PROVIDENCE -- The good news for Joe Gardner is that heâ€™s going to fight for the EBA (Eastern Boxing Association) New England light heavyweight championship on Nov. 12 at the Twin River Event Center.
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The bad news is that the Woonsocket fighter is going to have to battle a very familiar boxer to him, his trainer, Bob Moreau, and his corner -- his favorite sparring partner, Keith Kozlin of West Warwick.
Gardner, who fights out of the Woonsocket Boxing Club, will carry a 6-1-1 (1 KO) mark into the six-round co-feature of CESâ€™s (Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc.) â€śHomecoming Kingâ€ť card against Kozlin, who has a nearly-identical 6-1 (4 KOs) record.
While the main event, which features the return of IBO world middleweight champion Peter Manfredo Jr. to Rhode Island after a two-year absence from the state, promises to draw plenty of interest among local fight fans, so does this spirited intrastate fight between the two friends.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a very popular fight,â€ť Gardner added after Tuesdayâ€™s press conference outside Andinoâ€™s Restaurant on Federal Hill. â€śWe both know itâ€™s all business. Weâ€™ll still be buddies after. There wonâ€™t be any hard feelings.â€ť
â€ś(Gardner) is a tough opponent thatâ€™s always in shape and always ready to fight,â€ť Kozlin offered at the press conference. â€śI know Iâ€™m going to have to train hard and get ready because itâ€™s going to be a very good fight.â€ť
The matchup with Kozlin came as a surprise to Gardner when he found out about the bout. So did the news that he was going to vie for a championship belt just six months after returning to the sport from a 7Â˝-year hiatus.
â€śI didnâ€™t see this happening,â€ť Gardner said about the title fight. â€śbut (CES) has been keeping me really busy and Iâ€™ve been having some good success. Iâ€™m feeling better and better every outing.â€ť
Gardner comes into the fight with back-to-back victories at Twin River -- a four-round majority decision triumph over DeMarcus Clark of Shreveport, La. on July 9 and six-round unanimous decision win over Eric Pinarreta of New Bedford, Mass. in his first career co-feature on Sept. 3.
Kozlin is also coming off a victory over Pinarreta, a crowd-pleasing, third-round TKO on the same July 9 card that included Gardner. Prior to that win, Kozlin suffered his only defeat in a close four-round majority decision loss to Greg McCoy of New Haven, Conn. on May 7 at Twin River.
â€śKeithâ€™s not going to be an easy fight,â€ť remarked Gardner. â€śHe has a lot of power and he likes to come forward so Iâ€™ll be on the move a lot, give him a lot of angles, try to keep him turning, and keep my jab in his face as much as I can.â€ť
Kozlin also presents another problem for Gardner -- he wonâ€™t be seeing him any time soon for some quality rounds of sparring.
â€śItâ€™s disappointing because Keithâ€™s a good sparring partner and he helps me a lot,â€ť Gardner said with a smile. â€śBut after this fight, weâ€™ll still be buddies and weâ€™ll be back sparring.â€ť
In addition to the 10-round non-title bout between Manfredo (35-6, 19 KOs) and former Colombian junior middlweight champion Jhon Berrio (15-7, 11 KOs), the â€śHomecoming Kingâ€ť card will feature a action-packed undercard with seven bouts.
Two boxers will make their pro debuts in four-round matches. Middleweight Thomas Falowo of Pawtucket, who trains out of Manfredoâ€™s Gym, will fight Haitian fighter Odias Dumez (2-4, 1 KO), and cruiserweight Dante Wiggins of Providence will duel Ahmad Mickens (1-0-1) of Stamford, Conn.
Providenceâ€™s Eric Estrada, a firefighter in the city and the younger brother of 2004 U.S. Olympic heavyweight Jason â€śBig Sixâ€ť Estrada will take a 2-0 (2 KOs) record into his four-round cruiserweight tussle with Tobias Rice (2-1, 2 KOs) of Macon, Ga.
Former three-time New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champ Jesse â€śBad Newsâ€ť Barboza (4-1, 3 KOs) of Hyannis, Mass. and super lightweight Jonathan Vazquez (2-0, 2 KOs) of New Bedford, Mass. will also appear in four-round fights.
Tickets are priced at $40, $60, $100, and $150 (VIP) and can be purchased by contacting CES (724-2253/2254), going online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, or visiting the Players Club booth at Twin River or any TicketMaster location.
The doors open at 6 p.m. and the first bout is scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. Twin River has waived its 18-plus rule for the show, and everyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied at all times by an adult and enter through the West entrance.