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Ringside in LA: Leo Santa Cruz Educates Rafael Rivera in an Entertaining Fight

David A. Avila

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Leo Santa Cruz

LOS ANGELES-Last minute substitute or not, Leo Santa Cruz met the future in Mexico’s Rafael Rivera and banged it out with the youngster for 12 entertaining rounds to retain the WBA featherweight world title by decision on Saturday.

It was all about that learning curve.

Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) gave Tijuana’s Rivera (26-3-2, 17 KOs) a lesson on elite prizefighting before more than 5,000 at the Microsoft Theater. Despite the disparity in experience the featherweight clash was still packed with action.

If fans expected Rivera to be run out of town by the much more experienced Santa Cruz, they were badly mistaken. The Tijuana fighter had fought in Southern California twice before and exhibited a toughness and grit you don’t see from run-of-the-mill opponents. Though he was called in just weeks ago, Rivera was ready and willing.

Immediately Santa Cruz showed the skill and intelligence needed to be a world champion and targeted Rivera’s body from the first round. Despite the painful looking digs to the body, the youngster Rivera held firm.

It was all Santa Cruz for the first four rounds as he showed off his ability to blast body shots at will. The painful looking shots seemed to bother Rivera, not because of the pain inflicted, but from embarrassment from not being able to defend against the onslaught.

“I hit him hard to the body and head very well, but he didn’t go down,” said Santa Cruz.

Rivera found his break in the fifth round when he managed to give the champion a different look. Multiple left hooks connected on the champion and he then capped the end of the round with a vicious left hook body shot and right uppercut. Santa Cruz smiled at the effort.

Santa Cruz never allowed Rivera much more from there on. He mixed up his attack and confused Rivera with different looks, except in the ninth round when both flurried with a barrage of blows like angry alley cats.

The winner of the fight was never in doubt during the last half of the fight. But fans enjoyed the high caliber exhibition of the art of banging Mexican style. After 11 rounds both fighters looked at each other with respect and were ready for an eventful finale.

Santa Cruz probably knew he was far ahead and though he relishes bang, bang type of fights, he was still careful enough to not make obvious openings for Rivera. It was a careful and scientific round until the final 10 second warning clap, then both looked at each other and nodded simultaneously and proceeded to unleash a barrage of punches in tornado-like fashion. The fans yelled in unison for the flourish of blows and cheered at the final bell.

But after 12 rounds the judges were in agreement and all tabbed the fight 119-109 for Santa Cruz.

“I’m very happy with my performance and I thought I gave everyone a great fight. I was in there with one of the best fighters in the world and throwing punches and exchanging with him. More than anything, I’m very proud to have fought 12 rounds with a great world champion like Leo Santa Cruz,” said Rivera.

Santa Cruz was not as pleased with the performance, but happy that it was an entertaining fight.

“I tried to do my best and do what I could to give them a great fight,” said Santa Cruz. “I would have loved to have been even better, but he’s really tough and solid opponent.”

Santa Cruz fans were pleased by the effort and the champion himself seeks even more challenges this year.

“I want to fight the best. I want to fight any of the champions at featherweight or a third fight with Carl Frampton,” said Santa Cruz. “I want to be back this summer and fight three times this year against the best in the division.”

Figueroa Wins

A battle between welterweight sluggers saw Omar Figueroa (28-0-1, 19 KOs) out-punch John Molina (30-8, 24 KOs) and win by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a fight that surprisingly saw no knockdowns despite their lofty records for stoppages.

Figueroa was the busier fighter throughout but Molina had his moments especially with the overhand rights. Each fighter scored with heavy shots throughout the 10 round match but the judges liked Figueroa’s busier output. The scores were 97-93, 98-92, 99-91 for Figueroa.

It was expected to be a fight resulting in a knockout but each fighter showed a good chin despite the big blows scored. Figueroa, who hails from Weslaco, Texas, is a former lightweight world titlist but has been forced to move up due to weight problems. Southern California’s Molina showed a good chin and keeps his name in the game.

Ryosuke Iwasa Wins Elimination Bout

Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa (26-3) won by technical decision after 10 rounds against Mexico’s Cesar Juarez (23-7) in an IBF super bantamweight elimination title fight. The fight was stopped because of a cut on Juarez from an accidental clash of heads in the second round, A ringside physician stopped the fight at the end of the ninth round and according to California rules it went to the scorecards where Iwasa was ruled the winner by majority decision 95-95, 97-93, 98-92.

Other Bouts

Giant super welterweight Sebastian Fundora (12-0, 8 KOs) knocked out Buffalo’s Donnie Marshall (10-1, 6 KOs) at 1:08 of the third round to win the battle of undefeated 154-pounders.

Despite the nine-inch reach advantage and the six-inch height advantage Fundor fought most of the clash on the inside and scored heavily with long right uppercuts. It was a long right uppercut that caught Marshall moving away and floored him in the third round. Fundora then chased the dazed fighter around the ring and battered him with a dozen unanswered blows that forced referee Jerry Cantu to halt the fight and declare a knockout win for Fundora.

