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Cartagena tops Rivera in spicy grudge match

By John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)

Photo: John DiSanto

The grudge match between highly favored Miguel Cartagena and Jose “Chilli” Rivera almost boiled over into an upset in the main event at Philadelphia’s National Guard Armory Friday night. Prohibitive favorite Cartagena let a hot head and months worth of anger make his first headline bout far more difficult than most expected it would be. Instead of using his superior boxing skills, Cartagena, 111.5 lbs, traded shots with the bigger Rivera, 115, most of the night, and had to hustle to keep his undefeated record intact. Rivera used his size and nothing-to-lose attitude to test the young prospect in a trench war that almost produced a shocker. However, down the stretch, Cartagena cooled off and nailed down the victory at the wire. He took the judge’s verdict, but it wasn’t easy.

Last year, when amateur star Miguel Cartagena turned professional, there was talk of him fighting Rivera in his debut. The fight didn’t happen then, but the Mexican remained on Team Cartagena’s radar.

This past July in Atlantic City after much talk between the two camps, a fight between the two fighters was finally made, but failed to come off when Rivera balked at the NJ Commission’s last minute decision to cut the scheduled six-rounder to four rounds, due to time constraints. With both fighters already in the ring, Rivera opted not to fight, and walked out. A battle between the two corners ensued, and some serious resentment between the two boxers was born. Cartagena was angry that his rigorous training had been squandered, and Rivera felt manipulated by Team Cartagena, especially head trainer Javier Varela.

Somehow, the grudge match was reset for Philadelphia three months later. And although many wondered if the seemingly jinxed pairing would actually happen, the fight came off and turned out better than anyone had expected.

The bout started as expected with the uber-talented Cartagena darting in and out, jabbing and firing his right hand at his pressing foe. Miguel was winning the battle, but Rivera was aggressive and began muscling Cartagena to the ropes in an attempt to win the war.

After Rivera landed a few good shots, Cartagena slipped into war-mode and battled right back. The action was terrific, but the fight suddenly shifted gears.

For the next two rounds, Rivera had the better of things, appearing stronger than his touted opponent. Along the ropes, Rivera outworked Cartagena. He smashed Miguel with a hard right hand at the end of the third, and continued his assault in round four. Rivera roughed up Cartagena throughout the round, and appeared to have an upset within his grasp. No one had had this level of success with Cartagena. After four rounds, the fight was even on my card, and a surprise was a very real possibility.

Cartagena went to work with his head a little cooler in the fifth round. He started well, boxing more and controlling the action with his jab and movement. However, by the end of the round Rivera managed to draw Cartagena back into the trenches. Rivera won the late exchanges of the session, but Cartagena had banked enough early action by the time the bell ended the round. But there was the possibility that Rivera had stolen the round on the official cards with his late stand.

In the sixth and final round, Rivera still had the chance of earning a draw on my card. In the overall scheme of things, that still would have been an upset. However, Cartagena fought well for three minutes, resisting the temptation to brawl and using his speed to capture the round. The fight was highly competitive over these three minutes, but Cartagena closed the show, nailed down the victory, and preserved his spotless record.

“My personal issues with him got in the way a little bit,” Cartagena said after the fight. “I could have beat this guy easily, but my arrogance got in the way, and I kind of blew it.”

Well, almost.

“That kid was a tough mother,” said Javier Valera. “Miguel made it tougher, because Miguel wanted to stand there and trade shots with him. Miguel could have easily out-boxed him, but he’s a warrior. He comes to fight, and that’s what he wants to do. I knew Miguel wasn’t going to listen to the corner. He didn’t, but in the last round he did, and he looked beautiful.”

“There were some things I wasn’t really listening to in the corner,” Cartagena agreed. “That was just my personal mistake. So I’ll just go back to the drawing board Monday morning. I’m just thankful I came out with the win.”

The win pushed Cartagena’s record to 6-0 with 3 KOs.

All three judges had Miguel leading by the end. Alan Rubenstein and Dewey LaRosa scored the bout 59-55, while Joe Pasquale had it 58-56. My score agreed with Pasquale’s.

Rivera slipped to 3-7-2, but made a good showing in the fight by coming awfully close to pulling the upset.

In the scheduled six-round semi-final bout, junior lightweight Jason Sosa, Camden, NJ, hammered out an impressive TKO victory over Philadelphian Clinton Douglas. The always aggressive Sosa showed heavy hands in this fight, dropping Douglas twice in the second round and once more in the third to earn the stoppage by referee Blair Talmadge.

Douglas started well enough, winning the first round, but a thumping right hand by Sosa in round two floored him. Douglas got up and rejoined the battle, but a hard Sosa left hook staggered him before another right put him on the floor a second time.

Time ran out in the second, but Sosa found Douglas with another right hand near the midpoint of round three that put him on the canvas again. As soon as he went down, referee Talmadge stopped the bout, giving Sosa his second straight win.

For Sosa, 6-1-3 (2 KOs), it was perhaps his most impressive outing. Douglas fell to 4-5-2 (1 KO).

West Philly’s Frank “Nitty” Trader won a unanimous six-round decision over Moscow native Georgi Kevlishvili in another junior lightweight bout. Trader bloodied the Russian’s nose in round one and Kevlishvili had to cope with the steady stream for the remainder of the night. The fight was filled with fast-paced, entertaining action. Trader was just too quick and active for the bigger, plodding Kevlishvili, but the bloody Russian kept coming, even if he couldn’t effectively turn the tide. In the end the official scores were closer than the Trader runaway that I watched. Dewey LaRosa scored the fight a draw at 57-57, but Alan Rubenstein and Joe Pasquale overruled with scores for Trader, 59-55 & 58-56, respectively. My score was a landslide for Trader, 9-1 (2 KOs). Kevlishvili went home 12-4 (3 KOs).

