Olympian Fred Evans rekindles his hunger and unbeaten Maredudd Thomas ticks on

Olympian Fred Evans rekindles his hunger and unbeaten Maredudd Thomas ticks on

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: As Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world heavyweight crowns against Andy Ruiz in Saudi Arabian desert, another finalist from the 2012 Olympics also aimed to recover from his first knockout loss as a professional, though in very different surroundings and circumstances. Cardiff’s Fred Evans (6-1) was 4,000 miles away in Southampton. There were no major honours or multimillion-pound purses at stake as Evans took the first steps of an important rebuilding job.

The talented 28-year-old had stuttered since claiming silver at the Olympics and he’d gone in a very different direction to Joshua. After a few brushes with the law postponed the start of Evans’ professional career, he got underway and recorded five wins. It was going smoothly, at least from the outside looking in, until it was brought to a shuddering halt 14 months ago. In less than five minutes, Evans unraveled at the unexpected hands of Ryan Toms, a handy operator with an even win-to-loss ratio, and it was a painful blow to his lofty expectations. Half-hearted training sessions and too much time in the sauna had caught up with Evans in two shattering rounds. It was a real wake up call and Evans then decided to part ways with management Sanigar Events and trainer Tony Borg.

In a complete shakeup, Evans headed to Gary Lockett in Llanrumney, Cardiff and the appearance on the south coast was their first outing together. The southpaw stalked Bolton’s Chris Jenkinson (11-72-3, 4KO) in a four round rust-shredder and he came away with a whitewash 40-36 decision win, tallied by veteran referee Jeff Hinds.

“That was the best I’ve felt since my six others [fights]. It was definitely the best I’ve felt,” reckoned Evans, after cooling down and taking his hand wraps off in the changing room. “After the first round, I felt good in myself, sharp and I was able to step on the gas a bit.

“Obviously, he was well-experienced, he was keeping out of the way and he was hard to track down. Everything just went to plan though. I feel a lot sharper, stronger, fitter. I know I’m going in there now, 100% fit. I’ve got the confidence, I’m going in there as a happy fighter.

“It [training] has been excellent. I’ve been sparring with Maredudd [Thomas], Chris Jenkins, Nathan Thorley. I’ve done a lot of sparring. I think in March, we’ve got another show in Cardiff. I’ll be on that, hopefully for a six rounder or more and I’ll just keep on it now, obviously step it up a gear. I definitely want to look for some titles, whatever Gary and the management team think.”

Evans, with his low right lead, gradually reduced the distance over the 12-minute duration. The approach allowed Evans to flick a jab from his waist, distracting Jenkinson from the more hurtful punches. Left hooks landed when Jenkinson tried to turn away from the ropes and Evans was judging his range with all the style expected of an ex-amateur star. As viewers often witnessed in the amateur code, Evans stayed perfectly well balanced and his class was evident as he picked holes in Jenkinson’s guard. Jenkinson was well aware of the difference in levels and he rarely threatened to throw if Evans was within punching distance. Understandably, Jenkinson maintained a compact defence and Evans focused on the body, where the target was bigger. The attacks came with more meaning in the third round and Evans increased the length of his combinations.

It became messy in the fourth round and the referee lamented both for their attempts to wrestle away from clinches. Still, it didn’t distract from the purpose of the fight and Evans, relieved at being back in a ring, smiled at the final bell. The first comeback fight was out of the way. As expected, Evans had a win under his belt and a bit of momentum. He was back on the horse. Job done.

Promoter Steve Bendall, a former English champion, was thankful for two Welsh additions. Evans was joined on the show by Cardiff’s welterweight Maredudd Thomas (10-0, 2KO) and the duo boosted the lineup that featured just five fights at Southampton’s Central Hall. 23-year-old Thomas got the night’s action underway against the winless Carl Turney (0-11) and the late notice fight saw the Welshman extend his unbeaten record. Referee Jeff Hinds scored the four rounder 40-35 to Thomas, who dominated it from start to finish.

Thomas marched forward and discouraged any hope Turney dared to consider during a subtle stare off prior to the first bell. ‘Merv’, as nicknamed by his gym mates, then looked to land uppercuts when Turney tucked up. Body shots turned Turney’s body to an angry shade of pink by the end of the first round but the journeyman did manage to land a right hand in the closing stages. It was a reminder for Thomas to stay switched on and keep his shape.

Turney, encouraged by the earlier moment, showed more ambition at the start of the second round. Thomas blocked the traffic coming his way and his accurate replies found room to land through Turney’s wider hooks. The third round saw Thomas commit with his own hooks. A sustained onslaught cornered Turney and he dropped to the floor. Thomas was relentless and the follow up attack called on all of Turney’s willpower. He survived and there was little chance for rest, even when the bell rang as Turney was forced to eat a flush uppercut in the last second of the round.

Blood began to run from Turney’s nose in the fourth round and Thomas upped the pressure again. Turney had a knack of stopping the action by holding at the right times and those survival tactics featured a clumsy rugby tackle, tripping both boxers to the floor. He received a justified warning from referee Jeff Hinds. Thomas landed a hurtful right cross a millisecond before the illegal tackle and it explained Turney’s decision to try the tackle.

“[He was a] tough boy, I caught him with a good few shots,” said Thomas, as he packed his bag in the aftermath and got ready to head 130 miles to home. “In the last round, I caught him and he dragged me down with him, [the fall] bust my knuckle up a little bit. That should’ve counted as a knockdown as well, I thought. I’m happy with the performance, though.

“I knew I had him hurt but he punched hard himself, to be fair to him. He could bang a bit, I felt I took his shots fine, he didn’t trouble me. To be honest, I prefer that [being punched] than having opponents run away because you’re chasing them and it looks bad then, doesn’t it? With him, he kept me on my toes and I was trying to catch him when he was coming in, so it gave me opportunities.”

The win sealed what Thomas’ hoped to be the end of his apprenticeship. He was keen to move to higher levels and more competitive matchups. The hastily arranged outing was especially pleasing as Thomas was originally scheduled to fight on Mo Prior’s show at the Vale Sports Arena in November. However, the show was cancelled with less than a week to go.

“100%, as soon as I can,” Thomas answered purposely when asked about his future plans. “We’re pushing for March next year, hopefully I’ll have a good step up fight against someone unbeaten or with a solid record. I think that’s when I’ll perform my best; when someone is coming forward and I catch them with shots. As soon as he started throwing shots at me tonight, that’s when I caught him and put him down.

“Whenever Gary or Mo [Prior – manager] want me to fight for a Welsh title, or any other title that comes up, I’m happy to fight for it.”

Evans and Thomas, who both entered fatherhood in recent months, pushed Gary Lockett’s run as a coach to a 40-fight unbeaten streak. The achievement continued to build momentum for the most active professional gym in Wales.

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by Huw Fairclough.

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