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12 NOVEMBER 2018


Di Luisa Faces The Bogeyman In Pontedera

By Peter Lerner: Many fighters have that bogeyman from the past who they try to keep trapped in the closet. Some try to settle the score and exorcise the demons, some succeed and some fail, others – like Kostya Tszyu with Vince Phillips – just don’t want to know and creep past that cellar door with their eyes averted, because they don’t want to go back down there into the dark.

But sometimes the bogeyman comes back calling. Sometimes boxing throws up that nightmare from the past and a reckoning takes place.

Andrea Di Luisa has it all going for him. He’s undefeated in twelve fights, all but one of them won by knockout. He’s climbing the rankings (Boxrec has him at number 30) and Nino Benvenuti thinks, “There’s something special about him.” But there’s a shadow in his life known as Mouhamed Alì Ndiaye.

In 2004 Di Luisa was one of the golden boys of Italian amateur boxing. He was the reigning national champion at 75kgs (he had also won the title in 2001 with a close win over Domenico Spada) and there he was again in the final. His opponent was Alì, originally from Senegal and competing in Italy for about a year.

The fight was going as expected. Di Luisa knocked Alì down twice. But there was something wrong. He just couldn’t keep him down or discourage him. Then the nightmare happened: Di Luisa was caught in one of the exchanges and was knocked out cold. Not stopped by the referee, not out on his feet, not in a little bit of difficulty but flat out on the canvas for the count.

Since then, no matter how impressive Di Luisa has looked or how quickly he has gotten rid of his foes, there have always been those who’ve said, “Yes, but do you remember what Alì did to him?”

Now the moment has arrived in which he will either put the past to rest or the tendrils of seven years ago will reclaim him. He and Alì were named official co-challengers for the EU super middleweight title and they meet on Friday in Pontedera, the town between Pisa and Florence which Alì has called home since he came to Italy.

There is genuine bad blood between these two. Ali, despite amassing a 20-1-0 (11) record and his obvious talent, has somewhat lived off that spectacular win in the amateurs – it’s what made his name. His calm, smiling demeanour is often interpreted – rightly or wrongly – as arrogance and there is little doubt that he manages to get under Di Luisa’s skin. There have also been years of ill-feeling between Alì and Di Luisa’s promoter Rosanna Conti Cavani dating back to Alì’s time with Roman promoter Davide Buccioni, who has never minced his words about Conti Cavini. Things reached a peak in 2008 when Conti Cavini’s fighter Luca Tassi pulled out of a scheduled fight with Alì on the very day of the fight (citing stomach complaints – some in the opposing camp commented that the problem was more lack of stomach). The response on Buccioni’s website was memorable – a full page, like something out of The Shining, with the words “Disgrace, Liars,” repeated and repeated. Conti Cavini is based in Tuscany and has an almost fierce monopoly on that region’s fighters; having Alì, that smirking, talented minion of Buccioni’s living within her realm must have seemed like a constant affront.

Alì has since moved to Salvatore Cherchi’s OPI2000 outfit but the feeling is that there is still no love lost between him and the lady from Grosseto. Matters mustn’t have been helped two weeks ago when Alì contributed to the commentary on the Mthalane-Sarritzu match, together with stablemate and sparring partner Domenico Spada. It was Spada who let slip a negative comment about some of the fighters appearing on Conti Cavini bills. He later retracted his statement on air and apologised but it’s surely another little contribution to the web of acrimony surrounding Alì and Di Luisa. Let’s not forget also that Spada has remained bitter to this day about his loss to Di Luisa in the amateurs. He is convinced he was robbed. So with him helping Alì in his preparations we have the prospect of a sort of unholy alliance plotting to bring Di Luisa down.

Di Luisa for his part has harboured thoughts of revenge for a long time and in the build up has maintained his usual cool. In a recent in-house interview he was dismissive of Alì’s claims that he would "liquidate" him inside of five rounds. “He tells such good jokes he could have a future as a comedian,” was his response. He went on to say that he didn’t care where the fight was, even Alì’s garden would do fine, “or better still, in his living room considering the season.”

The fight is, if not considered exactly a lottery, one of those in which almost anything could happen. Both are athletically-built punchers with fast hands and nice technique. Di Luisa probably has the bigger one-punch power but there is also the feeling in some quarters that his chin is not as good as Alì’s. Both certainly have the power and the timing to be a threat at any time.

Di Luisa perhaps enters as the slight favourite due to the difference in momentum of the two fighters. In three years as a pro he has had twelve fights and there has been a sense of upward progression that is fairly rare in Italian boxing. In between keep-busy fights against weak foreign opposition he has faced a resilient veteran in Alessio Furlan, an ex-Italian title challenger in Roberto Cocco, undefeated domestic fighters in Alessio Rondelli and Giuseppe Brischetto, and, last time out, Argentine Ruben Acosta who broke his KO streak and might just have taught him some valuable experience. What we have seen from Di Luisa is that he is maybe the biggest puncher pound-for-pound in Italy. Cocco lasted just 41 seconds in their bout for the Italian super middle title, pulverised by two right hands. Say what you like about Cocco but no one had done that to him, not Mads Larsen and certainly not Alì himself who scraped home to a 10-round points win over the ex-kickboxer from Turin. Di Luisa has the air of an executioner when he goes about his work, impressing not just with his power and finishing instincts but also his very calm eye for a punch. When he’s composed he’s very dangerous indeed. What we don’t know yet is how he copes with a really live opponent.

Alì is more like a purring, powerful sports car which every now and then shows that it’s the king of the traffic light starters but beyond that has never really demonstrated what it’s really capable of. He’s fast, graceful, hurtful, and able to fight both prudently and aggressively. The problem is that he hasn’t had a significant fight in three years now. Since going to Denmark to fight Lolenga Mock (his only loss, and a controversial one at that) in 2008 he hasn’t had one fight in which he has not entered as the favourite. The common complaint about him in Italian boxing circles has been, ‘he’s good but he hasn’t done anything.’ Can he easily make the leap from three years of relatively comfortable fights to facing an unbeaten, rock-slinging man on an upward arc and intent on revenge?

A positive for Alì going into this fight is that his approach to the game has improved over the last couple of years. His woeful performance against Cocco – in which his timing, sharpness and conditioning were all at sea – can be attributed to the haphazard and stop-start manner of his training after the aborted Tassi fight. Now he fights out of Sardinia, training with Franco Cherchi and his buzzing gym. He can no longer complain of going into fights with no sparring. He should be in the best shape possible for this one.

As already noted, this is a fight in which no outcome would be surprising. Given the qualities of the two fighters and the ill will it should be fun. Maybe the safer money would go on Di Luisa – when one fighter is capable of anything but erratic, it is better to back the man who gives more sense of solidity and positive momentum. Still, I personally would not bet either way.

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