faced off against a host of familiar faces of domestic talent in the lower weight classes; Martin Ward, Josh Wale, Jazza Dickens and Gamal Yafai had all dealt the awkward Nicaraguan, who’s resume showed gritty resilience and experience. A close 39-38 victory was the result for Grant, who did not have things his own way. The last two rounds saw Cajina finding success and catching Grant on more than one occasion, creating waves of excitement nervousness to pulsate throughout the crowd. The home fighter got the nod in a close contest, but will have plenty to think about moving forward into future bouts.

Rohan Date made his second Bracknell outing in three months and  marked it with perhaps the knockout of the evening, some accolade considering that all of the bouts bar two ended with a KO or a referee stoppage. The 25 Irishman made his debut at the new lower weight of 147lbs and marked his entrance by knocking opponent Reyhan Todorov out of the ring in dramatic fashion. Date fought a hard draw back in July and the adjustments made to his game were visibly noticeable, with a new found energy and buzz emanating from the 25 year old who improved his record to 5-0-1.

Surrey Heavyweight, Nick Webb made his comeback, just two months after succumbing to a KO defeat to David Allen on the Whyte-Parker PPV at the back end of July. Dorian Darch played the willing victim and was disposed of comfortably inside two rounds as the marauding combinations and left hooks of Webb proved too heavy and too frequent for Darch. The crowd had reached full capacity and was responding accordingly to the procession of knockouts that were beginning to take shape in the evening. The frustration was real in Webb’s performance, who screamed I’M BACK into the recording cameras; the defeat to Allen had left a bitter taste in the mouth of the previously undefeated Heavyweight, who clearly had revenge on his mind in his clinical finishing of the helpless Welshman, Darch.

For me, the next bout brought the story and performance of the evening. 3-13 fighter, Antonio Neves was drafted in as the away fighter and slated cannon fodder for the unbeaten Scotsman, Derek Renfrew. However, as both men made their way to the ring, I felt something was to be different about this bout. The energy exuding from both men suggested that both Neves and Renfrew were ready to win and ready to go to war to achieve this. That is exactly what happened. Neves surprised not only Renfrew but the entire Bracknell faithful, as the slick southpaw moved nimbly around the ring, landing at will with a lead left hook that would ultimately prove to be the downfall of the unfortunate Renfrew, who brought a record of 5-0 into the bout beforehand.

However it was the journeyman Neves who commanded the respect and admiration of the crowd from the opening bell. A dominant performance saw Renfrew unable to deal with the movement of Neves, and was sent crashing to the canvas for the first time in round 4. Credit to the Scotsman, he heaved himself off the floor and began to fire back, as an all out war ensued with both men desperately trying to land that killer blow. That reward would ultimately land with Neves, who delivered a shuddering left hook that knocked Renfrew clean out in such a fashion that would temporarily subdue the previously electric crowd. As the Scotsman regained consciousness and was lifted to his feet, both men received a rousing show of appreciation from the punters, who were beginning to realise this wasn’t just any small hall show they were witnessing.

As the evening moved into the final three bouts, all bets were off the table and there was a genuine sense of anything could happen circulating around the auditorium. Naylor Ball faced off against Kamil Sokolowski at Heavyweight. I have always earmarked Sokolowski as one of the most dangerous Heavyweight journeyman to circulate the British boxing scene. Like Neves, his record suggests very differently to the actual fighting skills possessed. This was a dangerous fight for Ball, the 21 year old was facing off against an experienced man 11 years his senior. These fears were confirmed from the opening bell. Despite good, nimble movement and a quick jab, Ball would soon succumb to the old man strength (never to be underestimated) of Sokolowski. Ball was sent crashing to the canvas with a beautiful left hook from the Pole in the second round, but quickly recovered; showing off an admirable chin and feeding off the host of support he had brought with him to the Bracknell Carnival. The decisive blow came in the third as Sokolowski sent his man to the floor once more, and was beginning to unload on the young boxer before his corner threw in the towel to end the beating. The corner team were the same for both Renfrew and Ball, perhaps the fresh images of a massive Renfrew KO defeat was fresh in the eyes of the trainers, who were not ready to witness the same fate two fights in a row.

The biggest ticket seller of the evening was George Lamport dubbed The English Lomachenko.

Saturday night Lamport faced off against Konrad Stempkowski (8-0), an unbeaten and game fighter who had plans to spoil the Carnival atmosphere for young Lamport. It was a coming of age performance for the unbeaten Lamport, looking wise beyond his years with impeccable foot movement and ring craft throughout his 6th professional bout.

Both men left the ring bloodied and with a new found respect for one another. The Super Welterweight boxers stood toe to toe for the entirety of the fight, never drifting more than a metre away from one another. A marauding stoppage was the reward for Lamport, who had every member of the capacity crowd on their feet cheering his name with a 4th round KO. Emotional scenes and another knockout performance in what was turning into an absolute small hall classic.

Luther Clay headlined once again and once again came out the victor against a game Frenchman, this time Yahya Tlaouziti. The Reading born Welterweight attracted attention back in July with a clinical performance over the unpredictable and lovable Renald Garrido. Tlaouziti turned up on the evening athletic, game and with plans of his own to spoil the momentum that The Black Panther had begun to build up in 2018. A featured victory on a World Boxing Super Series card alongside the first headline performance fell into relative insignificance following Clay’s performance on Saturday night. A mature and controlled performance from the 22 year old prospect asserted himself as one of the most exciting talents in the 147lbs domestic pool.

Clay controlled the bout from the opening bell, moving well and boxing patiently. Tlaouziti did find some success during the 8 round bout, testing the chin of the South African, now UK based fighter. However, Clay was not to be wobbled, and the style of the young hopeful responded well with the already super charged crowd. LUTHER, LUTHER was echoed from the rafters all evening, as the new local hero’s arm was lifted in triumph at the end of the evening.

Thoroughly enjoyable and extremely exciting, the festivities of the boxing carnival were a roaring success. So often small hall shows are painfully predictable. The same familiar faces are drafted in as away fighters, only to stand and cover up for 4 rounds, before happily going home without a scratch and a few hundred quid in their pockets. This Bracknell show confirmed the long chanted Siesta mantra of 50-50 bouts and competitive bouts at all times.

A full arena complimented a host of thunderous bouts. Not one person could have left feeling short changed from their ticket money spent; perhaps those in support of the unfortunate losing home fighters would feel a small sense of disappointment, but the thrill factor can surely not be denied. There is no doubt that the circus will no doubt be returning to town very soon in the near future.