By Anthony Cocks
LEONARDO ZAPPAVIGNA LOOKING TOWARDS RETIREMENT AFTER 12 YEARS OF WARS
Saturday night in Oklahoma City may have marked the last time Sydney warrior Leonardo Zappavigna 37-4 (27) has competed in a prize ring.
The 30-year-old veteran of 41 pro bouts turned in a gutsy, blood-drenched performance against rising prospect Alex Saucedo 28-0 (18) but the Australian’s mangled face forced a premature ending to the fight and, ultimately, his career in the ring.
"I hurt him, but my cuts were really bad," said Zappavigna, who recovered from a third round knockdown to put a savage beating on the 24-year-old undefeated local in the fourth round before his corner threw in the towel in the seventh.
"I had blood in my eyes. No excuses. The kid is a warrior. I hope he becomes world champion. I did my best. Now I’ll go home. I have to think about things. We’ll see what the future holds. The cuts are an issue."
Zappavigna, a former lightweight world title challenger, has had issues with cuts throughout his career and his aggressive, pressure-fighting style isn’t the type to lend itself to longevity.
After almost seven exhilarating rounds Zappavigna’s corner threw in the towel with their fighter’s left eye swollen virtually shut and his face a mask of blood.
Against Saucedo, Zappavigna fought the only way he knows how and went out on his shield.
This writer remembers watching a teenage Zappavigna from ringside as he boxed his way to a bronze medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, eventually losing to the slick-boxing southpaw Frankie Gavin from England who kept using angles and turning Zappavigna to prevent the popular local from getting set.
Fast-forward six months and Zappavigna was about to have his fifth pro bout for the vacant Australian lightweight title against another slick-boxing southpaw in Shane Kelly from Melbourne. With the loss to Gavin still fresh in my mind, I thought Kelly was a good chance to win using similar tactics. At 8-2 (1) Kelly couldn’t punch top crack an egg, but he was quick on his feet and knew how to make good use of the whole ring to keep his opponents chasing and reaching as he picked them off from the outside.
Kelly boxed effectively in the first round, moving left and right, ducking and dodging shots, pecking and poking Zappavigna from the outside before disappearing out of range. The second round was closer with Zappavigna closing the gap but Kelly still boxing well.
It was in the third round that Zappavigna found his rhythm, distance and timing. The exits that Kelly had used so judiciously in the first two frames were no longer there as Zappavigna began to cut off the ring and catch Kelly on the way out.
Late in the third a booming right hand caught Kelly on the chin and he went down hard, crashing to the canvas in front of his own corner. Kelly rolled onto his hands and knees and looked through the ropes to his cornermen with glazed eyes. His trainer Brian Slatter could see he was in no shape to continue and skied the towel.
I was on spit bucket duty for Kelly that night and got to see up close and personal the immense improvements in Zappavigna in six short months. No longer did he struggle to cut off the ring or time his more mobile opponents. He was a vastly improved fighter.
Zappavigna was crowned Australian champion at 2:46 of the third round and I knew then that this was a kid who would go far in the pro ranks.
Twelve years a pro is a long time in this game, especially when you have the aggressive, take-no-prisoners style that Zappavigna does. His eminent manager Mike Altamura let his feelings be known after the fight.
“He was speaking to my wife and was like ‘that’s enough. I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I want him to be able to talk to his kids when he’s 50. I want him to be healthy’,” Zappavigna told Ring magazine’s Ryan Songalia. “I understand where he’s coming from.”
Maxboxing wishes Zappavigna all the best for the future and hopes to see him stay involved in boxing as a non-combatant.
ANTHONY MUNDINE GUNNING FOR AN EARLY STOPPAGE AGAINST JEFF HORN
Former WBA super middleweight champion Anthony Mundine 48-8 (28) wants to knockout former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn 18-1-1 (12) quicker than Terence Crawford 33-0 (24) did in a fight that could be worth as much as $4 million each.
Horn, who lost his world title in nine rounds to the pound-for-pound rated Nebraskan in early June, is considering a mid-November fight against the polarising 43-year-old at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium where he defeated future Hall of Famer and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao a year ago.
“I want to stop him in the first six rounds, quicker than Terence Crawford did,” Mundine told the Daily Telegraph this week. “You’ve got no idea how good I’m feeling at the moment. I’m pumped.
