2016 was a strange rollercoaster year for Italian boxing, mixing moments of stunning success with some typical troughs of underachievement and disappointment. The start of the year promised much, with three Italian fighters due to contest world titles in the first half of the year (Giovanni De Carolis, Michele Di Rocco and Emiliano Marsili) and the promise of a long-awaited all-Italian European title fight between Gianluca Branco and Leonard Bundu. Then there were the upcoming Olympics – international amateur competition being a stage on which Italians had shone in recent years. Italy would be sending seven fighters, including previous medallists Clemente Russo and Vincenzo Mangiacapre.
January got off to a bang with De Carolis dramatically stopping Vincent Feigenbutz in Germany for the WBA super middleweight title. He became the first Italian world champion since Giacobbe Fragomeni in 2009. That win augured well for Di Rocco and Marsili, who, despite having more illustrious opponents than Feigenbutz lined up, were generally considered to be two of the three (together with Leonard Bundu) best fighters in Italy.
Unfortunately, things went steeply downhill. Crowd trouble, a recurring bane of Italian boxing, erupted at fights in Rome and Livorno. Branco, not to the surprise of many, pulled out of his eagerly-anticipated fight with Bundu in April. The veteran from Florence duly beat substitute Jussi Koivula to reclaim the European welterweight title he had vacated two years earlier but there was a palpable sense of disappointment with the late change of opponent. Furthermore, that very night news spread around ringside that down in Rome light heavyweight Mirco Ricci had been arrested, accused of kidnapping a 9-year-old boy in a dispute over drug money. A month later Di Rocco was hugely disappointing in what was seen as a tough but winnable fight against Ricky Burns. Then Marsili pulled out with stomach issues at relatively late notice from his vacant WBC lightweight title fight with Dejan Zlaticanin. In August the Italian team failed to make any impression in Rio, their worst showing in twenty years. Then Bundu, much-loved by the Italian fight fraternity, suffered a scary knockout at the hands of Errol Spence.
Yet despite all this, the year had its share of positive moments. Although he subsequently lost the title, De Carolis’s world title success and drawn first defence infused the year with a sense of optimism. Here was a fighter – long-considered the average nice guy amongst more vaunted domestic names such as Domenico Spada, Emanuele Della Rosa, Mouhamed Ali Ndiaye or Andrea Di Luisa – who had arrived at the summit through persistence, subtle yet steady improvement and self-belief. The quiet man, the sparring partner, the earnest trier who sometimes seemed to get dragged into the wrong sort of fight had suddenly sent an immensely encouraging message to a boxing nation lacking in self-belief.
Italy also finished the year with a European champion in Emanuele Blandamura and, even more impressively, a women’s World gold medallist in Alessia Mesiano. The prodigiously talented Irma Testa burst onto the national consciousness and several magazine covers when she qualified for Rio. There was no disgrace in the then-18-year-old losing in her second bout to eventual gold medallist Estelle Mossely and expectations are high for this former Youth European and Youth World gold medallist.
Boxing News sought out five of Italy’s leading boxing journalists for their picks of 2016. Offering their opinions were Alfredo Bruno editor of Boxering magazine and veteran chronicler of the Italian fight game; Stefano Fantogini, who runs the Boxenet website; Giuliano ‘Rocky’ Orlando, long-time contributor to the Gazzetta dello Sport; Dario Torromeo, who as well as being a respected journalist is also the author of numerous books on boxing; and Mario Viggiani of the Corriere dello Sport.
Fighter of the year
Alfredo Bruno: Without a doubt, Giovanni De Carolis. He had three super middleweight world title fights (the win against Feigenbutz, a draw and a loss in defences against Tyron Zeuge), all on German soil. Despite losing the last of the three fights, there’s reason to hope that he’ll get another chance next year.
Stefano Fantogini: Definitely Giovanni De Carolis. By winning the WBA title last January, the Roman fighter was able to bring Italian boxing – long ignored by the media – to the attention of the public. Newspapers and television gave his two subsequent title defences in Germany (in July and November) a level of attention that no Italian boxer had received in years. His clean image and humble, positive personality can only be good for boxing in Italy.
Giuliano Orlando: Giovanni De Carolis. He won the WBA super middleweight title in Germany on 9th January, beating local fighter Vincent Feigenbutz, then he drew with Tyron Zuege in July before losing the title to him in November in Potsdam. I’d also like to mention a couple of outstanding achievements in the women’s game. Irma Testa qualified for the Rio Olympics at just 18 years of age, while 24-year-old Alessia Mesiano won the 57kg gold at the Worlds in Astana.
