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18 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Fight Reports

Vittorio Oi Claims European Title

By Peter Lerner: The remarkable story of Vittorio Oi just goes on and on. A once-promising amateur, he lost interest in the sport and spent most of his twenties in prison. His reflexes and ringcraft dulled and blunted by time, he turned professional at 32 with very modest aims. Winning the Coppa Italia in 2008 was a fine achievement; going on to then win the Italian title the following year seemed to be the stuff that fairytales are made of.

On Friday night in Oi’s hometown of Pomezia, in a blood-splattered and controversial contest, he went one step further and grabbed the EU light welterweight title off Ville Piispanen, a Finn who was making his second defence. The fight was stopped in the seventh round by referee Robin Dolpierre on the doctor’s recommendation due to the nasty facial damage suffered by Oi. The resulting technical decision win in Oi’s favour was met by derision from the Finnish camp. Piispanen’s chief second only reluctantly shaking the winner’s hand and Piispanen and his girlfriend understandably but unwisely showing their displeasure to the crowd with a thumbs-down gesture. The response from Oi’s supporters was a vivid gallery of rude latin gestures and the odd thrown object.

The fight itself was just as inflammatory.

The first round was a real horror story for the Italian challenger. Within seconds of the opening bell a coming together of heads left him with a right eye swollen almost completely shut. He had the floundering look of a dog tossed into a river from a bridge, the discomfort and shock apparent on his face. He was blasted repeatedly with right hands, at one time falling against the ropes, and it was clear that Oi found himself in a completely new situation – for the first time he was in with a live and dangerous opponent. The second round was calmer but Piispanen was clearly the fighter in control, his reflexes keeping out of the way of Oi’s occasional single shots yet still in range to counter. And that right eye of the challenger was getting no better – it looked like a peach with a little split in the middle. At this point the outlook was bleak to say the least for the home fighter. The best he could hope for seemed to be a referee’s stoppage before the end of the fourth round, resulting in a technical draw and maybe the chance of a rematch. Otherwise he looked to be in for a painful and comprehensive defeat.

Yet somehow, from the third round on, the fight started to turn. Piispanen was in a dream situation yet was unable to apply the tactics that could have guaranteed victory. Away from home with his opponent one-eyed and bewildered, surely he should have boxed from distance, focusing on left hooks and jabs – for Oi is essentially a southpaw and would have been unable to see those punches coming. Oi’s grit and natural fighting instincts helped him draw Piispanen into the only kind of war he could wage – a close quarters, messy, dirty maul, with the odd eye-catching straight left thrown in. That type of combat between a southpaw and an orthodox fighter often leads to head clashes. Soon Oi’s swollen eye started to bleed, then he was cut below the left eye and finally above it, the result being that the champion was docked two points – one in the fourth and one in the sixth – for dangerous headwork after these injuries. When the end came and the decision was announced, it was clear that the turnaround had been quite remarkable: Piispanen throwing away such a good chance of victory and Oi somehow dragging a win out of the fight.

Was Piispanen hard done by? Yes and no. The fight could conceivably have been stopped in the first four rounds – Oi’s eye was grotesque after about 30 seconds of the fight and it was only going to get worse. In that case the fight would have been declared a technical draw and Piispanen would have kept his title. Furthermore, during those scrappy rounds in which the Finn had points deducted, Oi himself was no saint, wrestling on the inside and spitefully boring in with his head in a couple of the clinches. A case could certainly be made for the home fighter also losing a point. On the other hand, Piispanen was dangerous with his head and didn’t really make any attempt to be more careful. And one must take into account the provision of the European Boxing Union (who supervised the fight) which states that “when a boxer is injured due to an unintentional foul the referee, at his discretion, shall have the power to order the deduction of a point from the uninjured boxer.” Now, if one agrees with that rule or not is beside the point. Referee Dolpierre was fully entitled, by the rules of the contest, to deduct those two points from Piispanen. One would hope of course that if the roles had been reversed, he would have deducted the points from Oi.