“It’s good that Horn is going to get a pay day. He’s a young man with a young family. For me, it’s not about the money. I already own nearly 10 properties and I’ve made millions.”
The former professional rugby league player believes a win over Horn will open up doors in the United States where he has fought just once in his 56-fight professional career.
“This is about me winning and fighting in America,” Mundine said. “I don’t care where I fight him, as long as there’s a square ring.”
Mundine also announced he had split from his long-term manager Khoder Nasser.
“Khoder wanted me to retire,” Mundine said. “I wanted someone who still believed in me. This fight will catapult me back onto the world stage. I’ll get a fight in America if I beat Jeff. I don’t want to just beat him, I want to make a statement.”
One sticking point for the fight is the weight. Team Horn wants the fight to take place at 154-pounds, while the Mundine camp are holding fast on 156-pounds. Mundine is also insisting on a 50-50 purse split, with the Sydneysider’s team claiming there could be as much as $8 million in the pot to share.
JASON MOLONEY JOINS THE WORLD BOXING SUPER SERIES & EARNS WORLD TITLE SHOT AGAINST IBF CHAMP EMMANUEL RODRIGUEZ
Leading Australian bantamweight Jason "The Smooth One" Moloney 17-0 (14) has joined the ranks of the best 118-pound boxers in the world with the announcement this week that he will be competing in the second series of the highly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series.
Moloney, 27, will be matched with newly crowned IBF champion Emmanuel Rodriguez 18-0 (12) from Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals on a date and at a venue yet to be set.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of the World Boxing Super Series. For me, this is a dream come true,” said Moloney, who, along with his twin Andrew, are both ranked number nine by the Ring magazine in the bantamweight and super flyweight divisions respectively.
“It has been my dream for many years now to become world champion. It is something which myself and my team have been working very hard towards. Now I will have the opportunity to achieve this dream and much more. We now have the opportunity to become a unified world champion, win the glorious Muhammad Ali Trophy and become the undisputed number one bantamweight in the world.”
Other competitors already confirmed in the bantamweight tournament are WBO champion Zolani Tete 27-3 (21) of South Africa and WBA "super" champion Ryan Burnett 19-0 (9) of Northern Ireland. A question mark still hangs over the head of three-division champion Naoya Inoue 16-0 (14) of Japan, who would be a welcome addition with his natural hand-speed and power.
“I am going to grab this opportunity with both hands, and I truly believe that we have what it takes to go all the way and win this tournament and become Australia’s next world champion,” said Moloney, who is coming off a sixth round cut-eye stoppage of former two-time WBA super flyweight champion Kohei Kono in May.
The first season of WBSS was a huge success, matching the leading cruiserweights and many of the top super middleweights in competitive and entertaining contests. The grand final between the leading 200-pounders Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev is scheduled to take place in Moscow, Russia on July 21 and the second season of the WBSS promises to be just as explosive and entertaining as the first.
Victory over Rodriguez will be just the start for Moloney, who believes he can win the tournament outright.
“We are not in this competition to make up the numbers. We are here to shock the world,” said Moloney.
AUSTRALIAN CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPION JAYDEN “PLUGGER” NICHOLS SET TO DEFEND AGAINST BEN KELLEHER IN QUEENSLAND THIS WEEKEND
Australian cruiserweight champion Jayden "Plugger" Nichols 7-0-1 (1) makes the first defence of his national crown on Saturday night when he takes on Ben Kelleher 8-1-2 (4) at the Mansfield Tavern in the Brisbane suburb of Mansfield on an Ace Boxing Promotions show.
Nichols, who has fought half of his pro career in his native Hobart on the island of Tasmania where he is a local draw and the other half on the Australian mainland, insists the hostile Queensland crowd won’t bother him.
"I do the fighting mate, not the crowd," he told Maxboxing this week. "Never has worried me at all."
The stocky cruiserweight is a deceptively crafty boxer with a high punch output and a clever inside game. At just 5-foot-10 most of his opponents tower over him, but the laid-back Tasmanian sees his height deficit as an advantage.
"Height doesn’t matter," said Nichols, who also boasts a granite chin. "I’m always fighting taller people, you get used to it. I think it makes me the better inside fighter, which is the plan against Ben."
