Boxer Michael Zerafa. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England
Boxer Michael Zerafa. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England

Shattered Zerafa admits Horn rematch in limbo

MICAHEL Zerafa remains intent on beating Jeff Horn again in their December 18 Brisbane rematch despite the death of his training partner and friend Dwight Ritchie in a tragic sparring accident on Saturday.

A shattered Zerafa said he "definitely'' wants to beat Horn again, though he and his team are discussing whether he needs more time to prepare after Ritchie's passing.

Zerafa stopped Horn in nine rounds of a brutal fight in Bendigo on August 31 and bookies have him favourite to do it again.

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But the world No. 5 middleweight said was still mourning the loss of close friend Ritchie after the sudden, fatal end to what had been a routine sparring session at a suburban Melbourne gym ahead of the Horn rematch.

Halfway through the sixth round of sparring, Ritchie took a body shot from Zerafa, stumbled backwards, pressed a glove against his chest and collapsed.

Onlookers believed Ritchie had suffered a heart attack and while paramedics were called immediately, the popular boxer could not be revived.

Zerafa and Ritchie had known each other for more than a decade and had helped each other prepare for fights since their nervous beginnings in the sport. Ritchie, 27, the former Australian middleweight champion and father of three, was training to face world title challenger Tommy Browne in Sydney on December 6. Sadly, Browne's own brother, Davey Browne, died after a fight in Sydney in 2015.

Michael Zerafa (left) and Jeff Horn are set to fight again on December 18 (AAP Image/Darren England)
Michael Zerafa (left) and Jeff Horn are set to fight again on December 18 (AAP Image/Darren England)

Zerafa said Ritchie - a cancer survivor known as The Fighting Cowboy - was a "gentleman'' and a "very good friend for many years''.

"It's still so raw and painful,'' Zerafa said, "it was a freak accident and my heart goes out to Dwight's partner and his children.

"It's hard to go back and train at the gym where it happened, but I have to remain positive and focused on my future. Boxing is my career.

Dwight Ritchie punches Tim Tszyu during the WBO Global and IBF Australasian super-welterweight title fight in Sydney on August 14. Tszyu won on points. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Dwight Ritchie punches Tim Tszyu during the WBO Global and IBF Australasian super-welterweight title fight in Sydney on August 14. Tszyu won on points. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

"I definitely want the Jeff Horn fight. But we will just have to see about the timing of it, if I need more time or not. It's only five weeks away and it's only 48 hours since I lost my very good friend.''

Horn is continuing to train for the fight and fully expects to face Zerafa again on December 18 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Brisbane's former world welterweight champion made his pro debut in 2013 on the same card as a Ritchie fight in Melbourne six years ago. On Saturday, he sent a message of condolence to the boxer's young family.

Horn's promoter Dean Lonergan also sent his condolences to Ritchie's family and friends and said he was giving Zerafa "space and time to grieve'' before discussing his plans for the rematch.

But he said for now Horn would "carry on as normal'' with his revamped training program as he aims to reverse the result from what was the Queensland hero's most savage defeat.