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WAR DeLuca: “The Bazooka” Deploys to the UK for Matchroom Battle vs Kell Brook

Jeffrey Freeman

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It is Friday afternoon, August 24, 2018, summertime in Quincy Market. I am standing at attention with Mark DeLuca outside of Boston’s historic public meeting house, Faneuil Hall.

It’s a zoo.

The buzz of Eddie Hearn’s boxing promotion rages all around us. DeLuca’s heavily muscled arms explode from a simple black-V-neck t-shirt. He wears a loaded look of pure determination.

DeLuca is humble cannon.

“Boston is hot right now and the fighters in Boston are making big splashes,” he says. “You’ve got Toka Kahn, Boo-Boo, Danny, Greg Vendetti just had a good win, Rashidi Ellis. We’re making a big comeback here. I’m happy where I am now but I’ll go wherever the opportunity presents.”

“So yeah, I’d love to fight in the U.K.”

On February 8, 2020, the Quincy, Massachusetts born super-welterweight has the biggest fight of his life coming up in Sheffield against former welterweight champion of the world Kell Brook.

Their main event, scheduled for 12 rounds, airs on DAZN and on Sky Sports.

Four days later, after the fog of war subsides, DeLuca will reach his 32nd birthday, a personal milestone for a United States Marine Infantryman who’s gone to war with America’s enemies on the battlefield of bombs and lived to see another day—haunted by the knowledge of men and women on his side who did not. Just the other day—another flag draped coffin came home.

DeLuca knows he’s not being sent over there by Eddie Hearn to win and that’s OK. This is what Corporal DeLuca has been waiting for since going pro as a boxer (and as a U.S. Marine) in 2007—to be engaged in a winnable war overseas, to be face-to-face with an elite adversary.

In 2011, he did a dangerous tour of duty in Afghanistan.

We rightly thank heroes like Mark.

And not just for his service to America, but also for his service to the unsung warriors of boxing, men like local light-heavyweight Brandon Montella (pictured on the left), a now happily married fitness trainer who went 9-0 (8) as a pro after willing himself to the New England Golden Gloves Championships in 2012.

deluca

Their respectful relationship born of “instant, willing obedience” was depicted in the single-season reality show The Fighters filmed in 2014 at Peter Welch’s South Boston gym.

The premise of the program was simple: “Each week, trainers from rival boxing gyms across Boston will choose their top amateur fighters to represent their gyms in a bout. After seven days of intense training, the fighters will face off in the ring with their professional futures at stake.”

DeLuca trained and tutored Montella (also a Marine) when the aimless new pro was gymless and coachless in 2015. The fighters share a similar moral code of calm patience and selfless service. “Mark would show up, wrap my hands and corner me,” Montella recalls with pride. It’s interesting to note that Montella is eight years older and outranks his younger fighting mentor.

“When Mark was in my corner it was like being in the Marines again with a leader you know has been there before and will go there with you. He was the leader I never got to follow into a battle.”

CRUCIBLE OF BOXING

At the Boston Garden in 2018, DeLuca avenged his only professional loss (a razor thin split decision defeat in the “Live Free or Die” New England State of New Hampshire) by outshooting Walter “Two Guns” Wright on a Matchroom USA sanctioned undercard. Promoted by Ken Casey’s Murphys Boxing based outta Boston, DeLuca’s fists are his weapons of war now.

They will do his talking.

So, I’ll say a few things about him.

DeLuca is a hope to many in a depleted locality.

The townie from Whitman, Mass could go on to become the New England region’s new and next Micky Ward (Pride of Lowell) or he might fade into mediocrity like Framingham’s Danny O’Connor. He’s 24-1 with 13 KOs. More boxer than brawler, DeLuca occasionally fights outside of his personality; a trap any popular boxer can fall into if he lets a noisy crowd dictate to him.

He is as physically fit as you’d expect for a United States Marine—and twice as quick. In 2017, he endured a huge cut over his right eye outgutting Chris Chatman in his “toughest fight to date.”

A southpaw, DeLuca won twice in 2019, first in March at the House of Blues in Boston where he decisioned Jimmy Williams and then in June in Providence, Rhode Island, beating the unbeaten Brandon “L-Jack” Brewer over ten entertaining rounds. He’s healthy and ring ready.

“I feel I have good momentum,” he tells me.

Brook didn’t fight at all in 2019.

DeLuca shrugs that off.

“He’s dangerous and hungry to get back.”

Hitting age 34 next May, Brook is known to bust up and has been beaten down before, first by Errol Spence in 2016 and then in 2017 by middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin. If he’s as shell-shocked as thought by some, DeLuca’s “Bazooka” fire could be too much to handle.

“There have been dark times,” admits Brook. “DeLuca is a strong gutsy fighter who’s always ready for war but I’m planning on making a statement to show I’m still a force at 147 or 154.”

Brook, the former IBF welterweight champion, is now 38-2 with 26 KOs. Matched conservatively in 2018, this will be his third consecutive bout in his hometown of Sheffield.

Known as the “Special One” in the ring, it’s been a few years since Brook has put on an especially special performance there. His 2014 upset of pressure fighter Shawn Porter to claim the IBF 147-pound crown was just such a special night in Carson, California on Showtime.

On that hot summer day in Boston back in 2018, I asked DeLuca about Kid Galahad, the chippy British featherweight who eight weeks later upset Toka Kahn by decision on the October 20 TD Garden show and who will be fighting at home on this February 8 card against Claudio Marrero.

Galahad was making his first media appearance outside the U.K. I was telling DeLuca about the bad blood between Toka and Galahad and confessing that I didn’t really know who Galahad was.

What DeLuca knows is the art of war. “It’s guys like that who come up from the rear and surprise everybody,” he explained. “They’re undercover. They show up and spoil the party.”

Known for his “chocolate brownie” right hand, Kell Brook better be careful in Sheffield or the unknown Mark DeLuca will go home to Whitman to celebrate with a 32 candle salute at his expense.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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