Sunday, August 11, 2019

Prospect Night in Philly

With the cancellation of the Frampton-Dominguez main event, Saturday night's card in Philadelphia turned out to be Prospect Night at the fights. Of the seven fights on the card, six featured bouts with both combatants having fewer than 12 professional matches. In all, seven fighters entered the ring with undefeated records. They were a mixture of world-class amateurs, regional attractions, tough local guys and projects. The ranges of performance varied too, from a one-round smash job to an unlikely upset. This article will cover each of the prospects.

Before I begin though, let me mention that Jason Sosa, a former secondary titlist at 130, stopped Lydell Rhodes in the new main event. Knocking down Rhodes three times before the fight was waved off in the seventh, Sosa looked ferocious in the ring, with each left hook to the body seemingly having an effect. Sosa landed his first knockdown in the fifth with a sweeping left hook to the head and moments later connected with a short counter right that dropped Rhodes again. In the seventh, he landed a counter left hook for the third and final knockdown. Shortly after that, Rhodes's corner threw in the towel. Sosa, from just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, turned in a strong performance. And even though he didn't have the speed advantage, his sharper punches and inside fighting skills enabled him to prevail.

Now on to the prospects: 

Robeisy Ramirez (0-1) Cuba, 25, featherweight, Top Rank

Ramirez, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner from Cuba, had a harrowing defection story and was making his pro debut on Saturday. And needless to say, the possibility of losing in his first outing was not on anyone's mind. But that's exactly what happened as unheralded Adan Gonzales knocked him down in the first round and beat him to the punch enough to earn a split decision victory. (In truth, Rose Lacend's 40-35 card for Gonzales was atrocious and did not reflect the competitive nature of the fight. But the upset narrative was compelling; thus, the junk scorecard was conveniently ignored.)

Adan Gonzales Lands a Left on Robeisy Ramirez
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

In the amateurs Ramirez displayed crafty footwork, but on Saturday he too often just marched in winging big shots, and he paid the price for his machismo. He was startled by Gonzales's left hand and for every big shot that Ramirez threw in the first two rounds, Gonzales seemingly connected with quick counters. It took until the third round for Ramirez to match Gonzales's intensity. Ramirez performed much better in the final two rounds, where he controlled distance and limited Gonzales's output. But from my vantage point, it was too little too late. 

Obviously Top Rank didn't want a prized amateur, the guy who beat Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan in the Olympics, to lose in his first pro fight. This wasn't a case of challenging a prospect with a gatekeeper to see if he's ready for the next step. No, Ramirez was expected to win his first few fights and be a quick mover. So, this wasn't a win for Top Rank. However, the fighter deserves blame as well. When Ramirez finally decided to respect his opponent, he won rounds. He showed that he clearly had the ability to get the better of Gonzales, but his lack of respect proved to be costly. Let's also give Gonzales (5-2-2, 2 KOs) a lot of credit. He put forward a spirited effort. The aura of a two-time Olympic champ didn't seem to bother him in the slightest. He was there to win, and did just that. And that's why they fight the fights!

Edgar Berlanga (12-0, 12 KOs) New York, 22, middleweight, Top Rank

Berlanga's fight against France's Gregory Trenel was the only non-competitive bout on the card. Trenel couldn't defend himself against Berlanga's power shots and ref Benjy Esteves stopped the fight in the first round with Trenel still on his feet. 

Berlanga is a gifted power puncher with naturally heavy hands. He throws his best shots, straight right and left hook, with little wasted effort and they land with maximum impact. Through 12 fights, Berlanga has stopped each of his opponents in the first round. Obviously that streak won't continue, but his power looks to be real. What Berlanga needs now are opponents that will give him rounds. At just 22, we still need to find out a lot about him. Can he take a shot? What is his conditioning like? What happens when he gets taken into deeper waters? These questions are of course pertinent to all prospects and Berlanga is no exception. He's certainly an intriguing young fighter and one to keep an eye on. 

