Tonight, live on ESPN Friday Night Fights from the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia, the long-awaited fight between Amir “Harcore” Mansour (21-1, 16 ko’s) or Joey “The Tank” DaWejko (14-3-2, 7 ko’s) finally happens. For eight weeks, the public has been fed an endless stream of hyperbole to build up this local showdown. Most are saying this is going to be a very good fight. I am saying that this needs be a very good fight! The 2300 Arena is nearly sold out and many around the world will tune in via ESPN. The eyes are watching and the people are talkin’. The time for chatter is over. It is put up or shut up in its highest form. We finally get to find out who is the better local fighter.
On paper this bout has the makings of a one of those all-Philly classic showdowns that are hard to come by in today’s local boxing landscape. It is the tale of two fallen prospects who brushed the dirt off their shoulder, got back in line and punched their way to the cusp of contender status. Around town both fighters are known name, but their long-term destinies are unclear. This fight will likely give a clue if either fighter is truly a “next-level” heavyweight. This one fight may not provide all of the answers but it will give some insight as both men will be faced with the type of skill sets they have yet to defeat as professionals.
This is easily the most anticipated local showdown since Derek “Pooh” Ennis narrowly edged “King” Gabriel Rosado in the same building five years ago. That particular bout turned out to be a 12 round Philly Junior Middleweight classic and run away local Fight of the Year winner. This one has the locals buzzing with predictions all across the board. Most think a knockout is in order. Some have already ordained it the 2015 Fight of the Year.
Credit must be given to both teams for taking this fight. Here we have two men sacrificing short-term reward for the vision of long-term success. They will likely be paid the boxing equivalent to a bag of peanuts. The potential jackpot comes down the line, as the TV exposure and notch on the resume could be parlayed into a much heftier paycheck in the near future. The winner of this bout will have the honor of being crowned the PA State Heavyweight Champion. Both camps seems to be going full steam ahead to seize what may be their last chance for an opportunity on a national level.
Team DaWejko, based out of the Tacony section of Philly, slightly won the pre-fight shit talk battle, coming up with the gutsy #tankgonnakillmansour hashtags and “Fear the Beard” tee-shirts. It must be noted that Mansour’s manager James Gibbs almost stole the show with his one-liner stating “you can’t turn a poodle into a pitbull’.
Team Mansour, of Wilmington Delaware via Salem New Jersey and Joe Hand’s Gym, won the political battle when he flipped the script by successfully lobbying the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission to force DaWejko to trim his trademark beard before the bell sounds. DaWejko says the beard stays, but I have a feeling that State Athletic Director Greg Sirb will have the final say in the matter. But enough with the nonsense, let’s get on to the things that really matter…
It is hard to imagine a contest where a 42-year-old and 24-year-old touch gloves to be a crossroads bout but that is exactly what this is. Both fighters had great moments in the sport of boxing. Both have past transgressions that halted early career promise. Both fighters believe that they belong in the ring with the best in the business. Both fighters careers are standing on a slushy pond where one more loss could send them collapsing into the water.
On paper this is a tough one to size up. DaWejko’s skills are well noted, the white James Toney has the ability to make a man look silly in a ring. Stories of a much younger Joey giving ex-champions and contenders beatings in sparring sessions are well noted. He has trained with some of the best and seems to have a knack for the intricacies of the game.
On the flip side, Joey hasn’t always taken his craft seriously. He has some bad losses on his professional resume, all to fighters who are no better than his upcoming opponent. For this fight all indications points towards Joey putting in a dedicated training camp. One thing to note about this camp is that it took place out-of-town, normally a good thing to eliminate distractions – but this one kept DaWejko away for the birth of his beautiful new daughter. That had to weigh on his mind as he prepared for Mansour. Credit must be given for his perseverance in that matter. It is one of the lesser known hardships a fighter must go through in their quest to achieve a dream that may never come to fruition.
On May 8th Joey D will face one of the hardest men in the sport. A fighter who spent the first half of this millennium training in a prison storage closet labeled as “Saigon”. A talent who has been through war with one of the best in the world and came within a hair of walking away victorious. A man who won the 2014 Sports Illustrated Knockout of the Year when he chalk-lined Fred Kassi at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA in his most recent fight. A boxer who desperately needs a victory in this fight. Needless to say, DaWejko doesn’t have the benefit of fighting some lemon street chump this time around. We will also find out how for real this power streak really is.
While DaWejko and team were extremely vocal and outwardly confident during the lead-up to this bout, Mansour himself flew under the radar. His path to this bout was very different from DaWejko’s – but the bottom line is the same. Victory is a must.
In the late 1990’s, Mansour (then known as Lavern Moorer) was an intriguing power punching prospect who built a 9-0 record fighting on small club shows at venues like The Legendary Blue Horizon and Dover Downs. The road to the riches hit a sudden detour in 2001 when Mansour was knocked with a government issued eight-year sabbatical from the sport. At 28 years old, it looked like the prime of his career was down the toilet.
Out of sight and out of mind, Mansour kept a focus on boxing. He made an unexpected connection with former local contender Calvin Davis while away. Davis agree to train Mansour, to help smooth edges on the rough yet unrefined fighter. Rumor has it that they would search the yard for men Amir’s size for sparring sessions in a tiny 10 x 10 room. You will be hard pressed to find a tougher story in this hard knock sport. A fighter who thrives on the uncomfortable is usually the most dangerous.
Mansour returned to the ring in 2010 at the ripe age of 38 and snuck up on the local boxing scene. He quietly linked up with manager Keith Stouffer, James Gibbs and Joe Hand and came storming out of the gate. Old but still fresh, he scored highlight reel knockouts against mid-level competitors. Mansour was on the rise once again.
