Carlos Gongora cashed in big on short notice fight against Ali Akhmedov
It was easy to understand why Carlos Gongora was listed as wide as an 8-1 underdog against Ali Akhmedov.
Gongora was back home in Napo, Ecuador, frustrated and disappointed after a fight with Zhanibek Alimkhanuly on October 9 was canceled due to injuries to his back, shoulder and elbow, when he got the call from his manager, Mike Criscio.
The fight, scheduled for December 18 in Hollywood, Fla., was finalized shortly after Thanksgiving, giving Gongora just two and a half weeks to drop down from 190 pounds to the contract weight of 168. He had limited sparring against Mark Deluca and a 1-0 heavyweight upstart named Jim Torney to get ready. The fight was also at 168 pounds, a division above Gongora’s natural weight.
Criscio said he never hesitated to accept the bout against the unbeaten Kazakh.
“I know what my guy’s got and we took a shot in the dark,” said Criscio.
For the first few rounds, it seemed like Criscio may have been too confident in his fighter’s chances. The naturally stronger Akhmedov stunned Gongora in rounds two and four, before the southpaw Gongora came on in the second half, busting up Akhmedov’s right eye with his overhand left, and splitting the guard with uppercuts between the gloves.
Entering the final round, Gongora needed a knockout to win, and Criscio says he let his fighter know about it in the corner.
As Criscio recalls of his speech: “Let me tell you something motherf–ker, if you don’t knock this guy out, you’re a loser in Ecuador. All we worked for so hard, you’re gonna piss it all away.”
Gongora got the message. Akhmedov was dropped hard by an uppercut, rose up, and was put back down from a pair of uppercuts, remaining on the floor well beyond the count.
Criscio says Gongora (19-0, 14 knockouts), a promotional free agent, has a contract option with Matchroom Boxing, which will have to be fulfilled within five months. Previously he had a hard time getting promoters to take a look at Gongora, despite being a two-time Olympian for his country Ecuador, but now he expects Gongora to be signed by Matchroom. Criscio says that Gongora is also considering making a third run at the Olympics in 2021, after making it to the quarterfinals in 2008 and second round in 2012.
“That’s his dream. To hold all the belts and win a medal in the Olympics,” said Criscio.
Trainer Hector Bermudez says that he imagines Matchroom will try to make a fight with John Ryder (29-5, 16 KOs), who defeated Mike Guy earlier in the night, because the commentary team mentioned it as a possible matchup. Bermudez adds he would welcome any of the top fighters at 160 and 168 pounds, including WBO super middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders.
“I think he’ll smoke Ryder, and Billy Joe wouldn’t be difficult,” said Bermudez, who trains Gongora out of his gym in Boston, Mass.
“I think if Carlos has a real training camp, 8-12 weeks, he’s competitive with anybody. What people saw wasn’t even 60 percent of himself. He was just putting pressure on the guy because he really didn’t have his legs.”
One matchup that had gotten traction on social media was against Edgar Berlanga, the New York-based super middleweight who has scored 16 straight knockouts to begin his pro career. Bermudez laughed it off.
“Oh no, trust me, I promise you, Berlanga wouldn’t fight him. That would be a really bad move for them to fight [Gongora],” said Bermudez.
“Ali hits really hard, and Gongora can take a shot. They won’t do that. And if they do, Gongora would be the first one to sign the contract.”
Gongora, who won the vacant IBO title against Akhmedov, took a direct flight Saturday to Ecuador, which has yet to register a major world champion in boxing. Still, Gongora is being hailed as the first significant pro boxer since his uncle Segundo Mercado dropped Bernard Hopkins twice in a draw for the IBF middleweight title in 1994. The win over Akhmedov ranks among the biggest in Ecuadorian boxing history, dating back to Daniel Guanin’s 1969 decision win over future middleweight champion Rodrigo Valdes, or Eugenio Espinoza’s wins over former champions Flash Elorde and Ismael Laguna in that same year.
Criscio says the plan is to bring him back to the States after the holidays and then take a look at their options.
“Matchroom said we’ve got big things coming so we’ll see what those big things are,” said Criscio.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]