By Phil Doherty
Photos: Sam Cohen
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who displays more nimbleness with opponents in boxing. Is it the fighters themselves or their promoters? Today’s press conference at the Seminole Hard Rock leaned a little towards the promoter’s corner as Heavyweight Factory boxing director Henry Rivalta announced some intriguing last-minute changes to this week’s edition of ESPN Friday Night Fights. Although last-minute changes can often work against a fighter (and promoter), the Heavyweight Factory showed some amazing “counter punching” ability in lining up quality replacements for their co-main event and undercard.
Rivalta kicked off this afternoon’s press conference next to a stocked, sumptuous buffet table at Renegade Barbeque in the Seminole Paradise facility at the Hard Rock. He then proudly proclaimed:”This is probably the best show to date since we started doing fights at the Hard Rock” and took exception to www.boxrec.com, which assigned just 3 stars for Friday’s main event.
Rivalta disagreed, stating: “I think Boxrec made a big mistake. You’ve got the #1 WBA contender Brad “King” Solomon against Demetrius Hopkins, with a record of 33 and 1. They made a big mistake.” Rivalta then confidently assured the audience of a 5-star performance.
Cuban 2004 Olympic gold medalist Yan Barthelemy (11-2, 4 KOs) will face Dominican boxer Francis Ruiz (9-3, 4 KOs) instead of previously scheduled Californian Chris Avalos (18-1, 15 KOs) for the 10-round super featherweight co-main event. Avalos cited a hand injury suffered during a recent Sunday sparring session as the reason he could not face the southpaw Barthelemy.
The substitution that really set the room buzzing came next as Rivalta revealed a new opponent for Atlanta-based heavyweight contender Cedric “The Bos” Boswell (33-1, 26 KOs). Boswell and fellow “Bos”(Florida Boxing Hall of Fame matchmaker Johnny Bos) found themselves looking for an opponent after Alonzo “Big Zo” Butler (28-1-1, 21 KOs) and Philadelphia veteran “Smokin’” Bert Cooper (38-22, 31 KOs) fell out.
It turns out the answer sat right across the ring during recent Heavyweight Factory sparring sessions in the form of former WBC world heavyweight champion Oliver “The Atomic Bull” McCall (55-10, 37 KOs).
McCall took the podium to acknowledge: “This is kind of new to me to take a fight on such short notice; it’s a different type of format in my career.” However, McCall has kept busy in the gym since last December’s victory over Fres Oquendo (32-7, 21 KOs) at the Hard Rock Live for the vacant IBF Inter-Continental belt. “The Atomic Bull” pointed out: “I’m sure we’ll be friends after the fight but I’m ready to do what I need to do. He’s in better shape but my ring generalship is definitely better. That’s what’s going down.”
Boswell seemed energized at the prospect of facing a former world champion, declaring: “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. I’m ready. We sparred a little bit but he saw nothing of what I’m bringing to the ring. I’m gonna handle my business Friday night.”
Cuban cruiserweight-turned heavyweight Yasmay Consuegra took the microphone to thank trainer Osmiri “El Moro” Fernandez for helping him add twenty pounds of muscle for his upcoming showdown against fellow former cruiserweight David Williams (6-3-1, 2 KOs).
However, the feeling of genuine disdain remained most palpable between the two fighters who didn’t experience any opponent changes since their main event was first announced: undefeated welterweight Brad “King” Solomon (16-0, 7 KOs) and Demetrius “DHop” Hopkins (30-1-1, 11 KOs). Rivalta invited the Philadelphia-born and bred “DHop” to speak his mind first. The sullen, somewhat surly Hopkins parsed his words, explaining: “I don’t talk much but I’m on a mission. Come Friday, I’m gonna leave with a victory. It’s do-or-die for me. My camp was good and I’m ready. That’s all I’m gonna say.” He then confided his thoughts on Solomon’s abilities with: “He’s a Roy Jones Jr. wanna-be. But Roy won’t be in the ring with him Friday.”
Rivalta ushered Palm Beach-based Heavyweight Factory heavyweights Erik “The Viking” Leander (9-1, 6 KOs) and Haitian-born Dieuly “The Untamed Beast” Aristilde (7-4, 1 KO) to speak next regarding their bouts. Leander’s opponent is not yet announced but that didn’t prevent “The Viking” from assuring he would: “come to the ring to crush. That’s always the goal.” Leander credited trainer John David Jackson for his preparation and thanked friends and family for their unflagging support. “The Viking” pointed out his fellow celebrity sibling: sister Mikaela Schipani, who “fights” as a finalist on America’s Next Top Model.
Aristilde credited his faith as well as trainers John David Jackson and assistant trainer Dean Williams for: “helping me to redeem my career. I’m upgrading myself. On Friday, you’re going to see the new and improved version of Dieuly The Untamed Beast Aristilde.”
However, it was clear Rivalta wanted to save the last word for the rapidly-rising welterweight sensation Brad Solomon. The “King” flashed his 24-karat gold-toothed smile as he declared: “You all know what time of day it is. I’ve put in a lot of hard work in the gym and everyone will see how that will pay off for me. Demetrius says he’s ready and in shape. That’s the kind of fight I like, I like someone who will fight back. I will be like Ken Griffey Jr. and I’m going to knock the stitches off the ball. HBO, here I come.”
As the two combatants stood millimeters apart for their faceoff, a hush fell over the collective group. This animosity was real and it was simmering. As the two stepped back, Hopkins uttered: “Roy (Jones Jr.) can’t save ya.”
Not missing a chance to fire back, Solomon responded: “His mouth moves, but we’re gonna see if his hands can do any talking.”
Nimbly working with these two opponents as he had so many others this afternoon, Rivalta beamed as he welcomed the two fighters to grab some food.
ESPN Friday Night Fights at the Seminole Hard Rock Live March 18th. Doors open at 6:30 PM. First fight starts at 7:30.
Individual tickets cost $35, $55 & $105. All seats are reserved and available at the Hard Rock Live Box Office; open Tuesday – Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. and on Sunday & Monday – only open on event days at noon. Tickets also are available at all Ticketmaster outlets online at www.ticketmaster.com or charge by phone: 1-800-745-3000.