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Boxing: Hanks, U.S. heavyweight hope, faces first mountain

Friday, February 3, 2012
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— In the first of three planned cards for Albany this year, Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia offers fans “The Future.”

It’s the nickname of IBA heavyweight champion Joe Hanks, who will defend his belt in the 10-round main event Saturday night at the Times Union Center against challenger Rafael “The Cajun Connection” Pedro. It is also what DeGuardia considers Hanks to be — the future of the heavyweight division, and one that can bring fans back to the sport.

“He’s the kind of guy I look at as being, potentially, one of the guys who can mold the heavyweight division back into interest,” DeGuardia said. “We need a heavyweight star from America. When you go to Europe, [WBC heavyweight champion Vitali] Klitschko is the king. The reality is, they’re superstars out there, but not here. The American public is looking for an American champion.”

DeGuardia called Hanks a methodical fighter and boasts he is faster than Mike Tyson, though Tyson was a bit more explos­ive, he said.

Hanks hails from Newark, N.J., though he now works out of Los Angeles. He owns an 18-0-0 record with 12 knockouts. He won the then-vacant IBA title with a unanimous dec­ision over Alfredo Escalera Jr. on July 23 last year in the Bronx.

He said he’s comfortable with his prophetic moniker.

“I just want to come out and give it my all every day, and I’ll let the fans make the final call on whether I’m the guy that’s going to be the one to resurrect the division,” Hanks said. “I just come out and give it 200 percent, let you guys come up with the final opinion.”

His opponent is Cuban-born, Louisiana resident Pedro (21-9-1, 15 KO), who at 6-foot-7 is three inches taller than Hanks, and looks a bit thicker from every angle.

DeGuardia called the large Cuban a test for Hanks, who he would like to pit against Klitschko some day.

“It’s something we were interested in, frankly, because it’s like fighting a mountain,” DeGuardia said. “Joe Hanks, eventually, we’re working on fighting Klitschko. That’s another mountain to climb, so he might as well start climbing the mountains now. You can’t climb Mount Everest until you start climbing some of the smaller ones, right?”

In April 2010, Pedro fought Shannon Briggs in Miami with his own hopes of climbing the ladder to face Klitschko. Briggs won, and three bouts later, lost a unanimous decision to Klitschko.

Pedro has no intention of being a steppingstone again for Hanks.

“I’m going to stop him from getting an opportunity to fight Klitschko,” he said. “He’s got to go through me before he gets to Klitschko.”

While Hanks was fairly modest at Thursday’s press conference at the Times Union Center, Pedro was frank, recounting the mantra DeGuardia has said, “Don’t blink,” for fear of missing the big knockout punch in the main event.

“It’s like he said, ‘Don’t blink or you’re going to miss it,’ ” Pedro said. “You’re going to miss it because I’m not going to try to go for 10 rounds. I’m going to finish early.”

“It actually has me excited,” Hanks said of Pedro’s enthusiasm. “I didn’t know if he was going to come in here and just give the fight away or come in here with no energy. I like the energy he’s bringing. I like the fact he wants something, so that’s going to bring the best out of me. I’m looking forward to being challenged.”

The undercard includes a 10-round bantamweight co-feature for the WBO Intercontinental championship. Undefeated Russian Sahib Usarov (17-0-0, 6 KO) will face 2004 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba, Yan Barthelemy (12-2, 4 KOs).

The card also pits Schenectady’s Bryan Abraham (5-10-2, 5 KOs) against Rochester’s Darnell Jiles (8-2-1, 3 KOs) in a six-round tilt. Abraham has been on big cards before, and he exuded a quiet confidence Thursday.

Albany’s Mike Seitz will fight Brooklyn’s Karim Richardson in the pro debut for both at four rounds. Kevin Rooney Jr. (2-1-0, 1 KO) will fight Stanley Harvey (1-1-0, 1 KO) in another four-rounder.

Jason Escalera (12-0, 11 KOs) and Marcus Brooks (7-8, 3 KOs) round out the undercard with an eight-round fight just before the co-feature.

The undercard is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or at the arena box office and area Wal-Mart Music Centers, ranging in price from $30-$75.

“We have to go back to making the fights exciting for fans,” DeGuardia said. “That means we want to get out there to areas like Albany and be able to show them world-quality boxing.”

 
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