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The Top Ten Cruiserweights of the Decade 2010-2019

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The decade of 2010-2019 was a great one for the cruiserweights and it is quite possible that in this divisional rundown of the ten best in each weight class, 200lbs will not be bettered. It was two eras, really, with one or two of the giants from the first throwing wild hooks at giants from the second as the decade roared to an end. Multiple lineal champions, quality contenders of varied styles and proclivities made it the finest decade for fights and fighters in the division’s short history.

Rankings are by Ring Magazine until the inception of the TBRB in October of 2012.

10 – Ola Afolabi

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 8-4-1 Ranked For: 58% of the Decade

I suspect Ola Afolabi will be something of a controversial pick.

He shouldn’t be. This man defined the term “road warrior” after the retirement of light-heavyweight Glen Johnson. British, born to Nigerian parents, he was a fighter who trained out of California but came out swinging in places as far flung as Argentina, Russia, and many spots in between. A chin hewn of titanium and an underrated jab saw him do damage on four different continents. That story began in earnest in 2009 when he got his first of four shots at cruiserweight Don Marco Huck and dropped the narrowest of decisions in an excellent fight. Treading water through the early part of the decade, he was re-matched with Huck in 2012.

That fight was probably the best of the year and among the best of the decade; Huck-Afolabi II was a heart-fueled war fought tight by two men made of granite. They may have delivered the best twelfth round of the century.

The wider context here is the result of the fight as seen by the judges, which was both gratifying and surprising in Huck’s adopted German stronghold: a draw. Anything close would have been reasonable but Afolabi earned his share, the best result he would achieve against the Serbian tough in four attempts.

That draw and the fact that Afolabi over-achieved away from home is enough to get him to #10 here. It may sound thin but thin is enough; Afolabi’s best cruiserweight win is over Rakhim Chakhkiev, a victory from an Indian summer interrupting what was at times a bizarre final act in his career. It objectively puts him alongside the likes of Tony Bellew and Steve Cunningham (who did most of his good work in the decade before) so that precious draw with Huck makes Afolabi one of the ten most accomplished cruiserweights of the decade.

09 – Krzysztof Wlodarczyk

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-2 Ranked For: 70% of the Decade

Diablo (“Devil)” was at the vanguard of the European assault on the cruiserweight division in the early part of the decade, a clever, adaptable fighter who was well tooled but battled physical limitations while establishing himself at the top of the division.

Neither particularly fast, strong, nor powerful, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk isn’t even an elite counterpuncher in the truest sense of the word, rather he uses baiting footwork to invite opposition to pressure his space whereupon he launches left-hand heavy attacks led by the jab and a well-disguised hook. His underused right became something of a surprise weapon for him, almost by default. It rescued him against the likes of Danny Green, thousands of miles from home and behind on the scorecards. Diablo had some layers.

What he does not have is a deep resume for the decade, his best win a breakdown of Giacobbe Fragomeni in 2010. Fragomeni had been the recipient of a gift in the form of a draw the year before and in the rematch the Pole seemed determined to robe the judges of their responsibilities. In a signature performance he dominated with mobility and jab before introducing hurtful punches which had a terminal cumulative effect. Disciplined and controlled and only allowing himself to fight with more commitment when he had his opponent off balance or out of step, Wlodarczyk stepped up the pain and the pressure in the seventh to earn his stoppage win.

2013 was his prime year and included a curbstomp of anointed prospect Rakhim Chakhkiev but he could not stem the tide; Grigory Drozd and then Murat Gassiev found him, forcing him to make way for a new generation. He is still active though – and well-handled prospects still give him a wide-berth.

08 – Yuniel Dorticos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 34% of the Decade

Here then is the first entry from the second era of the decade, Cuban puncher Yuniel Dorticos, although it should be noted that he started boxing professionally way back in 2009. It’s been a long and winding road for the Miami resident who has taken a relaxed route to the top but whose patience is now revealing the counterpunch. He meets Mairis Briedis in March to determine who is the first best cruiser of the new decade in a fight that is not to be missed.

