Italian boxing action: Michele Di Rocco returns

michele di rocco

Action Images/Lee Smith

On Saturday night in Rome Luciano ‘Bazooka’ Abis became the latest fighter to discover that rust never sleeps. Having just his second fight in four years, the Sardinian boxer-puncher was often out of range and out of time against Vincenzo Bevilacqua for the vacant Italian super-welterweight title.

Not only was Bevilacqua younger by fourteen years and quicker, he was, crucially, the much more active fighter going in. In contrast to his opponent’s recent long stretches away from the ring, this was the Roman’s eleventh fight in two years.

The difference in timing and decision-making was manifest from the very first round. Abis, clearly tense and loading up on his punches, seemed to either be too eager or too hesitant but rarely relaxed enough to let his work flow. That played right into the hands of Bevilacqua, a hawk-eyed counterpuncher who exploits such shortcomings with poise and precision.

Boxing News had Bevilacqua sweeping the first five rounds of this ten-round fight, including a 10-8 round in the fourth when a frustrated Abis was penalised for rabbit-punching. Abis was unable to get untracked throughout those rounds. Neglecting the jab only exacerbated his difficulty in finding the right distance and timing for his punches. To make matters worse, he was cut over the left eye from a headclash in the third.

Conversely, Bevilacqua was in his element. The 23-year-old has a talent for slowing bouts to a kind of harmonious minimalism, a prolonged standoff eventually decided by his keener eye and crisper punching. Though maybe lacking in excitement, there is an appealing purity at times about his work. Little is wasted or superfluous. Time and again he was first off the mark or he diffused Abis’s work through a variety of stratagems – keeping his left hand high against his temple to block the Abis bazooka right or stepping just inside and outside of range to make incoming punches fall short or long.

Abis started to have some success in the sixth round as he took more chances and tried to disrupt Bevilacqua’s tight control of the rhythm. He worked well to the body and for the first time landed some significant shots to the head.

In the seventh, just as the bout seemed to be at a potentially pivotal moment, ringside doctor Massimiliano Bianco judged that Abis’s injuries – he was now cut in two separate places – were too severe for the Sardinian to continue and referee Paolo Ruggeri halted the bout.

Bevilacqua’s control over much of the contest was reflected by the scorecards: 68-65, 68-65 and 67-65 in his favour. He is now 11-0 (no stoppages) and the new Italian light middleweight champion. Abis drops to 34-5-1 (16). Despite having held the EU welterweight title and once challenging for the full European title, he has never won the Italian belt. This was his third unsuccessful attempt.

One of the talking points in the build-up to the show was the presence of Pietro Aurino on the undercard.

There are Italian fight-followers who talk of the prime Aurino in almost fabled terms. In his pomp he was mobile, fast, moving with a lightness and ease rare for a cruiserweight. He could suddenly shift from textbook technique to invention and unpredictability. That renown has been enhanced by a sense of unfulfilled potential, for his undisputed boxing ability was always tempered by a somewhat wayward character. Despite competing in an Olympics, winning Italian and European belts, and twice challenging for world titles (including an attempt on Johnny Nelson’s WBO crown back in 2000), his talent arguably deserved more. In 2007 a 10-year prison sentence (reduced to eight) for weapons, drugs and organised crime charges seemed to be the last word on an enigmatic career.

He returned to the ring last November at forty years of age with a quick win against 1-11 Elidon Gaba and talk began of a comeback, an assault on titles and a desire to make up for lost time. On Saturday’s undercard he had his second fight back, an ambitious step up against once-beaten Vitaliy Neveselyy from the Ukraine.

The fight was a struggle for Aurino. He was visibly some way off peak condition (he weighed in at 14st 11 ½lb but looked heavier) and Neveselyy was an ambitious and capable opponent who wisely sought to punish Aurino to the body. The Italian – known as ‘The Killer’ – was significantly hampered by the extra weight and ring-rust. The class of yore emerged in fleeting moments – spinning his man on the ropes, sharp southpaw lefts to the body – and he showed that old irreverent personality in the second round: after being hit flush by a Neveselyy right hand he laughed heartily at his opponent and touched gloves with him. Those flashes were brief however. The surplus bulk, the six-round distance, all that time out of the ring and the efforts of Neveselyy made this fight a tough slog for the man from Torre Annunziata. After six rounds the judges had Aurino winning by 58-57, 58-57 and 57-57. Boxing News had the fight 58-56 for the unlucky Neveselyy, who drops to 13-2 (7).

The next step now for Aurino should be to get closer to the cruiser limit of 14st 4lbs otherwise he risks obscuring those vaunted qualities – speed and improvisation – which originally brought him to prominence. He is now 40-3 (17).

Michele Di Rocco met Mikheil Avakyan in his first fight since a disappointing display against Ricky Burns for the WBA light welterweight title last May. Like Aurino, Di Rocco was heavier than usual (10st 9lb) and seemed rather off in his timing.

Avakyan, a Russian living in Georgia, has fought a staggering seventy-two times by the age of 25. He was rough, unorthodox and not entirely recognizant of the rules. Though he never looked dangerous or capable of winning, he was a handful. Di Rocco, normally a quick and neat boxer, made the fight messier than it needed to be by neglecting his boxing and instead looking for big single punches.

Both fighters were cut and bloody from Avakyan’s dangerous use of the head by the fourth. Just before the end of the round referee Roberto Di Mario lost patience with Avakyan’s persistent and varied fouling, disqualifying the Russian. Di Rocco moves to 41-2-1 (18) while Avakyan falls to 38-29-5 (21).

The undercard also featured three undefeated Roman fighters.

Former undefeated Italian super featherweight champion ‘Super’ Mario Alfano outpointed Tornike Tortladze over six rounds to take his record to 10-0-1 (3). Alfano did well to remain composed against the crazy-eyed Tortladze, who would launch unexpected unorthodox attacks and frequently bored in with his head or rammed with his shoulder. Tortladze, a rough, persistent fighter, is now 11-12-1 (3).

Featherweight Mauro Forte improved to 5-0-1 (1) after the ringside doctor called off his bout with Mikheil Soloninkini 52 seconds into the third round. The Georgian, now 10-23-1 (5), was bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. Southpaw Forte impressed with his quick reflexes and sharp left hand.

Matteo Guainella was, together with his brother Gabriele, a busy and prominent face on the local amateur scene. They both turned pro at the end of last year and Matteo was having his second fight on Saturday. The light heavyweight took care of business, stopping overmatched Aliaksandr Usik (now 0-2-1) on his feet in two rounds. Guainella is trained by Daniele Petrucci, who as a fighter stopped Craig Watson and outpointed Neil Sinclair.

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