Cruising Tough: Stivens Bujaj Takes on Junior Anthony Wright

By Adam Berlin on May 16, 2014
Cruising Tough: Stivens Bujaj Takes on Junior Anthony Wright
There was plenty of blood and guts. There was the catharsis of brutality. (Ernie Sapiro)

There’s nothing like seeing boxing four feet from the ropes. The sweat and blood literally touch you. But the sounds touch you the most…

I first saw Stivens Bujaj in a near-empty New Jersey gym. 

Teddy Atlas had enlisted the young fighter to spar with his then-charge Alexander Povetkin when Povetkin was training to fight Ruslan Chagaev. Stivens looked like a kid, and he wasn’t nearly as big as the Russian, but when Stivens stepped into the ring I was impressed by his demeanor. Here was a 21-year-old with a pair of NY Golden Gloves and a few professional wins on his ledger going against a gold-medal Olympian preparing for a title fight, yet behind the protective headgear blocking his features, I saw two calm eyes. 

Sparring is just that, sparring. It’s not a fight. But something happened during that early-afternoon sparring session that surprised me and the other few guests of Teddy’s camp, all of us leaning against the ring apron. The kid, Stivens Bujaj, brought it and brought it hard, out-working, out-maneuvering, and outclassing the veteran. For two rounds, Stivens’ sparse resume meant nothing. His work meant everything.

I saw Stivens Bujaj work for real, as a professional, in his seventh pro fight. I was impressed that afternoon too, this time in Atlantic City. Before the fight, my brother and I visited Stivens in the dressing room, which at the Resorts Casino Hotel is a banquet hall. As I watched the young cruiserweight get his hands wrapped, I saw the same calm I’d seen in the Jersey gym. Less calm was Stivens’ brother Eli, and rightly so. It’s tough to see a sibling fight. When I saw my brother fight in the Gloves, I wasn’t calm at all, so I empathized with Stivens’ older brother, who kept looking across the wide-open room at the fighter his brother was about to face—a big cruiser named Joshua Harris, who was reputed to be strong and tough. To distract himself, or perhaps to reassure himself, Eli told me a story about Stivens. “When he was a kid, he’d knock his head on something hard and he’d just laugh.” An hour later, when Harris hit Stivens in the head with a brutal combination in Round 1, Stivens didn’t laugh. He hit back. By round two, Joshua Harris was a battered man, wilting against the ropes before the referee stepped in.

Stivens Bujaj reeled off five more wins, four inside the distance. Which brought him here, to Brighton Beach, to fight for one of the alphabet soup’s absurd titles against a very real opponent named Junior Anthony Wright. Bujaj was coming in at 12 and 0 with 9 knockouts. Wright was coming in at 10 and 0 with 9 knockouts. Bujaj had won two New York Gloves titles as a heavyweight. Wright had won three Chicago Gloves titles as a light-heavy. Now they were both cruiserweights. In a division that doesn’t get much attention, this match-up was especially impressive. Each of these young men could have taken easier fights, built their record, waited around for a real title shot and a decent payday. Instead, they’d both agreed to take a stern, potentially damaging test.

I’d never been to the Millennium Theater, but I’d been to Brighton Beach, to swim in the ocean on hot summer days, to drink vodka on hot summer nights, to work as an extra on a couple of movies that were set in a time before the time I was there. There’s something old-school about the Brooklyn neighborhood, about the Russian population that has settled here, so it seemed a fitting location for a throwback kid with a quiet demeanor and no-frills style to prove himself. I was looking forward to an old-school fight. This was New York City vs. Chicago. These were two undefeated young men with amateur pedigrees looking to prove their mettle. It was Thursday night at the boardwalk.

When I pulled up to the Millennium there was a long line of people in front and no parking spaces in sight, so I cruised to an avenue named Oriental and found a spot a half mile away. By the time I walked back to the theater it was fight time, but the long line was still there, a backlog of fans waiting to get through security. I got my press ticket; a pat-down and a bag-check later, I was inside the theater.

