It’s a tactic that’s been used pretty much since the birth of boxing: An undefeated fighter suffers his first loss and selects a creampuff opponent to rebuild his confidence and get himself back on the winning track.
So nobody would’ve blamed Frank Galarza for choosing that route following his first defeat in 20 career bouts. Instead, the 31-year-old native of Brooklyn, New York, did the exact opposite.
Ten months after getting knocked out by unbeaten 154-pound prospect Jarrett Hurd, Galarza (17-1-2) is set to make his return Friday in a scheduled 10-round bout against Ishe Smith (28-8, 12 KOs), a steel-chinned, slick-boxing former world champion from Las Vegas who has never been knocked out.
Not only that, but Galarza will be fighting on Smith’s home turf at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). He’ll also be returning to the city where he fell to Hurd by sixth-round TKO at the Hard Rock Hotel in November.
In other words, in his attempt to get back in the winner’s circle, Galarza has selected the path with a steep uphill climb—even if he doesn’t see it as such.
“I know the reason why I was stopped [by Hurd], and those mistakes won’t happen again,” says Galarza, who had stopped seven of his eight previous opponents (including one disqualification) before losing to Hurd. “Ishe's in for a rude awakening and a big surprise.”
Galarza’s trainer, Nirmal Lorick, shares his fighter’s confidence—but only to a point.
“I know Frank can beat Ishe,” Lorick says. “But Frank’s gotta start and finish every round strong and hard, otherwise it could be a long night.”
Galarza will be facing a former world champion for the first time in his career, as Smith dethroned Cornelius Bundrage by unanimous decision in February 2013 in the latter’s native Detroit.
In doing so, Smith became the first Las Vegas-born champion, but his reign was brief, as he lost the title in his very next fight to Carlos Molina by split decision at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
It’s one of only two losses Smith has suffered in 17 career fights in his home city, the other being a majority decision to former 154-pound titleholder Vanes Martirosyan last September, also at the MGM Grand.
“ If Frank's not ready to climb over that hump against Ishe Smith, then we really need to evaluate where we’re at in boxing. ” Nirmal Lorick, trainer for Frank Galarza
While the 38-year-old Smith does have eight losses on his ledger, they’ve all come against opponents who either became world champions or challenged for titles. And in none of those defeats was Smith knocked out.
“Many of my losses were controversial. My last was a back-and-forth fight with Vanes Martirosyan, one of the best junior middleweights in the world,” says Smith, who rebounded with December’s unanimous decision over Tommy Rainone.
“I’ve passed a lot of tests, but Galarza failed his first big one by getting knocked out. You can get perspective from our résumés—in no way does his compare to mine. Trust me, Galarza will know very early that he’s nowhere near on my level.”
Smith will be looking to emulate the strategy of Hurd, who neutralized Galarza’s pressure with an evenly distributed speedy jab, sharp counterpunching and head movement. Hurd dropped Galarza to one knee with a head-swiveling, fourth-round right uppercut, later using the same punch to launch a final-round assault that forced referee Russell Mora to end matters.
Galarza, meanwhile, will try to recapture the form that helped him earn a second-round stoppage of previously unbeaten John Thompson (January 2014), a 76-second knockout of Raul Munoz (February 2015) and a third-round KO of Sheldon Moore (April 2015), who had never been stopped.
At Thursday’s weigh-in, Galarza hit the scales at 154 pounds, while Smith came in at 157.4. In addition to youth, the 6-foot Galarza owns a two-inch height advantage against Smith, but at least one fellow 154-pound prospect doesn’t believe that will be enough.
Dominique Dolton (17-0-1, 9 KOs), who will challenge Justin DeLoach (15-1, 8 KOs) in Friday’s co-main event at The Cosmopolitan, sparred several rounds with Smith during each fighters’ training camp, and says Galarza is in for a war.
“I saw Galarza against Hurd, and I’ve sparred with Ishe,” Dolton says. “Ishe can slow the pace or pick it up, and knows all the tricks in the book. I think he’s going to be too strong mentally for Galarza.”
Not surprisingly, Galarza’s coach disagrees with Dolton’s prediction. At the same time, though, Lorick acknowledges his man is at a career crossroads as he looks to remain relevant in a stacked 154-pound division that features champions Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs), Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs), Erislandy Lara (23-2-2, 13 KOs) and Liam Smith (23-0-1, 13 KOs), in addition to a host of rising contenders.
“If Frank's not ready to climb over that hump against Ishe Smith,” Lorick says, “then we really need to evaluate where we’re at in boxing.”
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