Jonnie Rice Looks For Career-High Payday After Three Major Wins
Heavyweight Jonnie Rice started his career with a draw against Justin Davenport in 2014, probably around the same time most modern fight fans who talk about the business of boxing started to watch the sport. The 2021 feel-good story provided a sequel in 2022, and in 2023 Rice did it again, but can we still call it an upset at this point?
Looking back on Rice’s career, he would lose to Irish amateur stand-out Con Sheehan, who was training with Vergil Hunter in Hayward, California at the time, early on. It seemed like a death sentence for the older fighter, Rice, who had spent most of his youth playing other athletic endeavors and bravely pursued professional boxing at roughly the age of 23 or 24 years old with limited to no experience prior.
“I do believe I am more of a contender, but on paper, if I am going to keep it real, I am more of a gatekeeper,” said Rice when speaking to Dakota McCormick of ITRBoxing and the Slip and Weave Podcast. “If you think you’re going to the next level, you got to get through me, and at the same time I am going to continue prove that I am the real contender [SIC].”
His career reminds me of Tony Hirsch, a solid Oakland fighter, who once told me he had to have his amateur career as a professional boxer. This is what Rice did.
“Before boxing, I was playing basketball my whole life,” noted Rice when reflecting on the fact that he started boxing late as he even went to college for basketball. “…I switched to football [after college], and that is where I got noticed by Michael King of All-American Heavyweights, who had the vision of bringing heavyweight boxing back to the United States, [King wanted to bring athletes from other sports into boxing], and they wanted us to give boxing a try – which is what I did. Shoutout to “Prince” Charles Martin, who became a heavyweight champion and even fought Anthony Joshua afterward. “Prince” Charles Martin came from that All-American Heavyweight program.”
Rice fought Stephan Shaw way back in 2016, seven years ago in a six-round fight, a year later in 2017 he would lose to Tony Yoka, the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist at super heavyweight in a six-round fight that served as Yoka’s second pro fight. Despite being a solid fighter, who was getting a lot of experience sparring in the gyms, Rice was being used as more of a stepping-stone for fighters with more accomplishments, but maybe not the same drive as him. His lack of experience in the industry as well as in the ring was working against him two-fold.
Rice lost in the Top Rank Bubble to Efe Ajagba in September of 2020, and that seemingly was all that she wrote, but boxing wrote a new Cinderella story. Rice would stop Michael Coffie in July of 2021, and then outclass Coffie on January 1st of 2022. In typical boxing fashion, it appears boxing was more political than it was a sport as Coffie returned sooner than Rice even after two consecutive losses. In an even more disgusting manner, it felt as though Rice’s hard work, grit and determination were not at all reward and if anything he might have been blacklisted or not used in future fights as he appeared “too risky of an opponent”, from my perception of the outside looking in.
During the telecast on Saturday night, it was shared in the fighter meeting around this time, Rice quit his job, thinking he could box full-time, but the call never came. His fight this weekend, against Guido Vianello only happened, because Stephan Shaw got the chance to fight Efe Ajagba in the main event once Oscar Rivas suffered an eye injury in sparring. It was a mere few weeks, but that is where Rice is at. As the best modern matchmaker Top Rank’s Brad Goodman gave Rice the chance of a lifetime.
Rice stopped Guido Vianello on Saturday night when he opened a large cut over Vianello’s eye that forced the fight to be stopped, in the seventh round. Despite being the betting favorite, Rice was seemingly losing the fight to Vianello up until the point of the
“Originally the gameplan was to keep up with [Vianello],” reflected Rice on Saturday night’s win. “That wasn’t working, he was a lot more active than I thought, and he was sustaining it well. In the sixth round you could see he was bouncing on his feet, [Vianello] had no signs of slowing down. Up until that point, I kept saying ‘he is attacking me, but he is not landing clean punches’…[Vianello] is definitely racking up the rounds, which is something I did not want have happened…I told myself though ‘eventually we’re going to make him pay, and when we make him pay we will make him pay.'”
What does he want now? It seems simple, beyond respect, Rice wants to build a financial foundation as at 35 years old, it is fairly obvious he has a limited window to accumulate wealth and would like one, two, or even three big paying fights for his time invested in the sport. Besides that, shouldn’t Rice be rewarded for beating the house fighter three times in a row, and not punished?
“[I want another] big money fight, big name fight,” concluded Rice.