Career crossroads for boxers Lyell, Giuriceo

The next month looms large for boxers Billy Lyell and Jake Giuriceo

By Joe Scalzo


On Thursday afternoon, inside Keith Burnside’s chilly downtown gym, welterweight boxer Jake Giuriceo was almost finished taping his right hand when a reporter approached, looked at the bright orange gauze and said, “Why are you taping your own hands?”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Giuriceo yelled over at Burnside, his trainer.

“Pacquiao does it,” Burnside shouted back.

As Giuriceo started taping his left hand, Burnside walked over with a piece of paper, handed it to the reporter and said, “Here’s the guy he’s fighting.”

Giuriceo laughed and said, “You know more about the guy I’m fighting than I do. What’s his name?”

Jaime Orrantia.

“I don’t know nothing about him,” he said.

Minutes later, junior middleweight Billy Lyell walked in wearing a gray sweatsuit. Lyell, who works the midnight shift at GM Lordstown, looked like a man who had been awake for, oh, 15 minutes.

Lyell’s curly brown hair looked freshly permed. (“I make it go all over the place to cover up my bald spots,” he said.) His breath smelled like Scope. (“I just woke up,” he said. “Keith called me and said, ‘Get over here.’”) His white and orange Air Jordan sneakers looked a bit off. (“Fakes,” he said, laughing. “Got ’em for $60.)

Early this week, both fighters will head to California, one to train, the other to fight. Both are at a crossroads.

A few weeks short of his 27th birthday, Giuriceo is hoping to jump-start a stalled career. The 27-year-old Lyell, meanwhile, wants to find out whether his recent losses were due to a lack of ability, or simply lack of size.

That’s what makes the next month so important for both.

It’s been almost three years and 15 fights since Giuriceo made his pro debut on the undercard of the Kelly Pavlik-Marco Antonio Rubio bout at the Covelli Centre. Since then, “The Bull” has developed a large local following thanks to his entertaining style, his Valley roots (he graduated from Campbell Memorial High) and his success. Problem is, 14 of his 15 fights have been within 90 minutes of the city, including nine in Mahoning County.

With his career idling and his wedding to Campbell’s Jaclyn Mazias a few months away, Giuriceo and his team knew they needed two things: a bigger following and a promoter. As Kelly Pavlik’s ex-trainer, Jack Loew, likes to say, “Having a promoter is the difference between having a career and fighting for a few hundred bucks at St. Lucy’s banquet center.”

So, Giuriceo will leave this week for California to train for a March 10 bout against Orrantia (26-24-5, 14 KOs), a 30-year-old Mexican journeyman.

“It’s time,” said Burnside. “I believe it’s a good fight for him now.”

Giuriceo (14-0-1, 3 KOs) will fight a six- or eight-round bout at 140 pounds (seven more than his last two fights) as part of a small show at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange County. The number of viewers isn’t important. The names of the viewers are — promoters Gary Shaw and Ken Thompson will attend.

“He’s gotta look real good,” said Burnside. “And he’s gonna look real good.”

Lyell (24-10, 5 KOs), meanwhile, will fight a 10-round bout on Showtime on Friday against Jonathan Gonzalez (14-0, 13 KOs), a 22-year-old ranked No. 7 in the world by the WBA and WBO. After fighting several top middleweights over the past few years, it’s Lyell’s first big bout at junior middleweight, his natural weight.

“I’ve fought the best guys at 160 [pounds], now I can fight guys my size,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to watch him [Gonzalez] but I’m not too worried about it.”

A year ago, Lyell lost a 10-round unanimous decision to (still) undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in his native Mexico. (“He weighed 184 pounds by the time the fight started,” Burnside said. “Just too big for us.”) In October, Lyell lost a 12-round majority decision to (still) undefeated Dominik Britsch in his native Germany.

“An egregious decision,” said Lyell. “I couldn’t even get upset about it, it was so bad.”

A win would boost his career. A loss might end it. Lyell has flirted with retirement several times over the past few years but called the Gonzalez fight “an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

“I’ve got to take a shot,” Lyell said. “If this doesn’t turn out, this is probably it.”

Giuriceo, meanwhile, is just trying to get his shot. After refining his boxing skills over the past year, “we’re going to get back to being ‘The Bull,’” he said.

“That’s the best way to put it,” Giuriceo said. “My aggression makes me the fighter I am.”

And, his team hopes, the fighter he will eventually be.

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