British and Commonwealth featherweight champion Nathaniel Collins (15-0, 7 KOs) has been asking for a step up in competition, and he got the chance to put one foot into European level against Italy’s EBU Silver champion Francesco Grandelli (18-3-2, 4 KOs) on Saturday at London’s York Hall.

Grandelli was a bundle of energy, but the smart Bearsden southpaw quickly took the center of the ring, waited for Grandelli’s feet to pause and then fired in accurate, snappy, straight shots.

Having made no impression over the first two rounds, Grandelli enjoyed a stoke of luck in the third. As Collins launched an attack, Grandelli’s elbow caught the Scot squarely on the nose and Collins emerged from the exchange with a badly damaged nose. To Collins’ credit, his approach didn’t alter at all after he sustained the painful injury, but he made his feelings known to referee Bob Williams as the round ended.

Grandelli had neither the power to worry Collins nor the skills to make him alter his approach. Collins’ fast hands and tidy footwork made Grandelli look clumsy, and the Italian was consistently made to pay when launching his attacks from too far out.

Realizing that things needed to change, Grandelli seemed to approach the sixth with a new vigor. Rather than trying to dart in and out with his attacks or outthink the clever Scotsman, he forced himself into range and began to initiate exchanges. Collins was happy to accommodate him, and although he managed to maintain control, he was giving away the advantages that had helped him build such a big lead.

Collins re-established control at the start of the seventh, hurting Grandelli with a left hand-right hook combination, which forced him into the ropes. Feeling that he may be able to force a stoppage, Collins followed him and attacked with both hands. The tough Grandelli survived and again edged closer as the round drew to a close, forcing Collins to hold his feet and trade shots.

Having done his best work in center ring, Collins began to work on the back foot in the eighth. The tactic allowed Grandelli to build forward momentum, and more and more of the fight was now being spent at close quarters, which suited Grandelli, who began to land some eye-catching shots.

Still, there was the feeling that the fight was Collins’ to lose, and although his jab had lost some of its potency, he found some sharp straight punches in the ninth and 10th rounds that found the target before Grandelli’s wide shots. The Italian regathered himself before the 11th and willed himself onto Collins’ chest, letting both hands go.

Neither man gave any quarter in a hard-fought 12th, each taking turns to let combinations go. They ended a quality, well-contested fight engaged in another exchange.

The contest went to the scorecards, where the judges were in agreement and Collins was declared the new champion by unanimous decision.

Daniel Van de Wiele had Collins winning 117-111, Ilhan Homovich had it 116-112, and Jean Robert-Laine scored it 116-112.

Ryan Garner (15-0, 7 KOs) and Liam Dillon (13-2-1, 3 KOs) produced an outstanding show for the WBC International title. Both men were hurt and cut, but after a ferocious 10 rounds, it was Garner who emerged with a unanimous decision.

The sharp, snappy Garner found it almost impossible to miss Dillon early on, finishing his combinations with left hooks underneath Dillon’s right elbow. It was fast and furious stuff from the talented Garner, who has always possessed the ability to reach the very top but – until relatively recently – lacked the professionalism.

Although it was an outstanding start from Garner, he had never before worked at such a fast clip, whereas Dillon has forged his entire career in the furnace.

Garner, 26, ramped up the body work in the second, with Dillon at times momentarily freezing when his opponent sunk in that left hook to the body – but would then grit his teeth and continue to press forward. The approach was playing directly into the hands of Garner, who stung Dillon with hard left hooks and right hands as he made his way in, and produced some dazzling combinations to fight his way off the ropes.

Somehow, former British champion Dillon maintained his self-belief and ambition, and in the fifth he finally found something to build on. His right hand over the top found Garner’s chin and floored it up a minute later with an arcing left hook. Garner left his chin in the air and absorbed another right hand, which left him with a small cut under his left eye. 

The sixth was an outstanding round of two-way action. Garner couldn’t avoid Dillon’s right hand and was being stunned time and time again by it, also absorbing a huge left hand. He picked up another cut over his left eye and some damage over his right eye, but he was still landing plenty of flush shots of his own.

Given a few inches of room and a split second of time, Garner delivered outstanding combination punching, time and again firing a right hand and then following it with a right uppercut before dipping to his left and digging in the left to the body. Dillon was doing his level best to deprive him of that space and time, landing his clubbing shots over the top of Garner’s low-held left hand.

Garner boxed well in the eighth. He punished Dillon whenever he stepped towards him, and rather than holding his feet and giving the Londoner an opportunity to get his own shots off, he skated away after landing his flashy combinations and left Dillon with a cut of his own over his left eye.

Garner was growing as the fight progressed. After fighting through a brutal middle part of the fight, he had figured out how to utilize his natural gifts, and his combination punching to head and body was beautiful to watch.

Dillon’s heart and determination was just as good to watch and, as expected, he flew off his stool to start the 10th and final round. He threw everything he had left in the tank at Garner, and although he landed plenty of his own shots, he also had to wear some beautifully picked shots from Garner.

After 10 rounds, the fight went to the scorecard, with the judges all scoring it for Garner. John Latham made it 98-93, Lee Every had it for Garner, 99-92, and Bob Williams scored the fight 98-92.

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