LAS VEGAS, Nevada, Feb. 20, 2020 – Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum has famously said he doesn’t think undercard fights matter all that much to fans. “People are eating, talking to each other, having a drink, having fun, and they don’t give a [expletive] about the undercard,” Arum was once quoted saying in 2014. This point of view is held by many people, extending to those contemplating the purchase of a pay per view card like this Saturday’s Wilder Fury 2 event.
Arum respects his fighters, but he’s a successful businessman for a reason. Nevertheless, undercard fighters on a big card understand the golden opportunity given to them. Should they perform well, impress the boxing media, and the fans watching, they might score another important assignment and a bigger purse. Boxing fans can discover diamonds in the rough and should give these ambitious athletes their due.
Fighters at Thursday’s undercard news conference with bouts on the non-televised and broadcast portion of the Wilder Fury 2 card talked about their hope for a little bit of boxing glory to rub off on them Saturday.
The event featured fighters competing in the PPV undercard, including former heavyweight champion Charles Martin and former title challenger Gerald Washington: WBO Junior Featherweight World Champion Emanuel Navarrete and Filipino contender Jeo Santisima: and unbeaten super welterweights Sebastian Fundora and Daniel Lewis, who fight in the PPV opener at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Fighters who enter the ring for Wilder vs. Fury 2 prelims beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT, include unbeaten contender Subriel Matias of Puerto Rico and Petros Ananyan of Brooklyn, who meet in a super lightweight showdown, plus contenders Amir Imam and Javier Molina, who will fight in a super lightweight attraction.
Completing the lineup at Thursday’s event were unbeaten prospect Rolando Romero, who takes on Arturs Ahmetovs; rising star Gabriel Flores Jr. of Stockton, California who faces Matt Conway of Pittsburgh; 17-year-old super welterweight phenom Vito Mielnicki Jr. of New Jersey who battles Corey Champion of Louisa, Virginia; and unbeaten featherweight Isaac Lowe, who will fight Mexico’s Alberto Guevara. These fights will be available on the FOX Sports App and ESPN App beginning at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT.
Young fighters in Las Vegas taking it all in
Lowe, a stablemate of Tyson Fury, said “I’ve fought in Las Vegas before, it’s like my second home. This one has a little bit more to it, a little bit more tension,” said Lowe. “If I win and put on a good display, it’s going to put me right in the mix with the top fighters … I can’t wait to show the world that I’m a world level fighter.”
Milnecki, who is undefeated in four bouts, is still attending regular high school, but he has a different type of graduation in sight. “I want to graduate to six-round fights, and show everyone I’m more than a 17-year-old prospect, and I’m here to stay. Being on this stage, all the media and that, it just motivates me. One day I want my face to be on the posters, in the elevators and the hallways all over MGM Grand. It motivates me to work hard,” said Milnecki.
Flores Jr. undefeated in 15 bouts, is dedicating his fight this weekend to Kobe Bryant’s family because he understands their circumstances. “Back in 2013, I lost my Moms, that was tough. It was somebody I’m used to waking up and seeing every day. Once I heard about Kobe Bryant, I could only think about the rest of his family. I know part of that pain. For me, this is for everybody who ever lost a parent, who’s ever felt that pain,” said Flores.
Rolando Romero is also undefeated in ten bouts with nine knockouts, and he promises another knockout in the first round against Arturs Ahmetovs. “When I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it,” calling himself the hardest puncher under 140 pounds. “One punch is all it takes for me … There’s no doubt about it, I’m getting a first-round knockout Saturday.”
Featured broadcast undercard fighters eager to shine
Javier Molina of Norwalk, California (21-2, 9 KOs) was a U.S. Olympian in 2008, but his promising pro career has stalled. Now he hopes to make one more push to a title shot. “I feel I’ve definitely got to make a statement in this fight. Just a year ago, I was struggling to even get a fight. Since I’ve been with Top Rank, I’ve been active, I’ve had three fights. This fight is happening at a perfect time for me.
“I know a win over him will get me that much closer to a world title. I always knew I’d be in this position, honestly, I didn’t think it would take that long, but we’re here now. An event like this, we’re more than prepared to put on a show and make a statement. I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity in front of a lot of eyeballs,” said Molina.
Molina’s opponent is in a similar position. Amir Imam of Albany, New York (21-2, 18 KOs) burst on the boxing scene as a young pro but suffered an upset loss in 2015 to Adrian Granados, and another to Jose Ramirez in 2018. Imam is now working in Florida with trainer Javiel Centeno and credits the positive environment in his gym for his return.