The Millennium is not the best boxing venue. My assigned seat was two rows from the stage, but so far left all I saw of the first preliminaries was an immovable ring post and three out of every ten punches. Dimitri Salita, who was promoting tonight’s show, saw my plight and kindly beckoned me up on stage where I stood ringside for the rest of the night.

There’s nothing like seeing boxing four feet from the ropes. The sweat and blood literally touch you. But the sounds touch you the most. Cracks against jaws. Thuds against bodies. There were seven fights before the main event and while a few didn’t make it past a single round, par for the course when up-and-comers building their records are matched against easy opponents, most of the opponents were impressively tough. Some of the blue-corner losers—Ian James (who fell to 2-7-1), Rafael Luna (who fell to 4-9-3), Jose Del Valle, a Giacometti of a lightweight (who fell to 2-6-3), and Antonio Fernandez (who fell to 4-18-2)—more than earned their pay, absorbing plenty of punishment and fighting as hard as they could. The second main event pitted super heavy Jarrell Miller against Stivens Bujaj’s previous opponent Joshua Harris, who had moved up a weight division. At 263 pounds, Miller is a big man, but his ring moniker “Big Baby” may account for some of the fat around his middle. Miller landed heavy punches against the much smaller Harris, who weighed in at 213. Harris made it past the first round, but didn’t make it out of the second, which is precisely when Bujaj had stopped the Youngstown, Ohio native. The difference: Bujaj had done it with 64 fewer pounds.

Stivens Bujaj entered the ring dressed in regal maroon and gold trunks, looking the way he always looks—calm and ready. So did the visitor Junior Anthony Wright, who wore all white. Each man had a buzz cut. 

The bell rang and the two fighters went at it. There was no feeling out, no gauging talent. Both men stayed in the pocket. Both men landed left hooks, which would become their punch of choice. In a pre-fight interview, Wright had promised to break Bujaj down. The promise went both ways; the fighters started breaking each other down, immediately. Both men returned to their corners breathing heavy. Round 2 was a repeat of the first. All business. Mostly left hooks. A few right hands by Bujaj. When Wright got hit, he smiled, and I wondered what kind of a kid he’d been, if he too had laughed when he was hurt. When Bujaj got hit, his mouth remained serious. I gave the first two to Bujaj.

Between rounds I watched my brother watching everything that was happening. He’s the new Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission, overseeing the day-to-day operations of boxing. It was much easier seeing David outside the ropes, dressed in suit and tie, than inside the ropes wearing trunks. 

In Round 3, the first tell-tale sign that the tide was changing, that Wright might indeed be wearing down his man, came when Bujaj lost his mouthpiece. This was a close round, a busy round, but Wright’s flurry at the end won it for him. Round 4 saw Wright breathing heavier but working harder than Bujaj. To his credit, Bujaj was catching many of Wright’s shots on the gloves, and the thudding sound was often leather hitting leather, not leather hitting flesh. Also to his credit, when Bujaj had his back to the ropes, he still stayed busy. But Wright was the aggressor and at the end of four, the fight seemed even.

Bujaj’s corner told him to go to the body. And he listened, for a time, before returning to the left-hook staple to do his damage. For his part, Wright damaged Bujaj, bloodying his nose. These two fighters were putting on a show; the action was constant without pause. And then came Round 6 when everyone in the Millennium was reminded why boxing is called the hurt business. After trading numerous heavy shots at a perfect ratio of 1 to 1, Bujaj’s mouth started bleeding. First it was a trickle. Then it was a river. Bujaj was swallowing and spitting red. When the round ended Bujaj walked to his corner and these are the words he said: “Pull it out. Pull out my tooth. Pull it out.” Talk about old-school. The ringside physician checked Bujaj’s mouth and Bujaj, wishing the doctor were a dentist, now asked the doctor to pull his tooth. No teeth were extracted. The fight resumed. The red river flowed.