What Piispanen and his team should feel aggrieved about is not the referee but the scoring of the fight. My personal scoring had it a draw after seven rounds (including the incomplete seventh round), with three rounds for Piispanen, three for Oi and the third even. That’s including the deductions. A case could be made for scoring the third or the last round either way. Fabian Guggenheim had it 66-65, Venciclav Nikolov 67-64 and Roger Tilleman 69-63, meaning that even without the points deductions Oi would have taken a split decision win. Such a verdict would certainly be open to debate and the score of Tilleman, giving just one round to Piispanen, is extreme to say the least.

Piispanen is now 15-2-3 and should surely feel disappointed, as much with his own performance and that of his corner (who reacted to each points deduction and referee’s intervention with their own theatrics) as with the referee and the judges. If he and his corner had been cooler in that pressure cooker of an atmosphere, then he would almost certainly have won and kept his number 10 ranking in Europe. Oi is now 15-1-1 and despite looking out of his depth at the beginning, he should be given great kudos for the determination and wherewithal he showed to come out of this fight the winner. He changed trainer before this fight and hadn’t fought in almost a year, circumstances which should be taken into consideration. Bernard Hopkins and Glen Johnson have rightfully been getting their dues as grand old men of the game. Oi is younger at 37 and is fighting several levels lower than those two veterans, but his rise from the ashes at an advanced age should be celebrated.

The chief support saw light middle Emanuele Della Rosa – who once challenged Sebastian Zbik for his interim belt up at middleweight – fight Daniel Urbanski, a game and useful Pole, over twelve rounds. Apart from a wild fifth round, the Roman was in control for most of the fight and a picked up a unanimous decision win (Guggenheim and Nikolov scored it 119-107, Tillemann 120-106). Secondsout had it 116-112.

Of the eight times I’ve seen Della Rosa fight from ringside, this was his best performance. He was controlled, patient and intelligent here, undoubtedly helped by the fact that he had an aggressive come-forward type of opponent. Della Rosa tends to have more difficulty – and become frustrated – with opponents he has to look for or awkward, physical types. Despite having the build and outward appearance of a pressure fighter, he’s probably best when he can move around the ring with economical movements and take advantage of an opponent’s mistakes.

Urbanski was a spirited fighter and at midway it looked like he could come on strong. Della Rosa had lost his cool momentarily in the fifth after being cut from a headclash (referee Massimo Barrovecchio took a point off Urbanski – this being a WBC International fight, the same accidental injury rule as imposed by EBU was in place) and took several flush shots from the visitor. Urbanski was also slamming in some good left hooks to the body. Della Rosa put him in his place in the seventh, visibly hurting him with rights to the body. Suddenly Urbanski seemed deflated and from that point on his punches lost their snap. In the tenth he was dropped by a bodyshot and he did well not only to see out the round but also to make it to the finishline. He is now 20-6-3 while Della Rosa moves to 27-1-0. This was an encouraging performance by Della Rosa and he has certainly made some improvements – especially with the addition of a thudding jab to his armoury – since appointing Eugenio Agnuzzi as his trainer.

Another Agnuzzi-trained fighter opened the bill. Like Della Rosa, Emanuele Blandamura is a fairly recent addition to the ProFighting team. This gym in the Tor Pignattara quarter of Rome also boasts Domenico Spada, Pasquale Di Silvio and Sonia Mirabelli and is one of the stronger gyms in Italy at the moment. Middleweight Blandamura kept his unbeaten record intact and moved to 15-0-0 with a shutout six round points win over Sandor Ramocsa, a Hungarian who was fighting (and losing) in Italy for the tenth time. Blandamura is a quick mover, with sharp reflexes but he is reluctant to commit with the result that he often throws his punches without his feet firmly planted. Not infrequently his punches fall short because his mind seems to be on how he can get away rather than how he can hurt his opponent. At 31 it’s difficult to see him changing this mentality.

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