“The chemistry with my team is great. I’ve just got to believe in myself and put on a show Saturday. I know I have power, but I’m not depending on that. I am going out to perform my best and win any way I can, whether that be a decision or a knockout. It’s a blessing to be in this position, and I plan to take advantage of every opportunity that’s put in front of me,” said Imam.
Subriel Matias of Puerto Rico (15-0, 15 KOs) is fighting for the first time in Las Vegas, and only the second time since the tragic death of opponent Maxim Dadashev last July. “I want to thank everyone on my team for my preparation and my camp. I’m very thankful to PBC for giving me this opportunity. I promise you that you will not forget. I’m here to realize my dream with a win on Saturday, and I’m not letting anyone stand in my way. I just want to remind everyone at 140, I’m coming for you guys. Get ready,” said Matias.
Russian born opponent Petros Anayan of Brooklyn (14-2-2, 7 KOs) hope to come off a recent loss. “I know my opponent has a hard punch, for me this is a very big chance. I’ve worked very hard to accomplish my dream. For a very long time I’ve trained in Moscow for this chance, this is very, very important.”
PPV fighters not wasting the opportunity
Opening the PPV card is the responsibility of Daniel Lewis of Sydney, Australia (6-0, 4 KOs) and Sebastian Fundora of Coachella, California (13-0-1, 9 KOs). We’re grateful for such a big opportunity,” said Lewis. “We’re here to take a big bite and put on a show. Being on such a big stage early in my career, I’m happy to be here and feel I belong here.” Lewis has trained with Terence Crawford, saying he had some of the hardest sparring I’ve ever had.
“Working with Terence Crawford was another great opportunity that we took on. Getting into camp with him was amazing. He has such high spirits and is so fast, he is hard to hit. It was a great experience early in my career.”
Fundora is an extraordinary 6-foot-7 inches tall at 154 pounds. How does the 22-year-old make weight? “I walk around at this weight, I don’t know how I make it, but I make it,” laughed Fundora, saying he plans to stay at super welterweight. “Whatever the fight presents, we’ll bring out. I can tell you this, the fight is definitely going to be entertaining. I’m coming for the knockout. Expect a great fight, an exciting fight. We won’t disappoint.”
In a fight for his WBO World Super Bantamweight belt, Emanuel Navarrete of Mexico City (30-1, 26 KOs) makes his fifth title defense in a year against Jeo Santisima of the Philippines (19-2, 16 KOs.) “I always say yes to a fight. Even though I’m fighting quickly each time, I always come out with good health and no damage, so I say yes,” said Navarrete.
Navarrete, says he gets inspiration from iconic fights like the series between Manny Pacquiao and his countryman, Juan Manuel Marquez. “Of course, those were iconic fights. I draw inspiration from them and to put on a good performance on Saturday. I want to be a global superstar for the sport of boxing, and I’m well on my way.”
Santisima also gets inspiration from his fellow Filipino.“I’m going to be like Manny Pacquiao, and win a world title in my first fight in the U.S.,” said Santisima. “Achieving that is a huge motivation for me. It’s going to help me put on another good performance on Saturday.” Santisima has a huge challenge ahead of him in Navarrete.
The night’s co-main events also features the heavyweight division in an IBF Heavyweight title eliminator between two Californians who know each other well, Gerald Washington (20-3-1, 13 KOs) and Charles Martin (27-2-1, 24 KOs). “We kind of came up together, worked together. We were cool before, we’re going to be cool after. This is a business trip for us. We’ll get to work,” said Washington.
“I was able to turn myself into Gerald Washington 2.0. I have always had the physical part down, I always work hard and train well, but it is the mental side that you need to put together to be a complete fighter and that is where I am at now. I took a loss, and it didn’t go my way, but to be able to pick yourself up and keep going, you build that strength. “I know what that loss felt like, and I’m on a personal mission for me to complete my goals.”
Martin, who has trained with Manny Robles for his recent fights, says, “It’s coming at a good time, we’re fighting for the eliminator to get me the number two spot and give me a chance to get that title once again.
It’s a blessing to be in this position; everybody’s excited. My whole family is showing up. My cousin is performing, going to do the walkout music. Everyone is excited to be part of this big card. We’re heavyweights, that’s all I know. Knockout in four,” said Martin about his former sparring partner.
Cunningham summed it up for everyone on the undercard: “This is a business trip, I’m here to handle my business. By any means necessary.”
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.
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