By Peter Lerner: Promoters in Italy seem to have their own regional strongholds from which they rarely stray. Rosanna Conti Cavini is synonymous with Tusacany and northern Lazio, Davide Buccioni and Marcello Paciucci are firmly entrenched in Rome, Mario Loreni tends to work mostly in the northern half of the country and Elio Cotena is Naples through and through. There are of course exceptions, excursions, raids - call them what you will - but almost all the promotional outfits favour very much their own particular stronghold.
The one company which goes against the grain also happens to be Italy’s biggest and best-known: Salvatore Cherchi’s OPI2000. Just taking the last twelve months into consideration, the Milan-based company has put on shows from Sicily to the north of the country, covering just about every region on its way. This Saturday they put on a show in Rome (or rather, to be precise, just outside in the seaside satellite of Fregene) which is the city’s most interesting and significant since last year’s Leonard Bundu-Daniele Petrucci fight.
The headliner of a bill labelled ’Battle at the Seaside’ sees Domenico Spada fight old foe Mariusz Cendrowski for the WBC Silver middleweight title but perhaps more interesting are two fights on the undercard, Emanuele Della Rosa against Britain’s Nasser Al Harbi, and a middleweight match-up between unbeaten Italians Emanuele Blandamura and Luca Tassi.
On paper Della Rosa would appear the favourite in his fight with Al Harbi. At 28-1 (8) he has much greater experience, both in rounds boxed and in significant fights, than the 13-0-1 (1) visitor. He’s managed to grind out wins against almost every style imaginable - out of active Italian fighters he could arguably be the one who has had to come through the most awkward selection of adversaries - and his only loss came to then WBC interim champion Sebastian Zbik in Germany. That fight finished as a split decision but the two wide cards in favour of the German were much more indicative of how the fight went. However, although Della Rosa was never really in with a shout of winning, his durability and composure on the big stage were impressive.
For British fans who haven’t seen too much of Della Rosa (Secondsout has been able to attend seven of his fights from ringside), he could be described as something of a deceptive fighter. Originally a real wildman in the ring who frequently flirted with disqualification, he has evolved into a patient punch-picker with a tight guard. His jab and right hand have improved significantly under the guidance of Eugenio Agnuzzi (who has a fighter in each of the four bouts on the bill) and he’s developed an under-appreciated ability to control what’s happening in fights through controlled pressure, feints and judicious punching. Last year’s win over 20-5-3 Daniel Urbanski, who was on an 11-fight unbeaten streak, was a mini masterclass on how to get the job done efficiently and steadily yet not be second-guessed by your opponent. Moving a couple of years ago from Luciano Sordini’s gym to Agnuzzi’s ProFighting outfit has certainly helped him, with quality sparring day-in day-out not only from the aforementioned Spada and Blandamura but also from the numerous Italian pros who come to visit. It should also be noted that further to the recent strides he has made in his development he also has a very good chin and is usually in optimal condition.
On the downside, he’s solidly built but not the tallest light-middle. In this fight he will be giving away height and reach. Nor is he the most flexible of fighters. This is the other side of the coin of his consistency: for all his solidity and steadiness you will not see him changing things drastically mid-fight. Again, while he does everything fairly well, he doesn’t shine in any particular department and speedwise he should be at a disadvantage.
The odds are against Al Harbi considering the discrepancies in experience and quality opponents faced, the visitor’s apparent lack of fight-stopping power and the location - Della Rosa’s hometown is five minutes down the coast. It becomes that much harder to outpoint an opponent away from home when your punches go unheralded yet every move your foe makes is greeted with a cusp-of-knockout roar. What makes this fight interesting however is the fact that Al Harbi has several of the tools necessary for the job at hand. Apart from the height and reach advantages, he has that knack of finding gaps in a static guard and that ability to surprise people when they think they are out of range. It has always been the fast awkward opponents who cause Della Rosa not only problems but - in the early stages of his career - to lose his rag. If ’Notorious’ can add a high workrate and variety to his physical advantages then he has a chance of winning. The question is if he could fight such a fight for twelve rounds. He has never gone more than seven rounds whereas Della Rosa has gone past seven on twelve occasions, including four completed twelve-rounders.
