By: Jake Donovan
After more than seven years, Felix “Tutico” Zabala Jr. felt it was finally time to bring the promotional tour back home.
For the first time since 2011, the long-running “Boxeo Telemundo” boxing series will air live from the greater Miami area. Mexico’s Ricardo Espinoza and unbeaten Colombian prospect Yeison Vargas will collide in a 10-round bantamweight battle, headlining a 10-fight card at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (Friday, Telemundo, 11:35pm ET).
The placement is the latest wrinkle in a fall season that continues to break tradition from the current series formula. The 2018 fall season began later than any of its predecessors since the series changed formats from 12 monthly shows to three four-episode seasons per year, and for the first time since the rebrand launch will air somewhere other than Mexico City or central Florida.
It also features a new co-promoter, with Zabala’s All Star-Boxing, Inc. partnering with local promoter The Heavyweight Factory in presenting this weekend’s show.
“I have been a long-time friend and colleague of (Heavyweight Factory heads) Kris Lawrence and Henry Rivalta and we finally decided to join forces,” Zabala Jr. explained to BoxingInsider.com. “When the opportunity arose to bring the series to the Hard Rock, we jumped at it and have put together a great show.”
While this week’s telecast features a change of scenery, the headlining act features elements of familiarity.
Espinoza (21-2, 18KOs) returns to the series after making his Telemundo debut this past August. It was a hell of an entrance, as the 21-year old from Tijuana scored the biggest win of his career in knocking out Daniel Lozano in the 2nd round in his opponent’s hometown of Tampa, Florida.
The win was his 10th straight, with Friday’s contest marking his second straight Telemundo-televised and stateside appearance.
“I’m prepared to defend my title at all cost,” insists Espinoza, whose regional bantamweight tile is at stake in the main event. “I earned this title and want to show all my fans that I’m worthy of a (world) title opportunity after this fight.”
In order to get there, he’d have to accomplish something he hasn’t done since his 3rd pro fight—bump off an unbeaten opponent, with even that feat coming against a boxer who was just 1-0 at the time.
Vargas (17-0, 12KOs) comes in with far more experience and bang for the buck. Still, the 28-year old is himself stepping up in class along with making his stateside debut.
Yet, he views his relative obscurity as a weapon in the form of the element of surprise.
“I know that Espinoza thinks he’s just going to come here to the Hard Rock and run right through me,” believes Vargas, whose entire career—including a 2nd round knockout of Mauricio Fuentes in his most recent fight this past April—has taken place in his native Colombia. “I got bad news for him; I plan to turn the tables on him this Friday night.”
Nine bouts grace the undercard, including an intriguing welterweight crossroads bout between unbeaten Puerto Rican prospect Derrick Cuevas (18-0-1, 14KOs) and Miami-based Colombian trialhorse Breidis Prescott (31-14, 22KOs).
Also featured on the show are a slew of unbeaten local prospects: light heavyweight knockout artist Ulysses Diaz (7-0, 6KOs); and a trio of Cuba-born boxers in welterweight Livan Navarro (9-0, 6KOs), featherweight Hairon Socarras (19-0-3, 12KOs) and—fighting at the venue for the third time in less than five months—super middleweight Irosvani Duvergel (4-0, 2KOs).
The bulk of the Telemundo cards have featured headlining acts fighting in their home region, be it Orlando, Tampa or Mexico City. The idea of returning that favor to Miami-based boxers in front of a live viewing audience is what resonates the deepest with Zabala, who has been involved in the family boxing business since he was 14 years old.
Once upon a time, the bulk of the Telemundo series—which has been on air for more than 26 years and with Zabala and his father Felix Sr. long serving as the primary content feeder—was staged in South Beach, at one point running every other month from the area.
The last such occasion came in June 2011, when Mexico’s Francisco Javier Castro scored a stunning 2nd round upset knockout of Puerto Rico’s Jesus Pabon in the main event. Since then, the series has steadily rotated from central Florida to Mexico City year after year, without exception.
“Miami has been my family’s home for more than 35 years,” notes Zabala Jr., who moved to the area from Puerto Rico at age 13. “I always keep trying to bring the series home but wanted it to be the right fit. We found that perfect fit, with this show and being able to do it at the best arena for boxing in South Florida and perhaps the entire state.”