Fundora fights out of Coachella, Calif.

Argentina’s Neri Romero (12-0) was blasted to the floor with a sneak punch by Thomas Smith (5-7-1) right during a break but managed to claw his way back to a win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a super featherweight match. Smith, who fights out of Dallas, showed he could really take a shot but tired at the end of the last three rounds and allowed Romero to win on endurance. All three judges saw it the same 58-55.

Shon Mondragon (1-0) stopped Julio Martinez (1-1) at 47 seconds of round two with a two-fisted attack that forced referee Ray Corona to halt the super bantamweight fight. Mondragon, a southpaw, fights out of Commerce, Colorado.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Jonathan Esquivel Remains Unbeaten and Raquel Miller Wins NABF Title

David A. Avila

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HAWAIIAN GARDENS, Calif.-Undefeated Jonathan Esquivel attracted a large and lively crowd and they weren’t disappointed in his knockout win over Tavoris Teague on Saturday.

Esquivel (10-0, 9 KOs) showed the large contingent of fans that sold out the Hawaiian Gardens Casino that the tricky Teague (6-27-4) could not compete for four full rounds in their super middleweight clash.

The fight ended at 2:11 of the fourth when Teague was overwhelmed by Esquivel but remained standing up as referee Zachary Young ended the fight.

Esquivel, who lives in nearby Santa Ana, California, brought more than 200 fans and they saw him struggle a bit with Teague, but after two flat rounds, the southpaw began finding the range and unleashed a barrage of punches that Teague could not avoid. The end came suddenly but the Orange County fighter remains with an unblemished record.

NABF Female Title

Female middleweight contenders headed the main event and former Olympic alternate Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller (9-0, 4 KOs) showed her professional game is intact with a knockout win over veteran Erin Toughill (7-5-1) to win the vacant NABF middleweight title.

Miller didn’t waste time and knocked Toughill down in the first exchange with a short right cross that dropped the veteran fighter who had nearly toppled middleweight contender Maricela Cornejo in her last ring appearance.

Speed was her greatest asset and Miller used it to full advantage as she jabbed her way through Toughill’s guard and landed quick three-punch combinations. For the first three rounds Miller was in full control.

Around the fourth round Miller seemed in cruise mode when Toughill rammed several rights against her foe and followed up with more right crosses. All seemed to land flush and Miller was moved backwards with the blows. Though Toughill did not land more punches than Miller, the solid blows were enough to win her first round.

In the fifth round Toughill seemed confident that she had discovered the remedy for Miller’s speedy punches and kept ramming rights through the guard. Again Toughill seemed to be able to land the more effective blows, but though they landed they didn’t seem to hurt Miller, but rather perplexed her.

Miller seemed more intent to reverse the momentum and launched a quick solid three-punch combination on Toughill who seemed surprised by the blows. After absorbing a Miller right Toughill retaliated with a left hook and another left hook. The change of pace seemed to keep Miller off balance but toward the end of the sixth round a screaming left jab connected followed by a solid one-two combination. Miller had quickly regained the momentum.

The seventh round saw both fighters race toward each other with Miller connecting with a lead right that snapped Toughill’s head back. Miller followed up quickly with a snapping jab, jab and left hook that caught Toughill perfectly and dropped her immediately to the floor. She beat the count but when referee Zachary Young asked her to put her hands up:

“She gave me a strange look and I had to end it,” said Young of Toughill’s response.

When asked what punch caused the knockout Miller was unsure.

“I don’t remember what punch I used, I’m just excited to win the title,” said Miller who won by knockout at 1:01 of the seventh round.

Miller wins the NABF middleweight title and becomes an automatic contender for the WBC version of the middleweight world title. Claressa Shields is the undisputed middleweight world champion and holds the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO world titles.

“I’m all about smooth boxing but I can bang if I have to,” said Miller.

Yes she can.

Other Bout

Super middleweights Kenny Quach (0-1-1) and Johnny Cisneros (0-0-1) ended in a draw after four closely fought rounds. Cisneros fights out of Riverside and was making his pro debut. Quach fights out of Santa Ana, Calif.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Arne K. Lang

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Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Deontay Wilder vs. Dominic Breazeale figures to be entertaining for as long as it lasts said one pundit and he could not have been more prescient. Entertaining it was although if you were distracted you likely missed it. It was all over in 137 seconds

Wilder, making the ninth defense of his WBC world heavyweight title, stunned Breazeale with a big right hand early in the contest but then walked into a wild right hand by Breazeale and was himself momentarily stunned. He had enough presence of mind, however, to keep his cannon of a right hand unholstered and a few moments later he unleashed it again, leaving poor Breazeale flat on his back. Breazeale made it to his feet, seemingly as referee Harvey Dock reached the count of “10,” but he was in dire straits and the bout was waived it off.

