PROVIDENCE -- The good news for Joe Gardner is that heâ€™s going to fight for the EBA (Eastern Boxing Association) New England light heavyweight championship on Nov. 12 at the Twin River Event Center.
The bad news is that the Woonsocket fighter is going to have to battle a very familiar boxer to him, his trainer, Bob Moreau, and his corner -- his favorite sparring partner, Keith Kozlin of West Warwick.
Gardner, who fights out of the Woonsocket Boxing Club, will carry a 6-1-1 (1 KO) mark into the six-round co-feature of CESâ€™s (Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc.) â€śHomecoming Kingâ€ť card against Kozlin, who has a nearly-identical 6-1 (4 KOs) record.
While the main event, which features the return of IBO world middleweight champion Peter Manfredo Jr. to Rhode Island after a two-year absence from the state, promises to draw plenty of interest among local fight fans, so does this spirited intrastate fight between the two friends.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a very popular fight,â€ť Gardner added after Tuesdayâ€™s press conference outside Andinoâ€™s Restaurant on Federal Hill. â€śWe both know itâ€™s all business. Weâ€™ll still be buddies after. There wonâ€™t be any hard feelings.â€ť
â€ś(Gardner) is a tough opponent thatâ€™s always in shape and always ready to fight,â€ť Kozlin offered at the press conference. â€śI know Iâ€™m going to have to train hard and get ready because itâ€™s going to be a very good fight.â€ť
The matchup with Kozlin came as a surprise to Gardner when he found out about the bout. So did the news that he was going to vie for a championship belt just six months after returning to the sport from a 7Â˝-year hiatus.
â€śI didnâ€™t see this happening,â€ť Gardner said about the title fight. â€śbut (CES) has been keeping me really busy and Iâ€™ve been having some good success. Iâ€™m feeling better and better every outing.â€ť
Gardner comes into the fight with back-to-back victories at Twin River -- a four-round majority decision triumph over DeMarcus Clark of Shreveport, La. on July 9 and six-round unanimous decision win over Eric Pinarreta of New Bedford, Mass. in his first career co-feature on Sept. 3.
Kozlin is also coming off a victory over Pinarreta, a crowd-pleasing, third-round TKO on the same July 9 card that included Gardner. Prior to that win, Kozlin suffered his only defeat in a close four-round majority decision loss to Greg McCoy of New Haven, Conn. on May 7 at Twin River.
â€śKeithâ€™s not going to be an easy fight,â€ť remarked Gardner. â€śHe has a lot of power and he likes to come forward so Iâ€™ll be on the move a lot, give him a lot of angles, try to keep him turning, and keep my jab in his face as much as I can.â€ť
Kozlin also presents another problem for Gardner -- he wonâ€™t be seeing him any time soon for some quality rounds of sparring.
â€śItâ€™s disappointing because Keithâ€™s a good sparring partner and he helps me a lot,â€ť Gardner said with a smile. â€śBut after this fight, weâ€™ll still be buddies and weâ€™ll be back sparring.â€ť
In addition to the 10-round non-title bout between Manfredo (35-6, 19 KOs) and former Colombian junior middlweight champion Jhon Berrio (15-7, 11 KOs), the â€śHomecoming Kingâ€ť card will feature a action-packed undercard with seven bouts.
Two boxers will make their pro debuts in four-round matches. Middleweight Thomas Falowo of Pawtucket, who trains out of Manfredoâ€™s Gym, will fight Haitian fighter Odias Dumez (2-4, 1 KO), and cruiserweight Dante Wiggins of Providence will duel Ahmad Mickens (1-0-1) of Stamford, Conn.
Providenceâ€™s Eric Estrada, a firefighter in the city and the younger brother of 2004 U.S. Olympic heavyweight Jason â€śBig Sixâ€ť Estrada will take a 2-0 (2 KOs) record into his four-round cruiserweight tussle with Tobias Rice (2-1, 2 KOs) of Macon, Ga.
Former three-time New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champ Jesse â€śBad Newsâ€ť Barboza (4-1, 3 KOs) of Hyannis, Mass. and super lightweight Jonathan Vazquez (2-0, 2 KOs) of New Bedford, Mass. will also appear in four-round fights.
Tickets are priced at $40, $60, $100, and $150 (VIP) and can be purchased by contacting CES (724-2253/2254), going online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, or visiting the Players Club booth at Twin River or any TicketMaster location.
The doors open at 6 p.m. and the first bout is scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. Twin River has waived its 18-plus rule for the show, and everyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied at all times by an adult and enter through the West entrance.