By Terence Dooley

Tony ‘Jaffa’ Jeffries’ fledgling career hit its first bump in the round at the Rainton Meadows Arena, Sunderland last night after he battled to an eight-round draw with Michael Banbula.  Jeffries looked out-of-sorts from the get-go but had done enough early work to build up a lead going into the sixth round.  Tony boxed the stanza under the assumption that the fight was scheduled for six-threes only for referee Andrew Wright to send the home fighter, who went to the ref for confirmation of the result, back to his corner at the round’s conclusion.

Jeffries was visibly discouraged, Banbula, who was in the same boat as the Olympian, adapted to the circumstances, carrying the final two rounds to earn himself a draw, 77-77, on the card of Wright.  Tony, who suffered a cut to his left eye, was disappointed with the result; he admitted during the post-fight interview that he had gone into the fight nursing a tear to his right bicep.  Jeffries’ father and manager, Phil, explained the circumstances surrounding the contest.

“Tony was injured in the lead to the fight and we couldn’t get him the sparring but we thought he was doing a six-rounder and would be Ok to appear on the show,” confirmed Phil when discussing the fight over the phone. 

“We were expecting a six-rounder as [promoter] Frank [Maloney] had sent all the paperwork to the BBBoC [Writer’s note: have reported that Frank showed the assembled press a copy of the fax confirming the change in rounds].  The other corner thought it was a six-rounder as well.  So Tony goes over to the ref after six-rounds thinking the fight was over.  It is all psychological, he’d won the fight as a six-rounder but then got two more rounds on top and it does mess your head.”

He added: “My point of view is that the injury affected the sparring, ten rounds of sparring isn’t good for an eight round fight so we put him into the fight for the simple reason that he had worked for a fight and wanted to fight, and we thought it was six-rounds.”

Banbula, however, played a huge part in making it an uncomfortable night for the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist; Michael, 10-25-4, was 3-0 in his last three and ended the career of Tony Oakey with a ten-round points win in Portsmouth back on May 21st.  The Staines-based Pole arguably ceded the first three rounds before strongly contesting the fourth and fifth sessions, Jeffries took the sixth, boxing with one-eye on the finishing line, then faded badly in the final two cantos, which were carried by Banbula.  Consequently, you can make an argument for the draw or for either fighter winning the bout by a couple of points.

Phil was quick to give Banbula credit, admitting that his son had not boxed to the best of his ability.  “There is no excuses, Tony wasn’t at his best – I’m his dad and will be the first to admit that,” stressed Jeffries.

“After that sixth round he was shocked.  There are not many positives you can take from this apart from the fact that he came under duress.  These opponents aren’t just coming to lose.  As his manager, and his dad, I should have put my foot down a bit more and pulled him out the fight.

“You can’t turn the clock back, you have to get on with it, this is not a loss, it was a draw, so you have to get back into training and deal with it.  You can quote us, I’m his manager and we thought it was a six-rounder, he thought it was, and it was a psychological blow to find it was an eight-rounder.”

It was a scrappy contest, with clean punches few and far between; however, the 77-77 card turned in by Wright had two drawn rounds, dead rubbers that could have seen either Jeffries or Banbula win the fight by only taking four rounds,.  If the referee finds it hard to separate the fighters in two stanzas then, with the best will in the world, it could be time to review the current system.  Reffing a fight is hard enough work without making the man in the middle the sole arbiter of the contest.

“The scoring was terrible,” concurred Phil when discussing the scoreline.  “How can you give the first as a drawn round?  I had Tony winning enough early rounds to win the fight.  If Tony got beat I’d be the first to say it.  The positives are that this was his first eight-rounder and I thought he’d won it.  He hasn’t lost his unbeaten record – it was a bad day at the office.”

Bobby Rimmer, who took up training duties ahead of Tony’s second pro fight, a stoppage win over Roy Meissner, was philosophical when asked about last night’s events.  “The circumstances were, and I know that making excuses after the fact sounds daft, that I should have pulled the fight as soon as he got the bicep injury (in training).  That is it,” declared the straight-talking trainer.

“We thought this was a fight Tony would win.  Once the arm got hurt we moved it to a six-rounder and we thought he’d be Ok.  Tony didn’t want to let anyone down and it has cost him dearly.  I thought he won the fight – the draw was very harsh.  At the end of the fifth, I told Tony that he had one more round and to box his way through it.  Then he went to the referee but was sent back to the corner.  His arm was hurting and I just had to get him through it.”

He continued: “We were saying all sorts to keep him going.  I thought he won it, everyone is saying he needs to calm down and take his time, and he did that earlier, but he couldn’t get his right hand off, he tried it a few times and it was hurting him.”

