By: Oliver McManus
MTK Global touched down in Glasgow on Saturday evening having produced a scintillating card at Ulster Hall, Belfast, just 24 hours previously; Steven Ward vs Liam Conroy an early contender for fight of the year, in case you haven’t caught it. Two title fights topped the shortened seven fight card that had been bereft with injuries and late withdrawals; nonetheless Lee McGregor vs Scott Allan and Kieran Smith vs Ivan Montero were enough to pique interest.
McGregor, the Commonwealth bantamweight champion, was making the first defence of the title he won in October (a 12th round KO over Thomas Essomba) whilst Allan came into the fight having outpointed Gary Rae for the Celtic equivalent, also in October. McGregor had already made clear his intention to chase a showdown with, British champion, Kash Farooq should he emerge victorious.
Animosity brewed between the two men before the contest and they both set out looking to take the centre ground. Allan, significantly the smaller man, looked in fantastic shape and marched forward with gusto whilst McGregor looked to tee off with heavy shots from the inside; a couple of uppercuts finding their mark early on. McGregor, trained by Grant Smith, was making the most of his stockier frame but Allan was undeterred by any such disadvantage and was keen to keep McGregor alert from the off.
The long limbs of the champion enabled him to box from distance and out of Allan’s reach – despite the shuffles and feints from the challenger – but both found it hard to resist getting involved in a skirmish and would find each other, again, at the centre of the ring. Mini trade offs took place within rounds as both men unloaded on brusque swinging hooks and the encounter was enthralling from round one.
Allan, to his credit, was eager to take the fight to the 1/10 favourite and was making himself elusive thanks to effective head movement and a constant shuffle of his front foot; McGregor struggled with finding his range on occasion thanks to footwork of his opponent. Indeed the challenger was able to pick his punches well when dipping inside and landed two accurate, if not telling, uppercuts in the third round.
Despite such odds being available beforehand you couldn’t separate either man in the first third of the fight as Allan fought, seemingly, without pressure – light on his feet and willing to step into range in order to fire in some shots of his own. McGregor, you felt, was doing enough to pip the rounds and, once he decided that it was best to fight from distance, began to look more measured in his approach. The temptation in a fight with high tensions is always to get involved in a brawl but that carrot disappeared after a few rounds with McGregor willing to go back to basics. The same could not be said for Allan, however, who was finding success in the scrappier phases of the fight and moved around McGregor well to continually open up angles.
With the fifth round dwindling and Allan gaining a foothold, McGregor looked to go after his man and was firing in punches with real conviction – slamming shots into the body of his counterpart and sapping away the energy. As soon as Allan showed he was hurting there was an undeniable burst of torrid aggression from McGregor who was gung-ho and care-free in his pursuit of the finish.
That looked to be a turning point for the 22 year old who emerged in the sixth round with a renewed fire in his belly and he did well to remain composed; dangling the left hand around waist high and remaining fluid with his movement. Allan, too, regained his focus and responded well with the lead left leg control the distance between both men and resulting in a round where McGregor was unable to capitalise on the frailties of his opponent.
The Celtic champion, aged 26, was proving to be far more than just an “underdog” with great resolve to bide himself the time to recover and an apt shot selection that was garnering him success. He was taking rounds off the pre-fight favourite on merit and leaving McGregor in two minds as to which strategy to pursue: calm from distance or look for the finish in a brawl. It must be said, though, McGregor remained at ease throughout the fight and was confident his more precise work-load was seeing him collect rounds. Allan’s pot-shots were landing with regularity, mind, as he took the seventh round with some eye-catching counter punches.
You suspect, though, that Allan required more sustained spells of success in order to start procuring the rounds necessary for victory and it was, in likelihood, the more prolific body of work from McGregor that was seeing him through the contest. A body shot, catching Allan on the left side, dropped his challenger despite protests and, once more, he began to tee-off on his opponent; Allan’s body began to droop and Victor Loughlin had seen enough. All over in the eighth in a thoroughly enjoyable encounter.
Initially scheduled to face Michael McGurk, Kieran Smith found himself facing a tricky Mexican challenger in the form of Ivan Montero. Montero (21-3) is a veteran of the sport having been a professional for eight years with fights against Michel Soro and Erickson Lubin; McGurk, meanwhile, won the WBC International Silver title against Evaldas Korsakas (another late notice replacement) in November and has stayed busy by beating Jan Balog in March. Three fights on the trot where McGurk has had to face a replacement opponent but, still, a chance to get a reasonable scalp on his resumé.
The pace was bouncy from the off with McGurk, fighting from the southpaw stance, looking to lurch in and attack the body of his shorter opponent. Montero kept a cautious guard with the hands perched loftily around his head but having sought to land a shot of his own Smith was able to land a decent right hand to the Mexican’s cheek. Montero was down on three occasions in the first round, all ruled a slip, and he seemed to struggle to find any sort of comfortable rhythm. Smith looked in control from the outset, rolling his shoulders as they stood opposite each other and continually moving to ensure Montero couldn’t hold ground.
Both men were listed as 6”2’ but it was the home fighter who carried the height advantage and he was visibly punching downwards over the opening phases. Fighting on the outside, like a true southpaw, he seemed comfortable in allowing the jab to pick Montero off while Montero looked to engage in a machismo stand-off – who will blink first. Smith refused to be drawn into such tactics and was persistent in looking to target the body of Montero; his opponent was astute at dipping his legs to prompt a change in levels from Smith.
Montero was more rugged and less thought out than the home fighter and he was brash in lunging in, often missing the mark by some distance, whilst Smith fought on a tether – restrained to begin with and gradually loosening up as the fight progressed. Significant shots landed to boost his confidence and you could feel a relaxation as the fight hit the halfway stage. A clash of heads in the fourth round stirred the spirits and enticed Montero forward as he encroached on the territory of Smith: nipping in when the Scot tried to throw a jab from distance.
Heads collided at the turn of the fifth round with the styles struggling to gel cohesively but, in response, Smith fought to a sharper gameplan with a focus on landing accurately as opposed to with great volume. Jostling around the ring, in response to a lackadaisical posture from Montero, he popped the right hand jab with consistency and actually landed a couple of nice straight-left’s down the gulley of his opponent. A familiar rhythm ensued with Montero unwilling to commit to any game-changing attacks of his own and Smith content to ride out risk-free advantage whilst producing occasional glimpses of his raw ability.
That was enough to prevent any enthusiasm from Montero who would visibly fatigue with each passing round, becoming sluggish and indifferent, whilst Smith stamped his authority over the contest. Not a beatdown, by any stretch, the champion grew stronger as the fight went on and began to unfurl shots with greater spit when the spirit of Montero was firmly sniffed out. A nastyy gash opened up over the bridge of the Mexican’s nose and we went to the scorecards a minute earlier than scheduled – 99-91, 99-91, 99-90. A comfortable win and a performance Smith should be pleased with, given the circumstances.