Silvio Branco: 45 and Fighting to Stay Relevant

Silvio Branco faces Giacobbe Fragomeni tomorrow in Italy, still fighting at age 45.

Ryan Bivins returns to Bad Left Hook today to take a look at a somewhat under-the-radar fight between two veterans tomorrow in Italy.

Shortly, a former middleweight champion that debuted professionally in 1988 will find himself fighting yet again for a major title. Standing over 6ft tall and closer to age 50 than 40, this man will attempt to defy the odds and leave the ring with a WBC belt around his waist.

However, I'm not talking about Bernard Hopkins, who will meet Chad Dawson "once and for all" on April 28th in Atlantic City. Rather I'm referring to Silvio Branco, who meets Giacobbe Fragomeni for the vacant WBC Silver cruiserweight title this Saturday, March 17th.

While not quite a WBC "Gold" title, the WBC Silver title is as close as it gets in the absence of interim belts, which the WBC dispensed with entirely in 2011. Should reigning WBC champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk be stripped of his title for refusing to rematch mandatory challenger Francisco Palacios, the winner of Branco-Fragomeni will immediately be elevated to his status. Tough luck for Palacios, whose 2011 loss to Wlodarczyk is in the running for robbery of the year. Currently the WBC rates Palacios #1, Fragomeni #2, and Branco #3. Whether these fighters actually deserve these ratings is another story.

The 42 year old Fragomeni hasn't had a notable win since losing his WBC cruiserweight title to Zsolt Erdei in 2009. Branco, now 45, hasn't won a meaningful fight since losing his WBA light heavyweight title to Stipe Drews in 2006. So how did they achieve their ratings? Both beat the same journeyman for the vacant WBC International cruiserweight title. But I'm not here to discuss the corrupt WBC ratings. I'm here to discuss the up and down career of "The Barbarian" Silvio Branco.

Branco, who will have his 75th professional bout this weekend, has already been involved in at least 34 contests for some kind of title. His first title shot paired him against Agostino Cardamone in a meeting of undefeated prospects. Regrettably, Cardamone was the one to escape undefeated and walked away with Italy's middleweight title. But because Cardamone captured the European Boxing Union's middleweight title a year later, Branco was able to secure the Italian title only four fights down the line. After three successful defenses of the Italian title, Branco captured the WBC International middleweight title.

However, he lost his next fight to Richie Woodhall and his chance to become EBU middleweight champion. Woodhall, a future world champion, was the first of three opponents to deny Branco an EBU title. Undeterred, Branco picked up the IBF Inter-Continental middleweight title in his very next fight. After making one defense Branco moved up to super middleweight and challenged for the World Boxing Union title against Rodney Toney but had to settle for a draw. Toney had previously beaten Charles Brewer and drew with William Joppy. Three notable opponents into Branco's 27 fight career and he remained winless. But then Silvio moved back down in weight and things turned around.

First, Branco defeated Thomas Tate for the vacant WBU middleweight title. While the belt is hardly recognized as a legitimate world title, the opponent was a credible world title challenger. Then Branco made his first successful defense against former WBO light middleweight champion Verno Phillips. Five more successful defenses later, Branco was given a chance at redemption against his Italian rival Cardamone. To Silvio's dismay, Cardamone won the second meeting by KO, and the immediate rematch by decision. Going 0-3 against Cardamone, Branco left the middleweight division for good. Branco's first meaningful triumph at super middleweight came against "The Road Warrior" Glen Johnson, where he snatched the same WBU title he failed to capture four years prior against Toney. I gave seven rounds to Branco, four to Johnson, and scored one even. Johnson pretty much fell apart after sweeping the first three rounds. Back then, it was a typical Glen Johnson performance.

After capturing his second "world" title in as many weight classes, Branco made his first title defense against former WBC super middleweight champion Robin Reid. Branco not only defeated Reid, but he made it look relatively easy compared to what future hall of famer Joe Calzaghe had to endure one fight earlier. Branco won a wide decision despite being ruled down in the last round, which was actually due to a low blow. Coming off career high wins Branco was given his first major world title shot against the legendary Sven Ottke, who retired 34-0. Failing to seize Ottke's IBF super middleweight title, Branco moved on to the next weight class.

On yet another comeback trail, Branco picked up an IBF Inter-Continental light heavyweight title to get the ball rolling. However it wasn't until he challenged for the vacant EBU light heavyweight title that he met his first noteworthy opponent in the division, Stipe Drews. Drews, a gigantic 6'5" southpaw, was simply a horrendous style matchup for a guy like Branco who fights standing straight up, prefers to counter punch, and relies on keeping his opponents at the end of a jab. Thus Branco lost his second bid at an EBU title, and would later lose a rematch with a world title at stake.

Nonetheless Branco pushed on and became WBA World light heavyweight champion later that year by overcoming the undefeated Mehdi Sahnoune, winning a third world title in as many divisions. Fifteen years into his pro career Branco finally held a major world title. But as luck would have it he met Fabrice Tiozzo in his first defense, one of France's finest to ever lace gloves up. Needless to say, Branco lost.

Trying to put a close decision loss to Tiozzo behind him, Branco once more attempted to obtain the vacant EBU light heavyweight title. However for the third and final time, Silvio failed to become European champion. Despite outpointing Thomas Ulrich over 10 rounds on all of the judges' scorecards, Branco was knocked out in the 11th. Suffering back to back losses for the second time in his 16 year career, most successful veterans like Branco would take some time off. Instead, Branco fought twice more that year and picked up a vacant WBA Inter-Continental light heavyweight title for his troubles.

A few years later Branco even found himself world champion again. After Branco acquired the interim WBA light heavyweight title by dominating Manny Siaca, he was upgraded to full world champion when Tiozzo announced his retirement. Unfortunately, just like the last time Branco held the full WBA World title, he lost it in his first defense. Drews, like Cardamone, simply had Branco's number.

As covered previously, Branco has yet to win another major fight since losing his WBA crown, despite later adding the WBC Latino light heavyweight title, WBC International light heavyweight title, and WBC International cruiserweight title to his belt collection. After six signature career wins, gaining twice the amount of major/minor titles in the process, the 24 year pro Branco is now in the twilight of his career.

The last time Silvio was seen on US television he was stopped by Jean Pascal for the WBC World light heavyweight title, but gave a decent account of himself beforehand. This Saturday Branco will attempt to add the vacant WBC Silver cruiserweight title to his collection, and perhaps even call himself a four division world champion. His fight won't be televised in the US, but if he wins he can probably count on at least one more major fight before retirement. But no matter what happens, just the fact that an obscure 45 year old man is in this position is remarkable. I wish him the best of luck and a happy retirement, hopefully sometime this decade.

Ryan Bivins can be contacted on Twitter via @sweetboxing and email at rgbivins@gmail.com

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