World ranked light heavyweight contender Blake "Il Capo" Caparello 26-2-1 (10) will be in for one of toughest tests in his career when he defends his WBA Oceania title against Roy Jones Jr-trained Isaac Chilemba 24-5-2 (10) at the Melbourne Pavilion in Melbourne on Friday night. The vacant WBC International title will also be on the line.
The 31-year-old Caparello, who is ranked WBC #6, WBA #13 and IBF #14, is on a four-fight winning streak since dropping a ten round decision to Andre Dirrell at super middleweight two years ago.
"We had a great camp," Caparello told Maxboxing three days out from the fight. "We changed up a few things in regards to strength. I believe it’s helped me and I haven’t been moving this good in a long time."
The rangy southpaw, originally from Essendon but now living in Greenvale, has only lost to Dirrell and current WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev. Despite not being known as a heavy hitter Caparello drew first blood against both punchers, dropping them both in the opening rounds.
The Malawi-born South African-based Chilemba isn’t known as much of a puncher either, but he is known for his awkward, tricky style. Caparello says what sets him apart from his opponent is the variety in his attack.
"The way I can adapt if my corner needs to change things up during the fight," he said.
While some people believe WBC #9 Chilemba will have an advantage with future Hall of Famer Jones Jr in his corner, Caparello believes his strong bond with longtime trainer Sam Labruna will give him the edge in the heat of battle.
"It wouldn’t matter who’s in his corner, I need to make a statement this fight and nothing will stop me," said Caparello. "Sam and I have been together since day one and our chemistry is very strong and we both have a great understanding."
The light heavyweight division is one of the hottest in boxing right now with the four recognised titleholders – Sergey Kovalev, Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev and Adonis Stevenson – holding a combined record of 86-3-1 (75).
There are no soft marks at the top but Il Capo says he would welcome the opportunity to face any of them, particularly Bivol, Beterbiev and Stevenson.
"I’d love a shot at any one of them," said Caparello. "They all are very heavy-handed but also all three bring different styles to the game. All three would be tough fights but that’s why they are world champs and there are no easy world title fights going around."
ROY JONES JR. PROVES POPULAR IN AUSTRALIA
Roy Jones Jr has been making the most of his time in Melbourne, Australia.
On Saturday he made a surprise appearance at the amateur fights in Werribee to the delight of the young boxers on the card and their fathers in the crowd who recalled him in his fighting prime.
Widely regarded as the greatest fighter since Sugar Ray Robinson in the early noughties, Jones Jr is in the Land Down Under to corner his boxer Isaac Chilemba in his top ten showdown against Blake Caparello on Friday night.
Now a successful boxing analyst on HBO, Jones Jr recently announced his retirement from the ring after almost 30 years in the pay-for-punch ranks that saw him win world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight in his 75-fight pro career. Some of the victims on his ledger include Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Virgil Hill and Felix Trinidad.
The surefire Hall of Famer has been sighted at various gyms and restaurants across the city where he has graciously agreed to sign autographs and take selfies with fans as well as provide frank and fearless advice to young boxers.
It is refreshing to see such a popular visiting boxer be so engaged with his fans.
SUGAR NEEKZ RETURNS IN WORLD TITLE FIGHT
Bantamweight Cherneka Johnson 8-0 (3) gets her first shot at world championship glory when she takes on Rungnapha Kaewkrachang 13-11-1 (1) of Thailand for the vacant WIBA 118-pound title at the Melbourne Pavilion on Saturday March 17.
Maxboxing was on hand as Johnson completed her final sparring session on Saturday afternoon at Sam Soliman’s Southbank gym in Melbourne. The slick bantamweight boxed six two-minute rounds in the afternoon after a morning session that consisted of 10 two-minute rounds of sparring.
Johnson controlled centre ring, defending well against her sparring partner’s jab-heavy attack. By the third round the WBA Oceania champion was getting the better of the exchanges, landing hard overhand rights and a sneaky lead left hook. Most impressive was the way Johnson used her footwork to control the distance and dictate the exchanges against a very capable sparring partner who matched her for speed and had the busier jab.