Bujaj fought with urgency in Round 7, but Wright threw heavy leather and had Bujaj stumbling. Unsteady, bloody, exhausted-looking, the end seemed near. Again the doctor looked at Stivens’ mouth between rounds. Again he let the fight go on. In the middle of Round 8, the ref saw a low-blow that no one else saw and gave Stivens a five-minute rest. Bujaj needed it. His corner told him to use all of the gifted time. To his credit, he only waited a minute, then resumed fighting, and he fought well. He punched as frequently as he spit blood and won the round with some clean shots at the end. I had the fight even after eight.

They say habit is the great deadener. By this point, Bujaj seemed accustomed to his broken tooth; it was as if his corner had spiked his water bottle with Novocain. Round 9 was too close to call. Perhaps my eyes were blinded by bravery. I gave it to Bujaj. 

Round 10 was a classic. Bujaj busted Wright’s mouth, and now both men bled. But Bujaj didn’t stop there. He went into a frenzy, landing short lefts and rights, the best punches of the fight, calling upon reserves of energy from a place few men know. He rocked Wright and it looked like Wright would go down. Bujaj went into relentless-mode, throwing punches non-stop. But the tape on Wright’s glove was loose and for some reason referee Shada Murdaugh decided to halt the action before a logical pause. Bujaj pushed the referee, disgusted that his momentum had been cut short. Wright recovered, at least a little, while his corner fixed the tape. Bujaj beat him up in the round’s final seconds, but Wright stayed on his feet. And the fans rose to their feet.

This was not an easy fight to judge. Too many of the rounds were too close and when the scores were announced, the verdict reflected the action. 96-94 for Wright. 96-94 for Bujaj. 95-95. A split draw.

What promised to be an old-school fight delivered. There was no feeling out, no lulls in the action. There was plenty of blood and guts. There was the catharsis of brutality. If Stivens Bujaj and Junior Anthony Wright are the future of the cruiserweight division, this often-overlooked weight class should move into the spotlight. Tonight each man remains undefeated. Yet each man now has a draw. And there’s something old-school in that as well. Look at the fighters of yesteryear who had so many losses and so many draws; in those days, undefeated records weren’t protected the way they are today. And perhaps that’s how it should be. Losses, draws—they suggest seasoning. When the disappointment of not securing a complete win wears off, Stivens Bujaj and Junior Anthony Wright should cherish their first draw. It’s not a scarlet blemish but a red badge. 

Adam Berlin is the author of the recently published boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). His other novels are The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil), Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Headlock (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). His stories and poetry have appeared in numerous journals. He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit adamberlin.com.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Steve Bujaj 12:35am, 03/09/2015

    Amazing article Adam, you truly are the best at what you do. Cheers!

  2. Sandra Hunter 09:06am, 05/30/2014

    What’s remarkable about this description is the balance between the crisp, taut reporting and the emotional involvement. The knowledgeable fight   description coupled with the heat, blood, sweat and tension are perfectly weighted. Adam Berlin is the best at what he does.

  3. Greg 08:41pm, 05/17/2014

    Wow! Amazing article!
    It was definitely one of the best fights I ever witnessed.  It was like a action packed movie which kept you on the edge of your seat.  I must also say it was a close fight to judge.  But I also thought Bujaj won rounds 9 and 10.  I believe the referee made a mistake by pausing the action of the last round of the fight, where Wright seemed he was about to go down.  In my opinion Bujaj won the the fight.  Very bad reffing!

  4. Matt Jones 10:07pm, 05/16/2014

    Amazing article. I felt like I was there.

    I had the privilege to meet your brother in Sydney while he was here for the Clottey vs Mundine fight. Great guy, he will be a breath of fresh air for the Commission.

    Keep up the great work!

  5. peter 03:26pm, 05/16/2014

    Adam, this is an excellent account of the evening’s events, your thoughts, and the fight.  Thank you!

Leave a comment