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Ferreri vs Venice Borkhorsor

The Manny Pacquiao vs Jeff Horn bout sees a popular champion in Pacquiao place his title on the line against an unknown Australian contender. Australia has a rich boxing history, with many great fighters such as Jack Johnson, Archie Moore, Sam Langford and Emile Griffith having fought in Australia during their rise to the top. Throughout boxing history, similar matches have been made where popular world champions have defended their titles against Australian boxers, who were heavy underdogs as they were yet to make their mark on the world scene.

Paul Ferreri vs Carlos Zarate

Carlos Zarate, sporting a 42-0 record with 41 of those wins coming by way of knockout, made the first defence of his WBC bantamweight title against Commonwealth champion Paul Ferreri of Australia on the 28th August, 1976. Zarate had taken the title from Rodolfo Martinez a few months earlier with a ninth-round knockout. The 25-year-old Zarate was an intimidating figure amongst the bantamweights, towering over many of them at 5’8 and carrying knockout power in both hands. The bout with Ferreri would be Zarate’s sixth appearance at The Forum in Inglewood, California, a popular venue for Latino fighters in the 60s and 70s.

The bantamweight division had another world champion, undefeated Alfonso Zamora, also from Mexico, who held the WBA and lineal titles but, despite making four defences and scoring a knockout win in every one of his 26 professional contests, he wasn’t the clear choice as the top bantamweight in the eyes of the public. His title lineage went back to Eder Jofre, the great Brazilian fighter, but in 1973 the WBC stripped the then undisputed champion Enrique Pinder of their title for failing to defend against Martinez. The Mexican based WBC had made similar, controversial moves around the time which made the overall boxing landscape confusing. In 1970s the WBC stripped undisputed lightweight champion Ismael Laguna, also from Panama, of their title for failing to defend against Mando Ramos, also from Mexico. Rodolfo Martinez would eventually win the vacated WBC title, initially losing to Rafael Herrera before stopping him in the rematch. He made three defences of the title, all three coming in his opponent’s backyard, before running into Zarate.

The challenger Ferreri had never fought in the United States but, despite a lack of appreciation from the Australian public, he had built up a solid record in his adopted homeland. Born in Sicily in 1948, Ferreri immigrated to Melbourne, Australia when he was four-years-old. Without a single amateur bout, Ferreri turned professional in 1968 under the guidance of former Australian middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Ambrose Palmer, who would take Johnny Famechon to the WBC featherweight title the following year. He built up an impressive streak of 18 wins from 18 bouts on the preliminaries of televised cards at Festival Hall in Melbourne.

Perhaps a testament to the declining number of professional boxers in Australia, Ferreri, despite never having fought beyond a six round preliminary bout, would box another six round preliminary fighter Alan Presnell, whom he had already twice beaten, for the Australian bantamweight title. The title had been vacated by Lionel Rose following the loss of his world title to Ruben Olivares and departure from the weight division. Ferreri was an easy winner, travelling the 15-round distance for the first time in his career, but despite winning the Australian title, a title he would never lose in the ring, his light punching southpaw style wasn’t fan friendly, meaning Ferreri didn’t earn the respect that had come with the Australian title in previous generations. Ferreri, like Zarate, was tall for the division, standing 5’9, but rather than stalking his opponents like the WBC champion did, Ferreri boxed and moved and used every inch of his height advantage and the ring to his advantage.

The lack of talent in the Australian bantamweight division forced promotional firm Stadiums Ltd to import fighters for Ferreri to be matched with but his style wasn’t drawing crowds, which led to a split with Palmer and Stadiums Ltd. Ferreri would eventually sign with Jack Rennie, who had taken Lionel Rose to the world title a few years earlier, but not until 1976. He continued to progress as Australian fighters traditionally do, winning the Commonwealth title with a points verdict over Scotland’s John Kellie but not being aligned with Stadiums Ltd forced Ferreri to fight overseas. In 1974 Ferreri lost a close decision to then WBA and lineal champion Arnold Taylor of South Africa in South Africa. Taylor, however, weighed in well above the weight limit and the title was not on the line. In 1975 Ferreri lost a close decision to Sydney’s Brian Roberts in Sydney, although the fight was also above the bantamweight limit so Ferreri’s title was not on the line. In 1975, while fighting in Europe in search of recognition, Ferreri was stripped of his Australian title. His old foe Brian Roberts won the vacant crown, but Ferreri remained Commonwealth champion upon his return to Australia.

After signing with Rennie in 1976, Ferreri reversed the loss to Roberts with a clear decision win, recapturing Roberts’ Australian title while defending his own Commonwealth belt. He followed this with a win over Filipino Rolando Navarette in the Philippines which propelled Ferreri further up the world rankings and under the notice of Zarate’s team. The bout was originally scheduled to take place in Mexico but was moved to The Forum with an undercard feature; Rennie’s first world champion, Lionel Rose would fight tough Mexican puncher Rafael Limon, who would make his second appearance in Inglewood, the place where Rose lost had his bantamweight title to Olivares seven years prior. 13,000 fans filled the arena to see what was unofficially a Mexico vs Australia themed card. Rose’s luck at The Forum didn’t improve. He had no answer for Limon’s aggressive style and after surviving two knockdowns in the second, he was halted in the third.

Photo Courtesy of National Library of Australia
Australia’s five Commonwealth boxing champions, 1972, left to right, Paul Ferreri (Bantamweight), Bobby
Dunne (Featherweight), Tony Mundine (Middleweight), Charkey Ramon (Junior Middleweight), Henry Nissen (Flyweight)

Future Hall of Fame referee Richard Steele would referee his first world title bout in this contest and his role in the bout would help determine the outcome. The surprise of this fight was the patience shown by Zarate, a man who had only been ten rounds once, and the grit of Ferreri, who, by appearance and the lack of knockouts on his record, wasn’t meant to fire back as effectively during the exchanges. Ferreri opened the first round with his southpaw jab, circling both left and right, looking to keep the bigger punching Zarate on the end of his punches. Zarate, not used to facing taller opponents, was patient and cautiously stalked, occasionally sticking out his own jab, but was happy just to feel out Ferreri, who had success with a pair of counter right hooks late in an otherwise uneventful first round.

The champion was busier in the second with his jab and used it to back Ferreri into the ropes where he dug in a right to the heart. Ferreri came back firing and showed that he wasn’t intimidated by the champion’s hard punching reputation. The Commonwealth champion used good head movement to often make Zarate miss with his left hooks to the head, forcing Zarate to focus on the body. He dug several hard shots to Ferreri’s midsection in the second and third rounds. Ferreri countered effectively, especially with the right hook, which he landed a number of times in the early rounds. Zarate seemed to have found his range towards the end of the third, landing several hard right crosses before countering Ferreri’s jab with a hard right uppercut. To his surprise, Ferreri stood his ground, fired back and smothered Zarate effectively, the champion’s power not seeming to bother him.

“Cañas” stepped up his pressure in the fourth, backing Ferreri into the ropes but now letting his hands go. Ferreri took some heavy shots but never seemed hurt and often made Zarate miss, spun him into the ropes and answered with his own combinations. Ferreri opened the fifth well, landing his best right hooks of the contest thus far but Zarate staggered him briefly with a pair of left hooks and a heavy combination towards the end of the round. Zarate dominated the sixth and seventh. The pace of the fight began to take its toll on Ferreri, who smothered less effectively and flurried less often. Zarate ate two clean left hands from Ferreri in the sixth but had the challenger in trouble at the bell after a series of body shots and a pair of right hands. Ferreri spent the entire seventh round fighting his way out of trouble, taking a number of stiff punches to the body when he kept the contest in centre ring and fighting off barrages when he was cornered. Sensing Ferreri was fading midway through the eighth, Zarate unloaded and scored with unanswered combinations.

Ferreri showed great skill in rolling with a lot of Zarate’s punches to take the power out of them but he suffered a cut over his left eye in round eight, which forced referee Richard Steele to call the ringside doctor to the ring to examine it. The doctor allowed the fight to continue, but told Steele to watch his eye and that he should stop it if the cut worsened or if he felt Ferreri was fading. Ferreri ate a hard right early in the 9th but fought back well until the final minute when Zarate’s pressure and body punching wore him out and he again finished the round with his back to the ropes taking hard punches. The tenth round was fought at a slower pace as Ferreri used good evasive skills to make Zarate miss many of his punches but couldn’t do anything to stop the relentless aggression and the crisp combinations from the champion.

Zarate, now in the longest fight of his professional career, seemed to lose the steam from his punches in the tenth and eleventh rounds. While he remained in complete control of the bout, it seemed like Ferreri would last the full 15 rounds, a distance he had been six times previously in Australian and Commonwealth title fights. He was escaping the champion’s assaults on the ropes without taking the punishment he had in previous rounds. Zarate opened the twelfth with a pair of short right hands that reopened the cut over Ferreri’s left eye. The round was progressing much the same as rounds nine through eleven: Zarate pressuring Ferreri, who fought back in spurts but was never able to find the punches to keep the champion off him, but at the same time never having Ferreri in any real trouble. Zarate bulled his way in throwing hard punches, mostly to the body, but was taking return fire from Ferreri and never looked like putting the Australian down. With 16 seconds remaining in the round, Richard Steele stepped in and crowned Zarate as the winner by TKO, ruling that the cut was too severe to continue.

Ferreri’s manager Jack Rennie protested the stoppage, suggesting that Steele should have allowed the ringside doctor to examine the cut before terminating the bout, however Steele told reporters about the conversation he had with the doctor in the eighth round and said that he was right to step in and stop the bout. The questionable decision to stop the bout only robbed Ferreri of being the first man to take Zarate 15 rounds, as he had little chance of winning the bout. This would be the second longest bout of Zarate’s 70 fight pro career, with Lupe Pintor eventually ending Zarate’s three-year reign with a controversial 15-round decision in 1979.

Zarate would eventually get a fight with the WBA champion Zamora, but not with both titles on the line. The sanctioning bodies made it difficult to negotiate the bout with the so the two undefeated champions clashed over ten rounds instead of fifteen and above the weight limit. With only bragging rights on the line, Zarate knocked Zamora out in round four to prove his dominance at bantamweight. Zamora was never the same again, losing four of his remaining eight bouts before retiring in 1980. Zarate held the title until his loss to Pintor in 1979, making eight defences in total. He lost a challenge to Wilfredo Gomez for the super bantamweight title in 1978, his first professional loss, before retiring in 1979 after the controversial defeat to Pintor. He made a comeback in 1986, winning 12 bouts before travelling to Australia to challenge Jeff Fenech. He was well behind on the scorecards when the fight was stopped due to a cut on Fenech caused by a clash of heads.

Ferreri would fight on for another ten years after losing to Zarate, but would never again fight for a world title. On top of his 17 years as Australian bantamweight champion, Ferreri also added the Australian featherweight and super featherweight titles to his collection. He lost his Commonwealth bantamweight championship to Ghana’s Sulley Shittu in Ghana in 1976 and lost another challenge in 1978 against Welshman Johnny Owen but regained the vacant title in 1981 after Owen’s tragic death in 1980 following a loss to Pintor. Ferreri scored wins over former world champion Venice Borkhorsor and former world title challenger Rocky Gattellari before retiring in 1986 after losing his Commonwealth bantamweight title to Ray Minus with a 78-13-5 record. The fights with Minus and Zarate were the only two times he was stopped in an 86-fight pro career.

Ferreri’s career came along during a transition period in Australian boxing. Had his career come 20 years earlier, his achievements in Australian and Commonwealth title fights were similar to that of fighters like Palmer, Vic Patrick and Jack Carroll, fighters who are considered among Australia’s greatest. Had Ferreri come along ten years later, after the formation of the IBF, it is very probable that he, like Australians Jeff Fenech, Lester Ellis and Barry Michael, could have won a world title. In an interview in 2007 for Australian boxing magazine “The Fist” Ferreri was asked about Fenech. His response was that “if he was fighting in the seventies he wouldn’t have even been Australian champion because he would have had to fight me.”

Ferreri is unfortunately forgotten among Australia’s great fighters due to the timing of his career.