Fabio Wardley retains heavyweight titles after thrilling all-British showdown with Frazer Clarke ends in draw

Thrilling draw: Both fighters had a hand raised at the O2 Arena (Getty Images)
Thrilling draw: Both fighters had a hand raised at the O2 Arena (Getty Images)

Fabio Wardley retained his British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles after a thrilling draw with Frazer Clarke at the O2 Arena.

In what will surely prove to be a fight of the year contender, Wardley’s face was rendered a bloody mess by an increasingly substantial cut on his nose, but he defied that and had momentum on his side at the halfway stage of the bout.

He dropped Clarke in the fifth round, his opponent staggered by a big right hand and then dropped as he back-peddled, and the 2020 Olympic bronze medalist then had a point deducted for repeated low blows to further strengthen Wardley’s position.

But the sense was there was little to split them heading into the championship rounds and even at the final bell after a brutal 36 minute war, as Clarke sunk to the canvas in exhaustion and Wardley was wearily lifted up by manager Dillian Whyte.

One judge scored it 114-113 to Wardley, another 115-112 to Clarke, and the third card of 113-113 meant both fighters had a hand raised, enough for Wardley to keep hold of his belts in bruising fashion and both to remain unbeaten.

Wardley and Clarke swiftly left the ring to be checked over by doctors instead of any post-fight interviews, with a significant period of rest likely to be required before the inevitable calls for a rematch are acted on.

It was a fight a long time in the making, one that had been set to take place last year before Clarke’s promoters pulled him out on the day of scheduled purse bids, stating they did not believe their man was ready for a title bout.

Two routine wins have followed since then, while Wardley added the Commonwealth title to his collection in October after beating David Adeleye in Saudi Arabia for his 16th knockout in 17 wins.

Wardley, a fighter who came into the sport through white-collar boxing, was the favourite ahead of the fight, but it was the Olympian who made the more confident start, Clarke swiftly establishing his jab as a cut began to open up on Wardley’s nose inside two rounds.

The blood poured from Fabio Wardley’s nose throughout the bout (Action Images via Reuters)
The blood poured from Fabio Wardley’s nose throughout the bout (Action Images via Reuters)

Clarke was surely up on the cards in the early stages, his boxing fundamentals put to effective use, but that came crashing down, as he did, in the fifth. Wardley landed a big right hand and teed off on Clarke, who was pushed back onto the ropes and then felled by another barrage as he attempted to retreat.

He made the count and was greeted immediately by the welcome sound of the bell, and there was no sign of any hangover when he rose from his stall. More problems came in the seventh round though, as a fairly innocuous-looking punch from Clarke was called low and the referee took a point off, signalling it had been his third offence.

By now the blood was pouring from Wardley’s face and he looked visibly tired, pawing away at the cut but still, remarkably, landing hurtful blow. The referee jumped in during the tenth round, calling the doctor over to check Wardley’s nose, but a quick wipe was enough for the fight to continue. The champion’s face was a beacon of red for Clarke to attack and his right eye increasingly closed, but Wardley staggered on to land a succession of right hands.

Frazer Clarke was dropped in the fifth round (Action Images via Reuters)
Frazer Clarke was dropped in the fifth round (Action Images via Reuters)

The fight moved into the final three minutes and still firmly in the balance, Clarke finishing well in the final minute as he pushed Wardley back onto the ropes and thundered in an uppercut. The final bell was a fitting reward for the herculean efforts of both and so too a result that meant neither lost, even if a crushed Clarke left the ring empty-handed.

Earlier in the night, Chris Kongo produced a superb performance to beat Florian Marku by unanimous decision, inflicting a first professional defeat on the Albanian to become the IBO intercontinental welterweight champion.

Ben Whittaker moved to 7-0 but was tested to a degree by Leon Willings, with his usual mix of boxing, showboating and dancing making way for a more disciplined display for much of the fight as he was taken the full eight rounds.

There were wins too for Alen Babic and Callum Simpson, while Viddal Riley defended his English cruiserweight belt and immediately made clear his desire to take on British champion Isaac Chamberlain.