This was the same Dominic Breazeale who lasted into the seventh round with Anthony Joshua not quite two years ago. As for Wilder, he remains undefeated with his 40th knockout in 42 pro starts and a match between him and Joshua or a rematch with Tyson Fury looms bigger than ever.

Co-Feature

WBC world featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. successfully defended his title and completed the hat trick for the Russell Brothers with a fifth round stoppage of Spain’s Kiko Martinez. Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) was just too fast for the Spaniard and was on his way to a comfortable win on points when the fight was waived off at the suggestion of the ring physician because of a bad cut over Martinez’s left eye. A former IBF 122-pound champion, Martinez (37-9-2) is now 1-4 in world title fights.

Undercard

In the first of the TV fights, North Las Vegas junior welterweight Juan Heraldez remained unbeaten but barely as he was held to a draw by former IBF 130-pound world title-holder Argenis Mendez. One judge had it 97-73 for Mendez but the others had it even. Heraldez (16-0-1) was one of four Mayweather Promotions fighters on the card. Mendez, from Yonkers, New York, via the Dominican Republic, was held to a draw in a second straight fight, bringing his record to 25-5-3.

A previous draw ensued in an 8-round contest between 30-something heavyweights, Robert Alfonso (18-0-1) and Iago Kiladze (26-4-1). Alfonso, a Cuban defector and ex-Olympian who trains with Wilder in Tuscaloosa, weighed in at 254, giving him a 35-pound weight advantage. He had Kiladze fighting off his back foot for much of the contest, but the LA-based fighter from the Republic of Georgia snuck in enough punches to stem a 3-fight losing streak.

Bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell moved to 14-0 with a six-round technical decision over Tijuana’s Saul Hernandez (13-13-1). A clash of heads in the sixth round left the Mexican disoriented and the bout went to the cards where Antonio won by scores of 59-55 and 60-54 twice. Hernandez didn’t figure to go the distance. In his last three fights, he fattened up his record against opponents who were a combined 0-30.

In a fight slated for eight rounds, junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell improved to 9-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Nicaragua’s Marcos Mojica (16-4-2) who had the misfortune of being thrust against a former Olympian in a second straight bout. Mojica was on the canvas twice before the referee intervened. He lasted longer than any of Russell’s previous opponents, none of whom lasted beyond three frames.

Brooklyn-born Richardson Hitchins, who represented Haiti in the 2016 Olympics, improved to 9-0 (5) when Columbia’s Alejandro Munero (4-2-3) was unable to answer the bell for round four. The 21-year-old Hitchins was making his eighth appearance at Barclays.

Dylan Price, a 20-year-old bantamweight from Sicklerville, NJ, improved to 8-0 when the corner of Mexico’s Manuel Manzo (4-7-2) stopped the one-sided beatdown midway through the sixth round.

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The Tartan Tornado and the Monster Advance in the World Boxing Super Series

Arne K. Lang

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World Boxing Super Series

Semifinal matchups in the 118- and 140-pound tournaments of the World Boxing Super Series played out today, May 18, at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. All four participants entered the day undefeated.

In the main go, junior welterweight Josh Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, delighted the home folks by winning a unanimous decision over Ivan “The Beast” Baranchyk. Fighting in the same arena where he won Commonwealth Gold in 2014, Taylor outpointed Baranchyk on scores of 117-109 and 115-111 twice.

Taylor had an anxious moment in the fifth round when Baranchyk landed three unanswered punches that momentarily left Taylor on shaky legs. But in the very next frame, Taylor came up big, knocking Baranchyk to the canvas twice, first with a right hook and then a left to the head followed by a left to the body.

Baranchyk, who pepped for this fight at Freddie Roach’s gym in Hollywood, recuperated nicely. Taylor could have played it safe by going on his bicycle in the final round, but he elected to trade with Baranchyk who finished strong, although clearly behind on the cards.

With the victory, Josh Taylor improved to 15-0 and moves on to a contest with Regis Prograis, a bout that will likely land in Glasgow and, if so, will be the biggest fight ever in Scotland. Baranchyk, who was born in Russia but has been residing in Oklahoma, declined to 19-1

The Monster

In the co-feature, Yokohama’s baby-faced Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs) showed that he belongs on everyone’s pound-for-pound list with a second round blast-out of Puerto Rico’s previously undefeated Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1). After a fairly even first round, Inoue lowered the boom in the second, decking Rodriguez three times to force an intervention. At stake were the IBF and WBA bantamweight titles. With the win, Inoue earned a date with Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire who was in the building.

Inoue scored his first knockdown with a left hook and that spelled the beginning of the end for Rodriguez. In his previous two bouts, Inoue demolished title-holders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in the opening round. If he gets past Donaire – and he will be heavily favored – he will be the odds-on choice to be named the 2019 Fighter of the Year.

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