After another slip up which cost him all of the 2012 campaign, “Hardcore” continued his winning ways in 2013, winning three fights, two by knockout. This set up a local showdown with the world rated Steve “USS” Cunningham. It was the type opportunity Mansour eyed for close to 15 years. At 41 years old and a 20-0 record – it was time to find out if he could truly compete with the upper class.
On April 4, 2014, the two waged war at the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. Mansour came within a hair of knocking out USS, dropping the former Cruiserweight champion on his ass hard, two times in the 5th round of their scheduled 12 rounder. Just when it looked like Mansour was certain to close the show, the crafty veteran Cunningham used Mansour’s lack of experience against him to snatch a victory that looked to be in the bag.
Some say Amir was out foxed. Others think he didn’t know how to react when Cunningham did something no other Mansour foe ever did after being dropped so hard – he got back up and continued to fight!
After Cunningham shook off the cobwebs, he fought much smarter for the remainder of the bought. He fought so intelligently that USS swept the scorecards down the stretch to earn a unanimous decision victory – pinning the first L on the record of Mansour.
And that is where the dilemma lies with Mansour. He was exposed to be susceptible to the tricks of a clever boxer. And slick movement is Joey DaWejko’s M.O. Don’t be fooled by Joey’s current first round KO streak. Yes, he may have improved his power over time, but he is more Toney than he is Tyson. Did Mansour learn his lesson in the Cunningham fight or is it a true “chink in the armor”? We know he can go the distance, but can he kick it into that extra level to seal the victory against an opponent that won’t lay down?
When all cards are laid on the table, Mansour has that one true equalizer that can allow him to get away with making mistakes in the ring. Pound for pound – he is one of the hardest punchers in the business. One false move and his opponent could end up on his back staring at the new 2300 Arena ceiling.
While Mansour got a late start to the sport turning pro with no official amatuer bouts, Joey D first laced them up as a pre-teen at Harrowgate Boxing Club in Juniata. DaWejko traveled the world and beat some of the best amateurs in the process. He won awards everywhere he boxed. Many people had high hopes when the pride of Tacony turned professional in 2009.
With all of those great amateur credentials, there were also some big question marks. Was he nothing more than a chubby Heavyweight better suited to compete at Light Heavyweight? They knew his training habits were lazy. His business sense was non-existent – signing bum deals with suspect promoters and working with shady managers. Even with all of those red flags in play, the sky’s the limit when you have a white heavyweight who can actually fight.
And fight is something Joey Dawejko does well. He beat Bryant Jennings in the amateurs. He sells tickets out of the ass in Philly. But something was always amiss. Soon after turning pro Joey found himself in spots where he was taking tough fights on the road on short notice. I understand that a man’s gotta feed his family but these decisions had his career on the fast track to Jobberville.
Enter Mark Cipparone, the flashy auto-collision specialist who entered the boxing game a few years back and become the master of the reclamation project. The two linked up in 2014 shortly after Joey earned a surprise victory over the divisions notable win, Derrick Rossy, in Atlantic City. The victory over Rossy brought in some good offers to fight here and abroad. Joey could have chased the fast money and no one would have second guessed.
This time around he decided to take a different approach. He came back home, signed with Peltz Boxing Promotions to go along with his membership in Cipparone’s Club 1957 Management, and began to slowly repair the damage caused by early career mistakes.
It seems to be a wise decision and DaWejko seems to be reborn. He has slimmed down some, he is training more consistently, he is fighting with more of a purpose. He was always a good kid, maybe he just need some time to mature. He has stories on an old wily veteran, yet he is still only 24 years old.
Since being stopped in Los Angeles by fellow prospect Charles Martin in California in 2013, “The Tank” has gone 6-0 in his last six fights. He stayed close to home and built a good buzz around his name in the process. Now he gets a chance for a do-over.
For all of his great recent accomplishments, he has yet to show he can do it against someone who has championship aspirations. He has yet to face a fighter as experienced or as powerful as Mansour. That is what makes this bout so interesting. So many variables in play, it is a fight that could go either way.
This bout is not without its critics. There are many around town whose stomachs turn at the thought of two local guys facing each other. They say Philly is supposed to conquer the world together, not knock each other off on the way to the top. There is a collusion of sorts among the area fighters who prevent local showdowns like this from happening. Those who object make some valid points.
Those on the business end huckstering tickets have a different point of view. They say local showdowns are usually the fights people remember years down the road. Those on the “inside” have already proclaimed this fight a sure shot for 2015 Philly Fight of the Year. They say fans need something to get excited about.
Maybe it will be the F.O.Y., maybe it will be a complete dud. For all of the talk, I say expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised. The winner will move on to a possible top 15 rating. The loser will have to hustle tickets the rest of his career if he continues to compete.
Think you know who is going to win this BAM Boxing Promotions and Peltz Boxing production at the old ECW Arena? Do you know how they are going to do it? If so – voice your opinion and becoming eligible to win a “Dinner for Two” courtesy of Sumo Steams at Broad & Somerset.
For the out-of-town readers – do not fear.I will freeze ship two Philly Cheese steaks (beef, chicken or veggie) to your door – anywhere in the USA. A winner living in or around Philly / Jersey / DE will receive two combo meals which include steak, fries and a drink – eat in only. The rules are simple – leave a comment with your winner and how they are going to win. If going knockout you must pick a round. If you go decision you must leave a score that can match any of the three official judges tallies.
Buy a ticket, watch live or set your DVR because many think this will be a very good fight. Shout out to Billy C at Sumo Steaks, a firm supporter of local boxing. Next time you get the itch for a steak – visit his restaurant at 2805 N 22nd St