PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - February 24, 2024  
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Story by John DiSanto
Photos by Darryl Cobb Jr. / Instagram: @darrylcobb


Joe Hand Promotions, along with Sonny Conto and his ravenous fan base, returned to Live! Casino Thursday night. The atmosphere in South Philly was like a Vegas fight with much of the 1,165-seat room remaining about half-empty until the main event neared. Once the Conto show was imminent, the crowd stormed in and the place was packed. And Conto didn't let his fans down. He earned his ninth straight pro win, but had to go the full six-round distance to nail down victory.

Conto, the six-foot, four-inch, 226-pound heavyweight looked the part of a popular, promising prospect as he entered the arena. He started with a quiet march toward the ring, but as the crowd lifted his mood with their loyal roar, Sonny loosened up and started to feel the part. After ducking through the ropes, Conto bounced around the ring, acknowledged his fans and even managed a subtle little dance before the announcements. This was his night and it was clear that he knew it.

Once the bell rang however, most of the excitement was over. Conto clearly out-worked, out-maneuvered, and out-punched Danbury's Mike Marshall. He won every round and never really came close to ceding a single session to his imposing, big-bellied foe. But it wasn't an overly-impressive win.

Conto popped a neat right-left combination in the first round that looked good. The shots landed with force and Marshall flinched as he absorbed the punches. For a second, it appeared that Conto might steamroll Marshall, but the moment passed. Unfortunately, Marshall did not fight back afterward. Instead he buckled down and flipped on his survival switch. As the round ended, Marshall was backing up as Conto carefully pursued him.

Round two followed a similar pattern and before long it was clear that Marshall did not have offense on his mind. He was surviving and Conto was more or less safe from the incoming punches that most heavyweights have to worry about. Now it was just a matter of time before Conto put his opponent away.

He almost did it in round three when he switch to a focused body attack. As Sonny whacked away at Marshall's midsection, the Connecticut fighter looked hurt. Bothered by the blows, he backed away. At one point, he shook his arm, perhaps signaling that he was injured - a likely sign that he was ready to quit. However, he trudged on and survived.

Conto continued to pursue, but dropped his effective body work and started winging left hooks. These punches landed often, but Marshall survived each one. The truth was that he was far happier to take punches to his head rather than get slammed to the body. Conto continued to head-hunt, and perhaps let a knockout opportunity pass. Sonny returned to the body in round five, landing a beautiful upstairs-downstairs combination that stopped Marshall in his tracks. However, the combination landed close to the round-ending bell, and Conto ran out of time.

The sixth and final round was all Conto, but his efforts were workmanlike instead of that of a knockout artist. It was as if he was thinking, "let's get this over" and not "let's get him out of here." The bell sounded and the fight was over. There was really was no need to read the scorecards. Conto won by three scores of 60-54, calculated by judges Dewey Larosa, Justin Rubenstein, and John Poturaj. For this fight, no other score was even possible. Everyone on the planet would have turned in the same verdict.

With the win, Conto improved to 9-0, with 7 KOs. He came and did what he was supposed to do (win), but it wasn't his best performance. Granted, he didn't have much to work with in Marshall. Mike didn't want to be there and his lack of offense allowed Conto to do whatever he wanted without any concerns. However, we don't learn much about a young fighter like Conto unless he has something to worry about in the ring.

For example, Conto's best win to date was his last outing, a tough TKO of Joel Caudle in the same ring. Caudle tested Sonny and Conto responded well. He fought back and scored a knockout. THAT is what a prospect is supposed to do. Conto didn't - or couldn't - do that with Marshall, 6-3-1, 4 KOs.

With his lackluster performance, Marshall was begging to be knocked out. It was almost like he wanted it to happen, but Conto wouldn't or couldn't do it. He seemed satisfied with punching in for work and going through the motions. He has skill, but on this night there just wasn't enough passion in his performance. After the fight, to his credit, Conto admitted he had much to learn and to work on.

The Sonny Conto story continues to build. He's an attraction, a prospect, and very well may have what it takes to make it through the heavyweight division. However, he needs tougher opponents that will help him develop. Most great boxers aren't born that way. They become great. And when a potential knockout is teed up for them, they usually whack it out of the park.

Conto is still learning, but in this fight, I doubt he learned very much. But he's fun to watch and makes you want to turn to the next page in his book. That page will probably come in a few months back in South Philly. I'll be there and so will all of his fans. That's why we go to fights, to see these stories unfold. Let's turn the page and see what's coming next for Conto.


In an entertaining junior welterweight bout, Bryce Mills, Liverpool, NY, beat Philly's Daiyaan Butt over six bloody rounds. Butt stuck to his script and started slowly. Mills took the first round despite the fact that before it was over, blood was streaming from his hairline. I didn't see a butt from Butt, but a cut like this doesn't often come from a glove. It had to be a head.

Mills continued as the aggressor in the second round, but Butt warmed up and landed some nice shots to the head and body. In the next round, Butt cut Mills over the left eye and once again, the blood was flowing. These middle rounds were close with both fighters having there moments. I saw them swapping rounds and my score was even after four periods. The fourth round was especially close, but I gave it to Butt.

In the final two rounds, Mills pressed Butt and landed the more frequent and better shots. Butt stayed in the fight, but in the final round, Mills sliced him over the left eye. Butt's blood covered his face. The wound looked bad, but he kept fighting and had no trouble making it to the bell.

