It was all going to plan for Lewis Ritson.
The Newcastle boxer quickly earned a reputation as a fearsome puncher following his transition to the professional ranks, winning the Lonsdale Belt faster than any other fighter in history.
At the age of 25, people were already talking about ‘Sandman’ becoming Newcastle’s first ever world champion.
Ritson had claimed the Lonsdale belt in just four rounds with rapid knockout victories over Joe Murray Scott Cardle and Paul Hyland Jr after defeating Robbie Barrett to win the British lightweight title.
The impressive win over Barrett came just months after Ritson considered quitting boxing to take a job in a factory in order to look after his daughter.
Four knockout victories in 2018 earned him the nickname of the ‘Geordie Golovkin’, as well as a shot at the vacant European (EBU) Lightweight title in his hometown.
9,000 eager fans snapped up tickets to see the unbeaten Ritson (17-0) challenge Belgian boxer Francesco Patera for the European belt at Metro Radio Arena.
“It’s a matter of time for Ritson,” Tony Bellew predicted on Sky Sports. “I think he’ll absolutely blast out Francesco Patera on Saturday night, I really think he will. He’ll look indestructible.”
The perception was that this would merely be a stepping stone on the way to Ritson’s dream of fighting for a world title at St. James’ Park.
Alan Shearer was even ringside, leading the singing as the 25-year-old made his way to the ring to Geordie folk son ‘Blaydon Races’.
Newcastle was in for a shock.
Patera pulled off a shock upset on Tyneside, defeating Ritson via a split decision at Metro Arena. All three judges scored the fight 116-112, with two siding with Patera and one with Ritson.
Ritson started well in his hometown, drawing blood in the second round, much to the delight of the crowd.
However, he was slowed by some big body shots from Patera in the middle rounds, with the Belgian taking control in the later rounds to secure a shock victory.
“He is very young and he’ll come again,” promoter Eddie Hearn said afterwards.
“Boxing is all about learning.”
Despite the upset, Ritson has bounced back with aplomb.
‘Sandman’ decided to move up in weight to super-lightweight and made his debut at 140 pounds in March against Argentinian boxer German Argentino Benitez for the WBA Inter-Continental title.
Ritson secured a victory by unanimous decision after 10 rounds, before producing a third-round stoppage against Polish challenger Marek Jedrzejewski in his first title defence.
These back-to-back victories set up a domestic showdown against Robbie Davies Jr last Saturday in Newcastle, with Hearn claiming a world title fight awaited the winner.
One year and five days on from his shock loss to Patera at the same venue, and with a potential WBA title shot on the line, this was a huge occasion for Ritson.
Having won the British and European super-lightweight titles earlier this year, Merseyside fighter Davies Jr represented a tough opponent, with Ritson previously describing it as a 50/50 fight.
The ‘Geordie Golovkin’ defied his doubters and earned his redemption, producing a career-best performance which was enough to secure a points win over Davies Jr.
Ritson won by unanimous decision with scores of 117-112 116-112 116-112 in a fight of the year contender at Metro Arena.
Well done @lewis_ritson 🥊 🥊🙋🏼♂️
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) October 19, 2019
The 26-year-old rocked Davies Jr with some powerful hooks in the opening round, as the 9,000-strong crowd chanted his name.
Ritson beat his chest and smiled as he made his way to his corner following an impressive first round, but it was the Scouser who enjoyed the best of the ferocious second and third rounds.
Davies Jr was impressive again in the fourth, though there was heavy bleeding over one eye and damage to his nose.
Ritson enjoyed some success in the fifth, and winked at his corner in the sixth after catching Davies Jr with a big right hook.
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) October 19, 2019
‘Sandman’ edged the seventh, but allowed Davies Jr to exert more control in the eighth and ninth as he tired.
Though Davies Jr landed one big right hand in the 10th, Ritson put together some strong flurries and combinations.
Another eye-catching combination from Ritson in the 11th delighted the home crowd, with Davies Jr looking tired and bleeding heavily.
Ritson rocked his opponent with a big shot in the final round, but was later forced back on to the ropes as both men left everything in the ring.
The final minutes of the fight were wild and reckless from both men, leaving the rivals holding each other up in the final seconds.
Ritson’s strong finish in the championship rounds saw him claim the win on the judges’ scorecards; the announcement of his victory receiving a deafening roar from the Newcastle fans inside the ground.
“I never expected Ritson to come out with such a performance, with such strength, determination at the weight he stepped up,” Sky Sports pundit Johnny Nelson said afterwards.
“He bullied his way through at certain times of the fight and boxed as well.”
The win moves Ritson into contention for a world title fight, with the Geordie name-checking Scotland’s Josh Taylor a possible opponent in the ring afr Saturday’s win.
Taylor – who holds the IBF title – faces WBA ‘super’ champion Regis Prograis in the hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series final next weekend.
Ritson reiterated his desire to fight for a world title at St. James’ Park after his thrilling victory.
His mission to become Newcastle’s first world champion is back on track.
— Sean Seddon (@seddonnews) October 19, 2019