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14 NOVEMBER 2018


Leonard Bundu v Daniele Petrucci Preview

“These two fighters could have gone their own way and sought to remain undefeated. Instead we have two men at the absolute apex of their careers, both of them Italian, both of them with unblemished records, meeting for the European title.”
-Nino Benvenuti

“The only fight which could be comparable for it’s appeal and hype is Nino Benvenuti-Sandro Mazzinghi forty-six years ago. There have been fights such as Vincenzo Nardiello-Mauro Galvano or Michele Piccirillo-Alessandro Duran but this is the right fight made at the right time.”
-Alfredo Bruno, Italian boxing journalist

“This is a meaningful event for Italian boxing, not just because it’s a fight for the European title, but because of the extraordinary value it has in bringing back to everybody’s attention something which is fundamental to relaunching the popularity of boxing: the domestic rivalry.”
-Franco Falcinelli, President of the Italian Boxing Federation

By Peter Lerner: Expectations are almost at breaking point for the ‘Italian fight of the century’ this Saturday between Leonard Bundu and Daniele Petrucci in Rome. With so much riding on the fight let’s just hope that neither fighter picks up an injury on the way to the arena or that one of Rome’s rare but brutal torrential downpours doesn’t flood this outdoor event. When Secondsout posed such possibilities to promoter Davide Buccioni he looked as though he was about to choke.

Joking aside, no bigger fight can be made in Italy than this clash between unbeaten welterweights. It’s not so much about what each fighter could go on to – there is no premature talk of moving on to world titles or no future big name opponents being bandied about – but about the career-defining moment for these two fighters, two fighters who now have the chance to burst through the clouds and grab something that makes worthwhile those years of slogging away, beating decent opponents, and getting the job done time and time again only to have other fighters leapfrog them in the rankings or have their fight written up on page 30 of the national sports dailies – that’s page 30, behind the football, the amateur football, Francesco Totti’s swollen ankle, the Formula 1, the cycling, the basketball, the swimming and God-knows-what-else.

That and the fact that we really do have the two best fighters in the country, and two of the best in Europe, meeting head-to-head. Petrucci, who has home advantage, is 28-0-1 while Bundu is 24-0-1. The draws on their records are both technical ones caused by injury. Petrucci has beaten fighters such as Jose Luis Cruz, Neil Sinclair and Craig Watson, and has good form against unbeaten domestic rivals, having seen off Gianmario Grassellini and Cristian De Martinis (a southpaw like Bundu). Bundu, for his part, got his best win in 2009 when he travelled deep into enemy territory and outpointed 17-0-0 Frank Shabani in Berlin.

These two fighters – who get on well and are as personable in their own individual ways as can be (Bundu is more of a smiler, at ease in front of the cameras, while Petrucci can appear that bit more shy and uncomfortable in public) – have a shared history that goes all the way back to 1996.

In that year the national amateur finals, known as the Assoluti, were held in Rome. The 69kg final saw Leonard Bundu, a young streaking fighter originally from Sierra Leone, come up against the more experienced Cristian Sanavia. The win went to Sanavia but one of the spectators remained quite impressed by both fighters. Fifteen-year old Daniele Petrucci would spend his sparring sessions at San Basilio Boxe taking turns to play the role of his two new idols.

“I saw Bundu for the first time when they had the championships here in Rome. He lost to Sanavia. I liked both of them and I asked myself when would I reach that level. In the gym afterwards me and friends would take turns being them in sparring, saying ‘Today I’m Bundu and you’re Sanavia.’”

At that point, the end of 1996 and the start of 1997, Petrucci had been boxing for a year. He had already picked up his first trinkets, winning the regional phase of the Primi Pugni tournament and coming second in the national finals of the same tournament.

It was a good start. But while all this was going on, Bundu was already battle-hardened and experienced. When Petrucci got his first competitive experience, Bundu had already racked up a record of 22-6-1 and while Petrucci was winning novice titles, Bundu was marching to that final with Sanavia in the Italian senior championship. Sanavia turned pro not long after (and he was no joke as a pro, winning the European title at middleweight and super middle, and briefly holding one of the many mysterious incarnations of the WBC title), leaving Bundu as the default number one in Italy. February of 1997 saw him not only make his international debut but also establish himself as a member of the Italian national team. Of his next 25 fights, 24 were international contests. He won eighteen of them, fighting in France, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Pakistan.

And this is the way it stayed through the amateurs, with Bundu, the older of the two by six years, staying several steps ahead of Petrucci. While the younger man was a decent if not exceptional amateur, Bundu was top notch: a two-time Italian senior champion, bronze medal in the 1999 World Championships and a victory over home fighter Daniel Geale in the Sydney Olympics being the highlights of his unpaid career. The two finally crossed paths when Petrucci was called up to the national team in 2002. Both welterweights, it was only natural that they would spar together in those camps. Bundu remembers, “Back then you could see he was a good boxer but he was still a boy. I was much more experienced and mature. Now he’s a man and he’s come a long way as a boxer.”

As pros that trend has been reversed, with Petrucci always being that one step ahead of Bundu. He turned professional one year earlier, won the Italian title one year earlier and then won the EU title one year earlier. He has also perhaps garnered more attention. Being from the capital, having a promoter like Buccioni – with all his flair for generating publicity and putting on entertaining events – behind him, and having fought more internationally recognisable names than Bundu have given him a slightly higher profile.

