Joe Gardner didn’t get a ticker-tape parade down Woonsocket’s Main Street this past Saturday for capturing the EBA (Eastern Boxing Association) New England light heavyweight title the previous night at the Twin River Event Center.
So the Woonsocket Boxing Club fighter did the next best thing. He hopped in his car, put his championship belt in his back seat, and toured the area to show his grand prize to as many friends and family members as he possibly could.
“I brought it to show all my buddies,” Gardner noted on Saturday afternoon during his impromptu championship tour. “Everyone that has supported me will get to see it for sure.”
Gardner won the championship and delighted a large gathering of local fans by grabbing a six-round unanimous-decision victory over West Warwick’s Keith Kozlin. He copped the bout by scores of 59-55, 58-56, and 58-56 and raised his record to 7-1-1.
“It feels awesome,” offered Gardner. “I worked hard for this and it’s a great feeling to be a champ. It’s just amazing.”
What makes this title extra amazing was that at this time last year, Gardner, who hadn’t fought professionally since Oct. 31, 2003, just joined the newly-formed Woonsocket Boxing Club after taking a longer-than-expected layoff to rest some injuries.
Gardner then decided to return to the pro ranks during the first week of May because one of his sparring partners, Providence’s Vladine Biosse, needed an opponent for a bout at Twin River. His original opponent opted to back out a week before the fight and it was in danger of being cancelled.
Biosse, who is 9-0 (4 KOs) and the USA New England super middleweight champion, eventually cruised to a four-round unanimous-decision win over the rusty Gardner, but that loss only boosted Gardner’s desire to fight again.
He came back on Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc.’s next two shows at Twin River and showed improvement in each fight -- a four-round majority-decision win over DeMarcus Clark on July 9 and a six-round unanimous-decision triumph over New Bedford’s Eric Pinarreta on Sept. 3.
That set the stage for last Friday’s six-round co-feature with Kozlin, another one of his sparring partners and a good friend who held a 6-2 (4 KOs) mark, and Gardner pulled out the same ingredients he used in his last two victories to defeat him.
“My jabs and my movement really helped because he just kept charging the whole time,” said Gardner. “Keith has a lot of power and he wanted to stand still and bang, but there was no way I was going to do that.”
Another key to Gardner’s triumph was his superb performances in the final two rounds. Kozlin got the best of Gardner in the third and fourth rounds, but Gardner finished the bout strong and it showed on the judges’ cards.
“It was pretty even after the fourth (round), but I really came on in the fifth and sixth and took those rounds from him,” noted Gardner. “Keith did great in the middle rounds. I started out well, but then he kind of came on a little bit and was charging me down and I didn’t want to spend too much energy.
“But by the fifth and sixth, he looked like he was starting to get a little tired so I started coming on. The crowd really kept me going in those rounds and I was getting busier and busier.”
While that victory was one of the night’s highlights, so was the main event that featured the return of Manfredo’s Gym standout and IBO (International Boxing Organization) world middleweight champion Peter Manfredo Jr. to Rhode Island after a two-year absence from competing in this state.
Manfredo displayed a strong body-punching assault en route to a technical knockout over Colombian fighter Jhon Berrio that saw him quit on the stool after Manfredo punished him in the sixth round.
The fight, which was a non-title contest, saw Manfredo, who is ranked 11th in the IBF (International Boxing Federation) rankings, improve to 36-6 (20 KOs). Berrio, a former Colombian junior middleweight champion, dropped to 15-8 (11 KOs).
Another Manfredo’s Gym middleweight, Thomas Falowo, was a smashing success in his pro debut as he notched a dominant second-round TKO over Odias Dumezil (2-5, 1 KO) of Winter Haven, Fla.
Falowo came out attacking Dumezil from the opening bell and didn’t let up until he put him away for good 1:50 into the second round.