NEWARK, New Jersey – Jonnie Rice ruined Michael Coffie’s feel-good story Saturday night.
The unheralded Rice, a late replacement for Gerald Washington, basically beat up Coffie for four-plus rounds and produced a huge upset in FOX’s main event at Prudential Center. Rice repeatedly hit Coffie with clean, mostly unanswered shots in the fifth round, which made referee Eric Dali step in and stop their scheduled 10-rounder at 2:19 of the fifth round.
By then, the 35-year-old Coffie was way behind on the scorecards and had significant swelling under his left eye.
Rice (14-6-1, 10 KOs), a 34-year-old Los Angeles native, recorded what was obviously the biggest win of his career in this nationally televised fight. The previously undefeated Coffie (12-1, 9 KOs), a Marine who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, went off as a 20-1 favorite, according to most Internet sports books.
“The whole key in life is getting better every day you walk this earth,” Rice told FOX’s Heidi Androl in his post-fight interview. “So, you know, I wanted to keep getting better, didn’t let my past dictate my future.”
The 6-feet-5, 271¼-pound Coffie, who picked up boxing just five years ago, had difficulty throughout their fight finding his range against the 6-feet-5, 268½-pound Rice. It turned out nothing like the previous Coffie fight FOX televised.
In the bout before he lost to Rice, Coffie floored Darmani Rock (17-1, 12 KOs) twice and knocked out the previously undefeated Philadelphia native in the third round of a fight FOX broadcast January 30 from Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles.
Rice replaced Washington as Coffie’s opponent on less than one week’s notice because Washington tested positive for COVID-19. Though lesser known, Coffie considered Rice a more durable opponent than the 39-year-old Washington (20-4, 13 KOs).
The unassuming Rice wouldn’t even say he was a better opponent than Washington, yet he changed the course of his career.
“A lot of fights I lost was because I was holding back,” Rice said. “I wasn’t believing in myself. I’ve got a great team around me that believe in me, but I’ve gotta believe in me, too.”
Rice’s right-left-right combination stunned Coffie early in the fifth round. Coffie came back several seconds later and drilled Coffie with a right hand.
Rice rocked Coffie with another right hand later in the fifth round, when swelling beneath Coffie’s left eye became obvious.
A left hook by Rice appeared to buzz Coffie early in the fourth round and made him switch back from a southpaw stance to an orthodox stance. Coffie connected with a right hand a little less than a minute later.
Rice blasted Coffie with a right hand of his own in the final minute of the fourth round.
Rice slipped or blocked several of Coffie’s left hands in the third round. He didn’t land as many clean shots on Coffie in that round as he did during the first two rounds, either, but Coffie clearly had fallen behind on the scorecards.
After a rough first round, Coffie opened the second round in a southpaw stance. It didn’t take long for him to connect with a straight left that affected Rice.
Coffie connected with back-to-back straight lefts that got Rice’s attention. Rice let his hands go later in the second round, though, and landed four straight unanswered punches.
Rice was aggressive in the opening round, when he landed two overhand rights in the opening minute of their fight. A left hook by Coffie made Rice re-set his feet later in the first round, but Rice connected with two more overhand rights from far distances.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.