The only thing worse than the two-year layoff for Jesse Barboza was the fact his last fight ended in a disappointing draw, leaving the former three-time New England Golden Gloves champion with a lot of free time to think about what had went wrong.
“I had two years to deal with it,” Barboza said. “It drove me nuts.”
Barboza (5-1-1, 3 KOs) finally got the sour taste of his mouth last November when he returned from his hiatus with a unanimous-decision win over Kevin Franklin in Providence, R.I.
Now Barboza’s comeback is about to come full circle as he prepares to fight at Twin River Casino on Friday, March 15th, 2013 under the guidance of his first – and only – promoter, Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports. This will be his first fight with CES since November of 2010, ending a hiatus Barboza hopes he can finally put in his rearview mirror.
“I love CES,” said Barboza, who’ll face Altoona, Pa., heavyweight Jeramiah Witherspoon (2-2-1, 1 KO) in a four-round bout on the undercard of “Unfinished Business” at Twin River.
“I love how they do things. When you go somewhere else and work with other people, it makes you appreciate having a team around you where you can say, ‘Hey, can you get this done for me?’ and it gets done with no questions asked.”
Three years ago, the Barnstable, Mass., native stepped out from under the shadow of his own amateur success and began his professional career with a thrilling, second-round knockout win in nearby Plymouth. With a hard-working promoter and a dedicated management team in his corner, Barboza had everything a young fighter could ask for – most importantly, stability.
Within nine months, the former Golden Gloves standout was 3-0 with three knockouts, but everything went sour when he lost for the first time in his career to to then-unbeaten heavyweight Winston Thorpe at Twin River. Communication between he and his manager broke down, and Barboza soon began switching trainers on a routine basis in search of the right fit.
“Sometimes you hit bumps in the road and people aren’t always ready for that,” Barboza said. “The lack of communication had as much to do with me as it did with them. I should’ve just told them I wasn’t comfortable with this fight, or that fight …
“Sometimes when you tell people you’re not ready for a certain fight they think you’re a coward,” he continued. “That’s not how it is. People were dogging [super middleweight world champion] Andre Ward for a long time wondering when he’d step up. Look at him now. You always want to fight tough guys, but, at the same time, you have to make the right decisions. The risk has to match the reward.”
Following the loss to Thorpe, Barboza returned to the ring four months later with an uninspiring, unanimous-decision win over Antonio Robertson, raising even more concerns within his inner circle. As he continued to struggle with finding the right opponent, Barboza’s layoff went from being just a few months to suddenly a year and a half to two full years before he finally stepped back into the ring.
The good news was that throughout his hiatus, Barboza worked with only one trainer, Jeff Gonsalves, the younger brother of Barboza’s first trainer, Dave Gonsalves Jr., so he knew it was only a matter of time before he returned.
“Sometimes that doubt might creep in, and it’s scary,” Barboza said, “but for me it was never really there.
“It would get tough being on that rollercoaster, but I knew I wasn’t ever going to stop. During that whole [layoff] I was training. I didn’t take any time off. Jeff and I have been on the same page the whole time. He’s a student of the game. He loves boxing. A lot of trainers have big names and a big following with hundreds of clients, and that’s great for them, but I had to get away from that. I had to find someone who was 100 percent focused on me. I know what I need in a trainer; I need a lot of attention to detail. A lot of guys have too much pride and don’t think they can learn anything else, but Jeff isn’t one of those guys. We still struggle, but you’re always going to have that. He takes my ideas, I take his, and it just kind of works out.”
Barboza’s win over Franklin in November didn’t end the way he had hoped it would – “I wanted a knockout,” he said, “but my timing was still a little off” – but having the opportunity to step back into the ring only four months later should help him regain the rhythm he once had earlier in his career.
As he prepares for his 27th birthday in June, Barboza knows that while there is still plenty of time left him for him to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion, this is the year that could make or break his career, and it’ll start March 15th under the guidance of the promoter who got it all started four years ago.
“I’ve already made up my mind that this is going to be the year I’m going to make my name,” Barboza said. “You have to set short-term goals first, but I want everyone to know there’s a new American heavyweight on the scene.
“My goals are still the same. If you’re in this for anything other than to be on top of the world, you should quit or retire. You’re not in this sport to finish in second place; you’re in it to be a champion. I’m here to prove I belong at the top of the heavyweight division. I want to prove it to myself, my community … my family. This is the year I break through. I’ll be a contender by the end of the year.”
The 10-round main event of “Unfinished Business” features the long-awaited rematch between Providence, R.I., super middleweights Joey Spina (26-3-2, 18 KOs) and Peter Manfredo Jr. (38-7, 20 KOs), who’ll face one another for the first time since 2006. Also on the undercard, Providence’s Alex Amparo (5-1, 3 KOs) will look to avenge his first career loss when he faces Woonsocket, R.I., veteran Joey Gardner (10-5-1, 1 KO) in a six-round super middleweight rematch. Gardner beat Amparo by unanimous decision in November.
“Unfinished Business” also features a six-round battle between light heavyweights Rich Gingras (12-3, 8 KOs) of Attleboro, Mass., and Dennis Okola (14-8, 4 KOs) of Nairobi, Kenya (now training out of Cheshire, Conn.), and a six-round interstate showdown between Boston middleweight Julio Garcia (6-3, 3 KOs) and Thomas Falowo (8-1, 6 KOs) of Pawtucket, R.I.
Looking to bounce back following his first career loss in November, light heavyweight Kevin Cobbs (6-1, 2 KOs) of Burlington, Vt., will face Paul Gonsalves (4-2, 3 KOs) of Harwich, Mass., in a four-round bout. Female bantamweight Noemi Bosques (1-0), a St. Petersburg, Fla., native who now trains in Providence, will face Queens native Vanessa Greco (1-2-1) in a four-round bout. All bouts are subject to change.