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Pelullo Knows It Works To Have Your Face in the Place

Bernard Fernandez



It’s a credo understood by every politician. Mass mailings, automated telephone calls to registered voters and posters seemingly plastered on every building and utility pole aren’t always enough to win the day.

A lot of times, you just have to have your face in the place. It’s that personal touch — looking people in the eye, pressing the flesh, kissing babies, impressing people with your sincerity and vision of the future – that often makes the difference on election day.

Philadelphia-based boxing promoter Art Pelullo isn’t a holder of public office, but he understands the value of one-on-one interaction. A lot of one-on-one interaction. It’s an approach that has enabled him to carve out a foothold in a savagely competitive business dominated by megapromoters with large staffs and deep rosters of fighters.

Pelullo’s Banner Promotions doesn’t have as large a support staff or as deep a roster as, say, Golden Boy, Top Rank and other promotional entities that control a disproportionate percentage of big-time boxing. But Pelullo understands the necessity of winning certain local precincts, even if those precincts are in Brazil, England and Russia.

“My mother always said that it’s better to be lucky than smart,” said Pelullo, who has known his share of both favorable sides of professional destiny. “I know I’ve had my share of good fortune.”

Consider the three names with whom Pelullo is most often associated: Acelino “Popo” Freitas, Ricky Hatton and the current lead pony in his relatively compact stable, emerging superstar Ruslan Provodnikov, the “Siberian Rocky.” Hatton was already a major player in the fight game, widely sought by virtually promoter in the world, when he signed a three-bout deal with Pelullo in 2006. In its own way it was as big a surprise as prized free agent Robinson Cano opting to leave the New York Yankees for the Seattle Mariners, or maybe the Toledo Mud Hens.

But Freitas and Provodnikov were different. Pelullo hitting it big with them was the equivalent of a neighborhood guy stopping by at his local convenience store, buying a couple of Powerball tickets and then having the winning ping-pong balls pop up. And it couldn’t have happened if Pelullo, a longshot himself, hadn’t decided to purchase those tickets despite the logistical difficulties of those inconvenient convenience stores being located thousands of miles from his Philly office.

Take his successful recruitment of Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs), the recently crowned WBO junior welterweight champion (by virtue of his Oct. 19 stoppage of Mike Alvarado) who is emerging as one of the hottest growth properties in the sport. Pelullo found out about him quite by chance on something of a fishing trip to Russia that was intended only to catch somebody with talent, not necessarily a fighter from a frozen outpost in western Siberia that virtually no one in the United States even knew existed.

Better lucky than smart? Yeah, maybe. But there are another couple of old sayings that contain at least a grain of truth. One is that luck is the residue of design. The other is that those who work hard enough create their own luck. Let Pelullo explain:

“Five or six years ago – it probably was closer to six – I went to Moscow,” Pelullo recalled. “At the time, Ricky Hatton was still fighting for me and Popo Freitas’ career was winding down. I just took a flyer. I was looking for new guys, new talent, and I knew some Russian promoters I had done some minor business with. I was already selling Freitas and Hatton fights to (Russian television’s) Channel 1 and Channel 2, so it was a dual-purpose trip, to meet with Russian promoters and TV people that were buying my ongoing events.

“I had just gotten off a 15-hour flight and I wanted to go to my room to change, but they were in the lobby at, like, 11 in the morning, Moscow time, drinking vodka. So I never even went to my room. I introduced myself to a couple of fellows named Rinat (Yusupov) and German (Titov) who were Russian promoters. We started talking and I told them I wanted to get some Russian fighters and bring them to the United States and develop them on ESPN. I told them I thought we could open a new market.

“There weren’t a lot of Russian fighters appearing in the U.S. at the time. They liked the idea, but I have to say they were a little skeptical of me, that I would actually do what I was saying. They probably thought I would try to steal their fighters. But one thing led to another and I started bringing some of their fighters over, a couple at a time.”

One of those imported questions marks was Provodnikov, a distinctive face in the crowd only because of the genealogical features inherited from his mother, who is of Mansi heritage, which is the Siberian equivalent of a Native American. No way did Pelullo expect that he was about to strike the mother lode again, as he had first done with Freitas.

“I have to say, I really didn’t know who Ruslan was then,” Pelullo admitted. “He was just one of the guys in the group. But he fought his first fight for me, a four-rounder on a Freitas undercard at Foxwoods, and from that point on we started using him more and more.

“Russell (Peltz) was my matchmaker at the time and he said, `Artie, you got something here.’ I said, `I think you’re right.’

“From there I found Maxim Vlasov, who’s No. 4 in the world (in the WBC ratings at super middleweight, as well as No. 5 in the IBF), and Dmitry Pirog, who won a middleweight title (WBO) for me by knocking out Danny Jacobs on HBO Pay-Per-View. I did the same thing when I wanted Popo and Ricky Hatton. You have to go where they are because you’re handling these guys’ careers and their lives are in your hands. They want to know what you think, and they want to look into your eyes when you’re telling them that. It’s all about if they feel they can trust you, and if you feel you can trust them.”

Freitas, the former WBO/WBA lightweight and WBO super featherweight champion who retired in 2012 with a 39-2 record (including 33 knockout victories) while winning 13 of 15 world title bouts, is Exhibit A in the Pelullo personal-touch playbook. Like Provodnikov, he was a miracle waiting to happen, provided someone with enough insight was on the scene to glimpse all that untapped potential.

“We were doing the Boxeo tournament,” Pelullo explained. “Freitas was not the guy we were building the tournament around. J.C. Candelo was. But Freitas came out of nowhere to become what he became.”

