Nine For Nine: More Wins For Lafreniere And Company
This month is just a tad hectic for Montreal boxing fans with four major cards going down in little more than two weeks. First it was the “Boxe Mania” card on June 3rd, and last night saw the second of the four with a great show from the good people at Rixa Promotions and Grant Brothers Boxing, their third event of 2017 at the Tohu Theatre. Nine matches were on the bill to give valuable exposure and experience to some young prospects, as well as some established “veterans” of the Grant Brothers stable, some of whom appear ready for a major step up in competition. In the end, all of the house fighters were victorious making it nine for nine, another significant step forward for all concerned.
The show got underway with cruiserweight Jimmy Ray Thompson, brother of trainer Jesse Ross Thompson, who won his pro debut over Fabian Valdez (1-1) by second round knockout. Up next was super lightweight Mohamed Soumaoro who is now 2-0 after scoring a third round stoppage of Alfredo Cardenas (4-6). And middleweight prospect Jean Michel Bolivar is 2-0 and lightweight Chann Thonson is 3-0 as both won their four round matches by decision over Mikhail Miller (0-2-1) and Tonathiu Garcia (4-4-1).
Next up was an intriguing rematch between super lightweights Roody Pierre-Paul (15-3-1) and Mexico’s Oscar Barajas (17-5-1). These two clashed a year ago at The Tohu and the result was a highly entertaining and hard-fought eight round tilt which the judges scored a draw. At the time, and since their first fight was so entertaining, we hoped for a rematch and to our delight that’s exactly what we got and once again Roody and Oscar put on a great show. Once again we got eight close rounds, both men landing plenty of shots and mixing it up with abandon.
This was a case of two styles meshing perfectly and in truth neither man had a decided edge, but if there was one it went to Pierre-Paul simply due to his outworking Barajas and finishing the exchanges more often. That’s how the judges saw as it as they gave Roody a unanimous decision victory. For what it’s worth, this writer would be very happy to see Pierre-Paul vs Barajas III, though preferably at a ten round distance.
Two months ago lightweight Golden Garcia (9-0-1) settled for a draw against Jorge Luis Melendez (8-3-2), a decision which our own Zachary Alapi declared “maddening” as, in his view, Golden clearly out-worked and out-landed his opponent. This time Garcia made sure the outcome would never be in the hands of the judges as he scored an emphatic second round knockout over Luis Zambrano (14-11-1).
Garcia looked very sharp as he repeatedly beat his adversary to the punch with clean, hurtful shots. His ability to stay in the pocket with an aggressive opponent and counter with precision was an impressive sight to behold. Most of Golden’s big shots landed upstairs, buckling Zambrano’s knees and even sending the Mexican staggering backwards across the ring, but the finisher was a vicious left hook to the liver that put Zambrano down for the count. Always in shape and looking as sharp as ever, Garcia has now surely earned a chance at some kind of title belt and a step up in competition.
Next, Jordan “Django” Balmir notched his fifth win in as many matches but it was no walk in the park for him against Adrian Campos (4-1) in four action packed rounds. Balmir, who fights like a middleweight version of Aaron Pryor and had a lively cheering section in the arena, attacked relentlessly and landed the greater number of hurtful punches, but Campos made him pay at times for his recklessness. Balmir scored a knockdown in the second, but Campos showed a lot of grit by staying in the fight and firing back when he could, knocking Balmir back on his heels more than once. It was a fun and fast-paced bout with the unanimous decision going to “Django.”
The co-main event for the night was another chance to see the gifted Erik Bazinyan in action. The super middleweight prospect is on the verge of becoming a truly legit contender for the upper echelons of his division as he is now 16-0 with 11 stoppage wins after scoring a fourth round TKO over tough Rolando Paredes (13-5-2), the light heavyweight champion of Mexico. At Friday’s weigh-in Paredes, who looked to be in tremendous condition, did his best to intimidate Bazinyan but it came to nothing as from the opening bell it was clear Erik had all the advantages.
What is there to say about Bazinyan’s splendid talent that hasn’t already been said on this website? This is a gifted pugilist: quick, accurate, powerful and intelligent. Give Paredes credit: he was there to win and he did his best, but he lacked both the power to gain Bazinyan’s respect and the defensive ability to prolong the match. It was just another day at the office for young “BZO” as he went about out-classing and dismantling his game opponent. The high point for the Mexican was round three when he picked up the pace, forced Erik to the ropes and connected with a big left hand, but near the end of the round Bazinyan landed a series of jolting rights to regain full control and it was clear the outcome was just a matter of time.
And indeed, in round four Bazinyan decided to close the show. He opened up with a series of aggressive left jabs before seamlessly switching to southpaw and landing one vicious right hook after another. The onslaught of heavy punches forced Paredes to the canvas; he beat the count but the fight was stopped seconds later with the approval of the Mexican’s corner. It’s another dominant win in the books for Erik who, as we’ve said before, is clearly one of the most talented young prospects in the game.
Time for the main event, which also turned out to be mostly one-way action. Francis Lafreniere had been scheduled to defend his NABO middleweight title against Cleveland’s Michael Moore but some visa problems scrapped that match. Mexico’s Oscar Cortez couldn’t quite make the 160 pound weight limit, so if he won, the championship would have been declared vacant. But Cortez never threatened to actually score a victory last night as he clearly lacked the strength and stamina to test “The People’s Champ,” who, as always, was in excellent shape and ready to rumble.
The contest was largely devoid of drama but became a curious spectacle as Cortez, from the opening round, complained that Lafreniere was butting him. Always pushing forward and looking to go to war, Francis is no doubt guilty at times of being careless with his cranium as he attacks, but there was never any intentional effort on Lafreniere’s part to put his skull to use. But the head butt issue gave Cortez the excuse he needed to pause the action on several occasions, interruptions he required as he could not keep up with the Quebec fighter’s constant, fast-paced aggression.
In round three Cortez connected with an obviously intentional head butt and the referee immediately halted the action and docked a point from the Mexican. He also gave Cortez repeated instructions to stop complaining while ordering both men to keep their punches up and watch their heads. Another clash of heads opened up a cut on the Mexican’s left eye. Meanwhile, in terms of meaningful blows, the match was a rout. Francis was regularly snapping Cortez’s head back with left hooks followed by overhand rights and there was little coming back the other way. To the delight of the crowd, the one-sided affair came to a halt in round four as Francis overwhelmed Cortez with his non-stop attack and the Mexican’s corner threw in the towel.
For Lafreniere the good news was another win on his record, his 13th consecutive victory, plus the love of his life accepted his in-the-ring marriage proposal. The bad news: he sustained a cut on his scalp courtesy of Cortez’s head.
But in the end it was really all good news for those staging the event as it was nine wins in nine bouts for the home fighters and another entertaining show at the Tohu Theatre. That said, behind the scenes the organizers know that moving forward the challenge is to give local fans a reason to keep buying tickets beyond simply supporting local talent. Ideally, crosstown matches with rival prospects in this boxing-mad city would be on tap for the near future, but barring that, a renewed effort to find truly challenging opponents for Lafreniere and Bazinyan has to be at top of the Rixa Promotions “to do” list. Not an easy task, but a necessary one as the stable’s top fighters look more than ready for bigger challenges and higher stakes. — Michael Carbert