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Will There Be a Changing of the Guard?

13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno

Thomas Hauser

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13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno, and Adrien Broner vs. Jesse Vargas – headlined the show.

Davis age 23, has a wealth of talent. He briefly held the IBF 130-pound belt before surrendering it on the scales just prior to his last outing. Cuellar, a 7-to-1 underdog whose previous losses were by decision to Oscar Escandon and Abner Mares, was moving up in weight from 126 pounds.

Gervonta (pictured) has quick hands and good power. He started fast on Saturday night, dropping Cuellar with a straight left to the body in round two and a brutal body shot in round three. Then he pummeled Jesus some more while referee Benjy Esteves waited for an unnecessary third knockdown before stopping the slaughter at 2:45 of the third stanza. The fight had the feel of target practice with a Magnum .357.

Jermall Charlo won an IBF 154-pound belt with a 2015 stoppage of 42-year-old Cornelius Bundradge. He relinquished his title last year to campaign at 160 pounds but fought only once in 2017 (a victory over Jorge Sebastian Heiland, who came into the bout with a damaged left knee).

Like the Klitschko brothers in the early years of their career, Jermall and his twin brother, Jermell, have suffered in terms of their marketability because there are two of them. Jermall’s response has been to say, “Twin power is better. If you don’t like the Charlos, stay out of our lane and keep the hate down.”

Centeno is the sort of opponent one expects to find as the non-threatening adversary for a house fighter doing battle for a WBC “interim” middleweight championship.

In the build-up to the fight, Charlo expended as much energy on his fellow headliners as on Centeno.

In a March 24 Instagram video, Jermall declared, “Y’all mother******* coming to see me fight. Ain’t nobody coming to see Adrien Broner fight. I didn’t want to be on that f******. You think I wanted to be on that f****** card? No. I’m being real. I didn’t want to be on Adrien Broner’s card again. Every time I’m on his f****** card, he lose. Then its Hispanic vs. Black, and I fight a Hispanic. I still do what I gotta do, but this motherf***** don’t do what he gotta do. The main event look like sh**. The event don’t get no recognition. No, I don’t want to be on f****** Adrien Broner’s card. I’m sorry, I’m just speaking facts.”

Then Charlo turned his attention to Davis, proclaiming, “Tank, that little nigga ain’t fought nobody. He with Mayweather and ain’t fought nobody. This little fat Tank mother******, he think he Mayweather. I read the tweets and the comments [from Gervonta]. He’s mad because they moved me to the card. I’m sorry, nigga, that my opponent got a broken rib. I gotta fight him on your card, so that means your TV time is cut short. Stop playing with me, nigga, because every time I see you, you ain’t really about that sh**, you dumb slow stuttering motherf*****.”

Charlo was a 20-to-1 favorite over Centeno. The fight didn’t last long. Round one saw Jermall stalking his man while Centano stayed as far away as possible and held when Charlo got in close. Then, forty seconds into round two, Jermall landed a punishing right hand as the opening salvo in a four-punch combination that ended with a vicious left hook to the jaw that dropped Hugo for the count and then some. It’s unclear why referee Steve Willis bothered to count since Centano had zero chance of getting up.

That set the stage for Broner-Vargas.

Broner has prodigious talent that has been undermined by a notable lack of discipline in and out of the ring. He has stepped up in class to fight a world-class opponent on three occasions. Each time (against Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter, and Mikey Garcia), he lost.

It has been said that trouble follows Broner wherever he goes. An equally valid hypothesis might be that Broner follows trouble.

TMZ reports that Broner has fathered seven children with six different women which, to Adrien’s way of thinking, might evince a commitment of sorts to one of the women.

In addition to a string of juvenile arrests, Broner has been charged with robbery, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, battery, illegal possession of a weapon, domestic violence, and intimidation of a witness. On February 13 of this year, he added to his rap sheet with a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery after a woman accused him of groping her in an Atlanta shopping mall. The woman, Kaila Crews, is now suing him in a civil lawsuit for sexual battery.

Originally, Broner was slated to fight Omar Figueroa at Barclays Center to determine a mandatory challenger for the WBC 140-pound title. But Figueroa fell out after being arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, Vargas was substituted, and the bout was changed to a catchweight of 144 pounds.

At the final pre-fight press conference on April 19, Broner called Vargas a “puto” (Spanish for whore) and Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which was co-promoting the fight card) a “bitch-ass nigger.” But by then, it was clear that Adrien’s insults might lead to consequences more serious than discord within the promotion.

More specifically, Broner and Tekashi69 were engaged in a social media dispute that began when the rapper called Adrien a “clown” on Instagram. That led Broner to respond, “Ey 6ix9ine, don’t be commenting no f*** sh*** under my pictures, boy. Talkin’ bout clown, nigga. I’m about to pull up on you, nigga. I ain’t one of these rap niggas you be trollin’ with, nigga, quit playin’ with me, nigga.”

Tekashi69 then countered by calling Broner a “pussy” before suggesting in solid capital letters, “CHECK IN WHEN YOU GET TO BROOKLYN TOO. KING OF MY CITY.”

