- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Former two-division titlist Zsolt Erdei, one of the most talented but obscure titleholders in boxing in recent years, is coming out of retirement and coming to America, looking to make a name for himself under the guidance of promoter Lou DiBella.
DiBella told ESPN.com that he signed the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist from Hungary on Saturday, both of them believing Erdei can make a splash in the United States after a career spent fighting almost exclusively in Germany.
"I have followed him for a while and watched a number of his fights, and he's a high quality guy," DiBella said. "He has superstar status in Hungary. He's like a rock star there. He doesn't need the money. He didn't come back for the money. Coming to America is about legacy and about trying to prove he's belongs with the top guys, that he can beat the top guy. That is why he's coming back."
Erdei, 36, who fought twice early in his career in the U.S., will end a 13-month layoff when he fights for the first time under the new deal on Nov. 20 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
The fight will be on the undercard of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez's first title defense against Paul Williams. Erdei is scheduled for an eight-rounder against Samson Onyango (20-6, 13 KOs) of Kenya.
"What's coming up next for me is in America," Erdei said. "To be successful there is the next step after having achieved mostly everything in Europe. The big names in my weight division, I want to challenge and defeat them. That's my goal. I know it's going to be a tough and a big challenge, but I have never run away from these kinds of tasks. I didn't want to end my career without giving it a try in the USA.
"We had a few options, especially from U.S. promoters. After a lot of discussions and negotiations, we met with Lou DiBella and DiBella Entertainment in New York. These meetings were always very positive. He made the best offer, and what was very important to me was that he believes in me. From the beginning I have seen Lou DiBella as a really nice person and I have the confidence in him, and I know that he will open the doors to the American boxing market in order to secure a successful continuation of my career."
Erdei (31-0, 17 KOs) held a portion of the light heavyweight title for five years before vacating the belt and moving up to cruiserweight, where he nabbed a title by outpointing Italy's Giacobbe Fragomeni last November. After the fight, Erdei retired. His contract with longtime German promoter Universum expired and he has not fought since.
"I love boxing and that's why I want to continue," Erdei said. "Boxing is my life and I'm a fighter. I was looking for a new challenge after I had been the WBO light heavyweight world champion for nearly six years, had won the WBC cruiserweight crown and my contract with Universum Box-Promotion had ended."
In January 2004, Erdei easily outpointed Julio Gonzalez to win a light heavyweight title. Over the next five years, Erdei made 11 defenses, but faced a slew of second-tier opponents, which DiBella said was a bone of contention between Erdei, who wanted to fight better challengers, and Universum.
"He hasn't taken a lot of punishment," DiBella said. "His weight doesn't fluctuate much. So at 36, it's not a big deal to keep fighting. He doesn't have a lot of mileage on him. He has taken care of himself and believes he has a lot left. But he's not looking for a five-year comeback. He's looking for four or five fights. He thinks he can beat the top guys at light heavyweight -- Jean Pascal, Chad Dawson, that level of guy."
Nicknamed "Firebird," Erdei was a star amateur, going 212-20 and boxing as a middleweight in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He received a bronze medal in the 2000 Sydney Games.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.