By Joe Scalzo
Eighteen months after losing his second professional fight, and nearly losing his eye, Jake Giuriceo returned to the ring on Friday night. And he brought “The Bull” with him.
Fighting a six-round welterweight bout at Rivers Casino, Giuriceo spent the first round knocking off the rust — and figuring out opponent Travis Hartman’s awkward style — then morphed back into the same aggressive fighter who bulled his way to 16 straight victories to open his career. He bloodied Hartman’s nose in the second round, used a solid right jab to the stomach to drop Hartman to one knee midway through the third (the knockdown didn’t count, since the referee ruled he stepped on Hartman’s foot) and, one minute into the fourth round, backed Hartman up against the ropes and started unloading.
At the 1:08 mark, Hartman’s corner decided it had seen enough.
“We needed that,” Giuriceo’s trainer, Keith Burnside, said. “We had him ready.”
On Dec. 1, 2012, Giuriceo (17-2-1, 4KOs) suffered a detached retina in a loss to Peter Olouch, who caught him with a headbutt in the fifth round. Newly married, he contemplated retirement but, like many (heck, most) fighters, couldn’t shake the boxing bug. He had surgery, his vision returned to normal, but when he started sparring in May, his eye didn’t feel right.
“It felt weird taking punches and I wasn’t sure I’d ever step in the ring again,” he said.
But he kept working out, kept sparring and, most importantly, kept praying.
“I just believe God allowed me to fight tonight,” said Giuriceo, who wore John 14:6 on his trunks (“I am the way, the truth and the life …”) along with the phrase “Meant 4 More.”
While Giuriceo briefly got away from his bullish style a few years ago — “He was throwing one, two punches, and I wanted to see four, five, six and seven,” said Burnside, who was briefly replaced as Giuriceo’s trainer — but on Friday, it was back.
“That’s the way he’s supposed to fight,” Burnside said. “He’s got that bull in him.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance. Giuriceo did well when he got on the inside or had Hartman cornered, “but a couple times he left himself wide open and I was landing punches that I shouldn’t have landed on a guy like Jake,” said Hartman, now 12-20-1.
“But for a guy coming back from an 18-month layoff, you’ve got to give it to Jake. His punches still felt sharp. No matter how he got the win, he got it. He got the confidence to keep rebuilding.”
Hartman, meanwhile, was disappointed with his performance. He flew back from France a week ago — his girlfriend, Irina Falconi, is a professional tennis player who played in Wimbledon and the French Open — and while he was working out in Europe, he wasn’t sparring. He felt his legs gave out in Friday’s first round and never came back.
“It was one of those nights — every athlete has them,” Hartman said. “But no excuses. I had plenty of of notice. If I wasn’t ready, I shouldn’t have been in the ring.”
Giuriceo, on the other hand, was ready. And he’s not ready to stop fighting.
“It’s just something I love to do,” he said. “No other reason that that. I thank the Lord that he allows me to do it.
“Not everyone gets to do what they love to do.”