The lone loss on Kelleher’s ledger came back in January when the 30-year-old from Ipswich challenged leading Australian cruiserweight Jai Opetaia for the national crown, going down in three rounds after suffering a hand injury that prevented him from continuing. In April he bounced back with a four round shutout of Robert Ferguson at the Ipswich Basketball Stadium.
"Ben Kelleher is a great fighter but I think he’s stepping up a class fighting me, a pure boxer. He’s done MMA and kickboxing, he’s comes to fight and it will be a great fight," said Nichols. "I have watched a few of his fights [but] I don’t like watching them. I let my trainers do that mate."
In his last outing Nichols claimed the vacant Australian 200-pound title with a 10-round majority decision win over Uria Afamasaga 2-2 (2) on the undercard of Luke Jackson versus Surachet Tongmala at the Wrest Point Casino in Hobart.
A victory over Kelleher will help Nichols stake his claim as the best cruiserweight in the country not named Opetaia or Mark Flanagan.
"I think I am a lot better boxer then Ben, he gets a little wild sometimes, but as we all do,” laughed the 24-year-old. “My main thing is to box, box and box, to outsmart Ben, to get him coming forward to open him up a bit."
HEAVYWEIGHTS SET TO COLLIDE FOR THE FRANK BIANCO CUP WHILE JOEL BRUNKER & CHERNEKA JOHNSON APPEAR ON UNDERCARD
Friday night will also feature the fourth annual Frank Bianco Cup at the home of boxing, the Melbourne Pavilion, on another Big Time Boxing show.
The single-elimination last man standing tournament pits eight heavyweights against each other over 3 three-minute rounds. This year’s competitors are Thomas Peato, Kiki Toa Leutele, Filipo Fonoti Masoe, Brett Jeffrey, Casper Turner, Christian Ndzie Tsoye, Faiga Opelu and Omar Aldafai.
The show will also feature world-rated super featherweight “Aussie” Joel Brunker 33-2 (19) up against Kiwi Nort Beauchamp 16-2 (3) in an official eliminator for the WBA Oceania 130-pound title.
The 32-year-old Brunker is ranked WBA number 12 at 130-pounds and has only ever lost to world titleholders Lee Selby and Josh Warrington at featherweight.
Also in action WIBA bantamweight champion Cherneka “Sugar Neekz” Johnson 9-0 (4) will face Thailand’s Siriphon Chanbuala 12-5-2 (5) over six rounds.
“I am feeling as fit as ever, feeling sharp and ready to go,” Johnson told the Warrnambool Standard. “10-0 is something I haven’t reached at any point in my career yet. I got to my 10th fight in my amateur career and lost. So if I get to 10-0, which I’m pretty confident I will, it will be probably one of my best boxing goals so far.”
The 22-year-old Johnson admits she doesn’t know much about her opponent, but doesn’t expect that to cause her any problems on the night.
“I don’t know a lot about her,” she said. “I do know that she has fought for two world titles before and has been in the game a long time.
“But so have I. I have nine years in amateur and pro and I am feeling really good.”
The card will also feature the debut of former AFL hardman Shane Mumford who will clash with experienced heavyweight Kyle Brumby 5-13-3 (1) in a four round bout.
LUKE BOYD AND WILLIS MEEHAN RETURN FROM LAYOFFS ON FRIDAY NIGHT
Australian super bantamweight champion Luke Boyd 4-0 (4) will have his first fight for the year when he takes on experienced Thai southpaw Tanawat Phonnaku 31- 10-1 (19) in a 10-round bout at the Roma Function Centre in Liverpool, Sydney.
The Final Round Boxing Promotions show will also feature junior middleweight Ty Telford 3-0 (1) versus New Zealand’s Ruben Webster 8-1 in an eight round bout and the return of talented heavyweight Willis Meehan 5-0 (4) against Jonasa Kavika 3-0 (2) of Fiji also in an eight round contest.
The 22-year-old Meehan previous played rugby league for the Sydney Roosters and Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in the National Rugby League as a prop forward. In early 2017 the Sea Eagles released him from his playing contract so that he could continue his boxing career, following in the footsteps of his talented father, former WBO heavyweight world title challenger Kali Meehan.
The fight against Kavika will be the 6-foot-5 southpaw’s first bout in over two years.