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21 NOVEMBER 2018


Alì Ndiaye Vs Andrea Di Luisa Is Italian Fight Of The Year

pic Renata Romagnoli
pic Renata Romagnoli

By Peter Lerner: There is the interesting grizzled veterans’ club clash between Silvio Branco and Giacobbe Fragomeni at the end of November but it won’t change anything. All bets are off, the competition is closed – we already have the undisputed Italian fight of the year. On Friday night in Pontedera, Mouhamed Alì Ndiaye and Andrea Di Luisa put all their mutual hatred, bravery and passion into the ring to give us an early Christmas present. In a captivating and, at times, breathtaking battle, Alì stopped Di Luisa in the twelfth round after knocking down his relentless, ever-dangerous foe for the fourth time.

This was a wonderful fight, enthralling from start to finish. Everybody knew beforehand that this match-up was a guaranteed classic, that the combination of two such bitter rivals could not help but produce something memorable. There was an incredible sense of expectation and wild energy that ran through the night, from the ringwalks – Di Luisa all serial killer eyes and bubbling hatred waiting to burst forth; Alì, bathed in confidence, singing and shouting into the camera – and Di Luisa and Alì’s promoter Salvatore Cherchi engaging in a brief tug of war over the Italian flag during the national anthem, through to the chaotic scenes in the ring after the fight. In between there were knockdowns, endless transgressions, and points deductions to go with the remarkable courage and will to win of the two men.

The basic dynamic of the fight saw Di Luisa, somewhat stiff and upright, try to cut off the ring and subject Alì to his much-vaunted punching power while the faster Alì would use more of the ring and try and slot through his rising, twisting jabs or chance big haymaker rights. However, there was so much drama and so many sudden shifts in dominance that this was more a war that surged back and forth rather than a fight with a pattern or a conundrum.

The fourth round was when things really exploded. First Alì got a point taken off by referee Massimo Barrovecchio after he slipped, maybe with a hint of a helping hand from Di Luisa, sprang back up angrily and started throwing punches after Barrovecchio had called break. He soon corrected matters by making Di Luisa go down courtesy of a nasty hook to the body. It capped a superb flurry, one of those attacks in which Alì really roars through the gears and looks a top-level fighter. Di Luisa was hurt but was tough and canny enough to counter the inevitable follow-up body punches with his own left hooks to the head. It was then his turn to have a point taken off by Barrovecchio after, not the first time, ramming his shoulder into Alì’s face in a clinch. Amazingly it was Di Luisa who was finishing the round the stronger, backing Alì up and unloading at every opportunity.

The next was even better. It was as if Di Luisa, like Michael Gomez against Alex Arthur, was driven by immense determination and the resolution to not let his hated foe get the better of him. Ignoring the pain of the previous round’s body attack, he took the round by the scruff of the neck. He bounced rights and left hooks off Alì and suddenly it looked like it was going to be Di Luisa who was going to stop his man. Then, in the middle of an all-or-nothing exchange of fire, Di Luisa walked on to a huge left hook and went tumbling to the canvas. Again he got up bristling and if his physical resistance seemed to be waning, his contempt for his enemy certainly wasn’t and he managed to get another point taken off after saying something offensive to Alì – all this while Alì was bombarding him and seemingly almost on the verge of maybe forcing a stoppage. What bitterness and pride was driving these two on.

The pace understandably dropped a little in the second half of the fight. Both had taken some heavy punishment, Di Luisa had suffered two knockdowns and Alì had tired himself out somewhat. From the sixth through to the end of the eighth, Alì was visibly tired but controlled the fight from range behind his jab. He was able to make Di Luisa look predictable. He was particularly effective with his lead left, either employed as a fast, rising jab or as a lead uppercut. Both punches would spear through the middle of Di Luisa’s high guard.

In the ninth Di Luisa managed to get his own jab working again and his attacks became a bit more thoughtful. Rather than simply trying to walk Alì down, he was now jabbing, feinting and holding back until he had his opponent where he wanted him. He continued his good work in the next round and there was the prospect of an incredible turnaround – if he had enough left to put Alì under serious pressure, then maybe the fighter originally from Senegal would be too tired to keep him off. It was not to be. Like one of those talent-packed football teams that can play badly yet change the game from one moment to the next, Alì had the ability to break his opponent’s heart at any moment and he did so with another superb left hook to the body. Di Luisa went down again – the third time – and this time when he got up he walked over to a corner, turned his back on the counting Barrovecchio and clung onto the ropes grimacing in pain. Some referees would perhaps have stopped it there and then but Di Luisa managed to turn round, hide his distress, see out the eight-count and go back to work.

Alì had managed to quench every Di Luisa surge or revival with a knockdown and now, finally, his opponent was broken. The end came in the final round when one of those lead uppercuts landed flush on Di Luisa’s nose. Blood immediately spurted out and down he went, almost in delayed reaction. As always he got up but the towel came flying in as Alì pounced to finish him off.

In true keeping with the spirit of the fight, chaos continued to reign after the towel had come in. Everybody seemed to have a problem with everybody else. Di Luisa’s corner, led by his father, went after referee Barrovecchio, presumably angry that he hadn’t stopped the fight as soon as it was clear what had happened to Di Luisa’s nose. The promoting Cherchi family were shouting at the Di Luisas. Various entourage-type people were pushing and shoving. Alì got a Di Luisa Senior elbow in his chest after trying to go over to salute his foe. All of which was ugly and unnecessary but charged with that same scintillating electricity that had run through the fight. It was a memorable evening all right. But in the end Andrea Di Luisa went over to Alì and they hugged. That beautiful camaraderie that exists between boxers washed over everything and all was alright again.

A lot of questions about both men were answered in this fight. Alì showed that he has the fortitude to go with his undeniable gifts. It must have been disconcerting to have his opponent getting up again and again to come back at him like one of George Romero’s living dead. Weaker fighters would have ceded under such pressure. His punch resistance was also very impressive. His chin, as neglected as a child abandoned by its parents on the roadside, was often left to fend for itself as his defence went off gallivanting who-knows-where. Yet it must be a remarkable one. Di Luisa was considered the biggest single puncher pound-for-pound on the peninsula but, despite unloading his complete arsenal on his bitter enemy, he couldn’t really dent that chin.

What Alì could improve is his management of a fight – the ability to fight consistently and not in spurts – and how to conserve energy. If he could fight opponents of this calibre more frequently and learn how to consistently make good fighters fight on his terms, then he could become a threat beyond European level. This fight was for the vacant EU title and hopefully it should serve as a stepping stone for Alì. He is now 21-1 (12).

Di Luisa showed immense bravery and determination. It really was a case of no retreat, no surrender from the man from Napoli. Unless Alì literally staked him to the ground he was going to come stalking forward and try to get his teeth into him. In the fifth and the sixth he was particularly awe-inspiring. His defence, however, left a lot to be desired. He has the high guard and decent reflexes to cope with more predictable opponents or attacks but, with no head or upper body movement, he was frequently caught by the custom-made punches of Alì that arrived from strange angles with speed. He drops to 12-1 (11).

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