Dorticos graduated against Youri Kalenga, an established fighter and a juddering puncher in his own right.  Joyfully, Dorticos confirmed himself as a boxer of direct aggression up against top-line opposition just as he was in dusting journeymen; his work also carries a pragmatists streak, however, and he recognizes advantages and actions them accordingly. Dorticos is listed at 6’3” with an 80” reach and so sometimes uses the backfoot.

He moved through the gears after Kalenga and Dmitry Kudryashov (his next opponent) to face Murat Gassiev in what was another wonderful fight but was also a step too far for Dorticos. Gassiev eventually broke the Cuban and sent him spilling through the ropes but not before he had swallowed bomb upon bomb and proven his chin and heart both. Rebounding since that lost with two wins against fighters ranked in the top five (Mateusz Masternak and Andrew Tabiti), Dorticos showed ambition to match that heart and chin.

07 – Krzysztof Glowacki

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 23-2 Ranked For: 37% of the Decade

Krzysztof Glowacki emerged from Poland to replace Wlodarczyk as his country’s premier cruiserweight and soon had overhauled him, becoming one of a stacked division’s preeminent fighters. In a 200lb class stuffed with deluxe brawlers he was, for a time, the best.

He proved it most dramatically by out-thugging Marco Huck, nearing the end, but still venomous in a throwdown, dangerous enough that he held a narrow lead at the opening of the eleventh round.  Glowacki, technically unequal to the task of out-fighting Huck, had invested heavily in the body.  Gradually, ominously, Huck’s hands began to drop to try to keep those booming hooks from his ribs and gut. Huck had been beaten just once that decade, in a questionable decision up at heavyweight, and to watch the younger, less experienced, but more substantial Glowacki crumble Huck’s battlement was one of the great sights of the decade in any division for those paying attention. There seemed a dreamlike inevitability to it which certainly had not existed at the first bell and when Glowacki landed a delightful little short right traveling up and through the head behind a grazing left-hook it made a strange kind of sense.  Huck survived that knockdown – they say the power is the last thing to go, though often it is the heart – but no man would have survived what Glowacki brought behind it. It was a minor upset and a true passing of the torch, from one streetfighter to another.

In his very next fight he devastated another old man, burying Steven Cunningham –39 and confusingly matching a fighter who is the very definition of nightmarish for an ageing warrior – under a barrage of knockdowns and picking up a decision, before running afoul of Oleksander Usyk. There is no shame here but when, after beating number five contender Maksim Vlasov, he was stopped in three rounds by Mairis Briedis in a rough fight, there was a sense that he had found his level – better than most, but not capable of hanging with the very best.

Hence, number seven.

06 – Mairis Briedis

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 25-1 Ranked For: 28% of the Decade

That Mairis Briedis is ranked outside the top six is indicative of just how strong this list of ten is. I’ll wager that no other weight division has a number six of this quality.

Briedis is iron-hued. He reportedly took some of Wladimir Klitschko’s finest punches in sparring without giving ground. A stylish and skillful boxer, he has delivered nineteen knockouts for his twenty-six victories and lost just a single contest, a majority decision where Oleksandr Usyk defeated him by a single point.

That, alone, is enough to get him on the shortlist, but Briedis has done fine work. He landed on the division in earnest in 2016, beating up a fellow prospect who had achieved contender status in the shape of Olanrewaju Durodola. It was a performance that oozed confidence and seemingly belied his limited experience although even as he (somewhat controversially) closed the show in a hurtful ninth round, Briedis seemed perhaps a little short of gas.

In light of that fact I was a little surprised to see him matched with Marco Huck little less than a year later.  Huck was on his way down the rankings, Briedis on his way up, but if ever there was a veteran possessed of the ability to make an inexperienced fighter short of stamina pay it was Huck. I needn’t have worried. This was the fight where Briedis showed his left hand as directly comparable to that of Usyk, taking a clear decision over his veteran foe all while smothering Huck’s offense and coping with his rougher tactics like a ten-year veteran

Briedis came up short against Usyk of course, barely, but has since dispatched no less a figure than Krzystztof Glowacki in three rounds. That, probably, was Briedis’s best win and it leaves him poised to become the pre-eminent cruiserweight of the next decade should he master Dorticos in March.

05 – Yoan Pablo Hernandez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 9-0 Ranked For: 43% of the Decade

In a sense, Yoan Pablo Hernandez was the decade’s big disappointment. A product of the Cuban amateur system and German professional promotion, he was a strange mix of schooled and staid in style, borrowing from both boxing cultures and his southpaw right jab was a noted punch.

