Top Rank is officially set to kick off its 2023 campaign with a surprisingly solid heavyweight doubleheader at Verona, NY’s Turning Stone Resort Casino. The main event pits Efe Ajagba against Oscar Rivas, while undefeated Guido Vianello and Stephen Shaw square off in the co-feature.
Ajagba (16-1, 13 KO) fell short in an October 2021 clash of prospects with Frank Sanchez on the Fury-Wilder III undercard, which saw the former Nigerian Olympian thoroughly defused and dropped in the seventh by his faster, more seasoned opponent. He smashed Jozsef Darmos in a get-well win last August and now steps back up in class against reigning Bridgerweight champ Oscar Rivas (28-1, 19 KO).
“Kaboom” hasn’t fought since an October 2021 war with Ryan Rozicki, but it’s not due to lack of trying. He was supposed to face Lukasz Rozanski in a homecoming defense last August, only to, as he tells it, get screwed by his promotional partner in Colombia. He’s a solid fighter and a good test to see whether Ajagba has improved enough since that defeat to make another run at contention.
“I am injury-free and ready to show the world what I can accomplish when I am 100 percent,” Ajagba said. “I respect Oscar Rivas for accepting the challenge. We will give the fans a great show, but I will be victorious on January 14th.”
Rivas said, “I’m extremely happy to be back in the ring in Verona where I had a lot of success not too long ago. I’m proud of my WBC Bridgerweight title and will be defending it soon, but this opportunity Top Rank gave us at heavyweight was too good to pass up. I also have a lot of respect for Ajagba, and while I agree with him that it will be spectacular for the fans, my skills and my experience will be the difference.”
I’ll admit to being confused as to the belt situation. The WBC ordered Rivas to fight Rozanski on February 25th, then face the winner of Alen Babic vs Ryad Merhy. My assumption would be that something happened with Rozanski, but I can’t find any news of it, and Rivas isn’t one of the WBC’s darlings that gets to flout the rules whenever he wants.
Guess we’ll find out eventually.
Vianello (10-0-1, 9 KO) vs Shaw (18-0, 13 KO) is a nice step-up for both men, though a bigger one for “The Gladiator.” He’s been matched fairly soft since a questionable draw with Kingsley Ibeh two years back during his stint in the Bubble, while Shaw’s beaten some familiar Opponents to the Stars like Gregory Corbin, Joey Dawejko, and Rydell Booker.
Shaw was actually slated to fight Jermaine Franklin two Aprils back before the latter got COVID, so it’s nice to see him get another shot on a big stage.
Vianello said, “Stephan Shaw is a good, undefeated fighter, but I fight better when presented with top opposition. I look forward to fighting on ESPN as part of a great heavyweight doubleheader.”
“I’m excited. This is my time to shine. This is my moment,” Shaw said. “I’m ready to go out and there and have some fun. I won’t be under the radar after beating Guido. He’s a good boxer, but I am superior. I will prove that on January 14th.”
The most notable piece of the undercard pits Abraham Nova (21-1, 15 KO) against Adam Lopez (16-3, 6 KO) in a super featherweight slugfest that could steal the show. This will be Nova’s first fight since a nasty one-punch knockout loss to Robeisy Ramirez.