Notebook: Matias-Ponce headlines Showtime tripleheader on Feb. 25
Stanionis-Ortiz new date; Jared Anderson, Keyshawn Davis ticketed for Stevenson undercard; Rocha gets new foe for DAZN headliner; Quick hits; Show and tell
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Subriel Matias and Jeremias Ponce will fight for the vacant IBF junior welterweight title in the main event of a Showtime-televised PBC card on Feb. 25 at The Armory in Minneapolis, they announced on Tuesday.
The bout will top a tripleheader (9 p.m. ET) that will also include former secondary welterweight titlist Jamal James fighting in front of a hometown crowd in 10-rounder against Alberto Palmetta in the co-feature and junior welterweights Elvis Rodriguez and Joseph Adorno meeting in the 10-round opener.
Matias and Ponce will fill the last of the three 140-pound title vacancies left when undisputed champion Josh Taylor elected to keep the WBO title but let the other belts go to pursue a rematch with Jack Catterall rather than mandatory opponents, including Matias, the IBF No. 1 contender.
Matias-Ponce has been expected to be on this card since TGB Promotions was the only bidder when it won a purse bid for the bout for $510,000 in November. Each fighter is entitled to 50 percent ($255,000).
The big-hitting Matias (18-1, 18 KOs), 30, of Puerto Rico, has won four fights in a row since an upset 10-round decision loss to Petros Ananyan in February 2020. Matias stopped Ananyan in the ninth round of a rematch in his last fight last January.
“I’m very grateful that there is now a date for this fight so that I can finally realize my dream and become world champion,” Matias said. “I’ve been away from my family for 10 months in Mexico, just preparing and getting ready until the time came to step into the ring. Now that it’s in my sight, there’s nothing that is going to stand in my way.”
Ponce (30-0, 20 KOs), 26, of Argentina, will be fighting in the Untied States for the first time, although he has boxed in several countries. He scored his biggest win when he knocked out Lewis Ritson in his hometown of Newcastle, England in June 2021.
“I promise that I’m coming into this fight prepared to do whatever it takes to reach my dream and become a world champion,” Ponce said. “In my mind, this is my fight, and that title is already mine. Anyone who’s standing in my way is going to see why I’m undefeated and why I’ve earned this position that I’m in.”
James (27-2, 12 KOs), 34, has been idle since losing the WBA “regular” welterweight title by ninth-round knockout to Radzhab Butaev on Showtime in October 2021 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
“I’m very excited to be getting back in the ring after such a long layoff, especially since it’ll be in my hometown,” James said. “I think Palmetta will do his best, but it won’t be enough. I am determined to win and to let it be known that my name should be listed as one of the top five welterweights of this era.”
The southpaw Palmetta (18-1, 13 KOs), 32, a 2016 Olympian from Argentina, has won 12 fights in a row, including 11 by knockout since a fifth-round knockout loss to Gonzalo Coria in November 2017.
“This is a great opportunity for me and I’m training hard in Las Vegas to take full advantage of everything that's in front of me,” Palmetta said. “I know I’m going into James’ hometown, but that’s just going to motivate me even harder to have my hand raised.”
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Rodriguez (13-1-1, 12 KOs), 27, of the Dominican Republic lost a majority eight-round decision to Kenneth Sims Jr. in May 2021 and was released by Top Rank before signing with PBC and rebounding with two wins in a row.
“I’ve been in camp waiting and preparing for an opportunity like this to display my skills,” Rodriguez said. “Adorno is a very talented fighter, but he's in my way. Simple as that. I hope to get a title shot this year and in order to do that I need to make a big statement in this fight.”
Adorno (17-1-2, 14 KOs), 23, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who was also released by Top Rank, has won three in a row since a 10-round decision loss to Michel Rivera in last March.
“I’m training hard and putting in the work to make this my crossover fight,” Adorno said. “I’m the real A-side, the higher-ranked fighter and have more experience. My stablemate Kenny Sims dominated Rodriguez and I’m going to do the same. They took the wrong fight. He can have the A-side billing. Look at my credentials. I am the more skilled, more talented and more powerful fighter.”
Stanionis-Ortiz new date
Eimantas Stanionis, the WBA secondary welterweight titleholder, has recovered from an emergency appendectomy in early January that forced his mandatory defense against Vergil Ortiz Jr. to be postponed and the fight is back on track.
