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Lightweight Contender Jamaine Ortiz: Keeping Worcester Mass on the Boxing Map

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Lightweight Contender Jamaine Ortiz: Keeping Worcester Mass on the Boxing Map

The city of Worcester in the state of Massachusetts is already on the boxing map. It was put there in the 1930’s when lefty Lou Brouillard moved to the city from Canada and fought all over New England including an astounding 25 times at Worcester’s famous downtown Mechanics Hall.

The southpaw Brouillard won world titles at welterweight and middleweight and he fought 140 bouts from 1928 to 1940. Brouillard faced many of the biggest names of his era and he was finally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006. It would be another ten years until the Worcester-born Jamaine Ortiz (now 16-1-1 with 8 KOs) would make his pro debut in 2016.

Ortiz has a long way to go until he reaches the level of accomplishment achieved by Brouillard but the 26-year-old lightweight is on his way. Last month in New York City at Madison Square Garden, Ortiz lost a very competitive 12-round unanimous decision to future Hall of Famer Vasyl Lomachenko. Their ESPN+ main event was close going into the 11th and 12th rounds.

It was almost the ‘Upset of the Year’ and it’s an outside contender for ‘Fight of the Year’ honors. There’s just something dramatic about a written-off opponent rising to the occasion and beyond.

One of the ringside judges had the fight scored 115-113 for Lomachenko, this tally accurately reflecting the in-ring reality. It was also written all over the bruised faces of both competitors.

Ortiz was a 10-1 underdog and considered by most to be a mere tune-up for Loma. Promoted by Jimmy Burchfield’s CES, Ortiz has been getting work on Bob Arum’s Top Rank shows and last May he upset former world champion Jamel Herring by unanimous decision in Las Vegas.

Before sharing the ring with Lomachenko for real, Ortiz had previously sparred with the Ukrainian sensation (in preparation for Loma’s 2021 fight against Richard Commey) and his familiarity with Lomachenko’s style was evident. Ortiz used his size, his youth and his fast jab to keep Lomachenko off his game until late in the fight when Loma’s elite experience took over.

“Jamaine Ortiz is a top fighter who understands boxing,” said Lomachenko after the tough win. Lomachenko’s manager Egis Klimas also praised Ortiz and told him he will be a world champion someday.

For Ortiz, losing his undefeated record to a legend was invaluable and it will surely make him a much better fighter. The city of Worcester now looks forward to seeing just how far Ortiz can go.

If Ortiz does end up in the ring with undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney, the boxing media will tell you it’s a mismatch. I’m here to tell you that Ortiz can beat Haney. In the amateurs, he schooled Edgar Berlanga. Against the likes of George Kambosos, I’d also favor Ortiz.

Top Rank commentator, Hall of Famer Andre Ward has been impressed with Ortiz for a while now. During his thrilling 2021 draw against Joseph Adorno, Ward said Ortiz “outworked” his opponent and deserved to win. Ward also liked what he saw of Ortiz against Lomachenko.

Technically speaking, we all did. There were times when Ortiz was outright outboxing Loma.

WORCESTER WAVE

Known as “El Gallo” (The Rooster) Jose Antonio Rivera began his boxing career in 1992 and retired from legitimate competition in 2011. During this period of time (which is known as the “Worcester Wave”) Rivera won WBA world titles at welterweight and junior middleweight.

Promoted by Don King, Rivera fought two of his four WBA title bouts at home in Worcester at the DCU Center, most notably in 2005 when he lost his WBA welterweight title by split decision to Luis Collazo.

Now a promoter in the city he helped keep on the boxing map, the 49-year-old Rivera has recently competed on his own Worcester Palladium club show undercards; once in 2018 and again in 2019. During his underwhelming but outstanding career, Rivera fought 17 of his 50 fights in Worcester where he remains a source of inspiration (and income) for local up-and-comers.

