Philadelphia fight fans like to come out and support their local fighters, and I like to see prospects develop, so despite the loss of Carl Frampton to a freak injury, Saturday night’s Top Rank card had plenty to offer. As I pulled up to the Liacouras Center a few hundred people were gathered at the door and waiting to get in. No belts were on the line, but several prospects were fighting to keep their undefeated records — so important in today’s sport — and then the headliner was fighting to keep himself a contender. Every match on the card involved serious stakes.
Our Philly fight night started off with Jeremy Adorno’s second pro bout, against Fernando Robles. Adorno, a super bantamweight, is from Allentown, about ninety minutes from Philadelphia, and brought a good crowd. A southpaw, he showed off his strong left hand and dominated for two-and-a-half rounds before finally knocking out Robles, but that doesn’t mean his opponent didn’t come to fight. Robles landed solid body shots on Adorno in each round, which in a longer fight could have paid off, and Adorno, like every young fighter, can work on avoiding such vulnerabilities. Jeremy’s brother Joseph is also a rising Top Rank prospect, and it’ll be interesting to see what these brothers do in the next few years.
Next, local featherweight Donald Smith took on Raheem Abdullah, which was fascinating because Smith is freakishly tall for his weight at just under six feet. The size difference was such that Smith looked like he was sparring with a pre-teen who’d wandered into his local gym and not a fellow pro. I expected Smith to stay behind his jab and use his size, but he mixed it up almost like he was the shorter fighter. Smith scored a quick knockdown in round one, but Abdullah got his legs under him and put up a better fight through six rounds, even battering Smith into what should have been called a knockdown in round three. From there the bout devolved some, and Abdullah was penalized for a low blow, with Smith cruising to a wide victory on all three cards.
Sonny Conto, local heavyweight prospect, came out to expected cheers, but you knew he was truly a Philadelphia favorite when the fans booed Guillermo Del Rio as loudly as they cheered Conto. Few things are more integral to Philly sports culture than jeering the opposition and Conto came through to give the fans four exciting rounds full of thundering punches and, finally in the fourth, a knockdown of Del Rio. Conto, now 4-0, won unanimously with all three judges scoring it wide for Sonny, the only correct result.
What I liked most was seeing Conto have to work on a tough opponent for a full fight as he hadn’t been past the second round in his first three pro bouts. Conto showed controlled aggression, targeting both the head and the body, while showing Del Rio plenty of different angles. The only thing that kept this one from being another easy knockout win was the fact that Del Rio is as tough as the thorny mesquite trees in his native Texas. Conto had to work, and he did, never letting up on Del Rio. When the Texan did land a few right hands, Conto rolled with them to avoid getting hurt.
After the fight, Sonny’s father, Frank, who works his son’s corner, sat down behind me and we chatted a about the contest. Frank seemed frustrated that his son didn’t score the knockout, since no father wants to see his kid in the ring for longer than necessary. More than anything, though, Frank Conto’s pride in his son shone through as we talked about both the fight and the conversation Sonny and I had a few weeks ago. Fathers and sons have mixed relationships in boxing, but this one seems very strong, and that support structure will surely help Sonny as he moves on to face tougher competition.
The final fight of the undercard was the most competitive of the whole night as Paul Kroll of Philly and Shinard Bunch of Trenton, both bringing big fan bases with them, duked it out in a thrilling welterweight battle that went all six rounds and saw Kroll improve to 5-0 with the points win. The fight was close and the cards reflected it (two at 58-56, and one at 59-55) but Kroll landed the cleaner, harder shots to pull out the win. That said, Bunch held his own, and at 2-1 he has plenty of time to build his career. There’s no shame in that loss for Bunch, and I’d like to see both fighters in action again soon.
Next, the co-mains, neither of which seemed like they’d provide spectacular action, but both ended up being satisfying in its own way. To start, knockout artist Edgar Berlanga, who is now 12-0 and still hasn’t had an opponent make it out of the first round against him, took on overmatched Frenchman Gregory Trenel. Trenel was always meant to be a lamb for Berlanga to sacrifice before the ESPN audience, and the New Yorker didn’t disappoint, scoring a knockdown and then dominating Trenel until the ref had to stop it in round one. Nothing unexpected there, except for the way Berlanga stalked Trenel and landed heavy shots in a manner reminiscent of Gennady Golovkin. Any real comparison between Berlanga and GGG is premature, but it’s hard to argue with the young man’s power and attacking instincts.
The penultimate fight featured the anxiously awaited pro debut of Cuban Olympian Robeisy Ramirez. The two time gold medalist was expected to make easy work of his first featherweight opponent, as major prospects usually do, but Adan Gonzales, out of Denver, wasn’t given that script. Within seconds Ramirez got tagged on the chin and hit the canvas. Ramirez, clearly shaken, got through the first round, and made the second round close, but by then it was too late. The Cuban easily won the final two rounds, having seemingly downloaded Gonzales’s tendencies in the way great cerebral fighters sometimes do, but that wasn’t enough to win him the fight.
The judges scored it 39-36, 40-35 for Gonzales, and 38-37 Ramirez. I would say the right man won, as while it was a close round, I gave the second to Gonzales, but the judge who gave the shutout to Gonzales should be investigated. “He’s just another man,” declared Gonzales in his post-fight interview. Given the pressure of being a defector whose family is still in his homeland, we’re quickly going to find out how mentally tough a man he is.
Then came the main event which was never meant to be a main event, Jason Sosa vs Lydell Rhodes in a super featherweight bout. Before it started, the audience began to clear out, having already seen their local favorites compete, and I was reminded of the last time I saw Jason Sosa almost exactly a year ago. He was the walkout fight at a card in Atlantic City, then only about a year removed from being world champion. It was a reminder of how fickle boxing can be.
This time, despite headlining, there was still a lack of justice for Sosa, who dominated over seven rounds until Rhodes’s corner stopped the fight. Sosa showed power and poise, which was especially impressive against someone coming down from 140 who, theoretically, should have been the stronger man. Too few people were there to see a fight I would say re-established Sosa as a genuine contender at 130, not to mention one that provided plenty of action, including three knockdowns. While I know people expected to see Frampton headline, Sosa is still a local fighter, hailing from Camden, New Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia, and I would have liked to see the fans embrace him more than they did.
In an era driven by increasingly meaningless belts, it was refreshing to spend an evening watching talented fighters climb through the ropes in order to perform to the best of their abilities, and not to simply hold on to an alphabet strap. I know each one of those fighters wants a belt at some point, but there was something pure and enjoyable about leaving all that nonsense behind for a whole card. A great night of fights in Philadelphia. No boxing fan can ask for more. — Joshua Isard