Thereafter, an April 18 open media workout was canceled as a security precaution and the final pre-fight press conference (previously scheduled for the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan) was moved to Barclays Center, where there was heightened security. It was also decreed that the Friday weigh-in would be closed to the public. At the weigh-in, Broner floated the idea of asking Tekashi69 to walk him to the ring on fight night. But that was quickly vetoed by the promotion.

When fight night came, there was a heavy police presence at Barclays Center: uniformed cops, plainclothes cops, gang units. Even then, a temporary lockdown was necessary when a gun was fired in the building.

Details are vague at the present time. But it appears as though there has been bad blood between Tekaski69 and Brooklyn rapper Casanova. On fight night, the two men and their associates confronted each other in a hallway near a VIP lounge in Barclays Center. A shot was fired and the perpetrator ran from the building. TMZ later reported that a .32 caliber shell casing was recovered by the police. It’s unclear how a man with a gun was able to evade what were supposed to be heightened security precautions.

As for the fight; Broner had been listed as an 11-to-10 favorite over Vargas, but the odds flipped during fight week. Adrien was the more physically-gifted fighter. However, as always, there were questions as to where his head was at. Jessie had lost by decision decision to Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. But he was a credible opponent with a ninth-round knockout of Sadam Ali to his credit.

After a cautious first round with little aggression from either man, Vargas began throwing with both hands in the second stanza, mixing punches well to the head and body. The action continued in round three with Broner stepping up his own effort and going low often enough that it didn’t seem accidental.

At the midway point, Vargas had a substantial lead on the judges’ scorecards but appeared to be tiring. Then Broner began landing sharp effective punches. By round nine, Adrien was unloading and it seemed clear that he could hurt Jessie more than Jessie could hurt him.

But Broner, for all his talk, is a safety-first fighter. He’s more effective when fighting aggressively but rarely wants to take that risk. Despite being in control of the fight in the late rounds, he never put his foot to the pedal in an effort to knock Vargas out. Then, in an act of foolishness, Adrien took round twelve off.

That cost Broner the fight. Judge Julie Lederman gave the nod to Adrien by a 115-113 margin. But she was overruled by Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, each of whom scored the bout a 114-114 draw.

In the ring after the fight, Broner confronted Vargas while Jessie was being interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray. Their exchange unfolded as follows:

Broner: Hey man, f*** all that. Let me see the mic. I beat your ass. Look at his face. It looks like I beat him with what they beat Martin Luther King with [it’s likely that Broner meant Rodney King].

Vargas: I’m gonna be honest. I’m an honest man. We went at it for twelve rounds.

Broner: We didn’t go at it. That’s gay.

Vargas: We can do it again.

Broner: I beat your ass like you stole something. I beat your ass like you were suspended from school. I beat your ass like you stole my bicycle, nigga.

Vargas: You can get some more if you want.

Broner: You’re bruised up.

Vargas: I’m ready to fight right now, fool.

Broner: C’mon man. You need peroxide and alcohol.

Vargas: You need to settle down.

Broner then turned his attention to Gray and asked, “Was you watching? You got cataracts? Are your eyes all f***** up? Did you see?”

Broner is more bark than bite. The expectation is that he will continue to fall short of what he might have been as a fighter.

Meanwhile, Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo attack like pitbulls. The open issue on each man’s resume is that neither has fought a world-class opponent. But that could change.

Davis says he wants to fight Vasyl Lomachenko next. Whether he really wants to is probably irrelevant because Top Rank (Lomachenko’s promoter) is likely to say that Gervonta isn’t a big enough draw yet and the fight needs more time to “marinate.” Davis versus Mikey Garcia would also be an attractive offering.

Charlo says he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin and seems to mean it. But after Golovkin disposes of Vanes Martirosyan on May 5, he’d like to pursue fights against Canelo Alvarez, Billy Joe Saunders, Danny Jacobs, and Sergiy Derevyanchenko before going anywhere near Charlo.

That will create an interesting scenario because Jermall is now the WBC’s “interim” middleweight champion and Golovkin’s next “mandatory” challenger. Look for the WBC to jump through hoops in an effort to maximize sanctioning fees in this situation.

*     *     *

Barclays Center was teeming with law enforcement personnel on Saturday night. But that didn’t keep a robbery from taking place. A young woman named Iranda Paola Torres was robbed. Thousands of New Yorkers witnessed the event.

Torres, like many Mexicans, journeyed to the United States in search of a better way of life. She was here to fight Heather Hardy, the Brooklyn native whose 21-0 ring record doesn’t reflect the times that opponents have been robbed in the past.

Torres entered the ring with a 12-2-1 ledger, but those numbers were deceiving. Her last six wins were against women who have a composite ring record of 3 wins and 29 losses.

Thus, Iranda was considered a “safe” opponent for Hardy. But the way Heather has been fighting lately, no opponent is safe. Hardy looked out of shape. She tired early, got hit a lot, and ran for most of the night. When the judges’ scores were announced (79-73, 78-74, and 78-74), they seemed to be on the mark. Then Heather was proclaimed as the winner.

The pro-Hardy crowd vociferously booed the decision, which brought to mind an email that I received from a reader years ago after an egregious decision went in favor of a Top Rank fighter.