Dario Torromeo: Giovanni De Carolis. Not only did he win Italy’s first world title in seven years, he did it abroad and by stoppage.
Mario Viggiani: Giovanni De Carolis. He became world champion in an important division for an important sanctioning body.
Boxing News: Honourable mentions: Alessia Mesiano’s gold medal at the World Championships, sandwiched between Irma Testa’s victory in the Rio qualifying tournament and the Olympics themselves, did not perhaps get the attention it deserved yet in boxing terms it was almost up there with De Carolis’s success in Germany as the highlight of the year. Though not at that level, another noteworthy amateur success was Nicola Cordella’s gold medal in the European Youth Championships. Amongst the pros, Emanuele Blandamura deserves credit for winning the European middleweight title at the third attempt while Nicola Cipoletta, Mario Alfano and Valerio Ranaldi all had solid domestic years. Carmine Tommasone also had a year to remember. The 32-year-old became the first professional boxer to fight in the Olympics, thus realising a dream he thought had been dashed when he narrowly failed to qualify in 2008 back in his amateur days. He even had time to squeeze in a professional fight for a minor intercontinental bauble before the year was out, taking him to 16-0.
Fight of the year
Alfredo Bruno: The best fight of the year – and almost unanimously acclaimed as such – was the Italian title fight between Luca Rigoldi and Iuliano Gallo for the Italian super bantamweight title.
Stefano Fantogini: Rigoldi’s split decision win over Gallo, which came right at the end of the year on the Emiliano Marsili-Aristedes Perez undercard. It was a non-stop battle between two young athletes who possess not only great heart and lungs but are also well-versed in different tactical and technical aspects of boxing. Hats off also to their respective trainers, two long-standing figures in Italian boxing: Gino Freo and Augusto Lauri (father of fighters Giuseppe – a familiar face to British fight fans – and Antonio).
Giuliano Orlando: The match-up between Luca Rigoldi and Iuliano Gallo for the vacant Italian super bantamweight title. Ten thrilling and closely-contested rounds fought at a very fast pace and lapped up by the spectators. It’s worth also mentioning the vacant European middleweight title fight between Emanuele Blandamura and Matteo Signani. The former just edged the fight after fighting for 10 rounds with various cuts (Blandamura eventually required eighteen stitches for four cuts). It was an intense fight that swung back forth before Blandamura managed to finish slightly the better.
Dario Torromeo: Luca Rigoldi’s split decision win over Iuliano Gallo for the Italian super bantam title. An intense non-stop battle between two young southpaws (23 and 24 years old respectively) but also a display of good technical boxing.
Mario Viggiani: The EU title fight between Serhiy Demchenko and Mirko Ricci (a light heavyweight fight that saw the ponderous but heavy-handed Demchenko gradually catch up with the favoured Ricci before stopping him in the tenth round).
Boxing News: The Rigoldi-Gallo fight stood out by a long way in a relatively disappointing year in terms of crowd-pleasing fights. A week before Christmas Nicola Cipoletta and Suat Laze blended well in an entertaining and sometimes spiteful clash that pitted a long-armed lanky switch-hitter against a stumpy hook-happy brawler. The two Italian light welterweight title fights between Luciano Randazzo and Renato De Donato – the first a draw, the second won by Randazzo – were both close, pleasing affairs.
Prospect of the year
Alfredo Bruno: It’s undoubtedly Fabio Turchi, who just recently ‘liquidated’ Maurizio Lovaglio in 6 rounds for the Italian cruiserweight title. He’s undefeated after nine fights as a pro and still has a vast amount of potential to be realised. The same bill featured Mohammed Obbadi, the EU flyweight champion. The undefeated Obbadi has 11 wins and could one day replicate the deeds of illustrious flyweights of the past such as Salvatore Burruni and Fernando Atzori.
Stefano Fantogini: I would have chosen Fabio Turchi even before his recent Italian cruiserweight title win. In little more than a year as a professional he’s amassed a record of 9-0 with seven wins inside the distance. The 23-year old native of Florence is from the same camp as Leonard Bundu and he’s the only young talent in Italy on whom you would currently bet on making it at international level. It’s no coincidence that Turchi is the only top Italian amateur to hand in the vest at a young age – after his hopes of competing in the Olympics were blocked, deservedly or not, by the presence of Clemente Russo in his weight class.
Giuliano Orlando: The flyweight Mohammed Obbadi, who recently claimed the EU title with a victory over Silvio Olteanu, the ex-European champion; and Fabio Turchi.
Dario Torromeo: Fabio Turchi, the Italian cruiserweight champion. 23 years old, southpaw, 9-0 with 7 wins inside the distance. He’s got a big following in Tuscany and he’s got a crowd-pleasing style.
