SATURDAY night saw a memorable night of high drama in Rome that featured an electrifying last round stoppage and a couple of upsets.
The three-fight card put on by Roundzero at the PalaVespucci was headlined by an Italian super middleweight title rematch between holder Valerio Ranaldi and southpaw Alessandro Sinacore. These two local rivals had met last summer, with Ranaldi taking a close points victory and retaining his title for the second time. That clash had been one of the best Italian fights of 2016.
The rematch was defined by the same searing intensity, both men knowing that victory could mean possible future promotion to international and maybe European level while the loser would have to re-evaluate any ambitions beyond the domestic scene.
The tactical pattern of the fight was set from early on in the fight. After an aggressive first round Sinacore sought to circle, usually counter-clockwise, and not present the champion with a static target. He would briefly stop, fire off a flurry, and then be on the move again. Ranaldi, the more accurate and cleaner puncher of the two, played the role of the stalker.
There were spells – such as a near perfect fifth round – in which Sinacore was able to flummox Ranaldi. He would throw a quick combination then spirit around him in a tight turn before attacking again, or he would step into him, initiating a clinch, or scamper away out of range. In those moments the frustration was palpable on Ranaldi’s face.
Ranaldi’s best work came when he was able to close the range and drag his opponent into exchanges. Despite Sinacore always responding furiously on those occasions, he looked at risk of being chewed up by Ranaldi’s volleys – especially effective for the champion were the left hook to the body and the right uppercut.
Several of the rounds were close, with Ranaldi throwing and landing fewer punches but doing the better quality work, while Sinacore was busier but more wasteful. Going into the tenth and final round, opinion at ringside was divided as to who had been more successful in imposing their will and tactics on the fight. Boxing News had Sinacore just about leading while others had Ranaldi ahead.
All conjecture was made irrelevant by a sustained last-ditch assault by Ranaldi. He hurt Sinacore early in the round, despite losing his own gumshield in the exchange. Sinacore was suddenly on shaky legs, tired and adrift with over two minutes of the round left to go. Every punch seemed to have him on the brink of collapse until a cracking Ranaldi uppercut rocked him again and caused referee Antonello Paolucci to wave it off. Ranaldi had been ahead by two points on all three scorecards going into the tenth.
Eugenio Agnuzzi, Sinacore’s trainer, talked Boxing News through that final round from his perspective.
“Alessandro came back to the corner at the end of the eighth round very tired. He’d put in so much effort,” explained Agnuzzi. “Going into the tenth I thought the fight was close on the scorecards but I wasn’t confident that we were winning. Seeing that Alessandro was so tired, I asked him to go out and contain Ranaldi for the first couple of minutes and then try and win the last minute of the round emphatically. However, Ranaldi came out with that very good surprise attack. His punches weren’t heavy but they were very accurate. The referee’s stoppage was very well-timed.”
Looking back at the powerful finish, Ranaldi stressed how he too had noticed Sinacore was badly tiring.
“I think he made a mistake in the way he started the match. He came out throwing huge punches like he wanted to split open a mountain. He was consuming a lot of energy. I’m different, more like a diesel engine – I start slowly then increase the rhythm. From about the sixth or seventh I could see he was getting more tired. His hands were dropping, he was breathing hard and he was trying to clinch more. I told my corner after the eighth that I was going to up the pace.”
These two fighters have shared a lot of ringtime together – at least 35-40 rounds of sparring in the past as well as the two title fights – but now their paths will diverge. Ranaldi, now 13-1 (7) can start to look beyond the Italian title. He is a fighter who has shown consistent and impressive improvement since his early amateur days. Hopefully we will now see if he can continue that progress against tough foreign opposition.
Sinacore on the other hand drops to 13-3 (5) and there will be question marks about where he goes from here. As Agnuzzi pointed out, there can be no doubts however about his courage and effort:
“At times he carried out our plan well – such as in the fifth round – but he didn’t manage to implement it for the whole fight. I can’t fault his effort though – it was an extremely proud and brave performance, especially the way he fought back after getting hurt.”
The undercard action was equally dramatic. Both six-round supporting bouts saw the underdog, the fall guy, turn the tables and upset the house fighter.
Neapolitan light middleweight Diego Di Luisa suffered his first defeat and dropped to 6-1 (4) after failing to find a way to decipher upset-specialist Alex Marongiu.
Di Luisa, younger brother of super middle Andrea (who has fought Lucian Bute and George Groves), had some of the better credentials amongst Italy’s current batch of prospects. He was a two-time national amateur champion and had for years been part of the Italian national team. He also fights out of Mario Massai’s gym in Civitavecchia, one of the busiest pro stables in the country.
None of that pedigree mattered to Marongiu. The man from the hill country southeast of Rome can seem primitive at first glance: strong, thick-set, and throughout his career he’s seemed almost disgusted by the idea of throwing a straight punch – he always prefers the wide, high road. But Marongiu is a tough and canny operator. Knowing that he lacked the speed or fluidity to successfully employ an attacking strategy against an ex-crack amateur like Di Luisa, he opted to let his opponent make the first move and then throw dangerous counters.
There were moments in which Di Luisa was able to beat Marongiu for speed – landing a rapid one-two or straight punch and skipping away before the counter came whistling round – but for long stretches he was wary of getting a clumping hook back in return. Instead of perhaps using more feints and drawing Marongiu into mistakes or swamping him with workrate, Di Luisa became too hesitant, too thoughtful about throwing the perfect lead. At that slow pace the heavy Marongiu counters were often the more eye-catching punches.
The judges each had Marongiu winning 58-56, while Boxing News saw one round differently and scored it a draw. Despite Marongiu’s poor-looking record of 5-7-0 (with four of those losses coming inside the distance), Di Luisa should take heart that he lost to an underrated and improving opponent. Just twenty-two years old, Marongiu has been put in tough right from the start. The combined record of his opponents to date reads 74-13-4. His prior fight saw him beat 28-6 Stefano Castellucci, a former European title challenger at welterweight. There is a case to be made that Marongiu has improved more through this tough apprenticeship than more-touted unbeaten Italian prospects have in compiling good-looking wins against opponents with losing records.
In the other fight on the bill Roman cruiserweight prospect Mattia Faraoni dramatically came apart at the seems against Yassine Habachi, a blown-up Moroccan light heavyweight based in Italy.
Faraoni was 4-0 (2) going in but had already shown some worrying traits in his previous fights. His obvious technical ability has been at times undermined by suspicions of workrate and stamina problems, as well as a general sense of looseness about his technique and defence – again perhaps a consequence of the stamina issue.
Despite being 4-7-1 (2) going in and being on a six-fight losing streak, Habachi is known in Italy as a rough and ready fighter who likes to get stuck in. It was apparent from the first two rounds that his busy pace and willingness to exchange were going to create difficulty for Faraoni.
Going into the fifth round Faraoni’s work was becoming sloppier and more sporadic. Habachi capitalised by shaking him early in the round and then flooring him with a great Tyson-esque short right. Faraoni somehow made it up at five – a testament to his innate toughness – but the referee wisely waved it off. With more than a round left and the Roman fighter’s defence being compromised by his tiredness, it was a timely and compassionate intervention.
During the evening the sad news arrived of a brain injury suffered by a fighter competing in a national female amateur tournament in Chieti. Francesca Moro, 26 years old and in her fifteenth fight, collapsed after losing on points in her bout on Saturday. She was taken to hospital where she underwent a draining operation after being diagnosed with a subdural haematoma. At the time of writing she was in a coma. The Italian boxing community and Boxing News hope that she makes a full recovery.