James Metcalf’s big chance

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James Metcalf

Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing

Kerman Lejarraga is hard to beat in Bilbao… but it can be done. James Metcalf takes him on this Friday

JAMES METCALF will be looking to break a telling and violent trend when he heads to the Bilbao Arena to do battle with local favourite, Kerman Lejarraga. Metcalf is the seventh British fighter that Lejarraga has faced in Spain. His record in those fights reads 6-0 (5). Denton Vassell, Bradley Skeete, Frankie Gavin, Tyrone Nurse, Jez Smith and Jack Flatley failed to beat him and only Nurse heard the final bell.

But Lejarraga is not invincible. David Avanesyan proved that in two bouts in 2019 when he stopped him in nine before punctuating his superiority with a first-round stoppage in their return. But the Russian, based in Newark, had world-level experience and confidence to draw from. This is a step into the unknown for Metcalf. Though he has fought in Spain before – trouncing the overmatched Aleksei Tsatiasvili in 2015 – he’s yet to meet anyone as accomplished or highly regarded as Lejarraga.

The Spaniard is 30 years old, three years younger than the Scouser, and his overall record reads 34-2 (26). Yet one could certainly describe him as something of a bully. He fights almost exclusively at home and since losing to Avanesyan, he hasn’t really stepped up again. But the cracks in his armoury remain. He came very close to losing to Frenchman Dylan Charrat in 2021. In that bout, Charrat, who is not a known puncher nor can boast the quality of Avanesyan, took the fight to Lejarraga on the inside. He landed combinations up close and boxed intelligently from range. Before that, Jez Smith had plenty of success against Lejaragga, dropping him twice before being stopped in the sixth.

Metcalf, 22-2 (14), may adopt a similar approach. Keep it simple, don’t take silly chances but be busy when in range. “Kid Shamrock” was ultimately outlasted against Ted Cheeseman when he was stopped in the 11th and it was very close before he lost on points over 10 to Kieron Conway. We expect Metcalf to have his moments in a fan-friendly affair but to ultimately find the heat of fighting Lejarraga in Bilbao too much. For those who like a bet, however, check the odds carefully. Metcalf is very much a live underdog here.

Also on the DAZN-televised card on Friday (May 20) is Wigan’s James Moorcroft, 16-1 (5). The welterweight steps up to take on local unbeaten prospect, Jon Miguez, 16-0 (7), over eight rounds.

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