I scored this bloody good bout 58-56 for Mills. A few of the rounds were close and I thought a draw wasn't out of the question. One of the judges, Anthony Lundy, apparently agreed. He turned in a score of 58-56. However, Dewey Larosa and John Poturaj both scored the fight a 60-54 shutout for Mills. The right guy won this fight but this was no shutout. Mills improved to 8-1, 4 KOs, while Butt dipped to 10-2, 5 KOs. It was a good fight, and one of the real highlights of the night.


In another highlight of the evening, junior welterweights Carlos Marrero, Bridgeport, CT, and North Philly's Christopher Burgos (above right) battled for six exciting rounds, with Marrero coming away with a close unanimous decision.

Burgos started quickly. He pressed Marrero and landed some good right hands. After Marrero warmed up, he fired back and the war was underway. Carlos did enough to win the round, even though Burgos finished it well. Burgos jumped out in the second, but once again Marrero surged in the middle of the round and hurt the Philadelphian to the body. The fighters split the next two rounds, but during these skirmishes it was Marrero who led the action with Burgos battling back each time he was hit.

The final two rounds were another split, Marrero in the fifth and Burgos in the sixth. The last round was excellent. Both fighters hurt the other, Marrero early and Burgos late. It was a terrific close to the entertaining bout. Although it wasn't as breathtaking as Burgos' last fight - his six round decision over Gerardo Martinez which won the Briscoe Award as the 2021 Philly fight of the Year - this was classic club-fighting at its (near) best.

The three judges, Dewey Larosa, Anthony Lundy, and Justin Rubenstein all saw the fight for Marrero, 58-56, or 4-2 in rounds. My score was identical. Marrero bettered his record to 3-6-3, while Burgos slid to 3-5-1, 1 KO.


The sweet spot trio of the night's best fights began with the six-round featherweight match between Floridian D'Angelo Fuentes and Brooklyn's Justice Bland. Bland won the first two rounds on my scorecard, but Fuentes took over in round three and then swept the rest of the rounds. Despite this late surge by Fuentes, the fight was quite close and competitive in each of the rounds. One judge, Anthony Lundy called the fight even, 57-57. The remaining judges favored Fuentes. John Poturaj had it 59-55 and Justin Rubenstein scored it 60-54. My score was 58-56 for Fuentes who extended his undefeated streak to 7-0, with 4 KOs. Bland fought well, probably learned a thing or two, and left the ring 5-2, 2 KOs.


Worcester, MA junior middleweight Eslih Owusu zipped through six rounds with Lancaster journeyman Evincii Dixon in quiet one-sider that started the card's slate of six-rounders. There weren't many highlights in the bout. The southpaw fired his shots at Dixon who maneuvered around well but never really shifted into punching gear. Dixon's passiveness allowed Owusu stay satisfied with piling up points and thus never pushed for the knockout. This is one way survivors survive. They don't stir the pot too much and they get out without getting hurt. The sad part is that Dixon can fight, but his career is not about winning fights and improving his record. As his nickname clearly advertises, he is a "Prizefighter". And that is his only M.O., come to the fight, survive to fight another day, and collect that paycheck. My score was 60-54 for Owusu, which matched two of the three official judges card. The third gave Dixon one round and called it 59-55.


Bensalem-born Jordan Murphy, who now fights out of Florida, was impressive in his four-round junior lightweight victory over West Philly's Nasir Mickens. Before Conto's fans entered the event center, it was Murphy's loud cheering-section that half-filled the place. They rooted for their fighter just as heartily as Conto's crew, and kept the cheers coming for all four rounds. Mickens stormed out with a wild attack at the first bell. He chased and pressured Murphy and swiped many punches at him. However, Murphy stayed composed and started landing clean accurate shots.

Mickens tried a body attack in the second and was effective, but the wild-swinger couldn't land as much as the accurate puncher. The pattern continued and the fight was fun to watch. It was bull vs. matador for four full rounds. They fought hard and even wrestled to the mat twice. It should be noted that these were the only times any boxer on the card hit the floor. It was a rare show with no official knockdowns. After four rounds of good exchanges and nearly-constant action, Murphy won by three scores of 40-36. His large group of noisy fans passionately agreed. Murphy improved to 2-0, with 1 KO, while Mickens, 2-1, 1 KO, lost his first fight. 


The night opened with its only knockout. Shortly after the first bell, Trenton's Quadeer Jenkins caught North Philly's Rahiem Cooke with a hard shot and trapped him along the ropes. There he blasted away. At one point, Cooke nearly turned his back on Jenkins, but quickly spun back into the fight. Jenkins continued throwing punches. Cooke held on tight, but referee Eric Dali stepped in, pulled the fighters apart, and stopped the fight. The TKO came at the 1:04 mark of round one. It was the first win for Jenkins, 1-2, 1 KO. Cooke's record fell to 0-2, and it was the first time he was stopped.

This was the second boxing event at Live! Casino, both of them promoted by Joe Hand. This time, the room was tweaked to add a more than one hundred seats for a capacity of 1,165. By fight time, all the seats were filled. Live! Casino hosts another fight card next month with a different promoter, but Joe Hand is expected to return after that.




John DiSanto - South Philly - February 24, 2022