Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua and ex-WBC cruiserweight title holder Tony Bellew were united in praise for Michael Cole after a gutsy performance from the Napton fighter in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday night.
Cole stepped in at less than 24 hours notice to face Conor Benn at the O2 Arena in London and despite being stopped in the third round, gained plenty of plaudits for his positive display.
“Fair play at 24 hours notice,” said Bellew who was commentating for Sky. “He’s a credit to the sport and a credit to his coaches.”
Joshua was equally magnanimous, saying: “He put up and wanted to fight back.
“It’s nice to go in with Conor Benn and try and prove yourself.
“Even though he didn’t win he can take something away, if I do train hard.
“And you never know, he may be one for the future as well.”
Backed by a 50-strong support, including many of his former stablemates at Cleary’s Gym, Cole started nervously against the 20-year-old Benn, son of former two-weight champion Nigel.
Benn, returning to the ring after an eight-month lay-off due to a broken nose, jumped out of the blocks and swiftly displayed his speed with a searing right hand before landing a series of clubbing hooks.
Cole, who was giving away weight to The Destroyer, bravely fought back but was struggling to match the variety of fast, accurate punches from Benn, who continued to march forward in the second.
Benn explosively downed Cole with a heavy right hand as the 29-year-old’s nose bloodied towards the end of the round.
The finish came in the next as Benn displayed a ruthless, predatory instinct to find a thumping left hand that again knocked Cole down, leaving the referee no choice but to wave the contest off.
Benn, who described the performance as “the best I’ve ever boxed,” was tipped to surpass his father’s achievements by a proud Nigel after the fight, while Cole was left to reflect on a truly memorable night.
“Last night was the best and worst night of my boxing journey, he said. “Never been put on the canvas but nothing was going to keep me there.”
The stoppage meant Cole not only lost his unbeaten record but, due to the 28-day rule, saw his homecoming fight at the Chesford Grange on July 21 bite the dust.
However, the boat builder can console himself with an appearance on the next two Sky-televised Matchroom shows in Birmingham, negotiated as part of the deal to fight Benn, and the ringing endorsements of boxing hevyweights Bellew and Joshua.