The smart money should therefore be on the Italian fighter’s experience, solid boxing, durability and home backing but Al Harbi’s innate talent and potential make this a very intriguing clash.
The aforementioned Blandamura and Tassi meet for something known as the WBC International Silver middleweight title, completely meaningless for the fans but perhaps useful in getting the fighters up the rankings. This too is a bout which has got Italian fight fans talking.
Blandamura, 16-0 (3), had his coming out party last October when he beat touted 10-0 Manuel Ernesti. It was expected that Ernesti’s spiteful and rangy switch-hitting would have been too much for the flighty boxing of the fighter known as ’Sioux’. Instead the boxer turned bully and Blandamura thoroughly dominated the fight. On the back of that he’s gone from being merely an undercard fighter on OPI’s bills to becoming talked about in his own right. A win on Saturday and he will surely progress to being a headlining fighter.
Nobody really knows what to expect from his opponent, the enigmatic Luca Tassi. Undoubtedly a talented fighter, he’s a former Italian super middle champion and is still unbeaten at 15-0 (7). However, since pulling out of a fight with Mouhamed Ali Ndiaye back in 2008 he has fought just three times.The build up to that match featured a lot of speculation and even doubt as to whether it would happen. Tassi issued his own rebuttal to the talk in the build up by saying that he couldn’t wait to shut Ali up and came up with the gem, "He can’t speak to me as if he were the real Muhammad Ali - he’s just Ndiaye." Then on the day of the fight he pulled out - due to stomach problems after having drunk a cold drink according to his promoter, Rosanna Conti Cavini - and sparked a polemical firestorm. Notable was the unleashed fury of Davide Buccioni (Ali’s then promoter) who devoted a page on his website to the words ’vergogna’ and ’bugiardi’ (’shame’ - but closer to ’disgrace’ in this context - and ’liars’) repeated over and over. Since then Tassi’s reputation has been - rightly or not - questioned in some quarters. This fight offers a somewhat belated chance at redemption.
One is curious to see how the two approach the fight. Tassi was known as more of a counterpuncher - will Blandamura stick with the style he used to shock Ernesti and take it to him or will he use the more conservative skirmishing style to which he is accustomed? Either way it’s something of a crossroads fight for both. A defeat for Blandamura could see him reduced to his old six-round supporting role while defeat for Tassi could spell the end.
The main even is not quite an exciting prospect as a few weeks ago. Originally Spada was due to meet the fearsome Avtandil Khurtsidze, a stocky brawler seemingly immune to pain or taking a backward step. Anyone who has seen his close fight with Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (the best unsung middleweight in the world) knows that Khurtsidze is one fighter who guarantees at best a tough, bruising unforgettable slog of a night; at worst a steady demolition. A fight with the equally combative Spada would have been a certain gem. Unfortunately Khurtsidze pulled out due to managerial issues and in comes Cendrowski.
As mentioned earlier, the two have met before. The first fight took place in a casino right at the top of Italy, headlining an eclectic bill that featured Tony Dodson and Naoufel Ben Rabah. That time round Spada was a clear winner over twelve rounds (coincidentally, Britain’s Mark Green - who judged the first fight - will also work this one). Many Italian observers of the game feel that the Pole has improved since their first fight, pointing to two wins over Thomas Troelenberg in Germany and a respectable defeat to the aforementioned Khurtsidze. While that may be true, the suspicion is that Cendrowski lacks the power (just 8 wins inside on his 22-3-2 record), consistent jab and inside skills (both Sebastian Zbik and Darren Barker neutralised Spada on the inside with a combination of holding and good positioning) to nullify Spada’s aggressive work. He does have that organised, almost mathematical, Polish style which Krzysztof Bienias and Rafal Jackiewicz have used to great effect against Italian opposition - but Spada is a different level of fighter to Sven Paris or Luciano Abis.
Spada has to be a clear favourite in this fight. A loss - after coming up short in his biggest fights to date (the world title shots against Zbik and the European title fight with Barker) - would be disastrous.
The bill is completed by the professional debut of 27 year-old Alessandro Sinacore. He was 23-10-3 in the amateurs, the highlight being a national senior title at 81kg in 2006. A heavy-handed southpaw, he fights out of the same ProFighting gym as Spada, Della Rosa and Blandamura.