Both have come through their careers unbeaten so far but it is perhaps Petrucci who has had a little more difficulty thus far. In his sixth fight he was put down heavily by Constantin Florescu. Five fights later he was shaken by the warlike Ukrainian Andrei Rimer. In his fight with Jose Luis Cruz he seemed to be affected by bodyshots midway through the fight. What is noticeable is that he hasn’t been in serious bother since those early learning fights against eastern European opposition, despite the increasing quality of his opponents.

Petrucci is a deceptive fighter. He’s flat-footed, certainly not one of those fighters who seems to walk on air, he doesn’t have many knockouts to his name (just ten), he’s not particularly fast and he often gives the impression of being a man used to fighting in trenches or tunnels – stooped, peering and cagey, often with a grimace or frown on his face. Yet he’s managed – through economical but shrewd footwork, a good eye and the ability to adapt to situations mid-fight – to nullify and beat every opponent (bar Antonio Lauri in that technical draw) he’s faced. And at times he’s beautiful to watch, blocking and slipping at close range before responding with perfectly-picked accurate counters. A converted southpaw, his left hand is a thudding weapon which, despite the low knockout ratio, can be hurtful as a hook to the body or head. Craig Watson told this reporter after his third round stoppage loss to Petrucci that he had “never been hit like that before,” while Domingos Monteiro was doubled over in pain in the dressing rooms after his fight with Petrucci, the punishment he had taken to the body reducing him to a crablike walk.

Bundu, of a similar tightly-bunched build to Petrucci, is perhaps more immediately eye-catching. He’s a switch-hitter with very fast hands (but more of an Andre Ward chin-tucked-in aggressive type of switcher rather than a Junior Witter) who usually imposes a high rhythm on the fight but is also capable of boxing in a more flashy way off the back foot, though he seems to have more of a taste for rumbling. He usually tries to stay close to his opponent, taking little steps half steps backwards and forwards to put the heat on, throwing fast hooks and straight punches from either hand. It’s a style which has him always in position to throw punches and asks questions of his opponent but leaves him little margin for error. He too is not considered a seriously big puncher.

How will the fight pan out? Secondsout asked a group of experts on the Italian game and they had great difficulty picking between the two fighters.

A very strong argument can be made for Bundu. If he decides to box, it could be that his speed of hand and foot, combined with the relatively slow footspeed of Petrucci, could allow him to score points and stay out of harm’s way. It must also be considered that Petrucci, for all his ability in working out opponents and finding a solution, has never really had to face such tactics. The vast majority of his foes have been aggressive or have tended to hold ring centre. He has always polished off flighty journeymen, showing a surprising and sudden spring in his step, but it would be a different task to do so against Bundu. Another possible factor in Bundu’s favour could be that Petrucci has never shown those sparkling aspects of his boxing throughout a full ten or twelve-round fight. There have always been moments in which he has slowed the pace or allowed his adversary – even just momentarily – to gain momentum. This happened in his fights with Ronny McField (admittedly upgraded from a six round fight to a twelve round one at the last minute after the Italian light welterweight title fight topping the bill fell through), Sinclair, Cruz and Jorge Miranda. His trainer Carlo Maggi has often stated that he wishes Petrucci could finish his fights as he starts them. Whether this is an issue of concentration, mentally taking a break or conditioning is unclear but it could lead to problems against an aggressive fight from the very single-minded Bundu.

However I believe that Petrucci should be considered a slight favourite. Not because of the age factor (Bundu is 36 compared to Petrucci’s 30), which Petrucci rightly says, “is a load of crap,” but because his watchful, fast-twitch response style of finding holes and calmly countering when his opponent attacks could well be the way to derail Bundu’s typical fast pace. If Petrucci can successfully halt his advance, he might be able to start dictating the fight. The big factor in his favour is surely the fact that he is fighting at home. At least 5000 fans are expected to turn out for the fight at the centre court of the Foro Italico (where the Italian tennis open is held), the vast majority of whom will be urging Petrucci on and cheering his every punch, whether they land or not. Despite Bundu’s opinion that “it’s not all that easy fighting at home, with all that responsibility – I, on the other hand, have nothing to lose,” Petrucci seems to get a lift from his passionate support in moments of difficulty. At times it is almost like a compass that helps him get back on course. Rene Cordier, the trainer of Monteiro, noted that the crowd “is like an extra man in the ring with him.” We must not underestimate the effect a large pro-Petrucci crowd could potentially have on the scoring. It is not unfeasible that the fast, short and light punches of Bundu are overshadowed by the more spectacular single punches of Petrucci, which will surely be accompanied by a huge wall of noise. In a fight as hard to pick as this one, that could well be the difference.

Whatever the outcome, the hope is that cuts do not play a part. Both have a tendency to cut and with the southpaw-orthodox clash we could see the heads coming together quite often.

The beauty of this fight is that nobody has any sort of certainty about which way it will go. As Bundu himself says, “We’ve both got the chance to win the title and it’s the most important match of our lives. But, I have to say, I’m just as curious as everybody else to see how it goes.”

June 23, 2011

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