Maredudd Thomas tamed by Sahir Iqbal in battle of unbeaten prospects

Maredudd Thomas tamed by Sahir Iqbal in battle of unbeaten prospects

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

By Dewi Powell: Cardiff’s Maredudd Thomas (11-1, 2KO) had been asking for a step up for some time but he saw the opportunity slip through his fingers as he was tamed by Bolton’s slick Sahir Iqbal (8-0, 2KO).

They battled in a tense and tactical eight rounder for the WBC Youth title, which is usually scheduled for 10 rounds, and Iqbal stayed a step ahead to collect a unanimous decision. It was scored 77-76, 78-75 and 78-74 in favour of Iqbal and Thomas was handed the first defeat of his professional career.

Both were keen to move on from the apprenticeship phase of their careers. The 24-year-olds were praised by onlookers for their competitive encounter, especially because two unbeaten hopefuls rarely meet that early in their careers. However, Thomas was uncomfortable in receiving praise for a losing effort and he quickly quelled his creditors.

“To me, it’s a loss,” clarified Thomas, rejecting the notion that were positives in his performance. “I’m gutted about that. The whole experience, fighting on a show like that, I can take that away from it and it was a close fight, to be fair, but no… I’m quite judgemental on myself and my boxing, especially when I have a loss.”

Thomas’ stance may soften with the passing of time but it was a fair point. As a country, Wales revels in its underdog status and victories are often claimed from valiant losses. It’s a common mentality that usually resonates with non-participants, rather than the competitors at the centre of sporting competition.

There were just fractions separating the welterweights, which may eventually cushion the loss for Thomas, and that was evident as early as the first round. They’re both tall for the 10st 7lbs weight category and they attempted to establish their respective straight arrows. Iqbal’s speedy jabs stood out in the initial exchanges and Thomas came back with his own leads in the second round. The Welshman didn’t hang around, immediately closing the distance and maintaining a high punch output.

“I thought he had the first round and I had the second round,” judged Thomas. “He had a quick jab and it seemed like I was chasing him around all night. I think he definitely wanted to stay away and pick me off with the jab. I had to get in there and take it to him.

“Nothing really surprised me. He had a quick jab. It didn’t have any power behind it but it was quick and snappy. Other than that, it was kind of what we expected.

“It was strange to be fighting someone taller than me because I didn’t expect to get anyone taller than me in the welterweight division. He kind of had an amateur style, pitter patter and move around.”

The third and fourth rounds saw Iqbal use the skills he perfected as an amateur, which helped him to secure multiple national schoolboy and youth titles. Thomas tried to jab to the body in an attempt to slow Iqbal’s movement. Instead, Iqbal’s feints offset Thomas’ pressure and his crafty counters on the turn banked the sessions.

The first major breakthrough came in the fifth round. Thomas’ gym-mates testify that he hits far harder than his knockout ratio and his right cross demonstrated the case. It froze Iqbal on impact and he was soon bundled into the ropes. A few more power punches got through before Iqbal was able to grasp tightly onto Thomas’ torso. The pressure was maintained for the rest of the session and it was bumpy for Iqbal. Suddenly, they appeared near equal on the scorecards.

The success was the trigger for a turning point in the fight. Iqbal’s natural instinct is defensive but that tendency accelerated after he’d been buzzed. His response to Thomas’ punishment wasn’t to make his own mark, it was to make sure Thomas wasn’t given another opening to land flush. It resulted in an astonishing 30 clinches in the rest of the fight, which went completely unaddressed by referee John Latham.

Iqbal, although offering a meagre offensive output, appeared to have recovered in the sixth round. Thomas continued to pursue the rangy target, only to be clipped by left hooks in between blatant and repeated clinches. The action followed a similar pattern in the seventh round. Thomas was either smothered whenever the distance shortened or picked off when he eagerly overreached.

“Everyone time I got close, he held on,” said Thomas, who charged forward in the last round and finally kept a tiring Iqbal on the ropes. “I thought I could’ve had him out of there in the fifth [round] if he didn’t hold on to me. A couple more clean shots… I could see he was hurt. He held on and done what he had to do. I think it spoilt the fight a bit.

“It was a good fight but I don’t think he wanted to engage in a fight, he wanted to keep distance. When I was getting on the inside, he wanted to hold on. It is what it is really, isn’t it.

“I was just chasing him. I’d have loved him to stand in the middle of the ring, box each other but after that fifth round, I don’t think he wanted to get caught again. I think he was tiring as well. If it was a 10 round fight, like it should’ve been, it would’ve suited me a lot better and played into my hands.”

Overall, Iqbal was effective in slowing the pace to suit his intentions. Critics will cite a reluctance to engage and his conservative approach was the antithesis to Thomas. The clever defensive methods Iqbal chose were, ultimately, approved by the referee and that’s all that counts. For Thomas, he saw no reason to step back down in levels despite the result and he was keen to bounce back against the same sort of opposition.

“I don’t think it was a bad loss or anything. I don’t want to take a step back. If that’s a 10 round fight, I honestly think I would’ve won it and moved on with my career.

“I don’t really want to take a step back or fight journeymen. That doesn’t interest me one bit. I proved I can fight at that level and he [Iqbal] was good. If I can get another fight like that, I’d love it. That’s where I want to be.

“I’ve got to work on a few things in the gym but it’s nothing major. A few little adjustments and I’ll get straight back in there. When I get a date, I’ll be ready. Boxing in a middle of a pandemic is something to say. It probably won’t happen again… well, hopefully not anyway!”

It was MTK Global’s first show since COVID-19 gate crashed everyone’s plans. The Dubai-based managerial company endured a turbulent time during the pandemic. Mainstream media openly scrutinised MTK Global’s links to their co-founder, Daniel Kinahan, as his role was publicised in negotiations for Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua’s proposed unification to decide the undisputed heavyweight champion. The Irishman officially sold the company in 2017 and he remained as an independent advisor to several of their boxers. Authorities alleged that Kinahan was a senior figure in international organised crime, though he has never been convicted of a crime.

The five-fight event took place behind-closed-doors at the Production Park Studios in South Kirkby, Yorkshire. Europe’s largest rehearsal studio was an eery setting, compounded with a row of curtained squares that served as dressing rooms. Those makeshift dressing rooms were unusually located in the same room as the ring. The strange setting was a sign of the times.

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

Image by MTK Global.

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