Tuesday, March 28, 2023  |


2023 will be a big year for Eye of the Tiger fighters, says Estephan

Eye of the Tiger President Camille Estephan
Fighters Network

Canada-based promotional outfit Eye of The Tiger began its 2023 schedule on February 2 with a main event featuring Erik Bazinyan edging past the stylistically challenging Alantez Fox over 10 rounds.

EOTTM President Camille Estephan was happy with how the Ring-rated No. 7 super middleweight performed after a difficult past few months.

“It was a great fight; the fans loved it,” Estephan told The Ring. “Erik’s father passed away, and there is always concern and he had to go to Armenia and had to stop there a little bit. We were concerned about his focus; he had a good camp, but mentally how he would fare, and he did very, very well. Alantez Fox was ready; I think we saw the best Alantez Fox we could. [Bazinyan] finished the fight very strong. I’m very excited about what’s next.”

Things didn’t run so smoothly for Yves Ulysse Jr., who was stunningly stopped in a round by Gabriel Valenzuela in the chief supporting bout.

“[Ulysse] has a broken ankle [from the first-round knockdown]. He was supposed to get operated on Tuesday but got pushed back to Friday; it’s a pretty serious operation,” explained the promoter. “He had mentioned to media members prior to the fight, if he loses, he’d quit. 

“I haven’t spoken to him about boxing. I spoke to him about his health. We’ll let him have the operation and then talk to him. That’s how boxing goes. It’s a cruel sport. Valenzuela came in ready, Ulysse was ready, and it was one punch that changed everything.”

The undercard featured four of the company’s prospects: Avery Martin Duval, Christopher Guerrero, Alexandre Gaumont and Wilkens Mathieu, who all scored inside-the-distance victories.

“We’re very excited about the young guys we have. We have very, very good young fighters. We don’t give them easy fights,” Estephan explained. “We try to match them where they’re learning something in each fight. [Director of Development] Marc Ramsay is engineering all this. 

“We saw the pro debut of Wilkens Mathieu. I think people are excited, and for good reason. Obviously, it was only his first fight, but we saw a small sample. He moved to Montreal when he was 15 for boxing, he does everything he has to do and he’s extremely talented. Power, reach, he’s got everything.”

Estephan alongside Christian Mbilli. (Photo by Vincent Ethier/EOTTM)

The next Eye of the Tiger show will be headlined by perhaps the brightest light in their stable when Ring-rated No . 5 super middleweight Christian Mbilli faces arguably his toughest test to date against once-beaten Carlos Gongora at the Montreal Casino on March 23. Victory would inch Mbilli toward his target of a world title shot.

“We don’t want to look past Gongora, but that is the purpose of this fight, to show people what we think of Christian, that Christian is real, and we’re going to see against Gongora,” said Estephan. “Two guys that are avoided. It’s the level of fight we unfortunately don’t see often in boxing.”

The undercard is shaping up nicely and looks set to feature the likes of power-punching heavyweight Simon Kean against former two-time world title challenger Eric Molina. Mary Spencer will return against former world champion Ogleidis Suarez. Also due to appear is an evenly poised matchup between Steve Claggett and Rafael Guzman Lugo. Mathieu will fight for the second time, and recently signed Colombian John Orobio will make his long-awaited debut.

From there, Eye of The Tiger will take some of its bright prospects to Cuernavaca, Mexico, for a return of the popular Commando series on May 1.

“People love the angle of the television,” Estephan explained. “The camera man is glued to the fighters all the time. From in the room getting warmed up, coach’s instructions, you live through the emotion of the fighter and his team. He does the fight with one camera angle, and then we go straight to the back and get the emotions of the fighters again.

“It’s going to be four fights; we’ll see what happens on March 23rd — who wins, who is injury-free. I want to keep Wilkens Mathieu very active … Chris Guerrero, maybe Orobio, Avery Martin Duval, four or five of our young fighters that we want to push.”

Much-touted heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov will fight in the U.S. on a Top Rank card. Potentially in the main event or in chief support, depending who is in the opposite corner.

The physically imposing Arslanbek Makhmudov. (Photo by Vincent Ethier)

“This will be a big fight for us as a promotional company; a big win would have such a huge impact on ESPN in the United States,” said Estephan. “We’re looking for an opponent who will be a household name, somebody well known in the U.S. You look at the Top Rank roster and it’ll be one of those guys who we feel could [help] make a statement for Arslanbek.”

That will lead into Canada’s biggest promoter hitting the halfway point in the calendar on June 1. 

Although that date is still a while away, it looks likely to include Bazinyan and NABF middleweight Steven Butler, whose hectic 2022 schedule saw him fight in March, June, September and December.

Steven Butler (left) vs. Mark DeLuca. Photo Credit: Vincent Ethier/Eye of The Tiger

Steven Butler (left) stopped Mark DeLuca in two rounds. (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Eye of The Tiger)

“It’s going to be mouth-watering fights that on paper are very evenly matched,” Estephan said. “We want to push for Butler to be top 5 and for fans to look at Bazinyan and think, ‘This guy can become world champion.’ We want to put him in big fights. We want to go a step higher. It will be his 30th fight. He’s beaten everybody clean.

“We would have loved for Bazinyan or Mbilli to fight [Edgar] Berlanga, who thinks he’s a superstar and wants to fight Canelo, but it didn’t seem like they were very motivated to fight us.” 

All in all, Estephan is pleased with how things look going forward and feels the future is bright.

“What I want to see is both Mbilli and Makhmudov or even Bazinyan fight in elimination bouts, for them to challenge for world titles at the end of this year or certainly at the beginning of 2024,” said Estephan. “I think our guys are ready. And if we win these fights, then we become must-see TV in the heavyweight scene as well as on the super middleweight scene. We couldn’t be in a better position with big wins. I really think we’ll deliver the goods; we’ll be a dominant force in those two divisions.

“I’m happy with the partnerships we have with Top Rank and ESPN. Here we have our own network, Punching Grace, the sponsorship, and have developed a strong market. and it’s paying off now.”

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].