Every year at this time, Montreal hosts the F1 Grand Prix race, and it represents the unofficial kick-off of summer in The Fight City. And, as is often the case on Grand Prix weekend, fight fans got a Grand Prix treat on Saturday night with a seven-bout card from Groupe Yvon Michel at the Montreal Casino. This year the show featured super middleweight contender Shakeel “The Jamaican Juggernaut” Phinn (21-2-1) as he took on Elio German Rafael of Argentina (15-3) in a bout Shak could not afford to lose.
This was a big opportunity for Montreal’s Phinn as both the IBF North American and NABF belts were on the line. But despite Rafael being several years older at 34, it was Shak who had the experience advantage going into this bout, having accumulated 126 rounds as a pro compared to 90 for the Argentinean, testament to how well Shak’s career has been guided by Ian MacKillop. In the end, that experience and the ability to bring the pressure to bear in the late going got Shak the big win he was looking for.
Phinn started off slowly, staying patient in an attempt to figure out Rafael’s unorthodox rhythm. Rafael has an awkward style, bouncing in and out with his hands down and flicking out punches from odd angles, and he continued to cause problems for Shak in round two. But by the fourth Phinn had found his range and timing as he landed a number of hard rights and left hooks that snapped Rafael’s head back.
And just as this writer was starting to become bewildered with the lack of a body attack on Shak’s part, the Montrealer shifted his assault to Rafael’s midsection in round six and soon enough several flush body blows had the Argentinean in trouble. Phinn punctuated the round with a hard right hand that sent his foe to the canvas, but Rafael beat the count and was saved from further punishment by the bell.
From that point on Phinn was in control as Rafael was tagged more and more frequently with flush shots. But despite the punishment, he showed great heart, never ceasing to fight back and push for the victory. However, he just didn’t have the power to discourage Phinn and Shak’s relentless pressure took its toll, with Rafael visibly fatiguing in rounds seven and eight.
Phinn intensified his attack in the ninth, pinning Rafael to the ropes and landing flurries of heavy shots. A big left hook sent Rafael’s eyes rolling back but he showed his tremendous chin and warrior spirit to stay upright and keep fighting back to the end of the round. In turn, Shak showed his determination to get the finish as he kept unloading in the final round, eventually scoring a huge right hand that froze Rafael. Shak poured it on and threw everything he had until he put his opponent down for the second time. Rafael beat the count but a follow-up onslaught had him helpless and the referee finally ended the match.
It was an emphatic victory for the rising super middleweight contender, but one that Shak clearly had to work hard for. Rafael undoubtedly deserves credit for being such a game and tough foe, a fact not lost on Phinn as he was quick to give credit to his opponent after the contest.
“Honestly, I think after the knockdown in the sixth, I rate my performance very good, maybe an eight out of ten,” said Shak. “But in the beginning it was just difficult to find my range and my timing against such an awkward southpaw. He gave me problems with his jumping in with weird angles, which made it hard to find my timing with the jab. But I can’t take away how tough he was. He’s fought against some of the best guys in the world so I’m happy I could give him his first stoppage loss just to show everybody I can still punch.”
Shak was admirably objective and honest in assessing his performance and he knows there’s still work to be done.
“I give myself a ‘B-plus,'” said the charismatic contender. “I want to get back in the gym and just work more on using my jab, finding my punches and just being more loose. I was a little bit too tight and loading up too much. I think I could have finished it earlier if I would’ve just put my shots together a little better. If I had started the way I finished, I could have made it an easier fight for myself.”
Mackillop was pleased with his charge’s performance, pointing to the stylistic challenge that his opponent Rafael presented. “I thought it was his best performance to date, definitely. He showed us something against this awkward, tough opponent who had never been stopped, a guy who just lost a majority decision to Marco Periban. For Shak to go in there and stop this guy the way he did shows he’s ready for the upper echelon at 168.”
But while both fighter and trainer believe they are ready to take the next steps up the ladder, they also know there is still room for development.
“Give me a couple more fights against some tougher opponents to build me up,” said Shak. “Because I know I can shake up the guys at the championship level. Maybe two or three building fights to reach that level.”
Mackillop is clearly on the same page: “I’m in no rush because Shak is still a baby in the sport of boxing. He’s going into his eighth year, amateur and pro combined. All the guys he’s fighting are at their peaks while Shak’s still at about seventy percent. So he’s getting better and better each time out. And he’s got a long shelf life because he didn’t have any of the amateur abuse. He’s still fresh as a daisy.”
With Shak taking a big step forward with this hard-fought victory, I am curious to see what decisions MacKillop and Groupe Yvon Michel now make. Even though, as MacKillop says, Shak is still young in the sport, he’s also 28-years-old and the clock is ticking. For what it’s worth, it’s the opinion of this observer that he needs to face and vanquish nothing but serious, world-ranked contenders from this point forward as he closes in on a shot at a world title.
The undercard of Saturday night’s “Grand Prix” show featured several competitive contests, with local GYM fighters getting valuable experience against game foes. In the co-main, Wilfrid “Free Boy” Seyi (5-0), the 2016 Rio Olympian and Cameroon flag-bearer, stopped tough Polish foe Bartosz Barczysnki (2-2) in three rounds. Seyi showed mobility and fluid upper body movement to avoid incoming punches, while countering with sharp blows. I was impressed with his poise, as well as his finishing instincts after he had his opponent hurt. Seyi is definitely a prospect to keep a close eye on going forward.
Terry Osias (9-0) of Longeuil, Quebec won a hard-fought unanimous decision over awkward Argentinean opponent, Maximiliano Agustin Corso (6-4-1). Osias scored a first round knockdown and landed the sharper punches throughout, especially to the body, but Corso showed enough craft and movement to make it difficult for Osias to land clean consistently.
Whitney Baille (8-0) of Laval, Quebec won a unanimous decision against Julian Mendo (6-3-1) of Mexico. Mendo’s aggressive, bull-rushing style made it a rough and tumble affair, forcing the referee to work hard. Baille was definitely the more skilled fighter, as he showed solid footwork from the southpaw stance as well as the ability to counter effectively. And he also showed necessary grit in the last round, surviving to the final bell after getting rocked twice.
Jessica Camara (5-1) of Montreal earned a majority decision over Dalila Velazquez of Mexico in a fight I thought she lost. While Camara’s punches were sharper, it was Velazaquez who dictated where the fight took place and was consistently more active, throwing many sharp body shots on the inside. It was a very close fight, so not a robbery by any stretch, but Camara had to work tirelessly to earn the decision.
Roodsy Vincent (3-1) of Montreal scored a mild upset over Dwayne Durel (6-3) of Laval by majority decision in another hard-fought contest. Vincent was quicker and more athletic and beat Durel to the punch time and time again. He threw more combinations, while Durel threw single shots and just didn’t let his hands go enough.
Finally, Marie-Pier Houle (1-0), a training partner of Marie-Eve Dicaire, scored a decision win in her pro debut over Maria Guadalupe Duran of Mexico. Good match-up to start her career, as Houle was forced to work against a game opponent and got some quality rounds in. — Jamie Rebner
Photos by Ariane Théberge.