NEWARK, New Jersey – Mere minutes after pulling off a huge upset on boxing’s most expansive television platform, Jonnie Rice still didn’t have it in him to be boastful.
“I’m working on my confidence,” Rice told BoxingScene.com after a fifth-round technical knockout of Michael Coffie that FOX aired from Prudential Center. “I’m not confident enough to start calling nobody out. But if you put ‘em in front of me, you know what I’m saying? I’m gonna get the job done. That’s for sure. So, we ain’t running from nobody, and that’s that.”
The respectful Rice definitely didn’t run from the previously unbeaten, heavily favored Coffie.
Los Angeles’ Rice, 34, took their “FOX PBC Fight Night” main event on less than one week’s notice because Coffie’s original opponent, Gerald Washington, tested positive for COVID-19. Rice (14-6-1, 10 KOs) promised during a virtual press conference Thursday that he would be a much more offensive-minded fighter when he encountered Coffie (12-1, 9 KOs) than he had been in previous fights.
The 6-feet-5, 268½-pound Rice delivered on that promise almost immediately and completely changed his career. Most Internet sports books considered Coffie a 20-1 favorite entering their 10-rounder.
“We know that they’re definitely gonna wanna see me again,” Rice said. “Like my coach already told me, he said, ‘Yo, they’re gonna think it’s a fluke, so they’re gonna give you somebody else. They’re gonna pay you a lot more money,’ and y’all know I love money, ‘but they’re gonna give you somebody else and you’ve gotta show ‘em it’s not a fluke.’ So, that’s all I’m looking to do, continue to train hard and show ‘em that, whoever they put in front of me again, it’s not a fluke. I’m gonna win again and I’m gonna keep winning.”
An active, accurate Rice continuously caught Coffie with right hands and a confounded Coffie couldn’t find the elusive Rice with clean punches.
Rice rocked Coffie with a right-left combination barely 30 seconds into the fourth round. The Columbia, South Carolina, native was ahead 40-36, 40-36 and 39-37 on the scorecards entering the fateful fifth round.
Noticeable swelling beneath Coffie’s left eye became problematic by then. Referee Eric Dali halted the action 2:19 into the fifth round, when a Coffie moved away from Rice after absorbing yet another right hand and touched the damaged left side of his face with his right glove.
“I thought he was playing possum until the ref jumped in,” Rice explained, “because I was really like, you know, very cautious of him, like I said. He’s incredible. He’s a Marine. I ain’t playing no games with somebody of that caliber.”
Rice expressed plenty of appreciation for his trainer, former WBA super bantamweight champ Clarence “Bones” Adams, and two fighters in particular – Devin Haney and Michael Hunter – who have strongly supported him in the gym.
“It’s like one of my former friends, Ivan Castaneda, said, ‘They look at you like a heavy bag. But when the heavy bag start hittin’ back, everybody gonna run,’ ” Rice recalled.
Before he conquered Coffie, Rice believes a lack of confidence cost him in 10th-round TKO losses to Russia’s Arslanbek Makhmudov (11-0, 11 KOs) and Australia’s Demsey McKean (19-0, 12 KOs) and decision defeats to Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) and France’s Tony Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs). He was rewarded instantly by the WBA, which inserted Rice into the 11th spot among its heavyweight contenders in its new rankings released Sunday morning.
“I can definitely enjoy this moment,” Rice said. “Like I said, I’m always setting goals and the goal I set for this fight was win this fight, prove myself and continue to do so again. My coach said I’m two fights away from being a millionaire. That’s what’s been driving me.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.