Also during the wave, popular heavyweight Bobby Harris and middleweight Sean “Irish Express” Fitzgerald were active on the scene. Harris was a beloved figure in Worcester while Fitzgerald fought the elder Peter Manfredo three times, drawing twice and beating Manfredo in 1992. Fitzgerald also faced Dana Rosenblatt and Roberto Duran, losing by knockout to both.

While the “Worcester Wave” was winding down another Worcester native was getting set to make his mark on the city—and on the world stage. In 2008, Edwin Rodriquez began power punching for pay and by 2011, “La Bomba” was blowing up on Showtime for national audiences.

Two years later in California, Rodriguez took his shot on HBO against then super-middleweight world champion Andre Ward. Rodriquez lost a wide unanimous decision but there can be no doubt that Rodriguez did his part to keep his city on the boxing map. Rodriquez retired from the sport in 2019 with a 31-2 record and he’s now a gun-toting Massachusetts State Police Officer.

“Worcester can be and is becoming one of the most active boxing areas in the country,” says Rivera’s co-promoter and former Worcester fighter Chuck Shearns. “There are no less than four boxing gyms here in Worcester within five miles of each other and lots of professional and amateur boxers throughout our city. Many of them have developed into world class talents.”

Every year, sweaty Worcester gyms churn out a new batch of young Golden Glove amateurs with big dreams of going pro and winning the world title for their city. The vast majority never make it out of the unpaid ranks and even fewer make it to the level of Rivera or Rodriguez.

A few years ago, the city put some of its hopes onto the shoulders of featherweight prospect Irvin Gonzalez. Gonzalez started his career going 12-0 before an upset loss to Elijah Pierce, a decision loss to Toka Kahn, and another surprising defeat to Edward Vazquez in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Gonzalez has fallen right off the map and has not yet had a fight in 2022.

Another solid pro out of Worcester, Mass is light-heavyweight Kendrick Ball Jr. Ball is 19-1-2 with 12 knockouts and when he’s not in the ring working on his craft, he’s in the corner of Jamaine Ortiz working as his cutman. To be more effective in this capacity, Ball needs to invest in (or borrow) an enswell device.

To be honest, if Ortiz is to develop into a world champion, he will need to upgrade his entire corner. Ortiz needs a more seasoned trainer than Rockyson Gonzales and a better cutman than “Pepper” Ball. Hopefully his association with Bob Arum and Top Rank can help Ortiz improve his team.

ALL OVER THE MAP

For most boxing fans outside of New England, Worcester is known for its Worcester Centrum entertainment venue. Many boxing shows were hosted at the Centrum (Marvelous Marvin Hagler defended the world middleweight title there in 1983 against Tony Sibson) and that is where Sugar Ray Leonard was famously put onto his backside by Kevin Howard in 1984.

Today, the city’s brightest hope in boxing is Ortiz. Boxrec rates Ortiz at #10 in their competitive lightweight rankings. The Transnational Boxing Ratings Board (TBRB) rates Ortiz at #9 in their respected ratings. And the WBC presently rates Ortiz at #8 at 135 lbs. Before his breakout performance against Lomachenko (a somewhat controversial decision) the then-undefeated “Technician” Ortiz promised anyone who could hear him that “The Matrix” would bring out the still unseen best in him. That absolutely happened. The soft- spoken Ortiz promised a “dog fight” and to the great surprise of nearly everybody, he delivered.

Jamel Herring posted his thoughts about #LomaOrtiz on Twitter: “It’s crazy, people thought after my fight with Ortiz that he would be just an opponent for Lomachenko but I think he’s proven that he has a great skill set.”

Former lightweight champ Terence Crawford was also very impressed. “The fight was close enough to be a draw,” tweeted Bud after the UD. “117-111, that’s crazy.”

Jamaine “The Technician” Ortiz is mapping out his future and keeping Worcester on the boxing map! And while he didn’t quite “shock the world” against Lomachenko, he sure put it on notice.

