For Fairfield boxer Justin Rolfe to scale the heights he hopes to reach in his chosen sport, he’s going to have to overcome some tall odds.
His next challenge comes May 13, in a six-round main-event bout against undefeated Sonny “The Bronco” Conto at the Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
The 5-foot-10 Rolfe, a former USA New England heavyweight champion, will be spotting the 6-foot-4 Conto 6 inches in height and 7 inches of reach but plans to work inside his taller opponent in an effort to improve his professional record of 7-3-1 with five knockouts.
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“He’s a long fighter and hasn’t fought anybody that’s been able to put him on his back foot yet, so that’s definitely in our game plan to stay low and take advantage of my size and the fact that I’m the shorter fighter,” said Rolfe, who is coming off a second-round technical knockout of Fabian Valdez at Derry, New Hampshire, on March 19.
“I’m going to make myself as short as I can and try to get under his jab and put him on his back foot, disrupt his timing and not let him find his range.”
Conto, 9-0 with seven knockouts, is backed by one of the world’s biggest boxing promotions in Top Rank and has been branded as a modern-day Rocky Balboa given his Italian heritage and south Philadelphia birthplace.
The 26-year-old Conto also will have the home-ring advantage. While this will be the first boxing show at the Parx Casino since January 2020, seven of his professional bouts have been held in the Philadelphia-Atlantic City, New Jersey, area.
Conto’s height and reach will present Rolfe a challenge similar to two fights ago when he faced 6-foot-7 Steven Torres, who was awarded a first-round victory via referee stoppage last Aug. 21 on a nationally televised card at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I think I have an advantage coming off fighting Steven Torres and sparring with a lot of tall guys,” said Rolfe, a former powerlifter who hopes to weigh in for the Conto bout at a career-low 235 pounds. “I think the short look and peek-a-boo style I use won’t necessarily be the first time [Conto’s] seen it but I don’t think he’ll exactly like it.”
Like Conto, Torres also is promoted by one of the nation’s top boxing organizations, Professional Boxing Champions, and Rolfe said he learned from that earlier bout that maintaining aggression in the ring will be pivotal to extending the fight against a highly promoted foe after being disappointed that the Torres bout was stopped before the end of the opening round.
“We’re going to come early and use offense as the best defense,” Rolfe said. “If I catch one or two punches off the gloves I need to fire back and move. We’re not going to just stand around and catch punches or anything like that and give anyone an excuse to stop the fight. We’re going into this with a game plan but we always keep open minded and not necessarily have just one game plan so we can adjust and change on the fly.”
The two boxers have one common opponent in Connecticut heavyweight Mike Marshall. Conto scored a unanimous-decision victory over Marshall in his most recent fight on Feb. 24 in Philadelphia, while Marshall defeated Rolfe by eight-round unanimous decision in Rolfe’s first defense of his USA New England crown on Nov. 14, 2020.
Rolfe, 30, has won three of his last four bouts while Conto has stopped four of his last five foes, and Rolfe sees a victory against the hometown favorite as an opportunity to return to the national scene.
“I don’t want to say I’m old, but for this sport I’m getting older. Having back surgery in the past and some injuries from when I powerlifted, I’ve probably only got a couple of years left in the sport so I told my promoter [Chris Traietti] that I want to strike while the iron’s hot,” said Rolfe, who also operates a boxing club in Waterville.
“I’ve fought in Vegas and am coming off a win after that, and I’m trying to see how far I can go so I can be happy that I took the chances I did and fought the guys I fought and nobody can say I wasn’t a game fighter.”