To these eyes Johnson looked sharp and effective in there with good ring generalship and a nice variety of punches. But Johnson herself wasn’t entirely happy with her performance.
"I felt sluggish in there," the 22-year-old complained to her coach Rudy Ryan at the conclusion of the session. If that was sluggish, Kaewkrachang had better watch out next weekend.
“I guess I’ll get in there in the first round of Saturday night, see what she’s got and go from there,” Johnson said of her opponent on the undercard of the St Patrick’s Day clash between former IBF middleweight champion Soliman and Perth puncher Wes Capper.
“I’ve done that with all my other opponents anyway, used the first round as a guide. You never know because if you look at video of them fight or on the pads it could be a whole different story when you get in there.”
“Neekz doesn’t tend to study too much tape,” added Ryan, who has trained Neekz for her past two fights. “It’s my job and then we have a plan going in once we get there.”
Johnson fought four times last year, most recently against Gretel de Paz in December. That fight took place in her new hometown of Warrnambool where she headlined the Hosking Promotions card and won her fight professional title, the WBA Oceania bantamweight belt. It was a triumphant way to welcome her to the town she now calls home after moving south from Brisbane seven months ago to further her career under the tutelage of trainer Ryan.
From the beautiful-one-day-perfect-the-next Brisbane to the blustery winter of Victoria’s rugged western coastline, it took some time for her to adjust to her new surroundings.
“At first it was a little bit tough coming down on my own, being really lonely and not knowing anybody,” admitted Johnson. “I love the heat so coming from a really warm place like Brisbane to a really cold place like this was something I had to get used to. I was like ‘come on Neekz, you’d better stick this out’ kind of thing and it’s all paid off.”
Like many Australian country towns, “the ’Bool” as it is affectionately known, had a strong sporting history. The town of 35,000 has produced Olympic medallists in rowing and cycling, is the home of the world renowned Grand Annual Steeple three-day horse racing meet, is famous for its golf course and golfers and has produced a host of champion Australian Rules football players.
The town has already adopted Johnson as one of their own.
“I think Neekz now feels like a local; in fact, she’s more local than me in many ways,” laughed Ryan. “I’ve lived in the ’Bool for nearly 50 years but she knows everyone and everyone knows her. She’s got that great personality that people are just drawn to, so we’re very, very lucky.”
Since turning pro in April 2016 Johnson has defeated every opponent she has faced, winning virtual every round. Only Carol Earl and Gretel de Paz can lay claim to winning a round or two, but in both fights two of the three judges had Johnson winning every round too.
In other words Johnson doesn’t just win, she dominates.
“The opponents that I’ve fought have been tough,” said Johnson. “They have all come to fight but as our career goes on a bit more we’ll obviously be looking for those tougher opponents.”
Born in Tauranga, New Zealand, Johnson moved to Australia at the age of 12 and found boxing soon after. Originally training for fitness, her talent was spotted by former South African world champion and Brisbane resident Phillip Holiday. Three years later she was competing at the Junior World Boxing Championships and travelling the globe to compete in tournaments in such faraway places as China, Turkey and Bulgaria.
By the time Johnson made the decision to turn professional she was a three-time national champion at 54kg, three-time Golden Gloves champion and five-time Queensland state champion with close to 60 fights under her belt, many in international tournaments.
But like a lot of boxers, Johnson doesn’t follow the sport religiously.
“To be honest I don’t follow a lot of boxing at all,” she said a little sheepishly. “I just do the sport. It’s obviously something that I should be doing a lot more, studying boxing. It’s kind of like homework I guess.”
“That’s the progression, to start seeing who’s about, looking at tape,” said Ryan. “Being an amateur you don’t get that opportunity, whereas you can as a pro. That’s just a mindset change that I guess we’ll have to make. We’ve got our eyes on a girl at super flyweight, Linda Lecca.”