***
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 former member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Story Under 1500 Words, Freeman Covers Boxing for the Sweet Science in New England.

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Regis Prograis KOs Jose Zepeda at Dignity Sports Health Park

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Not all big bangers are the same.

Regis Prograis slugged it out with fellow knockout artist Jose “Chon” Zepeda and after 11 rounds of tactical battle ended the WBC super lightweight battle with a flourishing knockout on Saturday.

Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) becomes the first two-time super lightweight champion from New Orleans after his win over Zepeda (36-3, 27 KOs) at SoCal’s Dignity Health Sports Park. It had been more than three years since he last held a world title.

“This was the hardest fight of my career,” said Prograis after the strategic clash between the super lightweight division’s biggest punchers.

The heavily favored Prograis and Zepeda were cautious under the cold outdoor weather arena. Many a previous world title match ended quickly under similar circumstances and both were wary.

Zepeda was slightly busier and able to connect early with his deceptively fast left cross. Though the first two rounds were not very action-packed, it seemed Zepeda landed more effective blows.

Then Prograis went to work.

“At first, I wanted to come out and box him. Maybe in the third round I caught my rhythm,” said Prograis. “Then he caught on to that.”

Behind his awkward head movements and more agile movements Prograis used jabs and counters to force Zepeda into a more defensive stance. Though neither fighter dominated a round it was the New Orleans native who dictated the pace and action.

Round after round was going into the books favoring Prograis, not until the eighth round did Zepeda make a move into a more aggressive mode and finally out-punched Prograis. But the former world champion adapted again.

Prograis and Zepeda slugged it out in the ninth round. Zepeda connected with a left uppercut but Prograis withstood the blow and continued moving forward. Once again Prograis out-punched Zepeda in a very close round.

Both seemed ready to make the 10th round their own and Zepeda connected with a left cross that landed flush. Prograis barely was moved and then increased his output and the two super lightweights exchanged furiously with the New Orleans fighter seeming to out-punch Zepeda again. It was a telling round.

Prograis had withstood Zepeda’s biggest blows and was ready to unload some of his firepower. He had dominated most of the fight behind his jab and quick combinations. Now he was ready for the big shells.

Both super lightweights opened up in the 11th round with each connecting early. Suddenly an overhand left by Prograis sent Zepeda reeling backward and he did not let up. A furious 13-punch barrage was unloaded and down went Zepeda. Referee Ray Corona did not bother to count and ended the fight at 59 seconds of the 11th round.

“In the 11th round I felt like taking him to deep waters and drown him,” said Prograis.

Once again Prograis holds a super lightweight world title.

“I heard the small talk. I heard the rumors. I want to congratulate Zepeda, that guy was tough, tough, tough. He gave me my hardest fight,” said an ecstatic Prograis. “Listen, I got 29 fights, this was probably my hardest fight.”

Yokasta Valle beats Evelin Bermudez

Seeking big challenges Yokasta Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) rallied after a slow start and out-boxed Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-1-1, 6 KOs) to win the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles by majority decision after 10 rounds.

After absorbing big right hands from Bermudez during the first two rounds, Valle solved the problem and out-hustled the taller world champion behind quick combinations and making the champion shift her feet. It was a simple but effective plan and led to Valle storming down the stretch with more effective punching.

Bermudez had steamrolled most of her opponents behind a relentless attack that focused mainly on her big right cross. But against Valle that punch was mostly eliminated after the third round.

Valle slipped under Bermudez’s attacks and countered with her combination punching. Occasionally the Costa Rican fighter connected with a big shot that caught the eye of the judges.

After 10 rounds, one judge scored it 95-95, while two others saw Valle the winner by majority decision 99-91, 97-93.

Valle, an IBF and WBO minimumweight world titlist, moved up a division to win her second weight division world title.

Conwell Wins

In a savage battle Ohio’s Charles Conwell (18-0, 13 KOs) bludgeoned his way to victory over Juan Carlos Abreu (25-7-1, 23 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a super welterweight contest. It was a skillful display of 1950s-style fighting that saw Conwell showcase his strength and canny punch selection in out-fighting veteran slugger Abreu.

