Boxing Odds and Ends: A Bountiful June and a Cult Fighter Returns from Prison


By Arne K. Lang

The month of June brought us a Big Bang in Saudi Arabia and wraps up in Arizona on the final weekend of the month when Juan Francisco Estrada collides with Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez in a super flyweight title fight that has the earmarks of a classic.

Mexico’s Estrada, considered a surefire future Hall of Famer after twice defeating Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, ranks higher than Rodriguez on pound-for-pound lists but is yet chalked the underdog. Ten years older than “Bam” at age 34, “El Gallo” has put a lot of mileage on his odometer since turning pro at age 18, answering the bell for 322 rounds. San Antonio’s Rodriguez has turned heads while building a 19-0 record and is favored in the 7/2 range.

This coming Friday, June 7, fight fans get to choose between cards going head-to-head in South Florida and Upstate New York.

The card in New York at the Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, is run in conjunction with Hall of Fame Weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum, an annual event on the first weekend of June. The main event is a battle of southpaws between Puerto Rico’s Oscar Collazo and Gerardo Zapata, a Miami-based Nicaraguan making his U.S. debut. Collazo will be making the third defense of his WBA minimumweight title.

Don King’s card that same night at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, has 12 bouts listed. Some of these fights will likely be scratched, but hopefully not the featured bout between Blair Cobbs and Adrien Broner as it is an interesting match-up between two 34-year-old boxers looking to stay relevant. Cobbs will tell you in all seriousness that he is a budding superstar. Broner figured that he would make billions before he left the sport, not that it mattered as he would have squandered it all away,

The following night, Top Rank is back in New York in its customary Puerto Rican Day Parade Weekend slot. Xander Zayas, who signed with Top Rank when he was a junior in high school, is now 21 years old and ready to take his place as the next great Puerto Rican fighter, following in the footsteps of Felix Trinidad and his hero Miguel Cotto. Standing in Xander's way is Patrick Teixeira, a 33-year-old Brazilian who is the only man to defeat reigning WBC middleweight champion Carlos Adames.

Speaking of Adames, he defends his belt on Saturday, June 15, at the MGM Grand with Terrell Gausha in the opposite corner. Gervonta “Tank” Davis headlines in a WBO world lightweight title defense against Frank Martin.

June 15 will be a tripleheader for diehard fight fans with the action beginning at a soccer stadium in London where once-beaten Chris Billam-Smith defends his WBO world cruiserweight title against British countryman Richard Riakporhe. Billam-Smith won his title in his hometown of Bournemouth, turning away Lawrence Okolie in a very big upset, and will find himself the underdog again when he touches gloves with the unbeaten Riakporhe.

The action then shifts to Manati, Puerto Rico, where IBF 140-pound world title-holder Subriel Matias (20-1) meets the undefeated (24-0) Aussie Liam Paro. Matias scored all 20 of his wins by knockout while avenging his lone defeat. Paro looked very sharp while dismantling Montana Love on the undercard of Haney-Prograis in San Francisco.

Fight Fans get a breather the following weekend. As it now stands, the only noteworthy fight on the May 22 docket is a battle for the British middleweight title between Felix Cash and Tyler Denny. The venue is Resorts World in Birmingham and it is Matchroom/DAZN production.

The following Saturday, the compelling showdown in Phoenix between Estrada and Rodriguez isn’t all that there is. Top Rank is in Miami Beach that night where Teofimo Lopez defends his WBO 140-pound world title against Canada’s Steve Claggett.

This match has been ridiculed on social media and, indeed, Teofimo will be a heavy favorite. However, Claggett is certainly deserving of a title shot. At age 34, he’s in excellent form, having won nine straight, and he’s only been stopped once in 47 fights, that coming early in his career. Teofimo blows hot and cold and if he has another off-night, Claggett can make it warm for him. In an undercard match of note, Nico Ali Walsh will attempt to avenge his lone defeat in an 8-rounder with Detroit's rugged Sona Akale.


Avtandil Khurtsidze, Out of Prison and Back in the Ring at age 45


Seven years ago this month, Avtandil Khurtsidze was making plans to fly to England to challenge WBO world middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. The match was sealed for July 8, 2017 at London’s Copper Box Arena.

Khurtsidze never made it. On June 7, with the fight 31 days away, he was swept up in an FBI dragnet that netted 22 other alleged members of a Russian crime syndicate. They were charged with violating the RICO Act, a wide-ranging statute created to give law enforcement a more effective tool for fighting organized crime.

Khurtsidze, who came to the United States in 2014 from the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, then resided in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, a stronghold of the Russian Mafia. Among many other things, the Brighton Beach mob was accused of gaffing slot machines in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania casinos and of stealing cargo shipments from overseas, one of which contained more than a 10,000 pounds of chocolate. Khurtsidze purportedly worked as an enforcer for Razhden Shulaya, one of the ringleaders of the operation.

The boxer faced 20 years in prison, but was sentenced to 10. Released on parole last summer, he went back in the gym and this past Friday (May 31) he returned to the ring in a 6-round prelim at a club show staged by a Polish promoter in the New York borough of Queens at the Melrose Ballroom in Astoria.

Khurtsidze was matched against an Argentine fighter who was 11-15-2 heading in and had been stopped eight times. Khurtsidze, who carried 171 ½ pounds, knocked him to the canvas twice before the match was halted after only 140 seconds of the opening round. That bumped Khurtsidze’s record to 34-2-2 (27 KOs).

Khurtsidze attracted a cult following in his first nationally televised fight in March of 2016 when he massacred highly-touted Antoine Douglas at a show in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with TSS writer Bernard Fernandez looking on. “He is squatty as a fire hydrant and his fighting style is…well, let’s just say inelegant,” wrote Fernandez in his award-winning ringside report. Standing only five-foot-four and with a menacing scowl, Khurtsidze took the fight on less than three weeks’ notice and was virtually unknown to American fight fans.

For an encore, he went over to England and scored a fifth-round stoppage of previously undefeated Tommy Langford, earning him a shot at the WBO world title, an opportunity that evaporated when the feds came calling. He was on a 10-fight winning streak and had won twenty-six of his last twenty-seven when his career was interrupted.

I never in my life thought I would ever say that I would welcome the return of a 45-year-old man to the prize ring, but I’ll make a one-time exception for this guy, a “mini-Tyson” as he came to be called. And, for certain, I wouldn’t want to run into him, or anyone that looked like him, in a dark alley.
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Wow, no “gaffing” was necessary when I hit a slot machine in Boston for an 11 thousand dollar jackpot recently! They’re in no rush to pay ya tho lol 💵
All the news that is fit to print, that is "news" that is fit to print not money that is fit to print or you will find yourself in a place like our friend Kurtzs sounds like the guy from Appocylypts now .....................Exterminate with extreme prejudice.....hmmmmmmmm