Once upon a time, roughly two years ago now, I asked a retired fighter I know pretty well, a guy who works corners and is still in the gym every day, what he thought of Frank ‘Wise Guy’ Buglioni. “Bang average.” He said. “Nice puncher, but his movement from the waist, the legs, the head, it’s all lacking. He’s wide open half the time. He’ll only go as far as they take him. If he wins the British title I’d be surprised.”
Back then I was still learning how the boxing business works and found the comments a little surprising. Buglioni was 11-0 with 8 wins inside the distance, had just picked up the WBO Europe bauble and was the darling of the new BoxNation TV channel. He had actually been due to fight Swindon’s Kelvin Young for his Southern Area Super Middleweight title but Young had vacated rather than take him on – surely a sign that he had a bit of something about him?
“Yeah he can bang.” My contact said. “But he’s not a spectacular hitter. And that’s not enough on its own, anyway. The thing is he shifts 500 tickets a fight, so the promoters really want him to get to the top. They’ll push him along, of course they will. But wanting something and believing it can happen are not the same thing.”
In his next contest, in February 2014, Buglioni took on the modestly competitive, non-punching Italian Gaetano Nespro in his first defence, dispatching him with relative ease. I reported on the fight for BoxRec News and bearing in mind the valued opinions of my friend, felt that Frank’s display was encouraging. I wrote;
“Buglioni’s opponent, essentially a light hitting middleweight, was clearly overmatched but there are definite signs of development in the ‘Wise Guy’. He seems to have added to his repertoire, showcasing not only power punching but also some ring generalship. The time has surely come for him to step up in class and show how he can cope with an opponent who can give him something to worry about.”
As most will know, two months later I got my wish and learnt conclusively not to doubt the words of men who have spent the better part of their life in gloves. It doesn’t matter how may press passes you’ve had, how many hands you’ve shaken or interviews you’ve done, the best people at calling fights and recognising levels are fighters. If you know one who’ll talk to you openly, you’re onto a goldmine of insight. (Many won’t for fear of being quoted out of context. Boxing is a small and insular world.)
Buglioni came up against wily, old Russian Sergey Khomitsky and was stopped one minute into round 6 – gravy train, derailed. The fight has been fully discussed before and is not worth re-analysing, but it should be emphasised that Khomitsky, like Gaetano, was really a middleweight and although a decent gatekeeper-type fighter, was not someone who could be regarded as world-class even in that division. Frank simply couldn’t handle him, despite holding considerable size advantage. That does not bode well.
Faced with the prospect of losing their handsome, ticket-selling cash-cow, his promotional team began rebuilding. Buglioni boxed Sam Couzens, a regional-level competitor for the Southern Area belt and won, but not without moments of concern. At one point, after a torrid round in which he had withstood a barrage from Couzens, Buglioni was berated in his corner in earshot of spectators and TV cameras by trainer Mark Tibbs, who shouted, “this is fucking embarrassing Frank!”
It was possibly that public dressing down which triggered his departure from Team Tibbs and saw him move to Ireland to hook-up with Steve and Packy Collins, but it could not rightly be said that the change in camp has ironed out his flaws. A win against another mediocre middleweight in Alexey Ribchev, followed by a fraught, if entertaining points victory over Andrew Robinson did little to dispel the doubt that Frank had found his level.
This was confirmed two fights later against Lee Markham when they boxed in May this year. Markham, like Robinson, is a decent domestic operator who had lost an English title bid against Leicester’s Jahmaine Smyle 6 weeks before. He’s game as they come and solid, but some distance short of international quality. Rather than brush him aside, Buglioni went life-and-death with him in a titanic battle and judges ruled a draw. Performances like these are not the hallmarks of a world-champion-in-waiting.
Boxing politics may be a strange, shape-shifting beast, but it torments the imagination to wonder how Frank Warren got Buglioni a world title shot off the back of that run of fights. I’m sure earnest historians can prove me wrong, but I doubt there are many less deserving challengers in the sport’s history.
For me, Fedor Chudinov is something of an unknown quantity, but if he was good enough to outpoint Felix Sturm in Germany last time out, I expect him to have way too much for Frank. That’s not to say it can’t be done – only fools talk with certainty when two men climb into a ring. If Douglas can beat Tyson, Turpin can beat Robinson and Clay can beat Liston, then Buglioni can beat Chudinov, there is always a glimmer. But you suspect his only hope lies in catching the Russian cold in the first and blasting him out early. With every minute that passes, the likelihood increases that Frank’s porous defence will lead to his undoing.
Despite overwhelming public opinion that he is over-matched, Buglioni has been positive and on-message before the media. He is well-schooled when it comes to confronting microphones or cameras.
“This is what every fighter dreams about, I am not going to blow my chance,” he told the Barnet and Whetstone Press. “I’m coming for Chudinov and his world title – I can’t wait to get to him and the world title belt. It’s going to be a huge night at the SSE Arena and, while I’m not dismissing him, I’m confident in my abilities and know what I’m capable of doing to him. He’s a very good fighter, but if he doesn’t come at his absolute best then he will get knocked out. I’m expecting the toughest fight of my career, but you will see a career-best Frank Buglioni on September 26 and my preparation has been excellent.”
Franks clearly wants it. He probably wants it desperately, with every fibre of his being, to prove all his doubters wrong. And like most I will be cheering him on, come Saturday, he seems a lovely guy. But a man who has never even won the English, British or real European title becoming world champ? A man who is yet to fight a really good Super Middleweight? Even in today’s boxing world of multiple titles? Sorry, not for me.
I would have loved to swim against the tide and predict a Buglioni victory, as much as I would like Israel to give the Palestinians their country back, or to find a suitcase full of money on the bus.
But as a wise old fighter said to me 2 years ago, wanting something and believing it will happen are not the same thing.