BY RICHARD CAWLEY
If points were awarded solely for bravery and toughness, then Ted Cheeseman would have had the European belt wrapped around his waist on Saturday night.
But boxing, so brutal, doesn’t work like that.
Instead the Bermondsey puncher endured a painful and at times one-sided beating at the hands of quality Spanish operator Sergio Garcia at Greenwich’s 02 Arena.
The 119-10 scorecards of Jean Robert Laine and Grzegorz Molenda reflected the superiority of the champion. How Massimiliano Bianco marked it 115-114 was truly puzzling.
Cheeseman, 23, knew his big night had ended with a first loss in the professional ranks – there were no celebrations at the final bell. Instead he bowed his battered head in the corner and allowed the tears to flow.
But he did not stop trying to find the one punch which could turn the outcome upside down.
For a fighter who has such big dreams and has fast-tracked his way up the rankings, the question now is how he reacts to a first defeat in 16 bouts.
It’s in adversity that you learn, probably more than in victory. This is the first setback for Cheeseman – who had made a flying start to life in the paid ranks.
He is still the British champion and time is certainly on his side to bounce back. But no boxer can have too many of these kind of bruising beatings – if they do then it is likely to cut their longevity drastically.
Cheeseman can certainly take a punch, his durability proven as he came under heavy fire from Garcia.
But in the past he has had the strength and conditioning to impose his will on opponents.
No so on this occasion. There were moments in this fight which made for uncomfortable viewing – primarily the points where Cheeseman dropped both hands and allowed his opponent to land clear, unimpeded blows to his head.
Garcia arrived as something of an unknown proposition, his 28-0 record compiled without a whole lot of fanfare. He was the picture of calm in the ring before, limbering up and waving to a small pocket of support in an almost entirely pro-Cheeseman crowd. But within the opening couple of rounds it was clear that this was going to be no easy assignment for the South Londoner.
Garcia started fast, throwing so many flurries that Cheeseman, gloves planted either side of his head, was unable to crank out his own punches.
By the fifth round the challenger was bleeding from the nose and he was being outworked.
Cheeseman’s work got more wild and desperate as the contest went down the straight.
There were roars of encouragement when he did drive Garcia back but a response always came back. On more than one occasion you wondered if the former Fisher amateur would be able to stay in there until the bitter end – an uppercut in the 10th clearly stunning him.
It speaks volumes for the level of graft Cheeseman puts into his training camps that he did do the distance in such a draining and punishing clash.
Former world cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew tweeted: “Proper warrior Ted Cheeseman! This is how all fighters should be! He’s shown he has the heart and balls here. I’m sure he’ll learn an awful lot from tonight.”
Cheeseman headed straight out of the ring after the verdict was announced.
But he responded to Bellew the following day: “Never performed anywhere near as good as I should, but would never give up.
“I would always give my all – come from tough stock. I’m 23, back to the drawing board and I’ll come again.”
The defeat is unlikely to end Cheeseman’s hopes of facing Olympian Anthony Fowler, especially as the domestic title would be on the line.
But it is no longer quite the money-spinner it was being built up to be by Matchroom Boxing supremo Eddie Hearn.
Liverpudlian Fowler – who has exchanged verbal barbs with Cheeseman – tweeted: “Gutted for a very brave Ted Cheeseman. Levels in boxing are real, you can’t skip the que [sic], gotta earn your stripes in this sport.”