Heavyweights

Former Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov (12-0, 12 KOs) knocked out Curtis Harper (14-9) in the fourth round with a barrage if blows. Twice he knocked down Harper who had been deducted a point for an intentional head butt.

Vargas Brothers

Both sons of boxing great Fernando Vargas emerged victorious in their bouts. Fernando Vargas Jr. (7-0, 7 KOs) knocked out Alejandro Martinez (3-3-1) in the second round of their super welterweight bout. Amado Vargas (5-0, 2 KOs) won by decision after four rounds versus Osmar Hernandez (1-2) in a featherweight match.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

If one were driving from Greenwich township in London to that city’s Wembley sector, or vice versa, one would travel about 18 miles. No doubt many hardcore British fight fans would have gladly made the trip if the starting times of today’s shows had been sufficiently staggered so that one could attend both events. But no, rival promoters Eddie Hearn (Matchroom) and Frank Warren (Queensberry) elected to go head-to-head.

Warren’s Greenwich show at the O2 Arena, which aired in the U.S. on ESPN+, had the main event with the highest stakes and the deepest undercard. Hearn’s show at Wembley, live-streamed on DAZN, had the allurement of heavyweights.

O2 Arena

The WBO interim 168-pound title was at stake plus pole position for a Cinco de Mayo showdown with Canelo Alvarez when Zach Parker squared off with countryman John Ryder. A second-generation boxer who came in undefeated (22-0, 16 KOs), Parker entered the ring an 11/5 favorite.

This was shaping up as a good fight, arguably tilting Ryder’s way, when Parker pulled out after four rounds with a broken right hand. It was a bitter defeat for the Derbyshire man who was making his first start of 2022 after matches with defending WBO title-holder Demetrius Andrade kept falling out.

Although Canelo Alvarez has no fear of Englishmen having defeated Matthew Hatton, Amir Khan, Liam Smith, Rocky Fielding, Callum Smith, and Billy Joe Saunders in world title fights. John Ryder, a 34-year-old southpaw, nicknamed “Gorilla,” may have the tools to make things interesting. Today’s win, albeit somewhat tainted, was his fourth straight after losing a controversial decision to Callum Smith in Smith’s hometown, elevating his record to 32-5 (18).

If Canelo chooses to spurn his mandatory and go in a different direction when he next laces on the gloves, the WBO will anoint John Ryder its full super middleweight champion.

Other O2 Bouts

Highly-touted middleweight Hamzah Sheeraz scored his 11th straight knockout and improved to 17-0 (13) with a fast beatdown of overmatched River Wilson-Bent (13-2-1) who was bruised and battered when the referee interceded in the waning seconds of round two. Sheeraz has been training in the U.S. at Joe Goossen’s Ten Goose Gym in California.

Southpaw Dennis McCann, a 21-year-old Irish Traveler, continued his climb up the super bantamweight ranks with an eighth round stoppage of Scotland’s Joe Ham. McCann (14-0, 8 KOs) was pummeling Ham (17-4) against the ropes when the bout was waived off. Ham hadn’t previously been stopped.

Knockout artist Sam Noakes, a lightweight, employed a vicious body attack to score his 10th stoppage in as many opportunities, halting Calvin McCord (12-1, 2 KOs) in the fourth frame. Noakes showed no after-effects of the broken thumb that had kept him out of the ring since March.

Junior welterweight Pierce O’Leary scored two knockdowns but wasn’t able to polish off Namibian import Emanuel Mungandjela who was still standing after 10 rounds. The judges had it 99-89, 99-90, and 96-92.

It was the first scheduled 10-rounder for O’Leary (11-0, 6 KOs), a Dubliner with a strong amateur pedigree. Mungandjela (16-4-1) was making his U.K. debut.

