Jonnie Rice wouldn’t call himself a better or tougher opponent than Gerald Washington.
The huge heavyweight from Los Angeles sees himself as a “different” type of foe for Michael Coffie than the 39-year-old Washington. Rice replaced Washington on short notice because Washington tested positive for COVID-19.
Brooklyn’s Coffie (12-0, 9 KOs), a Marine who never boxed before beginning his amateur career five years ago, and Rice (13-6-1, 9 KOs) will headline a “FOX PBC Fight Night” tripleheader Saturday night from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey (8 p.m. EDT).
“It’s an extreme opportunity, so I have to give my all,” Rice said Thursday during a virtual press conference. “You know, I’m coming to do my best to impress everyone. I know everyone’s watching. I’m glad everyone’s watching because, you know, this is the time for you to show people who you are. Everyone’s gonna have a different thought process about you, so it’s time for you to prove yourself and, you know, make ‘em think what you want ‘em to think. But the biggest thing is I’m going out there to, you know, yes, go to battle. There’s no way around it.”
The 35-year-old Coffie considers Rice more durable than Washington (20-4, 13 KOs), who has suffered technical-knockout losses to former champions Deontay Wilder and Charles Martin and contenders Adam Kownacki and Jarrell Miller. Rice went all 10 rounds with hard-hitting Nigerian prospect Efe Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) in his most recent action, September 19 at MGM Conference Center in Las Vegas.
“I mean, if I’m being honest, you know, I took a shot that I didn’t see from Efe that normally would put, you know, most people down,” Rice said. “And it didn’t put me down. So, it did boost my confidence. So, I plan to, honestly, you know, focus more on my offense. And if I take a shot, I’m gonna keep coming. So, that’s really what I’m going after. I’m looking to put on an offensive show. So, what’s up? We’re gonna see what’s going on. We’re gonna see what’s good. I’m gonna learn quickly if I need to go back defensively, because I’m coming with a lot of offense. So, that’s what y’all need to expect. We’re gonna trust in taking them big shots and coming with throwing the big shots of my own. So, what’s up?”
The 34-year-old Rice has been stopped twice – by Russia’s Arslanbek Makhmudov (11-0, 11 KOs) and Australia’s Demsey McKean (19-0, 12 KOs). Makhmudov and McKean needed nine-plus rounds apiece to defeat Rice by TKO, though, and Coffie doesn’t anticipate the type of quick night he enjoyed January 30 in Los Angeles, where he dropped Darmani Rock (17-1, 12 KOs) twice and knocked out the Philadelphia native in the third round.
Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions had the 6-feet-5, 265-pound Rice on standby, in case anything happened to Washington or Coffie. He was training as a potential replacement, but Rice would not have fought on the Coffie-Washington undercard if Washington hadn’t withdrawn from their 10-round fight.
“I’ve seen Michael Coffie,” Rice said. “Everyone’s watching. Everyone hears his name now. You know, he had an amazing, breakout year. He’s still going and so, you know, it just so happen I’m the man that he’s gotta get past now, not Gerald Washington. So, we’re gonna make it all worth it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.