Nick Bizzarro and Maria Antunez are former college athletes ready to make their professional boxing debuts Saturday night.
Bizzarro, a former football player who attended Maine and Slippery Rock, will become the 11th member of the famous Erie boxing family to step into a pro boxing ring.
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That same night, Antunez, a former Mercyhurst University women’s soccer player, will remove the headgear for the first time after a sterling amateur career that included a stint with the Honduras national team.
Those matches, along with Anthony Bizzarro’s fourth career fight, and several others, will take place during the Clash at the Casino, presented by Bizzarro Boxing and MMA Promotions, at Presque Isle Downs and Casino. The opening bell is at 5 pm Doors open at 4. The matches will be contested either in the boxing ring or MMA octagon on the back patio at the Downs, next to the racetrack.
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Victor Guarriello, fighting out of Erie’s 3 Elements Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, will try to improve on his 2-1 pro record in flyweight MMA action against Michigan fighter Freddie Rodriguez.
Unbeaten Cuban boxer Raynel Mederos (7-0) will take on Evincii Dixon.
The MMA card also features a pair of Bizzarro Promotions championship fights as Josh Visokey takes on Charles Payne at welterweight and Tony Lichtenberger meets Joshua Perreira at bantamweight.
Tickets can be purchased at universe.com. General admission tickets are $35 and reserved seats are $65. VIP ringside/cageside seats are $100. VIP tables are sold out.
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Bizzarro is the 11th member of the family to fight professionally
Nick Bizzarro, 25, will become the 11th member of the Bizzarro family to compete professionally in a boxing ring, nearly one year after younger cousin Anthony Bizzarro became the 10th. Nick Bizzarro boxes as a heavyweight.
Bizzarro stands 6 feet 5 inches and is a former offensive lineman. After accepting a scholarship to play at Division I Football Championship Subdivision Maine, he transferred to Division II Slippery Rock, but eventually found his passion for football waning.
One day while looking through some DVDs in his home, he came across old footage of his father, Joe Bizzarro, and grandfather, Lou Bizzarro. He was inspired.
“A few days later, I went into the boxing gym and tried working on stuff,” he said. “I thought, ‘I really like this.’ I naturally absorbed the stuff. I understand the whole concept. I just have to sharpen my skills more.”
Bizzarro appreciates his place in continuing a family tradition. His opponent will be Jon Tuxford, out of Lancaster.
“It’s an absolute honor,” Bizzarro said. “Not too many people can go in there and do this stuff. For me to go up there and showcase my skills, it’s a whole honor in itself.”
With Anthony Bizzarro also on the card, the event will be the first to include two Bizzarro pros since the late 1990s.
“That’s amazing,” Nick Bizzarro said. “We’ll be on the same card, in the same locker room and we get to share these moments together.”
Younger cousin Anthony Bizzarro is just as excited.
“It’s going to be big,” he said. “He’s my big cousin. We both care about each other. It’s a family tradition. Us together, it’s like a dynamic duo. We’re both out here continuing the family legacy, so it’s beautiful.”
Anthony Bizzarro (3-0) is coming off his first knockout victory. He stopped opponent Chris J. Ortiz at the 48-second mark of the second round on May 13 in Niagara Falls, New York. It was his first match outside Erie, where he had a pair of unanimous decisions.
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Fighting in the lightweight division, Anthony Bizzarro will match up against Shawn Rall (2-5) of Bedford, Ohio.
“I’m excited to get back out there in front of the hometown fans,” he said. “I’m getting used to the pro style, sitting down on my shots. Amateur is speed, speed, speed; it’s like fencing. In the pros, you have to pace yourself, slow down, really sit down on your shots and make everything counts.”
Antunez: important to debut in Erie
Antunez, 30, will make her long-awaited debut after a lengthy amateur career that began when she was in graduate school at Mercyhurst. Since then, she held off on boxing as a pro to remain eligible for potential Olympics boxing.
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Antunez has boxed internationally for her native Honduras. She even claimed a bronze medal at the 2017 Central American Games, yet when the time came to compete at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, her spot was awarded to another country.
The proud native of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, will debut in the Honduran national colors of blue and white.
Antunez arrived as a Mercyhurst women’s soccer recruit in 2010. A dozen years later, she says Erie is her hometown in the United States.
“It was very important to have my debut in Erie,” she said. “I’ll be surrounded by friends from my church, from my job and the gym. I couldn’t be more excited to make my debut here.”
Antunez said a knee injury slowed her soccer career, but she has stayed close to her first love, which she also played internationally and eventually coached as an assistant at Geneva College in Beaver County. Antunez still plays recreationally.
After having an interest in boxing throughout her childhood, she finally took steps on a trip home to Honduras during winter break from school. Through older brother, Christian, she got linked up with a local boxer and fell for the sport.
Upon returning to rie that winter, she looked up boxing gyms in Erie and met Drew McNair at Erie Boxing Academy. Without a car, she had to wait for the snow to melt before she could make bicycle trips to the downtown gym.
“It brought joy into my life at the time,” she said. “This (the pro debut) has been a dream we’ve had for a long time. I’m grateful I’ve got a lot of experience at the amateurs. This has been a great experience, everything to get to this moment. ”
McNair has worked with Antunez for seven years.
“She can do a little bit of everything,” McNair said. “You will see a talented fighter. She can box, she can move. If she needs to turn it up and be aggressive and fiesty, she can brawl, as well. She has a very strong will.”
Contact Josh Reilly at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNreilly.