Unbeaten Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight Khiary Gray (11-0, 9 KOs) faces his toughest test to date in the most important fight of his young career Friday, Feb. 19th, 2016 when he challenges Washington's Cameron Sevilla Rivera (6-2-1, 5 KOs) for the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) Youth Title in the 10-round main event of CES Boxing's season opener at Twin River Casino.
Since making his professional debut in June of 2014, Gray's rapid climb includes 11 bouts in 18 months, a regional title (captured in September courtesy of a vicious knockout win over Kenton Sippio-Cook), and now a shot at the WBC Youth crown, an important step in the development of many young fighters since its inception in 1999.
The WBC Youth program is designed to provide fighters under the age of 24 with an opportunity to gain valuable experience as a precursor to challenging for a world title. The formula has worked; 47 of the fighters who've won WBC Youth titles over the past 17 years have gone on to win world championships, a remarkable footnote to a bout that needs no additional hype.
The list of former youth champions to graduate to world-title status includes 77-fight vet Humberto Soto, a WBC title-holder in two different weight classes; Kermit Cintron, Daniel Ponce De Leon, Juan Diaz, Chad Dawson, Devon Alexander and reigning World Boxing Organization (WBO) Welterweight Champion Timothy Bradley, who faces Manny Pacquiao for a third time April 9th in Nevada. Whoever wins Feb. 19th joins elite company.
Gray's loaded resume features eight consecutive knockout wins, seven in the first round. The 23-year-old right-hander hasn't been past the second round since November of 2014. Rivera, also 23, won his first four professional bouts by first-round knockout and scored his fifth in August.
The Gray-Rivera main event is one of two title bouts on the Feb. 19th card. Female middleweight Kali Reis (7-5-1, 3 KOs) of Providence, a former International Boxing Association (IBA) champion and two-time world-title challenger, returns home for the first time in more than three years to fight for the vacant Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) World Middleweight Title.
The well-traveled Reis brings plenty of big-fight experience to the CES' 2016 debut with a resume that includes bouts against three world champions, including unbeaten WBO Middleweight Champion Christina Hammer, WBO Super Welterweight Champion Hanna Gabriel and reigning WBC 154-pound title-holder Mikaela Lauren. She also faced former World Boxing Association (WBA) Middleweight Champion Teresa Perozzi in Bermuda in 2014, scoring a knockout win in the third round.
Feb. 19th also features the return of five unbeaten prospect, starting with fellow Worcester native Freddy Sanchez (7-0, 5 KO), the hard-hitting junior welterweight who finished 2015 a perfect 4-0, ending with a well-deserved unanimous decision win over New Yorker Sidney Maccow in December.
Stoughton, Mass., junior welterweight Travis Demko (4-0, 1 KO) makes his first appearance since September while his last opponent, Holyoke, Mass., native Mohamed Allam (1-1) returns to Twin River in a separate 4-round bout in search of his first win since November of 2014.
Framingham, Mass., junior welterweight Julio Perez (3-0), who debuted in 2015 and swept the scorecards in three consecutive wins, faces Skowhegan, Maine, native Josh Parker (0-1-1) in a 4-round bout while fellow Framingham vet Timmy Ramos (2-0-1, 2 KOs) returns to Rhode Island two months after fighting to a draw against Cido Hoff, the only blemish on his record.
The special attraction of the night features Alaskan middleweight Fatlum Zhuta (2-0-1, 2 KOs) in his second bout at Twin River and first since December. The 27-year-old Albanian made his east coast debut in December, sending the overmatched Deivison Ribeiro to the canvas twice in the opening round to secure an impressive knockout win.
Tickets for the Feb. 19th season debut are priced at $40, $75 and $125 (VIP) and are available for purchase online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club.
For more information visit www.cesboxing.com or follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cesboxing. Updates are also available at www.facebook.com/cesboxing. Photo courtesy of Will Paul