If everything goes to plan, Team Neekz will be fighting five times this year with a working holiday in Europe during the northern autumn. After that, the sky’s the limit.
“I think Neekz is a great mix of someone who knows where she’s come from, knows where she’s been and knows where she’s going,” said Ryan.
HORN SIGNS CONTRACT FOR CRAWFORD FIGHT AT MANDALAY BAY
After four months of negotiations the fight contract for Jeff Horn’s USA boxing debut has finally arrived with the WBO welterweight champion officially signing off on his bout against American Terrence Crawford last Friday.
The contract arrived little more than a month out from Horn’s second world title defence that will take place against the heralded Crawford at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 14.
Maxboxing understands that one of the key sticking points in moving the card from Madison Square Garden in New York City to a site in Las Vegas, Nevada was the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s (NSAC) habit of only assigning local judges to fights in their jurisdiction.
In a major concession Team Horn has been able to secure a clause in the contract that calls for one Australian judge, one American judge and one neutral judge. The judges for the fight have been announced as experienced Australian official Ignatius Missailidis, Italy’s Guido Cavalleri and Nevada’s Burt Clements.
The experienced Tony Weeks will be the third man in the ring.
“This is what we always wanted,” said Horn. “We have an Australian judge, and American judge and a judge from a neutral country.
“It makes for a level playing field and I can’t wait to get in there and defend my world title.”
Additionally, both boxers have agreed to two mandatory blood and urine tests before and after the fight.
“We just wanted to make sure we’re on a level playing field here,” said Dean Lonergan of Duco Events, who represent Horn.
“The great thing about Terrence Crawford was his attitude. He doesn’t care how many times he gets tested.”
Despite his formidable record of 32-0 with 23 victories via the short route, Lonergan insists that the former undisputed junior welterweight champion isn’t unbeatable and says that Horn 18-0-1 (12) has a great game plan to nullify the heavily favoured Crawford’s strengths.
“Crawford’s got great technical ability, there’s no doubt about that, and he’s a hell of a fighter,” he said. “But I think there’s enough chinks in the Crawford armour – and no doubt, he thinks the same about Jeff.
“We think he can beat Crawford. And not beat him just, [but] beat him well.”
GEORGE PUTS SCALZONE TO SLEEP IN THE FIRST
In Toowoomba, Commonwealth welterweight champion Kris “The Silencer” George 14-1 (8) needed just half a round to knockout Maximiliano Leonel Scalzone 16-2-1 (12) on Saturday night at Rumours International.
Fighting on a Brendon Smith promotion, George had the Argentinean visitor on the canvas in the opening round and finished proceeding with a hard lead right shortly after he got back to his feet. The time of the stoppage was 1:26.
It was George’s fifth first round stoppage.
“I’m 100% set on making this the year and making some big moves, so now it’s just about signing on the dotted line on the next big fight,” said the 28-year-old victor.
In his retirement fight 34-year-old veteran Jack Asis 38-21-5 (19) came up short in his battle against reigning Australian welterweight champion Rivan Cesaire 16-5-1 (3) losing by majority decision over five rounds.
Asis, who was born in Davao City in the Philippines but calls Toowoomba home, is a natural super featherweight but had some success at 147-pounds when he won a “Super 8” knockout tournament at the same venue last November.
Cesaire won the fight by scores of 48-47, 49-46 and 48-48.
Australian super featherweight champion Brent Rice kept his unbeaten record intact with a shutout against Brendan Saunders over five rounds.
With the win Rice moves to 8-0 (2), while Saunders drops to 5-4-2 (2). Scores were 50-45 across the board.
In a non-title fight Queensland welterweight champ Jamie Hilt 9-3-1 (1) scored his first career knockout with a first round stoppage of Will Sands 5-8-4 (2) courtesy of a long right hand.
Sands was on the deck twice and beat the count both times, but referee Derek Milham declared him unfit to continue after the second knockdown. The time was 1:30.
