- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The first of promoter Artie Pelullo's two eight-man Boxcino tournaments begins on this week's edition of "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Edgewater Casino in Laughlin, Nev.
First up will be the lightweight quarterfinals with these six-round bouts: Yakubu Amidu (21-4-2, 19 KOs) vs. Chris Rudd (12-1, 8 KOs), Fedor Papazov (14-0, 9 KOs) vs. Petr Petrov (32-4-2, 15 KOs), Miguel Gonzalez (22-3, 16 KOs) vs. Miguel Angel Mendoza (21-2-2, 21 KOs) and Fernando Carcamo (15-5, 12 KOs) vs. Samuel Neequaye (21-0, 15 KOs).
The middleweight tournament kicks off with quarterfinals on Feb. 28 at Harrah's Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., with these matches: Donatas Bondorovas (18-4-1, 6 KOs) vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (15-1, 6 KOs), Cerresso Fort (17-2-1, 11 KOs) vs. Vitalii Kopylenko (22-0, 12 KOs), Brandon Adams (12-0, 7 KOs) vs. Daniel Edouard (23-4-2, 12 KOs) and Raymond Gatica (13-1, 7 KOs) vs. Sena Agbeko (15-0, 15 KOs).
But as the new tournaments, which will cover five "Friday Night Fights" cards through the May 23 finals, are set to begin, it should be remembered that this is the second edition of Boxcino, even though many years have past since the last version.
The original was back in 1997, when Pelullo initially sold the concept to ESPN2.
"Seventeen years ago, I was 41 years old and I was trying to figure a way to find fighters to advance my business," said Pelullo, whose Banner Promotions has thrived in the years since. "I came up with an idea to do a tournament. That tournament consisted of four weight divisions and eight countries.
"I was fortunate to find several fighters that went on to make a good living in boxing. One of the fighters we thought that would become a big star was J.C. Candelo."
Candelo went on to have a solid career and fought for a junior middleweight world title in 2003, losing a decision to a prime Winky Wright. Candelo has not been a factor for years and his career may have come to an end in December when he was knocked out by former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in the seventh round of an utterly one-sided fight. But Boxcino launched him to becoming a 154-pounder contender for several years.
But one fighter emerged from the original Boxcino to become a major star and significant world champion, Acelino "Popo" Freitas of Brazil. Freitas, who wound up with a contract with Showtime, unified two junior lightweight world titles (beating a prime Joel Casamayor) and twice won versions of the lightweight world title while engaging in some high-profile and exciting fights. He remains close with Pelullo to this day.
"Out of all the fighters, there was a young kid from Brazil named Acelino 'Popo' Freitas," Pelullo recalled. "He was 9-0 with nine knockouts [when Boxcino began]. He went on to a record of 39-2 with 33 knockouts and he won four world titles. Freitas has one of the highest knockout percentages in history and he defended [his junior lightweight title] 10 times. He turned out to be my most successful fighter to date. I now promote his nephew, Vitor Jones de Olivera."
Pelullo hopes that he can find another Freitas, or even a Candelo, in the field of fighters who will participate in the 2014 tournaments.
"I am hoping that Boxcino 2014 will find us some young fighters that we can take their careers to the top of the sport," Pelullo said. "I believe that within this crop of young fighters there could be a few of them that will take their careers to the very top of boxing."