Ultimately, the trainer believes that they have taken some valuable lessons onboard.  “I had thought that he would beat Banbula, especially over six rounds,” admitted Rimmer.  “At the end of the day, that makes it my fault and I take responsibility for it.  Of course, anything that teaches you lessons can make you stronger.  It was a horrific night for us all and we’ll learn.  If he’d fought for six-rounds then he wins handily and there is no criticism.

“Tony didn’t rush in the early rounds, he didn’t get caught like he did against Nathan King and he wasn’t walking onto silly shots.  Tony boxed well for six-rounds and then has to do another two.  We were all in unknown territory because you just don’t expect that to happen.  You just have to keep going.”

“Listen, everyone is entitled to an opinion, that is what it is about, people giving their opinion and criticisms, we are looking for constructive criticism and not just criticism that says nothing.  We’ll learn from this and Tony will come back better and stronger next time,” predicted Bobby.

“I should have pulled the fight when he injured his arm, that is the end of it,” reiterated Rimmer, who worked with Ricky Hatton when ‘The Hitman’ was making his way through the domestic and world rankings. 

“I thought Tony showed great resilience and dug deep.  Those extra rounds were a big thing, I’ve never seen anything like that before, and Tony did well to keep it together.  I just had to get him through that fight.  I just did my best with the situation I had, and I thought it was good enough because, in my opinion, he won the fight.”

“I didn’t hear them,” admitted Bobby when asked about the MC’s pre-fight introductions, in which the contest was announced as eight-threes.  “I’m in the corner with Tony and I’m talking to him and focussing on him.  You’ve got a load of fans there cheering Tony on, the fight is about to start and I’m in the corner keeping him calm and composed – you don’t listen to what the MC is saying.  As far as I was concerned it was a six round fight.  He won five of the six rounds and I’m thinking it was job done only to get the two extra rounds.

“Tony’s tear in his bicep was hurting him.  After the first, second round it was gone again and you are having to win the fight off one-hand.  But I thought he was winning it off the left hand.  I’ve never doubted Tony’s chin or his resilience.  We have to learn our lessons, get back to the gym and start again.”

Promoter Frank Maloney clarified the confusion over the extra two rounds.  “It was a mix up, there is nothing else to say,” insisted Maloney when I caught up with earlier today.  “No matter what the situation was, whether it was a six or eight round fight, Tony didn’t box that well.  We’ll look at that later on.  There are other issues to discuss ahead of his next fight.

“Every fight is a learning fight.  Tony has come through the last few fights against tough fighters and is taking on better opponents than most.  It is best to have this now than later.  The quality of his past three opponents has been better than most people take on: Nathan King, Matt Hainey and Banbula are good names.”

“Tony didn’t box that well but I didn’t agree with the decision”, stated Maloney, “I thought Tony won the fight.  How the referee can score the first round a draw is beyond me.  I can’t disagree with Banbula winning the last few rounds; the corner lost the plot and didn’t deal with the situation that well.”

“I’ve spoken to Bobby this morning, and Phil, and told them I was disturbed with the way the corner handled the situation.  There were mistakes made, I won’t go any further down that path, and they are not the kind of mistakes you want when you’ve got an Olympian.  I had a forty-minute conversation with Bobby today, a conversation with Phil, with the fitness trainer [Barry Gibson] – I’ve only just started to make my way back from Sunderland, it shows you how concerned I am,” stressed Maloney.

“At the end of the day, things happen in a fight that the fighter has to learn to deal with.  I don’t think the situation was dealt with well and there are a lot of questions that I need to answer.”

Jeffries, now 7-0-1 (5), has admitted that he had completely immersed himself in the fencing, point-scoring style required to make it to the top of the unpaid ranks; consequently, he has often asked for the patience, time and understanding needed to make the transition to the paid game. 

Indeed, many former amateur stars take time to adjust to the pro business, early fights often see stellar performances followed by learning ones as the boxers master the intricacies of professional boxing.  Jeffries career – an impressive pro debut followed by consolidation contests and that tough tangle with Nathan King in his second-to-last fight – has followed this template, with last night’s dip exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding the contest. 

Still, Maloney’s nous, Rimmer’s experience and Jeffries’ drive are valuable qualities, and the mistakes of the Banbula fight, if eradicated, could prove to be the making of the North East boxer.  Tony’s success in his hometown, however, is a double-edged sword, the fighter is a big star in Sunderland, fighting and training up there may pile too much pressure on the 25-year-old’s shoulders; Jeffries may have to step out off the goldfish bowl in order to give himself the space needed to complete the conversion to the pro game.

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