Welterweight Emmanuel Taylor, Edgewood Arsenal, MD, scored a workmanlike six-round majority decision over George Sosa after a layoff of nearly one year. Taylor hurt Sosa with some snappy power shots in round two that seemed to sap the Cuban’s strength. After a few rounds of slow-paced action, Taylor began dishing out more damage, especially with left hooks, in the final round to secure the win. Alan Rubenstein scored 57-57, LaRosa favored Taylor 58-56, and Pasquale scored it a 60-54 shutout. My card mirrored Pasquale’s. Taylor improved to 15-1 (3 KOs) and snapped Sosa’s undefeated and knockout streaks, 6-1 (6 KOs).

In a bit of an upset, SW Philly’s Greg Jackson stopped North Philly’s Saud Clark with a pair of knockdowns in the third round of their scheduled four-round prelim. After winning the first two rounds, Clark’s undefeated two-fight KO streak came crashing down when Jackson nailed him with a crushing right. Clark tumbled down hard, but got right up. However, the first solid punch from Jackson showed that Clark was not yet recovered. Saud tried to move, but his legs betrayed him. Jackson stormed in and after a wild exchange on the ropes, Clark fell again, prompting referee Shawn Clark to save him at 2:33 of round three. The surprise victory raised Jackson’s record to 2-0 (1 KO), and produced the first smudge on Clark’s 2-1 (2 KOs) slate.

In a good grinding fight between two Philadelphia junior welterweights, Ramon Ellis won a close and exciting six-round decision over Tim Witherspoon Jr. It didn’t take long for the pattern of this fight to become established. Witherspoon, the favorite, came out jabbing and firing his long right hand. Meanwhile, the compact Ellis zipped right inside Witherspoon’s long rangy style to attack the body.

Witherspoon tried to keep the action in the center of the ring while Ellis tried to take things toward the ropes. They kept the pattern going, as if fighting from a script, for six full rounds. It was great to watch each fighter do what they do best, and wonder which way this one was going to end up.

Witherspoon had the better of it in the first two rounds, but slowly Ellis worked his way closer and began applying the pressure. His body work was excellent and it helped him move Witherspoon to the edges of the ring where he could do his best work. With Witherspoon pinned to the ropes, Ellis let his hands fly. But Witherspoon was no shrinking violet either. Although he’d rather be moving and boxing, Witherspoon committed to the war he found himself in. Many of the exchanges were brutal.

With the majority of the fight spent along the ropes, Ellis began grabbing rounds on my card. I gave him the last four, and had him up by two points at the end (58-56), when the bell relieved the two tired fighters.

The official scores all read 58-56 (4 rounds to two), but one of the judges, Joe Pasquale, scored it for Witherspoon. The other two, LaRosa and Rubenstein, felt Ellis had won. The victory for Ellis raised his rocky record to 4-7-2 (2 KOs); Witherspoon receded to 8-3-1 (2 KOs). A rematch would be welcomed.

Heavyweight Joe Cusumano of Virginia Beach, but now fighting out of PA, man-handled Philly’s Zeferino Albino in their four-rounder. Cusumano, 18 pounds heavier, won the first two rounds, but Albino often swung for the fences, trying to test the Virginian’s chin. However in round three, it was Albino’s chin that would be checked. Cusumano used his booming right hand to drop Albino twice in the round. Both times the Shuler Gym fighter got up and continued, but he would have no chance of earning a decision. But after the knockdowns, Albino was less willing to go for the knockout, and easily ceded the final round. The two did rumble after the final bell, but the result was obvious.

Rubenstein and LaRosa scored it 39-35, while Pasquale had it one point closer at 38-36. My score was a 40-34 landslide for the now 6-1 (4 KOs) Cusumano. The hard-knocks Albino, a reliable measuring stick, slid to 4-15-3 (2 KOs).

Celebrated amateur Anthony Burgin made a successful pro debut on the card with a one-round TKO of Milton Lopes, also a professional newbie. Both Philadelphia fighters weighed 124.5 for the bout, but the similarities stopped there. Burgin looked fast and powerful, and within a minute of so, began punishing Lopes with hard, unanswered punches. Lopes made it to the bell that ended the first round, but the fight was stopped almost immediately after he returned to his corner. The result went in the books as a TKO at 3:00 of the first round. The referee was Blair Talmadge. Burgin, 1-0 (1 KO), will be one to watch. Lopes, 0-1, had the misfortune of facing a real standout in his debut. He deserves an easier test next time out.

Angel Carvajal, a junior flyweight visiting from Chicago, surprised local Ricardo Carabello in his professional debut. Carabello edged out the first round, but Carvajal began to out-muscle and out-hustle the Philadelphian, beginning in round two. The action was close, but Carvajal maintained the advantage until the end. Two of the three judges, Rubenstein and LaRosa scored it for Carvajal 39-37, but Pasquale saw it even, 38-38. The majority win for Carvajal brought him to 2-0, and left Carabello 0-1.

The opening fight of the night was a four-round junior lightweight contest between two men both making their pro debut. Benjamin Burgos, of Mt. Pocono, PA, went home with the unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Rasheed Estrada. The scores were 40-36 (Rubenstein) and 39-37 twice (LaRosa and Pasquale).

About 1,000 fans came to the ten-bout show which was promoted by Greg Robinson’s Power Productions.

The next fight in Philly will be December 8th when NBC Sports Network returns for another “Fight Night” installment.

For more on the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.




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