The WBC Title Fight In Richmond Impresses

by | May 28, 2023 | RICHMOND NEWS, SPORTS

Richmond, Virginia had the honor of hosting the first World Boxing Championship title fight in the River City in a long time on Friday, May 19th. Put on by Vintage Boxing and River City Promotions, the affair was held in the Renaissance building, an intimate but elegant venue that had the quiet sophistication needed to host a global event. The Renaissance was built originally as a Masonic temple, and it was in the very place that those secretive men placed their square and compass that each fighter would raise themselves to degrees of glory.

I arrived a bit before the first fight, making my way up the stairwell as I began to be taken in by the soothing red of the carpet and the pattern therein. In the foyer were neoclassical paintings in gilded frames. I watched light gleam off the sides of the frames as I scanned the room to get a feel for the event. People were lightly socializing, murmuring amongst themselves in the drink ticket line in cocktail attire, discussing their proximity to boxing and their excitement for the evening.

Though the significance of the evening was not lost on me, I felt a certain reticence at being optimistic for ringside seats at a boxing event. Ringside seats were the most expensive option for that night, ringing in at a total of 150 dollars. They included balcony and ringside seating but did not include drinks. Having paid the price for ringside, I knew that after drinks and food for the night, I was saying goodbye to at the very least 250 dollars. This was my only night off for the next six days. I needed this night to add up.

I walked up to the balcony seating, considering it at first as an option for the night. The people of the balcony and most of the crowd put their hands to their hearts as a woman sang the national anthem. There was a projection of red, white, and blue stars on one wall that served as the semantic equivalent of a flag for the evening. I watched the men of the balcony in fine clothes with their hands on their hearts, all with the blank but pensive look they give to the wall above a urinal.

With national histrionics aside, the ring was taken over by a dapper man who would announce the evening. He did a fair amount of talking, which gave me enough time to get down to ringside before the night began in earnest. I found a seat a few clicks in from a corner and was satisfied at least with the view for the night. The announcer made a joke about a murder that did not land with a couple in the crowd. He compensated by complimenting their clothing and brushed it off with a smooth “You got style. You got style.”

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

With the first loss of the night in the bag, the first fighters took the ring. I felt a familiar school-yard tension knowing a fight between two people was imminent. The bell rang, and the tension began to paradiddle inside my chest until it had built into a deafening crescendo. In the blue corner was James Willis, and in the red corner was Nathaniel Copeland. With the very first blow of the evening, the tension burst in my chest and was replaced with a colossal wave of consumer satisfaction.

The fight between Willis and Copeland was hard to judge at first. The two heavyweight boxers were both massive, but Copeland was in seemingly better shape and had an obvious reach and height advantage. One thing that overcame reach in this fight was attitude.

Boxing is a sport fought with your eyes, mind, heart, and fists. James Willis came to the ring with an attitude that outreached that of his opponent. Nathaniel Copeland had an air about him that seemed unconcerned, nearly lackadaisical, as if the win he was about to pick up was on the way home. He had the reach and conditioning that made him a choice at first glance, but as I compared the body language of the two, I began to see James Willis had a belief in himself Copeland would need a pickaxe to get through.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Copeland seemed to have the score advantage at first, but Willis took the blows he was dealt like blackjack cards. Willis seemed to figure out his strategy by the end of the second round, as he began to use Copeland’s height advantage against him. Willis got past Copeland’s reach and started to tear into the man’s stomach and ribs like a famished condor. By the fourth round, there was nothing left of Copeland, and James Willis took home the win.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Next to take the blue corner was Roberto Cantos, a lightweight fighter from Orange County, Virginia. He was opposite Gabriel Gerena, of New Jersey. The beauty of watching boxing as a casual observer is in its simplicity. There are two people fighting. Pick a side.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

As a fellow Virginian, Roberto Cantos had my vote. Fortunately, I am not as much a statist as some of the more infamous Richmond residents. Gabriel Gerena weaved and jabbed Cantos like cross-stitch. Gerena was the first real strategic fighter of the night. Gerena ducked hooks and jabs like it was a fatal game of whac-a-mole and came up with combos he had planned during his descent. Try as he might, he still couldn’t knock the fight from Cantos, who kept swinging until the last bell. Gerena won in four by unanimous decision.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

The two following bouts were middleweight and featherweight brawls. Middleweight Vitali ‘The Viking’ Gubkin had to take Lenwood ‘Juice’ Dozier six rounds for a win. Dozier seemed like he could have had it but was too patient and lost a lot of openings.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

The featherweight Andre Donovan was the next true strategist in the ring and used his cunning to put a KO/TKO on his boxing record against Weusi Johnson in the second round. Donovan had a bombastic fighting style that complemented his impregnable aura. I and the rest of the crowd stood and cheered the man for his victory, all impressed with the speed, skill, and grace with which he finished the job.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

After the featherweights were Davonn Boone and William ‘Turbo’ Tounsel, super middleweight sluggers. This was by far my favorite fight of the night. This was a fight where the disparities in conditioning were glaringly apparent in a way that caused me to be concerned for Davonn Boone. Turbo was all muscle, Davonn was not.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

The next cause for concern was the look on Turbo’s face. This man had a war face like Genghis Khan in full gallop and a focus of cosmic singularity. As the fight progressed, I began to lose all concern for Davonn Boone as I remembered he had given consent to be ripped apart like he was crossing the event horizon.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Boone took blows that looked hard enough to encode themselves as trauma in his DNA. During the montage of monstrosity he was subjected to, I began to root for this man’s wholesale destruction, losing all concern for his well-being. I cried out for Turbo to throw more shots to his body, knowing that Boone was done for. Turbo crumpled him in two rounds, bringing another KO/TKO to his undefeated record.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Then came the reason we were all in the room. The global super welterweight title fight between the reigning Albanian champion Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj and the contender for the title of World Boxing Champion, Leonardo Di Stefano, of Spain. This was the fight of the night on a roster that had been ticketed as ‘The Road to Glory.’ As they took their places in the ring, I thought about the cost of transit to championship on a road where the miles are marked in black eyes and loose teeth.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Hadribeaj and Stefano stood apart from all other boxers that night. There was a feeling of awe for the magnitude of the moment that brought a quiet hush to the room as they entered the ring. The men touched gloves and were off in a pugilist chess match to global championship under a crystal chandelier. Hadribeaj would live up to his nickname throughout the night, landing distant blows that were as fast as they were lethal. But Di Stefano was not easily bested and gave back much of what he was given.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

The fight lasted ten rounds, each fighter pushing for victory and control of the center. Between rounds, each fighter would return to their corners, their coaches advising strategy until it was time to rise to the occasion once more. The bell would ring, and it was on again.

Right hook. Left hook. Knight to F3. A strike down the middle.

A refusal. A forced pin. An attack deflected.

Jab. Haymaker. A mandible at the furthest reaches of structural integrity.

World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost
World Boxing Championship featuring Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj, photo by Kimberly Frost

Di Stefano was a worthy opponent, but by the end of the tenth round, he had been outmaneuvered. Ermal ‘The Sniper’ Hadribeaj would be declared the super welterweight WBC champion of the world by unanimous decision. The crowd roared in riotous praise to honor this seasoned warrior as he kept the belt and the glory he had fought so hard to earn.

All photos by Kimberly Frost @kimberlyfrost

George Wethington

George Wethington

George Wethington is a master of the interviewing process and a connoisseur of collegiate admissions. He likes to spend time in nature. It is his nature.




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