It is penciled in to headline a Golden Boy card on April 29 on DAZN, Golden Boy president Eric Gomez, Ortiz’s promoter, and Stanionis manager Shelly Finkel told Fight Freaks Unite on Tuesday. It was originally scheduled for March 18.
The plan is still for the bout to take place at a site to be determined in the Dallas region, where Ortiz is from.
“Eimantas will be fine. He is fine and April 29 is OK for us,” Finkel said. “He could have been ready to go earlier in April.”
The winner of the fight will be mandated to next face WBA “super” titleholder Errol Spence Jr., a three-belt titlist, although Spence is likely to first face WBC mandatory challenger and former unified titlist Keith Thurman when he returns in the spring (and that fight probably will be at junior middleweight).
Stanionis (14-0, 9 KOs), 28, of Lithuania, and Ortiz (19-0, 19 KOs), 24, of Grand Prairie, Texas, were both limited to just one fight apiece in 2022. Stanionis won the “regular” belt by action-packed split decision over Radzhab Butaev in April. Ortiz dominated and knocked out Michael McKinson in the ninth round in August.
Golden Boy won the promotional rights to the bout at a purse bid in mid-December for $2.3 million to beat an offer of $2,100,100 made by TGB Promotions.
Shakur card update
When former featherweight and unified junior lightweight titlist Shakur Stevenson returns to headline a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on April 8 the card will take place at Prudential Center in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, Top Rank told Fight Freaks Unite.
Also, two of Top Rank’s most prized prospects will also appear on the card against opponents to be determined in heavyweight Jared Anderson and lightweight Keyshawn Davis, the 2020 U.S. Olympic silver medalist.
Stevenson’s fight is expected to be a WBC lightweight final eliminator. Top Rank is working to get everything squared away with the WBC and to finalize a deal with Shuichiro Yoshino (16-0, 12 KOs), 31, of Japan, who has scored notable wins in his last two fights, stopping Masayoshi Nakatani in the sixth round in November and winning by 11th-round technical decision over former junior lightweight titlist Masayuki Ito in April.
Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs), 25, dropped and dominated Oscar Valdez in a one-sided decision to unify the WBO and WBC 130-pound titles in April but was stripped of both for failing to make weight for a defense against Robson Conceicao in his next fight in September, also at Prudential Center. Stevenson won a clear decision and the belts remained vacant, precipitating his move to 135 pounds for the upcoming fight.
Anderson (13-0, 13 KOs), 23, of Toledo, Ohio, who is widely considered the best American heavyweight up-and-comer, was the 2021 Fight Freaks Unite prospect of the year. He notched his most notable win in his last fight, knocking out fringe contender Jerry Forrest in the second round on Dec. 10 on the Teofimo Lopez-Sandor Martin undercard at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Davis (7-0, 5 KOs), 23, of Norfolk, Virginia, also had his last fight on the Lopez-Martin card, cruising to an eight-round shutout decision over former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos. Davis also fought on the undercard of Stevenson’s fights with Valdez and Conceicao and was the 2022 Fight Freaks Unite prospect of the year.
New foe for Rocha
Welterweight Alexis Rocha has a new opponent in George Ashie on Golden Boy’s card on Saturday (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET), which is the 12-round main event of the first boxing event at YouTube Theater, which is part of the SoFi Stadium complex in Inglewood, California.
Rocha (21-1, 13 KOs), 25, of Santa Ana, California, was scheduled to face Anthony “Juice” Young (24-2, 8 KOs), 34, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, but he suffered a nose injury that forced him to withdraw.
“I recently learned of the injury that Anthony suffered in sparring,” Rocha said. “To be honest, it does not matter who is standing across from me in that ring come Saturday night. The goal and the assignment remains the same: break my opponent’s will and win by stoppage. I’m ready for any fighter they put in front of me.”
Ashie (33-5-1, 25 KOs), 38, of Ghana, who has fought all of his fights in his home country other than a few in the United Kingdom, has been a lightweight for most of his career and is taking a major step up in opposition. He has won five fights in a row by knockout since a 10-round decision loss to Stephen Ormond in 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I promise the fans will see a great boxing match and that l will knock him out coldly,” Ashie said. “I do thank Alexis for giving me this opportunity. I will prove to the world on Saturday night who George is. Thank you to my team, especially Emmanuel Addo and Joe DeGuardia and Star Boxing for making this happen. I am the ‘Red Tiger’ and I rule the ring whenever I step in it.”
