Boxing returns to Hartford this weekend

By Kirk Lang


Boxing returns to Hartford this weekend

His name is Jimmy Burchfield. Thank the man. It’s because of this North Providence, Rhode Island-based promoter that world-class boxing is returning this Saturday to Hartford, Connecticut. If not for Burchfield, major boxing in Connecticut’s capitol would still be a faded memory. Sure, virtually all professional boxing matches in the Nutmeg Sate now take place miles away in southeastern Connecticut at either Foxwoods Resort Casino or Mohegan Sun Casino. In fact, Burchfield has promoted many fights at the Native American gaming and entertainment destinations.

This time however, he’s taking boxing back to where it for so long was supported for decades. In fact, a few world champions came out of Hartford, such as Bat Battalino, Willie Pep and Marlon Starling. Battalino, two years after turning pro, won his first world title belt (in 1929) at Hartford’s Hurley Stadium against Andre Routis. Battalino would go on to win New York State recognition as featherweight world champion when he defeated Kid Chocolate a year later at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Boxing legend Pep fought in Hartford dozens of times and Starling, who reigned as welterweight champion in the late 1980s and for a brief period in the 1990s, even made a defense in Hartford (his first bout after knocking out Lloyd Honeyghan in nine rounds to claim the WBC welterweight title).

However, Hartford’s younger generation of fighters haven’t had much of a chance to fight in their hometowns. Although Burchfield’s Sept. 23 main event pits his cruiserweight, Matt "Too Smooth" Godfrey, rated No. 10 by the WBC, against Danny "Boy" Batchelder, No. 12 by the WBC, in a 12-round affair, Hartford’s Israel "Pito" Cardona and Mike "Machine Gun" Oliver add some local flavor to the show. When Cardona, a former world title challenger and ex-USBA and NABF lightweight champion, steps inside the squared circle on Saturday, he will be two fights into a comeback that follows a four-year layoff. He made his return in March with a first-round TKO of Bobby McAndrews. At one time, Cardona, now promoted by Burchfield, was on the fast track to a world title but then had the misfortune of having to take on a guy named Paul Spadafora for the IBF lightweight title that became vacant when Shane Mosley moved up to welterweight. When Cardona fought Spadafora in 1999, many observers of the sport of boxing were picking Cardona to emerge victorious. However, it was Spadafora who would win the fight and go on to make eight title defenses before running into domestic problems that would land him in jail. Cardona, now 31 years old, has resumed his career with the hopes of achieving his dream of becoming a world champion. Before looking too far into the future however, he must focus on Saturday’s fight, as family and friends will be at the Connecticut Convention Center watching his every move. Cardona will be taking on intra-state rival Shaka Moore, of Norwalk, in a special six-round welterweight attraction.

As major pro boxing has been absent from Hartford for nearly a decade, it will be only the second time in Cardona’s career that he is fighting in his hometown. Mike "Machine Gun" Oliver, who won the USBO super bantamweight title earlier this year at Mohegan Sun Casino, will also get a chance to display his talents a short distance from home. He’s planning to extend his unbeaten streak to 16-0 when he squares off against Oscar de la Cruz in a six-round bout. Oliver has shown impressive hand speed in all of his fights but trainer John Scully, a former light heavyweight world title challenger, is getting "Machine Gun" to be a bit more economical with his output, as well as put more power behind his shots.

"Working with Mike-Mike, I have been especially impressed with the fact that he listens very well," said Scully. "This is a guy who literally has been boxing since he was two or three years old, has had hundreds of fights as an amateur, has sparred thousands of rounds in his lifetime and has had probably anywhere from ten to fifteen different guys in his corner during the course of his career. Yet, even after all of that, he is very open and willing to try new things and has done so.

"And for a guy who had a reputation as a lazy kid not willing to work, I have to say that he does everything I tell him to do, no matter how difficult. At 122 pounds, with his blinding hand speed and power, and most of all his willingness to fight, I thin he could be a world champion."

Scully is no stranger to the Hartford fight scene. He fought in the city nearly a dozen times during his career, which spanned from 1988 to 2001.

However, the last significant show to be held in Hartford was on Dec. 18, 1997, an ESPN show held at the San Juan Center with saw Scully stop Scott Lopeck in the co-feature, Eric Harding betaing Richard Grant in an undercard fight and Angel Vasquez beating Baby Quinones for the
USBA featherweight title in the main event. That night was nearly 10 years ago.
The number of boxers in the city and the surrounding areas has dropped off significantly since the 1980s, according to Scully, but he adds that lately there has been a slight resurgence with the careers of Oliver and undefeated and Jackie Kallen-managed Matt "Sharp Shooter" Remillard, as well as Cardona’s return to the sport. Remillard, who hails from Manchester, CT, will be moving up in weight this weekend to take on Jose Hernandez for the vacant WBC Youth super featherweight championship

"Hopefully September 23 is the start of something new," said Scully, who is confident major boxing, after this Saturday, will return to Hartford long before another nine or ten years goes by.

Saturday’s show, billed as "Night of the Rising Stars," also features 2004 Olympian Jason "Big Six" Estrada taking on Cliff "Tyson Twin" Couser in a eight-round attraction, undefeated heavyweight Tony Grano against a yet-to-be-named opponent and middleweight Enrique "El Palo" Palau, of Worcester, MA, against 23-fight veteran James North. Palau is currently 4-0 and none of his opponents have made it past the first round..

Tickets for Saturday’s fights are now on sale at the Connecticut Convention Center (860-249-6000) or by going online at

Ticket prices are $35, $50, $75, $100 and $150 Platinum VIP (not including Connecticut taxes). Special VIP corporate tables (eight seats per table) are also available for $3,000, which includes a full-page ad in the program, banner (supplied by sponsors) at the event and two ring announcements. For more information, call 401-724-2254. Godfrey, fighting in the main event, is coming off a career-best performance, a one-round destruction of Brooklyn, New York’s Shaun George that was televised on ESPN2.


Send questions and comments to: