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Articles of 2005

Boxing in Ireland

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DUBLIN, Ireland – The fighters were already in the ring when they struck up the music for the respective anthems, and if there had been any doubts in Sean Hughes’ mind about his role on this night they were quickly erased by the crowd’s reaction to the opening chords of “God Save the Queen.”

It may have been the first time the British anthem had ever been played before a professional fight in Ireland’s National Stadium. The cozy, 2,300-seat boxing-only venue on Dublin’s south side had been transformed for the evening into a raucous pub. Whistles and boos cascaded down from the rafters, effectively drowning out the offending tune, and it was clear enough that if the audience had ambivalent feelings about the visiting English boxer, they didn’t much care for his theme music.

Hughes had been procured on short notice as Bernard Dunne’s opponent in the main event of what had been billed as a world title fight doubleheader. That the titles in question were vacant belts on offer from the IBC seemed to be of scant consequence to the Irish crowd, for whom professional boxing remains something of a novelty.

(“What can you tell us about the IBC?” an Irish journalist asked the visiting American scribe. “Well,” we replied, “they make an excellent root beer.”)

The evening brought out an interesting combination of hardcore fight fans and the glitterati of Dublin society. Barry McGuigan had flown in for the weigh-in, and Steve Collins was present as a commentator for Irish television, along with Olympic gold medalist Michael Carruth. (In addition to being telecast throughout the Republic, Friday’s fight was also broadcast live on a Dublin radio station, for which we provided the analysis.)

Sean Mannion and Dave “Boy” Macauley were at ringside, and the Irish actor-comedian Niall Toibin did a stint as the celebrity ring announcer for one undercard fight. The National Stadium was clearly the place to be on this Friday night, and Dublin’s tonier night clubs must have been deserted, given the profusion of bottle-blondes in slinky black dresses in the audience.

Dunne is an undefeated Dubliner who spent most of his early career boxing in the United States. After signing him out of the amateur ranks, manager-promoter Brian Peters had farmed him out to trainer Freddie Roach, and the young featherweight for the most part cut his professional teeth performing on Sugar Ray Leonard-promoted ESPN2 undercards around the country. More importantly, he was absorbing a wealth of top-flight sparring experience as he engaged in the daily wars at Roach’s famed Wild Card gym.

Dunne’s early rise had been marked by a succession of astonishingly quick knockouts as he put away eight of his first nine opponents inside two rounds, but as he moved up in class he struggled somewhat. Between a series of nagging injuries and the increasingly more difficult level of his opposition, Dunne continued to win, but going into last Friday night’s encounter with Hughes, six of his last seven opponents had survived to hear the final bell – including Yuri Voronen, the Ukrainian who put Dunne on his backside in the 10th round of their May fight at the National Stadium.

Dunne’s return to Ireland had been occasioned by the dissolution of SRL Boxing after Leonard abandoned his company to cast his lot with “The Contender,” accompanied by pangs of homesickness. The Hughes fight would be his third since returning to Ireland. It would not only be his first 12-rounder, but his first at junior featherweight, Peters having elected to drop him down to campaign at 122 pounds.

Dunne had originally been scheduled to face Noel Wilders, the 30 year-old former European bantamweight champion. Wilders, said to be contemplating retirement, withdrew a week before the bout. Hughes, like Wilders a southpaw and conveniently from the same gym, was available, and was quickly approved by both the Boxing Union of Ireland and the IBC, despite questionable credentials.

On paper Hughes’ 10-2-1 record appeared respectable enough, since both of his losses had been to undefeated fighters, but in his last outing he had fought to a draw with Peter Buckley. A legendary figure in European boxing circles, Buckley is a 36-year-old professional opponent from Birmingham who has lost well over 200 fights. In his last 40 bouts he was beaten 39 times. The only one he didn’t lose was the draw with Sean Hughes.

Two evenings earlier, the Irish capital had hosted an Ireland-Switzerland soccer qualifier in which the home side had been eliminated from next year’s World Cup courtesy a disappointing 0-0 draw at Landsdowne Road. Given what was at stake, it was a disappointing and listless performance by the Irish, which one national newspaper proclaimed a “Disgrace” on page one on the morning of the weigh-in.

“I won’t be playing for a draw,” promised Dunne. “If Mr. Hughes sticks out his chin at all, he’ll be looking at the lights of the National Stadium.”

Which is pretty much happened on Friday night. Hughes, bone-dry during the introductions, never did get his engine started. He spent the first round retreating as Dunne pressed forward, waving his right jab like a feather duster in a vain effort to keep the Irishman at bay.

Hughes survived that round, but not the next. Early on Dunne rocked him with a left hook, followed up with a right hand, and as Hughes cowered in a vain attempt to ward off the blows, landed at least a dozen unanswered punches before referee Paul Thomas stopped the fight and took him into protective custody.

Thomas’ intervention might have been a bit precipitate, but it hardly altered what had become an inevitable outcome. At the end of it Hughes had a bloody nose to show for his night’s work, but it could have been much worse.

It was Dunne’s 17th win in 17 pro fights, and unlike most of the gullible crowd, he had no illusions about the import of his “world” championship: With the gaudy belt newly wrapped around his waist, he was already talking about the next step up the ladder – like perhaps fighting for a European title next year.