The fight night was promoted under the Smithy’s TGW Promotions banner in honour of the memory of Brendon Smith’s son Brayd “The Great White” Smith, who tragically died after a fight at the same venue in 2015 at the age of just 23.
IBRAHIM BALLA SUFFERS SHOCK LOSS TO JESSIE CRIS ROSALES
Featherweight prospect Ibrahim “La Bala” Balla had a bad night at the office losing by second round KO against unheralded Filipino Jessie Cris Rosales at the Grand Star Reception Centre in Altona North on Sunday night.
Headlining the Hosking Promotions "Westside Rumble" card in front of his local crowd, the fight was supposed to be something of a homecoming for Balla but it turned out to be anything but.
Balla entered the fight on a four-fight winning streak after his shock loss to Neil John Tabanao in June 2016 and everything started well for the 27-year-old Plumpton resident in the opening round. His jab was effective and he landed some eye-catching shots from mid-range including left-rip left-hook combination that caught the visitor flush. When Rosales forced his way inside Balla was able to roll under his punches and return fire with some nice tight inside shots that only marginally missed their target.
It was an impressive opening round for the reigning WBA Oceania featherweight champion.
The second round began with more of the same. Balla landed a hard counter right hand followed by some terrific body shots. The former Olympian bulled Rosales backwards towards the ropes when the 26-year-old from Cebu City took a small step back and launched a flurry of punches that found their mark.
Balla’s body gave way beneath him and he crashed backwards, crumpling to the canvas with his right leg bent unnaturally beneath him. His head made a dull thud when it bounced off the canvas.
Referee Tony Marretta waved off the fight without bothering to apply a count. The ringside physician was quickly in the ring to attend the injured fighter.
The victory was arguably the biggest of Rosales’ career. The Filipino was coming off a second round stoppage loss at the hands of shopworn but still serviceable former two-division champion Jhonny Gonzalez.
With the win Roslaes moves his record to 22-1-1 (10) while Balla falls to 13-2 (7).
On the undercard Ibrahim’s older brother Qamil Balla 12-1-1 (5) had better luck, overcoming some early ring rust to deliver a solid points victory over rugged Filipino Adam Diu Abdulhamid 11-5 (4) over eight rounds.
After 10 months on the sidelines it took Balla a couple of rounds to get into his rhythm in the small ring that seemed to favour the larger, forward-charging Abdulhamid.
The switch-hitting 28-year-old used his speed and moment to outbox the larger Abdulhamid, who missed the contracted catchweight of 137-pounds by a full two pounds the previous evening.
In the end it didn’t matter though as Balla varied his attack between pot-shotting and trading on the inside to run away a comfortable winner by scores of 79-73 twice and 79-72.
ALEXANDER AND CARLOS WIN BIG IN CHELSEA HEIGHTS
Highly touted super featherweight prospect Jai Alexander 7-0 (5) needed just half of the allocated 10 rounds to defeat knockout artist Isaias Santos Sampaio 21-14 (21) at the Chelsea Heights Hotel in Melbourne on Saturday night in the main event of a Fightcard Promotions show.
Competing in his first fight scheduled for over four rounds, Alexander had the 31-year-old Brazilian in trouble with his body shots and put him on the canvas twice in the fourth round. By the end of the fifth Sampaio decided he had had enough, retiring with suspected broken ribs.
Alexander had world class sparring leading up to this fight, working with the world-rated Moloney twins Andrew and Jason ahead of their last fights at “Punches at the Park VII” just over a fortnight ago.
Middleweight Emmanuel “Eman” Carlos 7-0 (5) secured an early win against Tasmanian journeyman Steve Maxwell 11-10 (6) stopping him in the first round of a scheduled six round bout.
Also in action Tasmanian cruiserweight champion Jayden “Plugger” Nichols 6-0-1 (1) had to settle for another majority decision win against Thomas Russell 0-3 in a non-title bout. Half of Nichols’ wins have now come by MD.
