Craig Evans eventually succumbs to James Tennyson in fight of the year contender

Craig Evans eventually succumbs to James Tennyson in fight of the year contender

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

By Dewi Powell: If Craig Evans (20-3-2, 3KO) had punch power as big as his heart, the Blackwood native would stand towards the top of the sport.

Every boxer is brave, it’s part and parcel of prizefighting, but the 30-year-old went beyond the call of duty in a barnstorming British title eliminator against Belfast’s James Tennyson (26-3, 22KO). Evans rose from the floor and valiantly resisted before succumbing to the Northern Irishman’s prolonged pressure in the 11th round at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena.

Despite the disparity in power, Evans showed no hesitation in unloading early on. The southpaw reddened Tennyson’s face with quick combinations and he then received a more significant response before the opening round was over. Evans has a history of putting himself on the outskirts of the ring, a position usually used to tempt opponents into his type of fight. However, this position was exactly where Tennyson wanted Evans and a left-hook sagged the Welshman to his knees.

Evans turned professional in 2010 and this was the first time he’d been put down. He returned to his feet, clearly shaken and featuring a damaged right eye that was quickly worsening. Cutsman Billy Reynolds worked all of his magic to keep the swelling under control. Tennyson came flying out in the second round, keen to compound the effect of the injuries. Evans was brave and really dug in to survive the scare. Sucking up so much punishment at this stage of the fight was concerning and not a scenario Evans would’ve envisaged.

“When I was hurt in the first round, I took a knee because I was hurt. It was the first time I’d been down as a pro. It weren’t nice,” remembered Evans. “I was thinking, ‘fucking hell, it’s only the first round and god, I’m down.’ I recovered well and the fight went as it went.

“The best thing to do was to take a knee, recover and come again. He hit me, hurt me and the best thing was to take a knee and recover. You go down, it’s not nice to go down, but it [going down] was the best thing at the time. I was glad I did it because I could’ve been out of there in the first round.”

The steely resilience was rewarded in the third round. Tennyson continued to come forward and Evans adapted. The Welshman was now retreating on his own terms and his footwork kept him out of trouble. Vitally, Evans’ jab was finally introduced to put space between the pair. Tennyson was made to look basic when Evans countered off the ropes and he was right back in a fight he looked destined to be bombed out of moments ago.

The remarkable recovery was evident in the middle rounds. Evans used his portside stance to square up Tennyson, who was becoming static in an attempt to return to his earlier authority. Even though Evans’ shots weren’t visibly hurting Tennyson, he was landing plenty of them and then doing a clever job of half-clinching to force referee Steve Gray to reset the pair. None of Tennyson’s previous 21 knockouts had come past the sixth round and Evans’ belief grew.

Now it was Tennyson’s turn to adapt and he swung it back his way. He did so with body shots and they impacted Evans’ movement. Evans continued his own accurate activity throughout this period, though it lacked the same force as Tennyson. An accidental clash of heads cracked Evans’ nose in the eighth round and caused further bleeding. It fired Evans up and after a short break to compose himself, he responded well by launching rapid flurries. More of Tennyson’s accidental fouls followed and they curbed Evans’ work.

Tennyson landed a low blow in the ninth round and he was all-forearms in the 10th. The referee wasn’t happy with the moves and it was an indicator of Tennyson’s growing sense of frustration. The duo must have been neck and neck on the scorecards. The hidden price that Evans paid for clawing his way back into the fight was his sinking stamina. Understandably, Evans slowed down and his guard loosened, affording Tennyson chances to get back on top.

The end came in the 11th round. Tennyson beat Evans to the punch and landed a short hook. Evans had the instinct to hold but not the strength. Tennyson persisted and landed series of shots to force the referee to call a final halt to the dramatic fight of the year contender. Even then, Evans still resisted.

“In the 11th round, he hit me but I was fine. The ref jumped in, which was sad like. There’s nothing I can do about it, though. I just couldn’t believe they stopped the fight,” he said in defiance. “I boxed smart from round three up to round 10. The ref did what he had to do in round 11, I was gutted. I was more hurt earlier [in round one]. It is what it is.

“I was a bit tired. I got caught with my hands down, I took a step back, put my hands up and the ref stepped in, which I don’t think he should have. Since coming back home, everyone has said about it.

“He [Tennyson] is a good fighter, he hits hard but apart from that… he just kept coming forward, a busy fighter. I had to let me hands go or I was going to get hit, wasn’t I.”

Evans earned plenty of plaudits for his performance. Unfortunately, the absorbing encounter was embarrassingly omitted from the televised segment of the Matchroom show. It was instead placed on an internet stream by Sky Sports for viewers on YouTube and Facebook to witness. The bizarre decision backfired when several televised fights featuring ticket-selling locals failed to catch fire or inspire any sort of atmosphere.

Not fussed by the snub, Evans said: “You don’t think about entertaining in the ring, I just do my job. Either way, I’m not bothered how entertaining it is but everyone has said it was fight of the night, saying how gutted they were that it wasn’t on Sky and all that.

“It doesn’t bother me, it is what it is at the end of the day. We both done our job and sometimes you get shown [on TV], sometimes you don’t. It was a good fight and if it was shown live on Sky, the viewers would’ve got their money’s worth.”

It has always been Evans’ intention to fight at the 130lbs super-featherweight limit, rather than five pounds heavier at lightweight. The opportunities, including a world title eliminator in Russia in 2018, have always come at the heavier weight and Evans’ success has kept him there. A third defeat looks like the catalyst for change and the timing of it is crucial for the future of his career.

“I know I can take a shot at lightweight but I’m going to try and come down a weight now to super-featherweight and take it from there like,” said Evans.

“Gavin [Rees – trainer] has always told me since I’ve come to the gym, I should be fighting at super-featherweight. I’ve been finding it too easy, I made it easy this time and it’s better if I do come down.

“He [Gavin] is someone you look up to, a former world champion. He’s giving me advice to learn from what he’s done and been through. It’s been going alright with him.

“Hopefully I can fight for another world title eliminator, try and get back up there, get the big money fights.”

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

Image by Liam Hartery.

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