He calls himself “The Sexy Albanian,” so there's that to start with.
You hear the name, then you see Genc Pllana fight, and you see a most unorthodox style, and you may well assume that this guy isn't gonna make it to the final bell.
Chuckle if you wish at the nickname, but underestimate the super middleweight Pllana, fighting on ShoBox tonight, at your own peril.
I saw the 27 year old fight in Philly, and he won me over, with his “interesting” style, and his enthusiasm. I asked him after the bout how he got started in pugilism.
“Well, when I was 9 years old I did boxing for a year, and as an amateur I went 10-0, then I quit, I'm not really sure why, but after I graduated high school I thought about joining boxing again. So I signed up and my first amateur match as an adult lasted seven seconds, I knocked my opponent out with my first punch, a right hand so I thought I would stick with it! Now I'm professional.”
Pllana holds a 7-1-1 record going into his ShoBox scrap against Kevin Newman II, and he is the underdog, as Newman is thought to be a future standout.
Pllana isn't the type to be cowed.
He grew up in Kosovo, he's Albanian, and he was the underdog going into that Philly fight, versus Kalvin Henderson (then 12-0). The judges at 2300 Arena Dec. 6, 2019 deemed the scrap a draw, I thought Pllana deserved the nod.
I called the bout on Facebook Fightnight Live, and messaged him after, telling him I thought he won. And I learned more about the Albanian.
“I have three brothers and when we were all young our oldest brother made us sign up for boxing since we always got into fights on the playground, so I went 10-0 as a 9 year old kid. At that time we lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, then we moved to Maryland, and I just didn't really box anymore until I graduated high school. Then I thought about it again because I've always loved fighting so I personally signed back up and I stuck with it and I'm here now.”
Genc moved with his family in 1999 and came to America as refugees from Kosovo because of the war with Serbia.
Was that hard? “Well, me and my brothers as kids at the time loved it here, the schools were very nice, there were a lot of different things to do, so we were very happy with the move and adapted quite easily.”
Pllana has a trainer whose name many of you might know: Simon Brown, a champ at 147 and 154, and one of the better boxers to ever come out of Jamaica.
“Since December of 2016 he moved to Hagerstown, MD and opened up a gym with his close friend, my assistant coach Francisco Silva, and he's a great coach,” Genc said.
And he admits, his style is not conventional. “Yes, my style is awkward, I guess, but I'm under the impression that there is no right way to fight the right way.. in my opinion it is whatever makes the individual better!”
And what, you think when I ask “The Sexy Albanian” his prediction, he's going to say that the touted Newman is the favorite and he will need to get lucky to get the W?
Nope; “I predict a middle round KO, round 5 or 6.”
HERE ARE QUOTES FROM NEWMAN and PLLANA:
Kevin Newman II
“You guys saw the real me the last time I was on ShoBox. As soon as I came out, I came out stepping to him and popping the jab. It was a totally different fight from the first time and I could tell immediately once he started backing up. Throughout the whole training camp, I knew I had to go and right my wrong. The first time I lost to him, I called Leonard Ellerbe immediately and told him I wanted the rematch. It took a couple years, but I was able to right that wrong.
“To this day, so many people tell me I look like Roy Jones in the way that I fight. I don’t want to be Roy Jones. I want to take certain things from his game and implement them into mine, but I want to be my own fighter. Who better than the man himself to bring in and help me? The same thing with Floyd Mayweather. I always watched him and I took a lot from his game that I liked, especially defensively. I still have more work cut out for me if I want to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. But in terms of talent, people see what they see. I take so much from Roy Jones. Sometimes, when I put the tassels on my boots, I feel like I’m him. He’s my idol. Everything he says to me is gold to me.
“I want to bring back the excitement to boxing. Even if you’re not knocking out everybody like Deontay Wilder or Tank Davis, I still want people to leave saying that I put on a show. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re going to get it done.
“I just need to stay focused and keep winning. I need to keep showing my talent and the skills that I have. I still feel like there’s another 60 percent that people haven’t seen from me. Roy Jones and the rest of my team are bringing that out of me. I just want to keep going out there and putting on a show and everything else will fall into place.
“He has an awkward, unorthodox style. But this is boxing, you have to go out there and be able to adjust. We have a great game plan. We’ve been working on that game plan in the gym so I’m going to go out there and do exactly what my team tells me. There’s not a guy in the division with faster hands than me. He won’t be able to handle that.”
“I had about two weeks’ notice for this fight. But I was ready for a March 14 fight, so I’m in good shape and right on weight. People think that I’m going to be an easy opponent based on my style, but I think I’m a really frustrating guy to fight.
“I’m already a confident fighter, and my last fight against Henderson gave me even more confidence. I think I could have stopped him in my last fight. Honestly, confidence has never been an issue for me. I believe I’ll be the first Albanian world champion. I believe I’d beat Roy Jones in his prime, so that really doesn’t bother me at all. If he thinks that’s going to bother me, he has another thing coming.
“I don’t care who I’m fighting, or who’s in the other guy’s corner. In the ring, it’s me vs. him. That’s all that matters. I think this will be a coming out party for me. After Friday night, fight fans will be saying that ‘The Sexy Albanian’ really is sexy.”