Norwich switch-hitter Jon "Jono" Thaxton makes a long overdue step up to European class tonight at Bethnal Greenʼs York Hall in London when he challenges Belarusian champion Yuri Romanov on a Hennessy Sports promotion.
While Thaxton, 33-7 (18), may only have won his prized Lonsdale belt in late 2006, the Norwich buzzsaw had been on periphery of genuine title class for over a decade and many people may not realise that he was once regarded Britainʼs top fighter at light-welterweight.
Back in February 1996, Thaxton, coming in as a late substitute, took just 138 seconds to knock cold the previously undefeated British and Commonwealth supremo Paul "Scrap Iron" Ryan. It made him the country's top man but, because the fight was made four pounds over the ten stone limit, it was a non-title affair and Thaxton never acquired the spoils such a victory deserved.
Almost four years after the Ryan victory, Thaxton eventually got his long awaited shot at the British crown but was stopped by Jason Rowlands in the fifth round. When Rowlands vacated a year later, Thaxton was handed a second domestic title tilt, this time against a young prospect from Manchester called Ricky Hatton.
Despite opening a serious cut above Hattonʼs left eye early in the opening round, Thaxton found "The Hitman" too much that night and conceded a wide verdict on the card of referee Paul Thomas.
It seemed that "Jono" was going to just miss out on being British Champion and in 2002, his career was over after a shoulder injury sustained in a car accident forced him to hang up his gloves.
I, like many, was surprised when Thaxton returned as a lightweight two years later, but two things are for sure, firstly, the drop down to 135 pounds has made him a lot stronger and secondly, after such a long career, in which heʼs shown perseverance that most other fighters would be simply unable to muster, the Norfolk native has earned his shot at Romanovʼs title.
Itʼs a matchup that promoter Mick Hennessy certainly seems excited about. "This is a brilliant fight between the two best lightweight boxers in Britain and Europe," he gushed in a press statement when the fight was announced. "Itʼs a shoot out for a classic title to find out who is the best lightweight in Europe."
25 year old Romanov wonʼt be fazed by coming to Blighty to defend his title, after all, heʼs been to these shores four times before and, on the whole, been very successful here.
The first time I really knew anything of Romanov was back in early 2003 when he sent Bradford southpaw Bobbie Vanzie to canvas five times before referee Mickey Vann was forced to halt the one-sided beating two minutes into the eighth session. Like Thaxton, Vanzie was the British Lightweight Champion at the time.
Four months prior to the Vanzie fight, and in only in his tenth paid outing, the Belarusian puncher had hammed Harlowʼs dangerous Steve Murray to defeat at the same venue he fights at this week. Murrayʼs trainer Jimmy Tibbs threw the towel in the tenth that night.
Romanov did lose on his last British jaunt, being outpointed by Graham Earl in Dagenham at the beginning of 2006, but that was a fight taken on the back of 14 months inactivity.
Since losing to Earl, Romanov has been on blistering form, climbing off the canvas to blast undefeated Spaniard Juan Carlos Melero Diaz in the third round to win the title. That victory was followed up with a stoppage over former European ruler and 1996 Olympic Silver Medallist Tontcho Tontchev and a 12 round unanimous victory over Italian veteran and former world titlist Stefano Zoff.
Thaxton knows heʼs in for a tough night but heʼs confident.
"Itʼs a dangerous fight for me, but Iʼm having an Indian summer to my career that I canʼt see ending just yet," The 33 year old said. "The moment I take my eyes off the ball against Romanov is the moment Iʼm in trouble. Iʼve worked hard in training and I really believe I can pull it off."
Verdict: Iʼve spoke with Jon Thaxton several times in the past and he is one of the most likable men in boxing but, as much as I like Jono and want him to win, I have to go with my instincts and they are telling me that Romanov will retain after 12 hard fought and bloody rounds.