The semifinals of the Jose Sulaiman World Invitational welterweight tournament will take place Aug. 25 at Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing has announced.
No. 2 seed Chris van Heerden (26-2-1, 12 KOs), 31, a southpaw from South Africa, will face No. 3 Fredrick Lawson (27-1, 21 KOs), 28, of Ghana, in one semifinal. In other semifinal, No. 4 Brad Solomon (28-2, 9 KOs), 35, of Douglasville, Georgia, will take on No. 8 Francisco “Chia” Santana (27-6-1, 12 KOs), 32, of Santa Barbara, California.
The quarterfinals of the eight-man tournament took place April 27 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, where Santana, an alternate who was pressed into action, scored a major upset by winning a 10-round decision over top seed Felix Diaz (19-3, 9 KOs), 34, a former junior welterweight world title challenger and 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic.
“I was coming off another robbery in a split decision loss. My promoter had dropped me. I couldn’t find a fight,” Santana said. “I took a full-time job on a ship to support my wife and little girl. I thought maybe my career was over. When I got in the tournament, I knew it was my last chance and I brought that mentality into the ring.
“I’m glad I am the underdog again because it fuels my fire. On Aug. 25 you will see the best version of Francisco Santana yet. I am a man on a mission to win this tournament.”
Solomon survived a first-round knockdown to win a split decision over Paddy Gallagher in their quarterfinal fight.
“My ring rust is over. Be on the lookout for speed, quick footwork and fast hands this entire tournament,” Solomon said. “This is my opportunity to showcase my skills to the world.”
In the other quarterfinals, van Heerden outpointed No. 7 Timo Schwarzkopf and Lawson outpointed No. 6 Baishanbo Nasiyiwula.
“Adversity introduces man to himself and I came face to face with it in the first round of the tournament,” van Heerden said. “I know what I’m made of and now the semifinal is another step closer to becoming a champion again.”
Said Lawson: “Ain’t no stopping Team Lawson now. We’re on the move. Nothing can change the course of my destiny. I respect Chris and his accomplishments but I’m just too strong and hungry for him. Watch me take him apart on fight night.”
The tournament, named for the late WBC president, is being put on in conjunction with the sanctioning organization, so each of the quarterfinal winners advanced in the organization’s 147-pound top-25 rankings. The semifinal winners will continue to advance in those rankings and meet in the finals later this year with the tournament winner being in position to challenge for a world title in 2019.
Besides competitive fights, the tournament introduced some wrinkles to boxing. It used five judges (instead of three) and open scoring, and instant replay was available between rounds if there was a need to review a knockdown, a slip or a head-butt. In the event of a draw, the fight would have gone to an 11th round that the judges would have to give to one of the fighters with no even round allowed.
Also, fighters in the tournament are required to undergo a prefight and postfight MRI exam regardless of the bout’s outcome.
“I always said that if I ever threw my hat into the ring as a promoter, I would make it a priority to bring real change to the sport,” said Holyfield, the Hall of Fame former four-time heavyweight titleholder. “The tournament is our first shot at doing just that and I’m very proud we’re not just talking about how to improve the sport, we’re actually making things happen.”
Said Real Deal Boxing CEO Sal Musumeci: “These changes were never meant to be a gimmick or a publicity stunt. These are real initiatives that Evander and our team wanted to do to better the sport for the fighters and the fans. The unique setting of the tournament allows us to try out those changes in the course of three events and the results so far have been fantastic.”