Junior welterweight Liam Paro 12-0 (8), who we previewed earlier in the week, goes for his first professional title this Saturday when he takes on Andrew Wallace 11-10-1 (7) for the vacant national crown at the Mansfield Tavern in Brisbane on an Ace Boxing Promotions show. Also on the card former cruiserweight world title challenger Mark “Bam Bam” Flanagan 23-5 (16) defends his WBA Oceania title against Uruguayan Mauricio Barragan 16-2 (9).
In an interesting concept, promoter Patrick Connolly has put together an almost all-South East Asian card at the Bendigo Exhibition Centre in rural Victoria on Saturday night. Indonesian super featherweight Isack Junior 25-8-2 (8) is facing Krai Setthaphon 25-3 (16) of Thailand over 12 in a rematch of their fight last May, Filipino super bantamweight Marlon Tapales 30-2 (13) takes on Rivo Rengkung 36-24-6 (14) of Indonesia over 10, while Filipino featherweight Neil John Tabanao 14-4 (10) is matched with Thailand’s Rachan Yageow 25-4 (20) in another 10 rounder. Also on the card former minimumweight world title challenger Omari Kimweri 16-4 (6) will lock horns with Indonesian Rachmat Santoso 12-6 (6) over eight. Four more bouts round out what looks like an entertaining card.
On Friday night at the Melbourne Pavilion the team at Big Time Boxing have put together a huge card headlined by WBC #6, WBA #13 and IBF #14 light heavyweight Blake “Il Capo” Caparello 26-2-1 (10) versus WBC #9 Isaac Chilemba 24-5-2 (10) of South Africa. Caparello will be defending his WBA Oceania title with the vacant WBC International title also on the line. The card will also feature Michael “Pretty Boy” Zerafa 22-2 (13) up against England’s Adam Harper 8-0 for the Commonwealth junior middleweight title after undefeated Australian Anthony Buttigieg was forced to withdraw due to injury. In an excellent domestic match-up middleweight Jake Carr 16-1 (6) and Tej Pratap Singh 9-4-2 (4) lock horns for the vacant WBA Oceania title. WBA #8 featherweight “Aussie” Joel Brunker is also expected to appear on the six-fight card.
If that’s not enough, Big Time Boxing are backing up at the same venue the following night with another card stacked full of talent. Headlining the St Patrick’s Day show is Sam Soliman 45-14 (19) versus Wes Capper 19-2 (12) for the vacant IBF International middleweight title in a 12 rounder. In a light heavyweight clash Jayde Mitchell 15-1 (8) returns to the ring after seven months on the sidelines due to neck surgery when he squares up against Ariel Alejandro Zampedri 9-2 (7) of Argentina over eight rounds. Burgeoning female star Cherneka “Sugar Neekz” Johnson 8-0 (3) is also on the card against Thailand’s Rungnapha Kaewkrachang 13-11-1 (1). Three more fights will also be featured.
Up in Sydney the successful Johnny Lewis Fight Nights continue with another well-matched card at The Star Casino in Pyrmont brought to you by Neutral Corner Promotions. WBA #8 and WBO #15 junior welterweight Darragh Foley 14-2 (8) puts his WBA Oceania title on the line against WBA #10 Steven Wilcox 18-2-1 (5) of Canada who will stake his NABA strap in the 12 round contest. At welterweight Ben Savva 8-1 (3) defends his OPBF title against Kyron Dryden 10-1 (8) also over 12, Haithem Laamouz 12-0 (5) and Gaige Ireland 4-1-2 (3) go at it for the vacant Australian lightweight title over 10, while John Hutchinson 12-2-2 (4) is matched with Craig Parke 10-2 (3) for the vacant WBC Asian Boxing Council Continental middleweight title in another 10 rounder. Gearoid Clancy 8-5 (2) will face Sam Williams 5-5-3 for the vacant NSW State junior welterweight title over eight. Four more fights will round out the big card.