The Rashidi Ellis Road Show comes to ESPN
For the second week running, Golden Boy Promotions presents an ESPN card (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.); last week Vergil Ortiz Jr. defeated former champion Juan Carlos Salgado, in only his 10th fight, and Hector Tanajara Jr. showed potential in a dominant win. Tonight Rashidi Ellis, 19-0 (13), sets out to make a similarly potent statement, taking on erratic Panamanian southpaw Alberto Mosquera, 25-3-2 (16), in a compelling match-up of styles from the Gran Oasis Arena in Cancun, Mexico. Ellis lives up to the nickname of “Speedy,” despite a top-heavy muscular build reminiscent of Andre Berto or Shawn Porter. This is Ellis’ first trip to Mexico but the Massachusetts-born boxer is already tested outside of continental borders, scoring victories in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It is a fight, if Ellis shines as expected, that can elevate him from a relative unknown to rising prospect in the span of 10 rounds.
Rashidi Ellis is one of the most promising boxers to emerge from New England, in recent years, a fleet-footed counterpuncher with fast hands, who is not afraid to stay in the pocket to get off one last punch. The product of a supportive boxing family, his older brother Ronald was a Golden Gloves champion and is currently undefeated at super middleweight; Rashidi won a National PAL title during a 60-11 amateur career. The determined teen found a home at Rivera Brothers Boxing, which provides free training for at-risk youth, allowing Ellis to mature and channel his athletic skills. These were not evident, at first, as Ellis was an obese kid the first time he entered the gym. Trainer Alex Rivera, who worked the corner of former heavyweight champion John Ruiz, says Ellis had the one virtue all trainers value, “Sometimes I have to stop him from working out. He is always here, no matter what. His work ethic is incredible.”
There is no evidence of fat on Ellis’ body now; his broad and muscular back support long, whip-like arms that lash out with speed and potency. Ellis has a free-flowing effervescent style matching his persona outside the ring that is almost always accompanied by a smile. It is hard not to like Ellis, in or out of the ring. At times Ellis will switch to a southpaw stance and seems comfortable leading with either hand, though Ellis does not lead with as many punches as a lefty, preferring to counter off his back foot. Ellis has tasted the canvas however; he was caught by a left hook in a contentious brawl that favored shorter rival Luis Hernandez. Ellis showed maturity and listened to his corner, using his sense of distance, the rest of the fight, for a wide decision victory.
Currently ranked No. 11 by the IBF, at welterweight, Ellis is in his physical prime, at age 25, and Golden Boy Promotions is positioning Ellis for a run at a major title. This is no easy task, given the wealth of talent in the division. There are no weak champions with the WBO’s Terence Crawford, the IBF’s Errol Spence Jr. and the WBA’s Keith Thurman leading the pack. Even the lower half of the Top 10 is dangerous, with Manny Pacquiao, Shawn Porter, Lucas Matthysse or rising Lithuanian contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas ready to beat back upstarts like Ellis.
At this time Ellis is not concerned with any of those prominent names, steadily focusing on Alberto Mosquera and the opportunity to get his brand out to the larger boxing public, “I’m excited to fight for the first time in Mexico, on a card of international proportions and televised on ESPN. My opponent this time, Alberto Mosquera, has a lot of experience because he has fought a lot of good fighters. All of this is double motivation for me because a victory against him will be very important.”
It feels like Ellis has been in this situation before. Hardcore boxing fans may remember that it looked like Ellis was poised to make the leap from prospect to contender, after a one-round demolition of fellow prospect Eddie Gomez. That bout was aired as an HBO Latino main event, in December of 2016. However since then, Ellis has only fought twice. Instead of using that victory as a launching pad, Ellis stagnated, in terms of activity, even though some of it was not Ellis’ fault. Scheduled fights were aborted when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and a last-minute medical paperwork snafu stopped Ellis from stepping into the ring, after his gloves had already been laced up. A recently signed contract with Golden Boy Promotions should alleviate Ellis’ lack of American television exposure.
Ellis was never completely out of the ring though, learning valuable lessons as a sparring partner for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, as he prepared to fight Miguel Cotto. Ellis also shared the ring with Manny Pacquiao, as he prepared for Floyd Mayweather Jr.; so facing Mosquera is only a step up, in terms of getting an official fight on his record. What Ellis needs to learn most is being more selective with his punches. Ellis can throw a 100 punches a round but does little, in terms of one punch setting up the other. Ellis relies on speed over accuracy; the punches lack pop but the rapid fire punches make opponents hesitate, trying to figure out where the next one is coming from. A consistent sniping jab remains Ellis’ best weapon.
The confidence Ellis exudes is not in danger of being burst. It is infectious, as Ellis over-exaggerates by winding up punches and has the annoying habit of grunting when throwing or landing punches. He contravenes boxing orthodoxy by boxing with his hands below the waist, when in a rhythm, and is not above stopping to admire his punches after a combination. None of that will work against elite opposition, and, when questioned on Ellis’ flaws, his team acknowledged they are working on breaking those bad habits.
The 31-year-old Alberto Mosquera is a hard-to-evaluate southpaw, who runs hot and cold, registering solid wins or draws against unbeaten prospects Erick Bone, Christian Ruiz, Brunet Zamora and Johan Perez. On the other hand, in Mosquera’s most memorable outing (headlining a FOX Sports show), he fell to Sammy Vasquez in an unexpectedly meek outing that lasted less than a round. However an admittedly brutal body shot felled the Panamanian. In that fight Mosquera hardly lived up to his nickname of “Machine Gun” because he rattles off multiple punches, and is a desperate fighter since a loss relegates Mosquera to the B-side of any fight outside of Panama City.
At his best Mosquera darts in and out of danger, throwing opponents off balance with awkward angles from a southpaw stance. He was a solid amateur, winning multiple Panamanian titles in his 130 bout-career and represented Panama at international tournaments. At his worst Mosquera voluntarily gives up his advantage as a lefty, squaring up to foes who promptly put a dent in his chin. Mosquera was stopped in all three of his losses, although one was a shoulder injury, after knocking his opponent down, but generally fires back before falling. Mosquera is a natural junior welterweight but has moved up with age, and will be at a four-inch height and reach disadvantage.
The ESPN card will also feature two Mexican prospects, strawweight Carlos Licona and featherweight Eduardo Nunez, who I hope get air time. That is dependent on the opening bout between Francisco Horta and David Reyes, both entering with identical 17-3-1 records, or if the main event ends early. I think the opener between Horta and Reyes will be an entertaining clash, as both are volume punchers with little lateral movement, but neither man looks like a threat to break into title contention. Still, they should warm up the crowd nicely for the top billing in which a future champion may be found in the form of Rashidi Ellis.