Zefara on a mission, Horn fighting for future
By Anthony Cocks
Jeff ‘The Hornet’ Horn’s career will be on the line when he faces Michael ‘Pretty Boy’ Zerafa at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on Wednesday night.
The 10-round middleweight fight is an immediate rematch of their August battle in Bendigo, Victoria that Zerafa won in convincingly fashion inside the distance.
Despite not being a known puncher, Zerafa 27-3 (16) used his superior height, reach and overall size to pummel Horn 19-2-1 (13), dropping him as early as the second, beating him up in the middle rounds and eventually stopping him in the ninth.
The 27-year-old Melburnian clearly had his number that night.
The question now is whether he can repeat the act.
One line of thought being promoted by the Horn camp is that the former WBO welterweight champion simply overlooked Zerafa and didn’t take his training seriously enough. A lucrative shot at WBA ‘regular’ middleweight titleholder Ryota Murata 15-2 (12) was in the offing for Horn in Japan had he won.
Trainer Glenn Rushton rebuked his fighter in the aftermath of the loss for his lax preparation and poor diet, publicly questioning whether the Horn has the desire to stop eating “pizzas and drinking Coke”.
Meanwhile pundits and fans have questioned what Horn, a career welterweight, was doing at 160-pounds at all.
Zerafa’s trainer Sam Labruna took aim at Rushton and Team Horn in an interview published by Australian Boxing Central last week.
"Unprofessional. Very unprofessional by Glenn Rushton and his team coming out and saying all these things," Labruna said of the post-fight comments.
"They said they knocked out (Anthony) Mundine, and he’s hitting like a heavyweight, and his preparation’s next to none, and this is his weight division because he’s big and he doesn’t need to cut weight, and all this nonsense. It was very arrogant.
"They told us that they could beat Kell Brook in four rounds. It’s just ludicrous.”
So how does the fight go down the second time around?
The first question is what adjustments we can expect Horn to make in just four months. In the first fight the 31-year-old Queenslander was comprehensively outclassed, with Zerafa finding a home for his right hand early and often before mixing in a variety of left hook, uppercuts and body shots as the rounds progressed to systematically break his man down.
Sure, Horn can be in better physical condition, but it’s hard to see him changing his forward-charging style much in the short turnaround time. Defending against Zerafa’s damaging right hand will be critical to his success.
Last time around Horn was the away fighter. This time he can expect to have a vocal local crowd behind him at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, where he will be fighting for the third time. That could be enough to give him a lift in a close fight.
“On Wednesday night you are going to see a completely different person in front of you. You are going to see a beast,” said Rushton this week.
“I don’t know if it’s beauty and the beast, but let’s call it pretty boy and the beast. You are certainly going to see a beast.”
While the Horn camp are confident they have corrected the shortcomings that cost the former schoolteacher the first fight, it is Zerafa this time around who has had a disrupted preparation after training partner Dwight Ritchie passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in the gym.
Zerafa will carry an aboriginal flag into the ring to honour Ritchie but it remains to be seen if the tragedy will inspire him to greater heights or weigh on his mind during the fight.
An added complication is that Labruna will not be in his corner for the fight after revealing last week he is unable to fly due to tinnitus. Instead, Labruna will watch the fight on TV and relay instructions to stand-in coach and light heavyweight contender Blake Caparello by text message.
It might seem an unusual arrangement, but Labruna insists it’s a system that works.
"If there’s things that I see on TV they are not seeing, there’s a guy in the corner and he gets the messages and he will relay my messages once they get into the corner for the break," Labruna told AAP.
"It’s a pretty good blend to be honest, it’s not ideal, but it has worked (in the past)."
Zerafa has been exuding confidence in the lead up to the fight and has promised to not only finish the fight earlier than last time, but to end Horn’s career.
"He’s not a middleweight. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. He is tough, and he has done some great things in the sport," Zerafa said to the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend.
"But I am a bigger fighter, I am a rangier fighter, I have got the reach, the height, everything is in my favour, I have the youth.
"I just believe in my ability.”
It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.