IBC supervisor Bernie LaFratta had arrived in Dublin with two of the root beer organization’s title belts, and they both stayed there. Irish middleweight champion Jim Rock outpointed Welshman Alan Jones over 12 rounds to capture the other.

While Dunne had promised victory, Rock was more guarded in his prediction. Asked by an Irish journalist for a “forecast,” The Pink Panther replied “I’d say it’s going to rain tomorrow,” which is usually a pretty safe bet in Ireland.

A year earlier at Ulster Hall in Belfast, Rock had been upset by Jones, with the referee scoring the bout 76-75 in the Welshman’s favor. Asked if revenge might be a factor in their Dublin rematch, Rock replied “I wouldn’t use the word ‘revenge.’ Alan Jones didn’t do anything wrong. If it was revenge, I’d be looking for the referee.”

Rock got his revenge in any case. In their Belfast fight, an admittedly under-trained Rock had piled up a big early lead and then allowed it to slip away, and it looked as if the same thing were going to happen again.

In the early going Rock worked nicely off his jab, no mean feat against an opponent who carries his right hand welded to his cheek to guard against precisely that weapon. The Irishman dominated the first five rounds, but in the sixth Jones caught him with a counter right and then moved in to land a left-right combination that left Rock staggering.

Referee John Keane seemed to be closely scrutinizing Rock and might have been on the verge of stopping the fight, but, spurred on by the crowd, the Irishman fought on and survived.

He was still woozy when he came out for the seventh, and lost the next two rounds, but in the tenth he rallied and carried the action down the stretch to win going away. The judges had it 117-112 and 116-112 twice. (Our scorecard had Rock winning 115-113.)

Dunne is only 25, and for him the root beer title was admittedly “a steppingstone,” but Rock, who is 33, has no illusions about fighting for a real world title. Friday’s fight left his career mark at 26-4, and it may well have been his last. Jones, perhaps sensing this, grasped the winner about the waist and hoisted him into the air at the conclusion of the spirited 12 rounds. The Welshman’s record fell to 9-2-1 with the loss.

Peters provided an entertaining undercard, one which saw Belfast light-heavyweight Brian Magee (23-2) stop Armenian Varuzhan Davtyan (5-21) in two, Dublin 130-pounder Paul Hyland (5-0) outpoint Slovakian Peter Feher (19-43) over four rounds, and another Northern Ireland boxer, welterweight Stephen Haughian (2-0), stop Turkey’s Imad Khamis in the walk-out bout. Dublin junior lightweight Paul Griffin (22-3) was awarded a first-round TKO when his Scottish opponent John Bothwell (2-5-2) was cut twice above his right eye. (Blood was gushing forth in such profusion that the referee halted the action and summoned the ringside physician, but before he even got there, John Breen, who was working Bothwell’s corner, took one look at the damage and told the referee “forget it.”)

The best performance in a supporting role may well have come from Oisin Fagan. Fagan is a Dubliner who went to the States on a soccer scholarship, but upon graduating found himself jobless. Having had a couple of amateur bouts back in Ireland, he offered himself up as an opponent on a card the AMC Flea Market in Oklahoma City two years ago, hoping to earn enough money for a plane ticket back to Ireland.

To his own surprise he knocked his opponent out, a performance that led to two careers. In the audience was the principal of a local high school who had a vacancy for a PE teacher, and offered Fagan the job. Fagan has continued to moonlight as a boxer, compiling a 9-3 record, and he won the Oklahoma state lightweight title (a championship only slightly more significant than an IBC title) last year.

Fagan had been scheduled to face Richie Scifo in Oklahoma, but when the opportunity to fight in Dublin presented itself, the bout was transported across the sea, lending a literal interpretation to the phrase “bring your own opponent.”

It was a long way to travel for such a brief fight. Midway through the first Fagan cut loose with a Tysonesque combination, crunching Scifo with a hard right to the body followed by a right uppercut up the middle. Oblivious to his surrounding, Scifo pitched face-forward and was writhing in apparent pain throughout the ten-count. From the broadcast booth it had appeared to us that the punch might have broken Scifo's nose, but the young Oklahoman told us later, it didn't even travel that far.

“It was the uppercut that did all the damage,” Scifo told us later. “He caught me flush on the point of my jaw. It was a great punch, and I never saw it coming.”

                                                           * * *

AT THE NATIONAL STADIUM/DUBLIN, IRELAND/October 14, 2005

LIGHT FEATHERWEIGHTS:

Bernard Dunne, 122, Dublin TKO’d Sean Hughes, 121, Pontrefact, England (2) (Wins vacant IBC title)

MIDDLEWEIGHTS:

Jim Rock, 159, Dublin dec. Alan Jones, 158, Aberystwyth, Wales (12) (Wins vacant IBC title)

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS:

Brian Magee, 174, Lisburn, Northern Ireland, TKO’d Varuzhan Davtyan, 179½, Armenia (2)

WELTERWEIGHTS:

Stephen Haughian, 141, Lurgan, Northern Ireland, TKO’d Imad Khamis, 144, Egypt (4)

LIGHT WELTERWEIGHTS:

Oisin Fagan, 139 ½, Dublin KO’d Richie Scifo, 143, Oklahoma City (1)

JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS:

Paul Griffin, 127, Dublin, TKO’d John Bothwell, 126½, Glasgow (1)

Paul Hyland, 128 ½, Dublin, dec. Peter Feher, 129, Palarikovo, Slovakia (4)

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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