Mario Viggiani: Vittorio Parrinello (a 9-0 featherweight and four-time national senior champion as an amateur) deserves to be applauded for having left the amateur ranks. Fabio Turchi also stands out.
Boxing News: Parrinello, like Turchi, is a rare case of an established member of the Italian national amateur squad deciding to turn pro. The majority of fighters on the national team are representatives of the military or the police. They are effectively salaried athletes with a prospective career once they have retired from the sport. They rarely turn professional – a notable example is Roberto Cammarelle – as they are more likely to fight more frequently, and for better reward, by staying amateur.
Turchi and Obbadi are two fighters with the potential to reach European level and perhaps beyond. Turchi is an imposing, beefy southpaw with good amateur credentials – with a 108-9 record as an amateur and in the World Series, he won a World Youth bronze, a Youth Olympics silver, and two senior national titles. Obbadi has caught the eye with his precocious poise and precision. A level below them are a promising group who will be looking to break through to national level or further in the coming year: ex-senior national amateur champions Dario Morello (an 8-0 welterweight), Luca Capuano (three-time national senior champion and 4-0 as a pro super middle) and Adriano Sperandio (6-0); Michael Magnesi, a busy 9-0 super featherweight; Davide Festosi, a lightweight who is also 9-0; light middleweight Mirko Geografo, talented but bedevilled by injuries; and 14-0 Romanian Catalin Paraschiveanu. Two of the more intriguing prospects are 9-0 light heavyweight Daniele Scardina and 8-0 Ukrainian welterweight Maxim Prodan. Both have perfect knockout records but against very limited opposition so far – it will be interesting to see how hard they are pushed in 2017.
Trainer of the year
Alfredo Bruno: There are lots of good trainers in Italy at the moment, each with their own methods and characteristics. It’s not easy to choose just one but a name that comes spontaneously is that of Domenico Brillantino of the Excelsior gym for his excellence and experience.
Boxing News: Bruno’s choice of Brillantino highlights the achievement of a trainer could quite feasibly be nominated for this award most years. His Excelsior gym is located in the extraordinary town of Marcianise, near Caserta. This town of 40,000 inhabitants has consistently produced exceptional amateurs, predominantly through Excelsior but also through the Medaglia d’Oro gym. To cite the most famous example of Marcianise’s productivity: three fighters – Clemente Russo, Domenico Valentino and Vincenzo Mangiacapre – on the London 2012 Olympic team hailed from Marcianise, with Russo and Mangiacapre having come through Excelsior. This year Excelsior’s Paolo Di Lernia won the 64kg in the senior national championships, while Raffaele Di Serio and Francesco Maietta were two other Brillantino fighters (though now representing the military rather than Excelsior) to win the 2016 championships.
Stefano Fantogini: If it’s true that the success of a boxer is due in part to his trainer, then it’s only fair to choose Italo Mattioli, the cornerman of De Carolis, as trainer of the year, with plaudits also going to other members of the team such as Luigi Ascani and Paolo Moresi. De Carolis and his trainers at the Roma XI gym have had a close bond from the moment he first put on gloves right through his amateur and professional career. An honourable mention to Eugenio Agnuzzi, who this year has been almost ubiquitous on the Italian scene with a European title win with Blandamura, a tight loss for the Italian title with Alessandro Sinacore, a national amateur final with Sebastian Mendizabal, and a series of encouraging victories with the prospect Michael Magnesi.
Giuliano Orlando: Two who stand out are Franco Cherchi in Milan, who’s trained champions such as Michele Di Rocco, Emiliano Marsili, Luca Giacon, Andrea Scarpa and many others; and Eugenio Agnuzzi in Rome – an excellent trainer of amateurs as well as pros.
Dario Torromeo: Alessandro Boncinelli. He trains Leonard Bundu, who reclaimed the European welterweight title in April and, despite the dramatic knockout, put up a good effort against Errol Spence in August. He also trains Mohammed Obbadi, 12-0 (9), who won the EU flyweight title against Silvio Olteanu in November. He’s a promising fighter well worth keeping an eye on. Boncinelli is an old school trainer who is very good on technique and always able to create an excellent bond with his fighters.
Mario Viggiani: Alessandro Boncinelli. Not only has he done well to preserve a veteran such as Leonard Bundu, at the same time he’s bringing along Turchi and Obbadi nicely.
Foreign fighter of the year
Stefano Fantogini: Unfortunately, our fighters have, more than ever before, had to go on the road to get the fights that count, going to Germany, the United Kingdom, or even the United States. As a result there were no outstanding foreign fighters to mention this year.