Wembley Arena

The main event pitted Dillian Whyte against Jermaine Franklin, but most of the pre-fight talk centered around the co-feature, a 12-round contest between Fabio Wardley and Nathan Gorman for the vacant British heavyweight title.

Wardley (14-0 heading in) had stopped his last 13 opponents while answering the bell for only 31 rounds, but the jury was still out on him. He had no amateur experience and was thought to be very much a work in progress. Nathan Gorman, Tyson Fury’s cousin, had come up short in his first crossroads fight, getting stopped by former amateur rival Daniel Dubois, but was considered something more than a gatekeeper.

Wardley rose to the occasion with the biggest win of his career, stopping Gorman (19-2) in the third frame in a fan-friendly fight. Gorman clearly won the first round and busted Wardley’s nose wide open in round two, but the Ipswich man, a protégé of Dillian Whyte, cranked up the juice at the sight of his own blood and scored two knockdowns before the second round was over. Another knockdown in the third prompted Gorman’s corner to toss in the towel.

Wardley

The main event was anticlimactic.

It was thought that Dillian Whyte, who has been matched tough throughout his career, would have little trouble with Saginaw, Michigan’s Jermaine Franklin who had misleading 21-0 record, lacked fight-altering power, had fought only once in the last three years, and came in at a too-heavy 257 pounds. But the “Body Snatcher,” in his first fight with trainer Buddy McGirt, delivered a lackluster performance while walking away with a majority decision (114-114, 116-112, 116-112).

Whyte, 35, improved his ledger to 29-3 (19) in what some are calling a hometown decision. To his credit, he came on strong in the final rounds after being rocked in the ninth. There is talk that he will be granted a rematch with Anthony Joshua who stopped him in the seventh round at this venue in December of 2015.

Other Wembley Bouts of Note

Welterweight Pat McCormack, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, was forced to go the distance for the first time in his young pro career, but swept all six rounds on the referee’s card, improving to 3-0 against Argentina’s clumsy, feather-fisted Christian Nicolas Andino (16-6-2). McCormack is trained by Ben Davison.

Derby super welterweight Sandy Ryan improved to 5-1 (2) with a wide decision over Argentine veteran Anahi Ester Sanchez (21-6). The scores were 98-92, 99-91, and 100-92. Ryan, who avenged her lone defeat at the pro level, spent 10 years in the amateurs racking up more than 50 wins.

Photo credits:

Ryder-Parker — Alex Morton / Getty

Wardley-Gorman — Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Avila Perspective, Chap 213: Regis Prograis vs Jose Zepeda Harks to Pryor-Aguello

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Two of the most avoided super lightweights in the last 40 years, Jose “Chon” Zepeda and Regis Prograis cross paths. One a strong, intense athlete reared in the competitive American amateur boxing world and the other a learn-in-the-ring slugger with heavy fists.

Both are 33-year-old southpaws steeped in dangerous power.

Prograis (27-1, 23 KOs) meets Zepeda (36-2, 27 KOs) on Saturday, Nov. 26, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. FITE.TV pay-per-view will show the loaded card staged by MarvNation Promotions and Legendz Entertainment.

Not since Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello roamed the super lightweights in the early 1980s have two more dynamic fighters with advanced boxing pedigrees met in the prize ring.

Fans still debate their two fights that saw Pryor win consecutive clashes loaded in controversy regarding a mysterious bottle containing an unknown substance imbibed during the final rounds of their first fight. Pryor would proceed to stop Arguello twice in battles that still create excitement when seen.

Can Prograis and Zepeda deliver with equal zeal?

When Hurricane Katrina flooded Progais’ neighborhood in New Orleans his family was forced to move to Houston. In high school he was an outstanding athlete in football and engaged in the amateur boxing program. Errol Spence Jr. blocked his entry into the US Olympic team.

