By John J. Raspanti
A few weeks ago, at the Manchester Arena in London, England, Frank Buglioni could likely feel his dream of capturing the British light heavyweight title slipping away.
And, in a sense, his boxing career.
His fight with undefeated rival Hosea Burton had been a barnburner, but it was Buglioni who was feeling the heat.
Burton, the cousin of former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, had out-boxed him through five of the first six rounds.
Burton’s right hand couldn’t miss.
Defending against a right cross had been a problem for Buglioni in his last few fights. A new wrinkle had been added to his defense to try and eradicate the flaw. He bobbed and weaved, but still Burton’s right found his chin again and again.
That chin though, is solid. It took whatever Burton unleashed, and asked for more.
Even after the ringside doctor checked a cut over Buglioni’s left eye, there was no panic in his corner.
It was more like quiet resolve. He was meeting Burton’s right hand head on, shaking off its effects like a bull would a matador’s thrusts, and moving forward.
The bout was more than just a boxing match to the 27 year-old Buglioni—he was trying to recapture the luster of his earlier career, when thousands of fans would erupt in song during his bouts.
A little over two years ago, Buglioni was the new golden boy of British boxing. Model handsome, charming and modest, the son of a local builder, Buglioni had fashioned quite a fan base.
He won his first 12 fights, with nine knockouts, but still pundits whispered about his flaws.
Fight 13 turned out to be unlucky for Buglioni when he met veteran Siarhei Khamitskis.
At 39, Khamitski was a grizzled veteran, with 10 loses on his record, but also a fighter who had shared the ring with the likes of Martin Murray (twice), Ryan Rhodes, Jamie Moore, and a young Gennady Golovkin.
The opening round can sometimes be very revealing in boxing.
Khamitski started fast. It was obvious he was the stronger man. He tagged Buglioni with stinging rights to the head.
By the sixth round, all Buglioni had left was courage. He bravely soldiered on, but after being staggered by a clubbing right, the referee waved off the contest.
Disappointed, but hardly defeated, Buglioni returned to the gym. A few months later, he scored knockout victories over Sam Couzens and Alexey Ribchev.
He picked up the WBO European super middleweight title when he defeated Andrew Robinson. A draw with Lee Markham was a setback, but a stoppage of Fernando Casteneda was not.
A shot at a world title was imminent. It happened on September 26, 2015, at Wembley Arena in London, England.
Champion Fedor Chudinov was undefeated. He had recently beaten Felix Sturm to capture the belt. Chudinov was heavily favored to hand Buglioni his second loss. Buglioni prepared the best he could, but the pundits were right.
Chudimov was the better fighter. He dominated the action with consistent pressure and multiple shots to the head and body.
Outclassed, Buglioni probably lost every round, but he hung in like grim death. He was rocked by body shots, but kept fighting back. He even managed to hurt Chudinov in the sixth round, but was soon on the receiving end of more blows.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” said Buglioni after the fight. “Again, he beat me on the night.”
Buglioni remained optimistic. Some advised him to retire. This is a guy who grew up admiring Arturo Gatti. He’d lost only two fights.
He couldn’t quit; he would, as always, go forward.
He moved back to London, and linked up with trainer Don Charles. The two men clicked. Buglioni had previously worked with Mark Tibbs and the Collins brothers--Paschal and former world champion Steve. He learned a lot from them, but training in Dublin, Ireland posed a financial hardship. Leaving the Collins brothers was the most difficult decision in his boxing life.
He debuted with his new trainer last March, stopping overmatched Olegs Fedotovs in the opening round.
Next would be Burton, a fighter Buglioni said he knew from his amateur days.
“I’ve seen him quit when I almost knocked him out in the amateurs,” Buglioni said at a press conference a few days before the fight.
“And at the GB trials, I got in the squad, while you [Burton] made excuses,” he told Burton.
Burton fired back.
“I give the fight a couple of rounds. If he boxes, he will get knocked out. If he fights, he gets stopped,” said Burton. “Either way, he gets knocked spark out.”
Back to last weekend at the Wembley Arena: Burton couldn’t knock Buglioni out, but he did pretty much everything else.
By round eight, Buglioni had a cut across his nose. Blood was dripping into his left eye. There was swelling under Burton’s left eye, and Buglioni was battling back.
Buglioni continued to apply the pressure, but he was paying a heavy price. Burton circled away and stung him with shots, but it was Buglioni who rallied near the end of round 11.
A series of punches knocked Burton into the ropes. A big right hand laced his chin. Seconds later, he melted to the canvas like a popsicle in the heat. He got up at the count of three, and indicated that he was alright.
This was Buglioni’s chance. He fired haymakers, some of which landed, but there wasn’t enough time. The bell sounded, ending the round. Burton wandered back to his corner on shaky legs. Buglioni looked mangled, but rejuvenated.
He had one more round.
Buglioni pounded his gloves together before round 12 began, but within seconds, he was the one on the defensive.
Burton came out punching. He landed a number of shots. An uppercut bothered Buglioni. Three more right hands crashed off Buglioni’s chin. Burton was using the ring, and winning the round.
A five-punch combination sent Buglioni backward. He motioned to Burton to bring it on. The Manchester native did just that.
There was barely a minute left in the bout. Buglioni bobbed and weaved, and let fly with an overhand right. The blow crashed off Burton’s temple, sending him wobbling back two steps.
Buglioni jumped inside and connected with a cuffing left. Burton collapsed to the canvas on his left side. He bravely got up at the count of eight. His mouth was open. His eyes looked glassy as he tried to focus on referee Michael Alexander.
Burton’s body quaked as Buglioni wasted no time getting at him. Two lefts and a stunning right sent Burton wilting back to the ropes. Referee Alexander immediately jumped in and threw his arms around the stricken boxer like a protective parent, ending the fight.
Burton, undefeated no longer, didn’t utter a word.
A little over a minute remained in the contest.
“I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but I finally got the British title,” said Buglioni. “It was a hard fight, and I didn’t box to the best of my ability, but I dug deep and grinded it out.”
Dug deep he did.
Many people probably believed that the pretty boy couldn’t do that.
But his fans did.
They were singing again.
Frank Buglioni embodies the model of a true fighter.
He’ll battle no matter what, until the referee says to stop.