Tommy Barber – London
Former amateur standout Michael Maguire returned to the ring following a two-year sojourn yet his comeback was not a happy one. Following a superb opening three rounds, Maguire’s energy reserves dwindled and opponent Najah Ali – who has trained at Gleason’s Gym in New York City – rose to the fore, finishing the fight with an extraordinary last-gasp knockdown. The two fought at York Hall in Bethnal Green on Friday, January 13.
Official verdict: Referee decision 57-56 to Ali.
Decorated amateur star Maguire made his highly-anticipated ring return in east London on the Queensberry Promotions card to much fanfare. The super bantamweight had boxed six times up to 2010, under the Hayemaker banner in south London with Adam Booth, but, by his own admission, went off the rails. Now reformed, he is eager to live up to his stratospheric potential as he was once regarded by Booth to be a pugilist with unlimited talent – a declaration echoed by current trainer/manager Johnny Eames of the famed TRAD TKO gym in Canning Town.
Maguire began the fight with intent, sticking a one-two-three combination into Ali’s frame. The opening stanza highlighted great boxing from the blue corner as Maguire had success with body shots – particularly the right hook to the ribcage – and his lead left hand. Maguire was constantly on the frontfoot, hounding Ali into retreat and he comfortably won the first round. The next round was much like the first as Maguire overwhelmed Ali with a mature shot selection. His uppercut proved a powerful punch and was one fired on numerous occasions as he refused to back down from his position in the pocket.
In the third, Maguire’s aggression and the high tempo he fought at in the first two rounds had slowed somewhat which allowed Ali to land a few, clean, blows. It was Maguire, though, who remained the ring general, showing intuitive upper body movement and possessed a commanding fighting style that Ali found tough to find a solution for.
Ali sought to land left hooks in the fourth but Maguire kept a right glove high to his tempo which provided a cushion for the incoming blow. Maguire’s two-year absence from the ring was perhaps becoming a factor in the fight as his endurance was waning. Ali enjoyed the ascendancy as it was he who began out-landing Maguire, whilst also connecting with the more powerful punches.
In the fifth, Ali executed a good one-two, was able to maneuvre Maguire against the ropes where he flurried exquisitely and generally enjoyed the upper-hand over his man. The first minute of the final round saw Ali maintain that superiority as he dug gloves into Maguire’s midsection. Returning fighter Maguire was depleted of energy. so much so, that even his head movement had became laboured and, incredibly, in the closing seconds, Ali felled Maguire with a tortuous body shot.
The sight of Maguire curling up onto the canvas was a shocker yet the punch was a rehearsed one. Maguire was tiring… and the more Ali went after the body, the more gas he took out of his opponent’s lungs. The knockdown proved to the final punch of the fight and provided Ali with a last-gasp decision victory as the referee awarded him the win.
“It was a great fight,” said Ali to Box Nation after the announcement. “I’ve been working on that [the body punch].”
With the victory, Ali moved to 5-2-1, 1ko, while Maguire – who suffered his first defeat – dropped to 6-1-0, 2ko.