“Did Bob Arum supply girls for the judges,” the reader inquired, “or did he perform the favors himself?”

Hardy bears responsibility for her poor performance. But the atrocious scoring isn’t her fault. The blame for that falls squarely on the New York State Athletic Commission.

The NYSAC needs to train a new generation of judges and other commission personnel. But it’s so mired in petty politics that incompetence and worse have become the accepted standard.

*     *     *

Too often, undercard fights fail to give fans their money’s worth. But the opening bout on Saturday night’s card at Barclays Center took things to a new level. Heavyweights George Arias and Tyrell Wright fought a sluggish eight rounds with Arias winning a close decision. However, the fight started before the arena was open to the public. That meant anyone who bought a ticket in the hope of seeing Arias vs. Wright couldn’t see the fight. So much for respecting the ticket-buying public.

*     *     *

A word of remembrance regarding Bill Nack, who died on April 13 at age 77 after a battle with lung cancer.

Nack is best known for his literary output during a 23-year sojourn at Sports Illustrated and a 1975 book that remains the definitive study of Secretariat, horse racing’s greatest champion.

The horses were Nack’s first love. But he was a talented wordsmith who could write well about anything. He didn’t turn his attention to boxing often. But when he did, it was worth reading.

Among the articles Nack wrote about the sweet science (collected in a 2003 book entitled My Turf) were a portrait of “Young Cassius” that celebrated Muhammad Ali’s fiftieth birthday; a ground-breaking exploration of the dark side of Rocky Marciano; a study of the lasting enmity that Joe Frazier felt for Ali (written on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ali-Frazier I); an insightful look back at the Dempsey-Tunney “long count” fight; and a piece that humanized Sonny Liston.

Nack’s work was always well-researched and beautifully written. He was a good writer and a nice man.

Photo credit: Janer Bigio / Mayweather Promotions

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

There’s was plenty of quality boxing action available for consumption this weekend in the U.S., particularly on Saturday evening because of the competing cards put forth by the PBC on FOX and Top Rank on ESPN crews that have become chief rivals over the last year.

But what were the biggest HITS and MISSES seen during all the action? That’s what you’re here to find out.

HIT – Jeison Rosario’s Stunning Upset for two 154-pound Titles

Nobody expected Rosario to dethrone unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, but the massive underdog overcame the situation anyway to vault himself to the top of the junior middleweight division. The thing that saved Rosario was his stunning power. He appeared to be out-boxed by Williams early in the fight, but that changed just as soon as it became apparent Williams was slinging only his fists while Rosario was working with sledgehammers. Now the division has become more crowded than ever at the top with all roads amazingly leading to Rosario, the little known 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic who now owns the WBA and IBF titles.

MISS – Chris Colbert’s Fail to Impress

Junior lightweight prospect Chris Colbert was given a great chance by the PBC to impress fight fans on national television on the undercard of Williams-Rosario, but the talented 23-year-old didn’t make the most of the opportunity. Sure, Colbert was taking a step up in competition by taking on former world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a vacant interim belt, but Colbert mostly came across as a talented fighter who just doesn’t seem quite capable of putting it all together yet. Colbert won the fight, but it wasn’t interesting or noteworthy in any way. Judging by how the PBC has worked in the past, he’ll get plenty more chances to shine, but I’m not sure anyone but the people who stand to gain monetarily from the fighter’s success will be looking forward to it.

HIT –  Eleider Alvarez’s Epic KO of Michael Seals

Former light heavyweight titleholder Alvarez scored the early leader for knockout of the year against Seals in the main event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. The fight was fairly lackluster until the explosive ending in the seventh round. It was an important victory for Alvarez, who was coming off losing his title to Sergey Kovalev via decision last February. Alvarez is 35, so it was imperative for him to get back to action and remind people he’s still a viable contender in the 175-pound ranks. And there’s no better way to do that in boxing than by thunderous knockout.

MISS – Felix Verdejo’s Fresh Start Starts Stale

Verdejo is still only 26 years old, but after defeating Manuel Rojas in a lightweight bout at Turning Stone, the once highly regarded prospect doesn’t appear to be any closer today than he was yesterday to living up to the tremendous promise he once possessed. To be completely fair to Verdejo, it was only his first fight under new trainer Ismael Salas and the fighter still has time on his side. Still, there appears to be plenty of work to do if Verdejo is ever to become a world champion. In fact, he didn’t look all that materially different from the fighter who was knocked out in 2018.

HIT – Floyd Mayweather Wins Prestigious BWAA Award 

I honestly had some concern that Mayweather wouldn’t win the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade award before it was announced on Friday via press release. After all, Mayweather lost the previous decade’s top honor to Manny Pacquiao in 2010, and Sports Illustrated had just named Andre Ward its Fighter of the Decade winner the week prior. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, but I think there would have been something wrong with Mayweather not picking up the honor at least once in the last two decades. After all, he’s quite easily the generation’s best overall fighter and he’s transcended the sport to mainstream celebrity status, too. Congrats to Mayweather for winning the well-deserved honor.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. He appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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