A pair of heavyweight bouts graces the 2023 debut of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN.
All four participants were forced to adjust to different opposition than when the card was first announced but are set to collide this Saturday at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. Headlining the show, Efe Ajagba and Stephan Shaw meet in a scheduled ten-round heavyweight contest live on ESPN.
Ajagba was a well-distributed 235 ¼ pounds, just three pounds more than in a second-round knockout of Jozsef Darmons last August 27 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The win was the first for the 2016 Nigerian Olympian—now based out of based out of Stafford, Texas—since a ten-round defeat to Frank Sanchez in their October 2021 battle of unbeaten heavyweights.
Saturday’s clash was to come versus Oscar Rivas, who was forced to withdraw due to a detached retina which has also prompted his immediate retirement. He instead faces the unbeaten Shaw (18-0, 13KOs), a 30-year-old St. Louis native who weighed 239 ½ pounds.
The original announcement had Shaw facing Italy’s Guido Vianello, who will now meet Los Angeles’ Jonnie Rice in the scheduled ten-round co-feature.
Vianello (10-0-1, 9KOs) tipped the scales at 239 pounds for what marks the third fight in six months. It’s a welcomed active stretch for the 6’6” heavyweight from Roma, who represented Italy in the 2016 Rio Olympics but now trains in Las Vegas.
Friday’s weight is Vianello’s lightest since an October 2020 draw with Kingsley Ibeh, the lone blemish on his record.
Rice (15-6-1, 10KOs) was 274 ¼ pounds for a fight he accepted on roughly three weeks’ notice. The Los Angeles-based heavyweight has not fought since a repeat win over Michael Polite Coffee last New Year’s Day in Hollywood, Florida, for which he weighed 283 ¾ pounds. The feat came five months after scoring a stunning fifth-round knockout of the previously unbeaten Coffee in a July 2021 Fox-televised bout from Newark, New Jersey.
Headlining the ESPN+ exclusive undercard, Adam ‘BluNose’ Lopez and Abraham Nova meet in a junior lightweight contest scheduled for ten rounds.
Lopez (16-3, 6KOs) weighed a career-high 129 pounds for his first fight in the 130-pound division since a controversial seventh-round stoppage loss to Oscar Valdez in November 2019. The 26-year-old from Glendale, California has campaigned at featherweight throughout his hard-luck career save for the last-minute opportunity to face Valdez.
Nova (21-1, 15KOs)—born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents but who lives in Albany, New York—was also 129 pounds. The bout is his first fight since a fifth-round knockout loss to Robeisy Ramirez last June 18 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York City.
Below are the weights for the rest of the undercard, which airs on ESPN+ beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Haven Brady Jr. (8-0, 4KOs), Albany, Georgia, 132 ¾ pounds* vs. Ruben Cervera (13-3, 11KOs), Santa Marta, Colombia, 130 ¼ pounds—8 rounds, lightweight
* Brady was originally 133 pounds during first official attempt. Contracted limit is 131 pounds.
Bryce Mills (10-1, 4KOs), Syracuse, New York, 143 pounds vs. Margarito Hernandez (3-3-1, 0KOs), Wapato, Washington, 144 ¼ pounds—6 rounds, junior welterweight
Floyd Diaz (8-0, 3KOs), Las Vegas, Nevada, 122 pounds vs. Edwin Rodriguez (11-6-2, 5KOs), Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, 121 ½ pounds—8 rounds, junior featherweight
Brian Norman Jr. (22-0, 19KOs), Conyers, Georgia, 149 pounds vs. Rodrigo Damian Coria (10-4, 2KOs), Cordoba, Argentina, 148 ¼ pounds—8 rounds, welterweight
Bruce Carrington (5-0, 3KOs), Brooklyn, New York, 128 pounds vs. Juan Antonio Lopez (17-12-1, 7KOs), Dallas, Texas, 127 ½ pounds—6 rounds, featherweight
Dante Benjamin Jr. (4-0, 2KOs), Cleveland, Ohio, 174 pounds vs. Emmanuel Austin (6-0, 6KOs), New Orleans, Louisiana, 175 pounds—6 rounds, light heavyweight
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox