The boxing journey for Stivens Bujaj began in Albania, shifted to the Bronx and on Saturday night makes a stop in Newark.
Bujaj, a two-time New York Golden Gloves champion, fights in a 10-round co-feature bout against Poland’s Mateusz Masternak on a card that features a cruiserweight world title fight and the debut of the World Boxing Super Series on the East Coast.
IBF cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev defends his title against former champ Krzysztof Wlodarczyk at the Prudential Center. That matchup is a cruiserweight quarterfinal bout in the World Boxing Super Series, a tournament developed by promoter Richard Schaefer, the former longtime CEO of Golden Boy.
Schaefer looked at the popularity of tournaments — or playoffs — in other sports and decided it was time boxing did the same. He drew inspiration from tennis tournaments such as Wimbledon, the baseball playoffs and NCAA basketball’s March Madness.
“In the end, the idea is to really have the best fight the best,” Schaefer said. “It’s a great pleasure to promote this exciting matchup. Murat Gassiev is clearly one of the top cruiserweights in the world but he will have a great obstacle against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. Wlodarczyk will have a big boost from the Polish fans in New Jersey. Prudential Center is the perfect venue for this event.”
The World Boxing Super Series is happening in two divisions - cruiserweight and super middleweight. All four cruiserweight world champions have signed on for the tournament and the rest of the field is made up of ranked fighters within the division. It’s a single-elimination tournament that will ultimately crown an undisputed champion.
Bujaj is a cruiserweight and is fighting in what is being called a WBSS reserve match. He’s not actually in the tournament. Still, being on the card with the world’s other top cruiserweights is an opportunity Bujaj isn’t taking lightly, considering he was sidelined for all of 2015 with a shoulder injury.
“I think the tournament is a huge opportunity and a great thing for the sport of boxing,” said Bujaj, 27, who lives and trains in the Bronx. “I’m so happy with where my body is heading into this fight. This is the best I’ve felt in a long time. The shoulder injuries are behind me and I’m healthy now. My punches are sharp. I’m very confident going into this fight.”
Bujaj (16-1-1) has some familiarity with Masternak (39-4), having sparred with him in Germany several years ago.
“I know what I’m dealing with,” said Bujaj. “I’m going to go in there and pick him apart. He’s an aggressive fighter who will come forward and throw power punches, but I’m ready for that.”
Another Albanian fighter who lives and trains in the Bronx also is on the card. Skender Halili (14-2) meets Samuel Amoako (23-15) in a six-round junior middleweight fight. Halili, who has twice fought on Long Island, participated in Ring magazine’s “Round of the Year,” in 2016, when he rose from a second-round knockdown to score a devastating one-punch knockout of Jason Thompson on CBS Sports Network.