In the co-feature, blue-chip lightweight prospect Floyd Schofield (12-0, 10 KOs), 20, of Austin, Texas, will face Alberto Mercado (17-4-1, 4 KOs), 34, of Puerto Rico, in a 10-rounder.
Golden Boy Promotions is in the process of finalizing a WBC junior featherweight final title eliminator between Azat Hovhannisyan (21-3, 17 KOs), 34, an Armenian based in Los Angeles, and former two-division titlist Luis Nery (33-1, 25 KOs), 28, of Mexico, for the right to become the mandatory challenger for unified 122-pound titlist Stephen Fulton, a source with knowledge of the plans told Fight Freaks Unite. The fight would headline a DAZN card on Feb. 18 at a location to be determined in Southern California, according to the source. The WBC ordered the bout in November at its annual convention.
Four-division titlist Adrien Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs), 33, of Cincinnati, is on his third opponent for a 10-round welterweight bout that tops a BLK Prime PPV card Feb. 25 at the Gateway Center in Atlanta. He is slated to fight club fighter Michael Williams Jr. (20-1, 13 KOs), 23, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who has faced extremely low-level opposition and got knocked out in the fourth round the one time he stepped up in opposition versus unbeaten prospect John Bauza in December 2021. Broner was supposed to face Ivan Redkach, who was forced out due to a contract dispute with his promoter, Star Boxing’s Joe DeGuardia. Then former title challenger Hank Lundy was forced out after being suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for walking out on a signed contract for another fight to take the Broner bout.
Mexican southpaw Luis Castillo (20-0-1, 13 KOs), 25, and Ayanda Ndulani (13-2-1, 4 KOs), 25, of South Africa, will square off in a WBC strawweight final eliminator on Feb. 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Castillo promoter Bxstrs Promotions announced on Tuesday. The winner will become the mandatory challenger for 105-pound titlist Panya Pradabsri (39-1, 23 KOs), 31, of Thailand. The fight will be Castillo’s first outside of Mexico.
Middleweight Eumir Felix Marcial (3-0,1 KO), 27, a 2020 Olympic bronze medalist from the Philippines, will box Feb. 11 at the Alamodome in San Antonio on the Rey Vargas-O’Shaquie Foster undercard. Marcial will face a foe to be determined in a six-rounder. “I am very excited to be fighting in San Antonio, which is not just a great fight town but also where my promoter, Manny Pacquiao, made ring history,” Marcial said, referring to Pacquiao’s dominating 11th-round knockout of Marco Antonio Barrera at the Alamodome to win the lineal featherweight title in 2003. “My three goals are to work hard, to win, and to become a world champion.”
Show and tell
The late Hall of Famer Arturo Gatti, my all-time favorite fighter, had won a junior lightweight title and after he concluded his epic trilogy with junior welterweight Micky Ward, he wanted a chance to win a second world title. His team delivered for him in his next fight and he squared off with then-undefeated Gianluca Branco for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title in a fight I was ringside to cover at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where it was a bitter cold winter night. But Gatti’s fans filled the arena and there was an absolutely electrifying atmosphere, especially when Gatti was walked into the ring by Ward and auto racing superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., a big-time Gatti fan. While the fight wasn’t a classic Gatti slugfest it was very exciting fight and is vastly underrated.
Gatti won a unanimous decision, 116-111, 116-111 and 115-112, to claim his second title. When I got home the next day and watched the HBO telecast I was amused and honored that HBO’s Jim Lampley, trying to convey how beloved Gatti was as he was entering the ring, said, “It’s just one small mark of the excitement Arturo Gatti has brought to the whole boxing world that boxing writer Dan Rafael of USA Today has a cat named Thunder.” The fight was on Jan. 24, 2004 — 19 years ago on Tuesday. Here is a tremendously rare (and enormous) cardboard site poster from the fight in my collection. I have about 50 different Gatti posters and this is one of my favorites.
Stanionis photo: Ryan Hafey/PBC; Stevenson photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank
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