EDMONTON - His nickname is "Silent," but Steve Franjic is making some noise on the Canadian boxing scene.
The unbeaten (8-0-1, 5 KOs) light heavyweight from Orangeville, Ont., is headlining KO Boxing's Sudden Impact card on Dec. 7 at Shaw Conference Centre against Akinyemi Laleye (12-3, 6 KOs) of St. Petersburg, Fla. — a former semifinalist on The Contender reality TV series.
A victory in the 10-rounder would vault Franjic to the top of the list of aspirants for the vacant national championship, while a loss will set the 25-year-old back at least a year in a division teeming with talented punchers.
"Franjic has all the tools; he's tall, he's got good power in both hands and he uses his head in there," says KO Boxing promoter and longtime trainer Milan Lubovac. "This will be the third time in a little over a year we've showcased Steve, but it's the first time he's headlined one of our shows. He's improved in every fight and his unbeaten record speaks for itself, but he's going to be in tough against Laleye.
"At this point in his career, Franjic has to step up against a guy who's battled some of the best, and Laleye fits that description. If Steve can get the win Ñ and look good doing it Ñ the next time he fights in Edmonton could be for the Canadian championship."
In his last outing, an eight-round stoppage of Anthony Russell last April in Toronto, the 6-foot-3 Franjic complemented a sharp jab with devastating body punching that forced the referee to stop the fight when Russell was unable to defend himself.
Franjic's trademark left hook did most of the damage in what was the longest outing of his career to date.
"I thought he dominated from start to finish," Franjic's trainer and coach Bryon Mackie said afterwards. "I'm extremely happy with his performance. He's getting better every fight."
Franjic will need every weapon at his disposal to fend off Laleye, who won a spot on gold team in Season 4 of The Contender in 2009. After winning a decision over Erick Vega and stopping Alfredo Escalera Jr. in the quarterfinal, Laleye dropped a five-round decision to then British Commonwealth cruiserweight champ and eventual Season 4 winner Troy Ross of Toronto.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and now based in Florida, at 5-foot 11 Laleye is four inches shorter than Franjic. And at 31, he's six years older than the Canadian. But in terms of experience and quality of opposition, Laleye has a clear edge. He's boxed 56 pro rounds against opponents with a combined record of 113-38-5, while Franjic has banked just 33 rounds against opponents who are 45-47-5.
"There's always a risk when you're fighting a guy with twice as much experience, a guy who's held his own with world-ranked contenders," said Lubovac. "But if Franjic is going to move to the next level and position himself for a Canadian title shot, he's going to have to beat his guy.
"And Laleye wants to move up, too. This is a very important fight for both of them."
Meanwhile, a trio of fighters on the undercard have some interlocking history, starting with exciting unbeaten Edmonton super middleweight (165 lbs.) Steve MacGillivary (2-0), who is squaring off with debuting Layne McTaggert of Calgary.
In his last two outings, MacGillivary notched a pair of four-round decisions over Medicine Hat's Brad Soanes (2-3-1), who's fighting a middleweight (160 lbs.) rematch with Saskatoon's tough Paul Bzdel (3-2-1). When they first met in August of last year, Bzdel went home with a razor-thin split decision after six rounds.
Bzdel originally caught the attention of Edmonton fans in 2010 when he scored a shocking upset over previously unbeaten Jorge Ravanal Jr. of St. Albert.
In another middleweight clash, Edmonton's Max Gagne Ñ who was KO'd by Soanes last year Ñ looks to pick up his first pro win against debuting Matt Jelly of Fort McMurray.
Also on the card: quick-fisted Red Deer lightweight Cam O'Connell (2-0) vs. Toronto's Lexton Bates, and Edmonton's Brandy Badry (1-3) in a lightweight rematch against Maria Bastasin (0-1) of Hamilton.
QUICK JABS: This Saturday at 2 p.m., Super Channel is airing live coverage of a 12-round heavyweight bout between British Commonwealth champ Tyson Fury (19-0, 14 KOs) and Kevin Johnson (28-2-1, 13 KOs) from the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. At 6-foot-9, Fury has a six-inch height advantage on Johnson, an American who went the 12-round distance in a loss to Vitali Klitschko in 2009.