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“This is the grassroots of boxing” – another enthralling fight night at the York Hall

Small hall boxing represents one of the most authentic forms of competitive sport in this country.

Stripped down to its traditional roots, with the absence of broadcasting contracts driven by pay-per-view sales and, more recently, influencer boxing events, the shows that take place at the York Hall in Bethnal Green consist of well-matched fights that take place one after the other in quick succession, without the monotony of lengthy advertisement breaks in-between.

The venue is almost like a home-from-home for promotor Mark Prior, who was recently inducted into British Boxing’s Hall of Fame.

His card on Saturday featured a Southern Area title-fight, a 50/50 main-event and a crop of talented young prospects, all matched-up against tough opposition. Often, that is enough to generate a respectable number of ticket sales, which is what all small hall promoters depend on in order to break-even.

As indicated, boxing at the York Hall provides a great opportunity for fighters, typically in the embryonic stage of their careers, to make a name for themselves by demonstrating their ability to sell tickets which, albeit unjust, is what matters most when it comes to progressing in the sport.

This is recognised by several fighters who were in attendance, such as 3-0 super-middleweight Alfie Gaskin.

“I made my professional debut at the York Hall in March and then boxed here again in July, so it will be my third fight here [November 18] in the space of a year,” Gaskin said.

“It is a privilege to box here. I know that a lot of people see these big arenas and stadiums but the York Hall should never be forgotten.”

A similar attitude was revealed by 5-0 super-lightweight Ollie Duffy.

“I am next out November 9 right here at the York Hall,” Duffy said.

“This is a legendary venue where every great British fighter has boxed. To fight here is an honour and it is something you have to tick off your list.”

With ten fights on the card, there were 20 boxers who all needed their hands wrapped.

Moreover, if they had arrived with just one trainer, which was the case for a few, then an extra corner-person was required to assist with any patching-up.

Daryl Spalter, a British Boxing Board of Control licenced coach, was seen working tirelessly in the corner for both home and away fighters in almost every contest.

“I am 61 years old but have been coming to the York Hall since I was five,” Spalter revealed.

“I boxed here three times myself and have probably done around 500 corners at this venue as a coach.”

Steeped in history, the York Hall has hosted countless nights in British boxing that have bolstered the careers of some of the world’s most recognised fighters.

“My uncle fought here in the 1940s/50s,” Spalter added.

“Any fighter you speak to, whether it is Anthony Joshua or Frank Bruno, they have all fought here.

“This is the grassroots of boxing. You have a great atmosphere and there are still dirty changing-rooms that have never been done-up.”

Around 1,200 people could be packed-in at any given night, often creating an intimate environment that can either bring the best out of the fans, with regards to the atmosphere, or entice certain individuals to lose control over themselves.

“We had Florian Marku here for his second professional fight,” Spalter continued.

“His Albanian supporters kicked-off and the promoter told us that he would stop the fight if they carried on.

“We knew that the whole place would erupt if they called it off, so we got Florian to speak to his fans and, once they calmed down, he got back in the ring and stopped his opponent in ten seconds!”

Unfortunately a similar situation transpired over the weekend after Inder Bassi successfully defended his Southern Area title against Saqib Khan in a highly anticipated bout.

Both fighters had sold a huge amount of tickets, with Bassi being a popular figure among London’s Sikh community and Khan having attracted a predominantly Muslim fanbase.

But regardless, there is no logical justification for what occurred between the fans, as the card was almost brought to a halt due to an almighty brawl that broke-out.

Whilst it is easy to gloss over these incidents, it is more important to condemn them so that, in future, changes can be made to allow people to focus on what is happening inside the ring, where professionals are paid to showcase their skills in a controlled and regulated environment.

Elsewhere on the card, 4-0 lightweight and gymnastics coach Louie O’Doherty secured a points-win over six-rounds.

“I burn the calories doing both. As a kid the gymnastics came first, but then I found out I was better at boxing,” Doherty revealed.

“I do not want too many more six-rounders, so I will go for the Southern Area title first and climb up the ranks.”

It is true that, as they begin to sell more tickets, fighters will look further afield to places like the O2 arena.

This is the case for 7-0 welterweight Elliot Whale, who got an impressive stoppage victory over a durable opponent.

“This is my fifth fight here as a pro, I want to get out and start fighting on the big shows,” Whale said.

“I deserve it. I beat so many amateurs who are now getting deals, but I get no chances in this pro-game.”

Even the more experienced fighters, however, will often headline at the York Hall and deliver an absorbing contest against a highly-touted opponent.

This could be seen in Saturday’s main-event, where a six-rounder between Jeff Ofori and Marley Mason may as well have taken place in a phonebooth, with both fighters finding short uppercuts on the inside as they dug away to the body.

Despite ending in a draw, there were no complaints from either side as everyone left the venue having got their money’s worth; but this is not always the case, especially at the bigger shows where less attention is paid to the undercard.

A boxer who has moved onto the bigger shoes, though, is 11-0 lightweight Sam Noakes, who’s next fight will be on December 2.

“I should have an opponent sorted by next week, hopefully someone ranked in the top 10 in this county,” Noakes revealed.

“[York Hall] is a prestigious place and you have to box here, but I think it is too hot as a fan!”









  • Oscar Pick

    I cover stories in boxing, football, rugby, snooker and MMA. Wishing to ensure greater transparency, through accurate reporting and engaging interviews, my articles allow readers to gain an informed insight into different aspects of sport.