Dario Torromeo: Timo Schwarzkopf and Franz Rill, winners over Gianluca Frezza and Salvatore Erittu respectively.
Mario Viggiani: I would say Sergey Demchenko, even if really he is a naturalised Italian. Unfortunately, our fighters are increasingly forced to go abroad for the fights and titles that count, so it’s becoming rare to see top foreign fighters come over here.
Boxing News: Previous years had seen world class fighters like Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Adrian Hernandez, Moruti Mthalane and Michel Soro come to Italian shores. There have been plenty of solid European fighters too – such as Colin Lynes or Krzysztof Bienias – and almost every year seems to feature a Karim Chakim or Felix Lora who comes over and springs a brutal upset. 2016 unfortunately was the poorest year in a while in this respect.
Disappointment of the year
Alfredo Bruno: Luca Podda, a super middleweight of whom many had high hopes. He hasn’t had the best of years with two defeats in two fights (Podda, an exhilarating and explosive amateur, seems to have lost the verve and confidence that distinguished him in the unpaid ranks. He closed this year with a nasty stoppage loss to unheralded Josip Duric).
Stefano Fantogini: The Italian campaign in Rio. In reality a negative result was foreseeable, the Olympics coming as they did as an unusually talented crop of boxers came to the end of its cycle, and without an emerging generation coming through to take their places. However, the manner of the defeats and the fallout that ensued were worse than expected.
Amongst the professionals the name of Michele Di Rocco springs to mind. The talented fighter from Umbria had long been considered one of the best fighters in Italy, so the nation’s boxing community was shocked by his disastrous trip to Scotland in which we saw a Di Rocco who was listless, sluggish and unable to respond to the occasion. He’s recently joined Davide Buccioni’s BBT stable of fighters. The hope is that he will find a way to get back on the right track.
Giuliano Orlando: Andrea Scarpa. After impressively stopping John Wayne Hibbert in London to win the WBC Silver title, he returned to the English capital in November only to lose every round and get dominated by Ohara Davies.
Dario Torromeo: Michele Di Rocco. He got stopped in the eighth round by Ricky Burns for the WBA light welterweight title. He lost inside the distance but most disappointing of all was that he never managed to get into the fight.
Mario Viggiani: Andrea Scarpa. He won the WBC Silver title with a splendid performance, but showed his inconsistency in the manner of his defeat in his defence against Davies.
Boxing News: Recurring crowd problems are a frequent blight on the Italian game. Amateur star and arguably the most famous boxer in Italy, Clemente Russo lost plenty of fans this year: an underwhelming Olympics was immediately followed by a live tirade in which he claimed he would challenge ex-amateur foe Deontay Wilder on his pro debut, then he got kicked off the Italian Celebrity Big Brother for comments that condoned violence against women.
Fights you would like to see in 2017
Alfredo Bruno: I would like to see Emiliano Marsili finally get a deserved shot at a world lightweight title and Blandamura consolidate his position in the middleweights. There are many fighters who I’d like to see in with quality opponents: the aforementioned Obbadi and Turchi, Michele Di Rocco, Valerio Ranaldi, Felice Moncelli, Mario Alfano, Manuel Lancia just to name a few of the better-known. Then there’s a promising group of youngsters ready to step up if given the chance.
Stefano Fantogini: We need a big event in Italy. At the moment we need to favour quality over quantity. Emiliano Marsili could be the man for the occasion but at 40 years old time is running out for the unbeaten lightweight. 2017 has to be the year in which the fighter from Civitavecchia challenges for a real world title. We don’t know what his promoter Mario Loreni is working on behind the scenes but the biggest possible fight in Italy in 2017 would be Marsili against Jorge Linares.
Giuliano Orlando: I’d like to see De Carolis get another shot at the world title, a European title fight for Michele Di Rocco and a world title fight for Emiliano Marsili. I’d also like to see Turchi and Obbadi take the next step, for the EU and European titles respectively.
Dario Torromeo: I’d like to see Luca Giacon against Andrea Scarpa at light welter, a rematch between Orlando Fiordigiglio and Cedric Vitu for the European light middleweight title, Fabio Turchi vs Mirko Larghetti for the Italian cruiserweight title, and a rematch for De Carolis against Zeuge for the WBA super middleweight title.
Mario Viggiani: Finally a world title fight at home for one of our fighters.
Boxing News: As well as the aforementioned fights, hopefully 2017 will see the classy and dangerous Luca Giacon (28-1, 24 KOs) overcome his injury problems and return to the ring. It will be interesting to see how decorated amateur Domenico Valentino adapts to the pro game. A Rigoldi-Gallo rematch would be welcome and a guaranteed quality fight.