The relationship between Pelullo and Freitas was close – so close, in fact, that Pelullo almost came to be regarded as a trusted member of Freitas’ family, and one that didn’t hesitate to tell his guy the sort of hard truth that so many fighters are unwilling or unable to hear. Even though Freitas was still vastly popular in Brazil, and had a not-insignificant following in the U.S., Pelullo advised him to hang up his gloves for the betterment of his health and well-being when the pendulum began to swing the other way.

It was that concern for Freitas – not to mention Pelullo’s in-presence persistence – that convinced Hatton, or more specifically his mother, to throw in with him when the “Hitman” from Manchester, England, was the big-ticket item on every promoter’s radar in early 2006, less than two years after he had shocked the world by stopping the great Kostya Tszyu, who didn’t leave his corner after the 11th round.

“Nobody expected me to sign Ricky Hatton,” Pelullo said. “He was the biggest thing in boxing at the time. Everybody wanted him. I definitely was not the frontrunner. It was (Oscar) De La Hoya, it was Lou DiBella, it was Gary Shaw. It was everybody but me. Don King was even in play. I was way down the totem pole.

“I went to England. I called Ray Hatton (Ricky’s father and manager) and said, `I’m coming over, and I’m going to stay there until I sign Ricky.’ And that’s exactly what happened. I stayed in Manchester, I ate fish and chips for seven days until I signed Ricky to a multimillion-dollar, multifight deal.

“It’s pretty simple, really. The reason I got him and not one of my competitors is because nobody else got on a plane. Everybody else talked to him by phone. Nobody else but me got on a plane, went there, lived there, talked to his father.

“We’re in the people business. The Hattons wanted someone to look them in the eye and make them believe that he was going to do what was best for them, in every sense of the word. It’s isn’t always about the money.”

It didn’t hurt, of course, that Hatton and his family were aware of Pelullo’s strong ties to Freitas, but sometimes the deciding factor isn’t about promises of what the promoter can do for a fighter in the ring as much as what he feels he should do for a fighter out of it.

“Ray knew what I had done with Popo,” Pelullo said. “But when he said something about maybe Ricky fighting him, I wouldn’t have any of it. I said, `Look, Ricky would hurt Popo, and I don’t want for that to happen. I care too much about him to allow that to happen.’

“Ricky’s mother, Carol, overheard what I said. `We’re going to sign with him,’ she said, looking at me. Ray said, `Why?’ And she said, `Forget the deal. Just remember what he said about (Freitas) when someone tries to get him to throw our son under the bus.’”

Hatton fulfilled his three-bout contract with Pelullo, to their mutual benefit, but he didn’t re-up when Pelullo cautioned the Brit to hold off on accepting a bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., for which Hatton was paid $10 million and was on the wrong end of a 10th-round TKO.

“The Hattons made a lot of money, I made a lot of money,” Pelullo acknowledged. “But I didn’t think Mayweather was the right fight for Ricky at that time. Ray obviously thought otherwise. I told (the Hattons) when I was in Manchester that the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. Sometimes it’s just grass.”

Provodnikov, stashed away in Beryozova, Siberia, wasn’t so far removed from the outside world that he wasn’t aware of the kind of marks Freitas and Hatton had made in boxing, and he was intrigued about the man who had helped hand them the pencils with which they made all or part of those marks.

“Ruslan knew I had brought Popo up from four-rounders to four world titles,” Pelullo said. “He knew about Hatton, obviously. Plus, he liked me. At first he was a little leery. Look, a lot of the Russian people I have met need time to warm up to you if they don’t know you. We’re Westerners. Ruslan comes from a small town in Siberia. In the beginning, he was understandably a little apprehensive.

“I didn’t even sign him to a contract until he’d had three or four (pro) fights. I said, `Take your time. See if you like me. But, really, we’re going to get along just fine.’ I never pushed him.”

There is a steep cost to any promoter for fostering all that good-will. Banner Promotions hasn’t exactly cornered the market on the Eastern European fighters who are quite the rage these days, but, in addition to Provodnikov, Pelullo has signed Pirog, Vlasov, Alisher Rahimov, Fedor Papzaov, Zvengy Chuprakov and Sherzod Husnov.

“You know how much it costs to fly three guys from Ruslan’s hometown here (the U.S.) for a four-rounder?” Pelullo said of Provodnikov’s traveling support team. “It’s $5,000 an airline ticket. Then you’re paying him, you’re paying the opponent. It was costing me a ton of money early in his career, with no assurance I’d make it back. But I believed in this kid.”

Unlike Hatton, whom Pelullo had cautioned against taking a fight with Mayweather, Artie is quite willing to put his ascending fighter as quickly as possible into a big-bucks clash with Manny Pacquiao. Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, is owed co-promotional rights to Provodnikov’s next fight, provided that fight can be made by the April 15 deadline, and Pelullo is confident he and Arum can make nice much more so than Arum can with his arch-rival, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, which is why a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight probably is doomed never to happen.

“I’ve known Arum for 26 years and we get along very well, even when we sometimes disagree,” Pelullo said. “We usually find a way to make things work. It’s possible to disagree with someone and still get along. It starts with being able to talk to one another.

“You don’t always get what you want, and neither does Arum, but you meet somewhere in the middle. What good does it do to get crazy and always be at odds with one another? If you’re always insisting on all-or-nothing, you’re never going to find that middle ground.”



2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura




The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.



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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score




This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.


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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland




On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda


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