Paul Kroll (5-0, 4 KOs) Philadelphia, 24, welterweight, unsigned
Shinard Bunch (2-1) Trenton, NJ, 20, welterweight, Nedal Promotions

In a spirited six-round contest, Kroll prevailed via a unanimous decision. Kroll was once a top amateur, but legal problems derailed his momentum. In Saturday's fight he possessed more offensive dimensions, and especially more spite. Bunch landed his fair share of crafty counters, but he was often outworked and seemed like a boy fighting a man. Bunch could certainly handle himself in the ring and was able to extricate himself from periods of danger, but there's a big difference between fending off a stronger opponent and doing enough to win. 

Kroll featured a strong arsenal of power punches and a sharp jab. He ate a number of big shots, which showcased both the good and bad of a young prospect. On one hand he demonstrated a good chin. But he admired his work a little too much and lingered in the pocket after throwing, enabling Bunch to land some biting counters. 

Kroll appears to be a solid athlete and has a number of tools that could see him succeed at the next level, but he's not going to be able to overwhelm all of his opponents, and Saturday's fight was a needed reminder that the other guy gets paid too. 

Sonny Conto (4-0, 3 KOs) Philadelphia, 23, heavyweight, Top Rank

In his fourth professional fight, Conto experienced resistance for the first time. His opponent, Guillermo Del Rio, clipped him with a few overhand rights. Del Rio also knew how to absorb punishment. When Conto landed his best shots, Del Rio mostly just shrugged them off. Conto did win every round of the bout and landed a sweet left hook in the fourth round, which led to the only knockdown in the fight. 

Sonny Conto Connects with a Right Hand
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Del Rio proved to be a suitable opponent at this phase of Conto's career. Conto needed to set up combinations to have success and the fight eventually transformed into whether he could put together the right series of shots to score the knockout. That he wasn't able to end the fight early isn't a mark against him, but it was a crucial learning experience. Finishing opponents often can be just as much cerebral as physical. Conto has a good heavyweight punch, but knowing how to finish a guy off is an acquired skill. But even though the knockout didn't come, it was still encouraging that Conto didn't fight recklessly to try for the stoppage. As he started to have more success, he was able to limit Del Rio's effectiveness, which is a sign of maturity and evidence of a present Ring IQ. 

Donald Smith (10-0, 6 KOs) Philadelphia, 26, featherweight, Peltz Boxing

A 5'11" southpaw featherweight isn't a normal occurrence in boxing and Smith is going to have some physical advantages in the ring that are going to be difficult for lower-level opponents to crack. He defeated Abdur-Raheem Abdullah on Saturday via a wide decision. He scored a first-round knockdown and dominated the early action. And while Abdullah was never a threat to win, he did land a wild left haymaker in the third round that sent Smith crashing back to the ropes (it's possible that another ref could have ruled that sequence a knockdown). 

Donald Smith Controlling Abdur-Raheem Abdullah with his Jab
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Although Smith possesses significant height and reach, he doesn't necessarily "fight tall," staying behind his jab and using distance to his advantage; he likes to mix it up. Smith has a sharp left hand and a solid right hook, but the lack of a consistent jab or uppercut enabled Abdur-Raheem to come forward without paying a price a little too often.  

At 26, Smith needs to be moved quickly. He's already too old to be a top prospect; however, it's possible that he could become a tough spoiler. To do that he will need to incorporate more offensive dimensions into his game. If he doesn't evolve in the ring, he's going to have some unnecessarily difficult fights on the inside. Unfortunately, he appears to have hurt his left hand in the fight and may not be back in action for several months. 

Jeremy Adorno (2-0, 1 KO) Allentown, PA, 18, junior featherweight, Top Rank

Jeremy's older brother, Joseph, is also signed to Top Rank. To a number of boxing people who saw both brothers as amateurs, Joseph was considered the better prospect, and a few boxing insiders I spoke with suggested that Jeremy might have been best served by staying an amateur a little longer. Nevertheless, he decided to turn pro this year, and he looked much better in his second professional fight on Saturday than he did in his debut in March. 

Adorno scored a third-round KO with two counter body shots. His opponent, Fernando Robles, stayed on his knees for well over a minute after the stoppage. Compared to his first outing, Adorno did a better job of sitting down on his shots. 

Adorno has adequate hand speed and some variety with his punches. However, he's going to be a long-term project. He's so early in his development that it's difficult to predict what he might be in another 12 months, let alone three to five years from now. Expect him to be moved gradually in the near future. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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