As a professional Prograis proved too strong for most foes and bludgeoned his way to a world title with dominant wins over Joel Diaz Jr., Terry Flanagan and Kiryl Relikh and won the WBA title. In October 2019, he met IBF titlist Josh Taylor of Scotland and lost the unification bout by majority decision to the Scotsman.

Since that loss few are willing to face Prograis who knocked out three foes in three years.

“When I was the world champion everybody called my name but once I didn’t have the belt it all stopped and I know I’m a dangerous fighter and that’s part of the reason,” said Prograis.

Zepeda took a different path.

The American-born Mexican fighter began performing professionally at the late age of 20 in Mexico, in the border town of Mexicali. His heavy hands immediately ended all four of his first pro fights via knockout.

Slowly Zepeda was matched against different style of fighters in Southern California club shows like Ontario, Commerce, Montebello and Burbank. He was always a deliberate and careful pugilist and never the wild swinging type. But if an opponent got too frisky Zepeda could easily unload the left or right to end the fight quickly. That was never more evident than last year when the braggadocious Josue Vargas attempted to intimidate him with words and shoving in a press conference. The Puerto Rican was bludgeoned in the first round in front of his own fans at Madison Square Garden.

Never flashy but deliberate, Zepeda likes finishing the fight inside the distance.

“I have all the experience I need. Regis Prograis is going to be fighting the best version of Jose Zepeda. I really believe it’s now or never,” Zepeda said.

Prograis respects Zepeda and vice versa. But he remains confident.

“I have more experience and I’ve been at the top already. If you compare strength, power, chin, stamina, speed, defense, I feel like I win every time. Every category, it’s me,” said Prograis. “He’s been hurt, he’s been dropped a bunch of times. I’ve never been hurt and I destroy people.”

Zepeda shrugs at the comments.

“Prograis is going to be very surprised by my power and speed. We’re both going to fight the way we’ve been fighting. He hits hard, I hit hard and both of us are desperate to win which will make for a great fight,” Zepeda says.

Expect one of the best super lightweight fights in the last 40 years when they finally exchange blows.

Women co-main

Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1, 6 KOs) defends the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles against Costa Rica’s Yokasta Valle (26-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round match. It’s Bermudez’s pressure versus Valle’s speed and agility.

Bermudez, 26, is younger, taller and relentless in her attacks, especially with the right hand. She loves the right and has no left hook. But she does possess a strong left jab to set up the right cross. She has never fought in the USA.

Valle, 30, has plenty of speed and has been working on her power with American-based trainer Gloria Mosquera. This will be a tough test for the Costa Rican who recently signed promotion deals with MarvNation and Golden Boy Promotions. This is her second fight in the USA and toughest foe since losing to Naoko Fujioka in 2017.

It’s a very tough match to predict the winner.

Others on the card include undefeated Ruben Torres, the tall lightweight promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions. He was popular on social media for a recent knockout of a guy who tapped gloves with him and then was knocked out a single second later. Super welterweight Charles Conwell is another budding contender out of Cleveland. He’s extraordinarily strong for the weight class and opened eyes with his knockout of Kazakhstan’s Madiyar Ashkeyev who was undefeated when they met.

Also, two sons of the great Fernando Vargas are planned to fight too. Super welterweight prospect Fernando Vargas Jr. and featherweight Amado Vargas are scheduled to perform.

Doors open at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at AXS.com.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 2:00 p.m. ET Dillian Whyte (28-3) vs Jermaine Franklin (21-0); Sandy Ryan (4-1) vs Anahi Sanchez (21-5).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:00 p.m. ET (main card) 5:00 p.m. ET (main event) Zach Parker (22-0) vs John Ryder (31-5).

Sat. FITE.TV ppv 9 p.m. ET (main card) 11:15 p.m. ET (main event) Regis Prograis (27-1) vs Jose Zepeda (36-2); Yokasta Valle (26-2) vs Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1); Ruben Torres (19-0) vs Eduardo Estela (13-1); Charles Conwell (17-0) vs Juan Carlos Abreu (25-6-1).

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

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