Juiseppe Cusumano feels as close as he ever has to reaching that magic moment in the sport of boxing most fighters can only dream of.
From his wild win over Brendan Barrett in February to his trip to Alabama a month later to spar with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, Cusumano (18-2, 16 KOs) knows greatness is at the doorstep. The ball is in his court, and he’s ready to take that next step Friday night at Twin River Casino Hotel.
The hard-hitting heavyweight returns to the ring for the first time in six months Aug. 9 when he faces Quincy, MA, vet Steve Vukosa (11-1, 4 KOs) for the vacant WBC USNBC title in the eight-round main event of CES Boxing’s summer-ending spectacular at the Event Center.
The significance of winning a WBC regional title isn’t lost on Cusumano; as a historian of the sport, he recalls that Wilder captured the WBC Continental Americas title — a similar stepping stone — in 2013 and, within three fights, earned his shot at the world championship two years later against Bermane Stiverne.
This is a potential life-changing opportunity and the 31-year-old Cusumano has ensured he’s in the best shape of his life both mentally and physically knowing what’s at stake Friday night.
“These are all blessings. A lot of people in this sport wish they could have these opportunities and now I’m here getting my shot,” Cusumano said. “I went through hell in this sport and almost gave it up a few times.
“That’s why I say, ‘Never give up on your dreams.’ Now they’re starting to come true for me.”
Tickets begin at $47 and are available online at www.cesboxing.com or www.showclix.com. Doors open at 6 p.m. ET and the first fight begins at 7.
Two and a half years ago, Cusumano was close to walking away. He had dealt with bad management, depression and a bout with alcoholism, all of which kept him out of the ring and away from the sport he loved. Upon signing with CES Boxing and promoter Jimmy Burchfield Sr., he made the effort to change up his routine and work on his conditioning to get himself back into fight shape.
Since June of 2017, Cusumano has gone 8-1 under CES’ guidance and is now a serious contender in the heavyweight division. When looking at past fighters who’s won the USNBC belt, some notable names stand out. Chris Arreola went on to fight for two world titles after capturing the USNBC championship in 2012. Same for Stiverne and Eric Molina, former USNBC title-holders who eventually faced Wilder for the heavyweight championship of the world.
So why not Cusumano? If he’s successful Friday, his shot at Wilder — or any of the current heavyweight title-holders — could be around the corner. And forget what the odds might say; few gave Andy Ruiz Jr. a chance against Anthony Joshua and now Ruiz is the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion after flattening Joshua in a stunning upset in June.
“That would be amazing. We could shock the world,” Cusumano said. “I’m at a loss for words because being put in this position is such a blessing. It’s finally here.”
No one other than Tyson Fury, who survived a late knockdown in November to earn a draw with Wilder, has come close to dethroning the current WBC champion, but Cusumano had the opportunity to briefly test the waters in camp earlier this year with Wilder and felt he learned a lot in just a short amount of time.
“It really showed me I have a chance to compete with the top guys. I held my own,” Cusumano said. “I hit him with some great shots. There were a few times they told me to calm down in there. I did pretty well. He does hit hard, though – especially in those 10-ounce gloves.”
Before he can dream of a money-making showdown with Wilder, Cusumano must first set his sights on the elusive, enigmatic Vukosa, a 6-foot-4 southpaw who at one point early in his career was considered one of the country’s top amateur heavyweights. Vukosa tried with the legendary Freddie Roach in the early 2000s, but suffered a knee injury so severe he decided to retire.
Twelve years later, he put aside his daytime job as a bus driver and returned in 2014 to dethrone Providence, RI, native and former Olympian Jason Estrada, an unexpected upset given his layoff. Vukosa is now attempting a second comeback following a triumphant return in July and has the speed and the slick boxing technique to give a heavy-handed heavyweight like Cusumano fits once the bell rings.
This, however, is a hungrier Cusumano, one who is itching to get back in the ring after six months off. He’s smarter, too, understanding he can no longer train at 31 the same way he did when he was 21. So he’s working more now on maintenance and focusing on the health of his joints, trading his dumbbells for swimming weights to improve his endurance and flexibility.
“I think my power has increased, but I need to be more patient, too,” he said. “I’m doing more pad work, staying calm. I usually just jump on people when the bell rings, but with some of these bigger guys you can’t do that all the time. There are times I have to set things up. I’ve been doing that a lot.”
Cusumano is also more aware of his surroundings. In addition to technique tips and the overall experience of being in a championship fight camp, Cusumano learned a little bit about how to be a professional if and when he reaches that next level. Wilder is a flamboyant champion and an outspoken advocate for the sport, but, Cusumano said, the unbeaten Alabama native generally lays low outside of the gym. His business-like approach is something all fighters can learn from, especially one like Cusumano who’s confident his time is next.
Friday could be the start of something big for the heavy-handed Sicilian if he can keep his win streak alive.
“I feel good. I’m hungrier. I’m more motivated,” Cusumano said. “I’m looking forward to this opportunity.”
In Friday’s co-main event, WBC Youth World Lightweight Champion Jamaine Ortiz (11-0, 6 KOs) of Worcester, MA, puts his unbeaten record on the line in an eight-round showdown against French challenger Romain Couture (8-1-1, 4 KOs), who makes his United States debut.
The undercard features six undefeated prospects looking to keep their perfect records, including Pawtucket, RI, featherweight Ricky De Los Santos (8-0, 1 KO), who battles Reading, PA, vet and Dominican standout Yeuri Andujar (4-1, 3 KOs) in a six-round featured bout. Lightweight Michael Valentin (6-0, 1 KO) of Providence, RI, also steps up in his toughest test to date against Philadelphia’s Lonnie Jackson Jr. (4-1-1, 1 KO), in a six-round special attraction.
Another red-hot fighter, Marqus Bates (7-2, 5 KOs) of Taunton, MA, aims for his sixth consecutive win in an intriguing six-round welterweight bout against well-traveled Lancaster, PA, vet Evincii Dixon (8-23-2, 3 KOs), who fights for the 34th time in six years and returns to Rhode Island for the first time since 2013.
Also facing a tall order on the undercard, Big Six Boxing Academy super welterweights Victor Reynoso (4-0, 4 KOs) and Lamont Powell (4-0, 1 KO), both of Providence, put their identical records on the line in four-round featured bouts. Reynoso battles Canadian Kenny Chery (2-2, 1 KO), whom Powell faced in February, while Powell looks to build off his impressive win in April in a major step-up against Reading’s Ricardo Garcia (14-7-1, 9 KOs), a Dominican Republic native and veteran of 22 professional fights.
A potential showstopper between unbeaten super lightweight prospects Elijah Peixoto (1-0, 1 KO) of East Providence, RI, and 26-year-old “Slick Hands” Carlos Otero (2-0) of Tampa highlights the preliminary card. Peixoto debuted earlier this year in grand fashion with a knockout win over Carlos Galindo. Otero, a decorated amateur much like Peixoto, returns from a two-year layoff. Worcester, MA, welterweight Nicholas Briggs (4-0, 3 KOs), also unbeaten, returns to face Macon, GA, native Bryan Goldsby (5-13), a veteran of 18 professional bouts.