The late substitute upsets the odds in emphatic fashion Saturday night in the main event of FOX PBC Fight Night.
There was a dormant side to Jonnie Rice that he kept hidden for years. He knew what he could do. The problem was he didn’t believe he could actually do it when the bright lights were on him. There was a disconnect between his reality and reality.
Rice parachuted in on a few days’ notice as a late replacement for veteran Gerald Washington this week, considered nothing more than padding on the resume of Michael Coffie Saturday night on FOX PBC Fight Night from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Under a barrage of right hands, Rice, the 6-foot-5, 268-pound 34-year-old from Columbia, South Carolina, erased all past labels with a shocking upset, wiping away Coffie’s clean slate with a dominant fifth-round knockout at 2:15.
“A lot of fights I lost, because I was holding back,” Rice admitted. “I wasn’t believing in myself. I have a great team around me that believes in me, but I have to believe in me, too. What I learned (tonight) is that you have to be true to yourself. I learned if I do the work, I will see the results.
“Honestly, I did not expect to overwhelm Coffie like that. I knew Michael Coffie from his fights, but not because he had a great record, but because he was a sparring partner for Deontay Wilder. In my head, I played the little game that I was Luis Ortiz’s sparring partner for his second fight against Wilder.
“So, technically it was Luis Ortiz’s vs. Deontay Wilder’s sparring partners. We’re going to see what happens. I was playing with that in my head. I had to fight a little bit like Deontay Wilder and then a little bit different. That’s what the game plan was.”
Portends of Rice’s biggest career victory came early.
Coffie, a U.S. Marine for eight years, had concerns whether or not Rice would engage him. He received a quick answer. Rice (14-6-1, 10 KOs) started well, landing jabs, even popping a pair of rights off of Coffie’s face.
Coffie (12-1, 9 KOs) was unusually listless. His feet were flat. His punch output was flat. His energy level flatlined. In the second, Coffie made the switch from righty to southpaw. Still, the same conclusion. Rice was backing Coffie up, catching him with long rights.
With :24 left in the fourth, Rice bounced a combination off of Coffie, punctuated by a shot in the face. Rice followed that up with three-straight rights in the opening minute of the fifth. Coffie’s left eye began to swell.
Rice, looking like Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson in Tokyo, walked Coffie down with another three-punch combination. With :50 left in the fifth, referee Eric Dali openly asked Coffie if he was okay. Coffie nodded he was.
About 10 seconds later, he wasn’t.
Rice plowed Coffie with an overhand right, forcing Coffie to retreat back to a corner, pawing at his left eye. That’s when Dali wisely stepped in and ended it.
“I wasn’t a late replacement,” Rice maintained. “I was waiting for an opportunity. We replaced someone, but we weren’t late. We were right on time. I was training every day. I was training with Michael Hunter. I did 20 rounds, 10 and 10 last Friday before I got the call. So, when I got the call, I was ready.”
Vito Mielnicki Jr. comes back to make easy work of Noah Kidd
The fight was at the Prudential Center in Newark, though it may as well have been in Vito Mielnicki Jr.’s backyard. Mielnicki graduated from West Essex High School, in North Caldwell, New Jersey, which may be slightly longer than a stone’s throw from the Prudential Center (actually about 15 minutes away).
Coming off his first pro loss back in April, Mielnicki was supposed to have a rematch against James Martin, who beat him. Instead, Martin came in over the weight limit for the eight-round welterweight bout.
In stepped 26-year-old Noah Kidd (6-4-2, 5 KOs). Up stepped Mielnicki, looking in the best shape of his young career. Mielnicki made quick work of Kidd, stopping him at 2:32 of the second round.
Mielnicki (9-1, 6 KOs) sent Kidd down in the first with a counter check left hook to the cheek. Kidd was holding on by the end of the round. In the second, the 19-year-old Mielnicki ended it at 2:32, when referee Eric Dali waved it over. Mielnicki started it with a left hook that staggered Kidd, who took a knee against the ropes when Dali saw enough.
“Obviously there was an opponent change, and we were supposed to have a highly anticipated rematch (with Martin), which I know a lot of people were looking forward to, I was looking forward to it,” Mielnicki said. “I did my job. I came in on weight. He didn’t do his. We’re looking forward though.
“I was thinking that this is my night to beat James Martin. I know he knows he got me on my worst night. I don’t need James Martin. I’ve moved on. I was coming in to fight James Martin, who’s a more technical guy. Obviously, (Kidd) was a wild, all-over-the-place kind of guy. I still got the job done. I saw openings. He was looking to quit and I jumped all over him.
“I’m still 19. I was a very busy fighter during the pandemic. It’s time for me to learn and grow.”
Joey Spencer looks strong in dominant eight-round decision over James Martin
Joey Spencer was supposed to meet Dan Karpency, but when Spencer came in 2½ pounds above his contracted maximum of 154 pounds, Karpency stepped away. James Martin was supposed to meet Vito Mielnicki Jr. in a rematch of Martin’s upset victory over Mielnicki in April, but when Martin came in at 151.5 pounds for the welterweight bout, Mielnicki stepped away.
It looks like the situation could not have worked out better for both Spencer and Martin, because the two wound up facing each other.
Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) put on a virtuoso performance with a dominant victory over the tough Philadelphian in a unanimous eight-round victory. Two of the three judges gave Spencer seven rounds, and one judge had it a Spencer shutout.
On the late change of opponents, Spencer said, “Once I got the change, it was a big fight, a big step-up against somebody coming off a big win. It was so bizarre. I missed weight and he missed weight. I don’t know what happened with him, but I needed these rounds. I feel like if I had fought Karpency it would have been the same. I needed this experience. I needed these eight rounds and I needed to set the pace because he was not going to go down.
“I have a lot of names that I’m thinking about for 2022. I'd like another step-up fight to end this year, but I don’t have anyone specific in mind. But those names in 2022 will set me up for a title shot.”
Martin (7-3) was giving up some size, and put on a solid performance. He just didn’t have the kind of firepower to dent Spencer, who used a sound body attack and wide hooks that pushed back Martin.
“There were one or two rounds where he was throwing and he had a lot of activity, but I was blocking,” Spencer said. “I only took one or two shots and to be honest I would have thought it would be a shutout.”
On the FS1 portion of the card, former super middleweight contender and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell (28-3, 18 KOs) came off a two-year layoff to stop Christopher Brooker (16-8, 6 KOs) in the third round of a scheduled 10-rounder. Heavyweight Norman Neely (9-0, 7 KOs) won a six-round decision over Juan Torres (6-4-1, 3 KOs). Super lightweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 10 KOs) stopped Ivan Delgado (13-4-2, 6 KOs) in the third round of a scheduled eight-rounder.
For a closer look at Coffie vs Rice, check out our fight night page.