Photos by Sumio Yamada
MALIK BOUZIANE vs CARMELO BALLONE
French Olympic representative Malik Bouziane caused one of the big surprises of the year when he went to London and soundly outpointed Ian Napa to win the European bantamweight title in March. Napa had been enjoying a superb run of form, and Bouziane, with just 11 professional bouts, one of which he had lost, seemed to be in a bit over his head. However, Bouziane boxed the fight of his life, keeping on the move, hitting and getting out of range, and the shorter Napa was never able to get into any kind of rhythm.
On Friday Bouziane enjoys home-ground advantage in Massy, France, when he defends the title against ex-champ Carmelo Ballone, a Belgian of Italian ancestry, with the French Eurosport network televising the event live.
At first glance, this looks like being a comfortable win for Bouziane, because he beat Napa whereas Ballone not only lost to the London boxer last October but was dropped by a body blow (which cost him a very close fight).
I do not make this a sure thing by any means, however.
While not wishing to detract from Bouzianes performance in winning the European title, it did seem that Napa was lethargic that night. Afterwards Napa said that he thought he might have been a bit overtrained, that he waited too much and was too intent simply on landing body punches rather than concentrating on his boxing.
The Napa who beat Ballone looked altogether a sharper, more focused fighter.
Napa is a short, stocky fighter at only 5ft 1in, and the 5ft 7ins Bouziane had a considerable advantage in height and reach. Ballone, though, stands a little under 5ft 6ins. Also, Ballone is a southpaw.
Even though Bouziane beat Napa, and Napa defeated Ballone, I think that, due to the styles involved, Bouziane could face a much more difficult fight on Friday than he did in London.
Napa was able to put pressure on Ballone and hurt him underneath, dropping the then-champion with a beautiful right-hand shot to the body in the 10th. Ballone suffered a cut over the eye in the fifth round, and there were times when it looked as if he didnt fancy it, as the British fight trade would say. However, Ballone came back very well in the last two rounds and looked the stronger man at the finish. In the old days of 15-round fights, Ballone might well have won.
Ballone was unsettled by Napas pressure and body punches, but against Bouziane the bout figures to be much more of a boxing match, and the mechanics of the fight could be more suitable to Ballones brand of boxing.
I rate Bouziane and Ballone almost equal regarding technical ability, but boxing in his own hometown is obviously to Bouzianes advantage and I think that the French fighter might be a little tougher mentally. With the crowd solidly behind him, and in a confident frame of mind after upsetting the odds against Napa, I will go with Bouziane to battle his way to a narrow win on points. I expect Ballone to be very much in the fight in every round, but I envisage Bouziane pulling out that little bit extra.