Lineal champion in the first part of the decade, Hernandez suffered badly with injuries and even illness.  Plagued by knee and elbow problems he spent the best part of a year sat out and plotting his comeback after a rather flat 2014 win over Firat Arslan. It would be his last. He never returned to the ring.

He had been dazzling, however, against Steve Cunningham in 2011 with the legitimate cruiserweight title on the line. A consummate boxer, Cunningham sought to move his way through that fight but Hernandez controlled him with superb footwork, keeping his toe outside of Cunningham’s left foot almost throughout while dropping an excellent jab to the body.

In his rematch with the deposed champion, he staged the best performance of his career and one of the finest in the divisional decade, battering Cunningham to a virtual standstill in the fourth and coming within a hair’s breadth of stopping him, the star punches a right hook to the body and a two-piece built from a jab and uppercut.

Hernandez’s resume for the decade isn’t particularly deep with victories over Troy Ross and Firat Aslan probably his next best; he wasn’t always as glittering as he was that second night against Cunningham either and it seemed for every such performance there was a Steve Helerius where he remained in control but perhaps not imperious.

Still, he was the lineal champion and a very good fighter. It is hard to picture the top five without him.

04 – Denis Lebedev

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 13-3 Ranked For: 88% of the Decade

Denis Lebedev is arguably the definitive cruiserweight puncher for the decade and is certainly the definitive survivor. No man was ranked for more weeks than the Russian, who managed to hang on for nearly nine of the ten years at hand, something both unusual and impressive.

He has been around long enough to have beaten up an injured James Toney and obliterated an out-gunned Roy Jones in 2011 but also to have staged a failed comeback attempt against current #8 contender Thabiso Mchunu just last year. In the trunk of his career he lost two fights: in 2010 he was unlucky to drop a desperately close split to Marco Huck in his German stronghold. Six years later he met fellow Russian Murat Gassiev, the “new Huck” in many ways and was unlucky once more in receiving the stiff end of the decision.

Lebedev was robbed in neither contest, but I preferred him in both. Huck was given the benefit of the doubt in three close rounds on my scorecard and I saw the result, still, as a draw. Against Gassiev I had it to the older man by a single point despite his being dropped heavily with body punches. These narrow, narrow losses hurt Lebedev. Had he won both, he would have been unbeaten for the decade, that disastrous comeback aside, and would have a case for making the #1 slot; had he won one or the other, he would rank above the defeated man. On such tiny margins do legacies turn.

Still, those close losses speak for him somewhat as do wins over Kalenga, Pawel Kolodziej, Toney, Jones and, best of all, a brutal second round dispatch of Victor Emilio Ramirez.

03 – Marco Huck

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-4-1 Ranked For: 71% of the Decade

Second only to Denis Lebedev for longevity of relevance, Marco Huck’s name resounds throughout the decade as one that matters.

In honesty though, he needed that decade to build his legacy; Huck has done more than the likes of Briedis but needed twice the time to organize it. His impact in the second part of the decade was very limited. The made men who fell to Huck fell during the first half of the decade when he was in his fearsome prime.

And what a prime it was. Huck’s rambling offense looked disorganized but was anything but and there was no fighter more skilled in the art of the wait. Patience is a commodity much less valuable since the reduction of the championship distance from fifteen to twelve rounds but Huck, from very early his career, had the smarts and the guts to make it work. The benefits were many but chief among them were that he carried his power and his workrate late into fights and his sense of when his opponent was beginning to give was as well developed as his strategic timing. With the possible exception of Usyk, nobody ever had Huck completely and finally beat; there was always the chance he might rally and crush a tiring opponent.

Lebedev was probably the finest scalp Huck took in his pomp, but Afolabi and Firat Arslan both succumbed more than once to Huck’s guile.

The second half of the decade though, overall, was not a success. Glowacki cracked him in eleven rounds, devastating his mystique; a relatively unimpressed Briedis outpointed him by distance; then Usyk put a bitter beating upon him.

Huck was my first choice for the second slot but a closer look gave me a feeling, despite his longevity as a contender that he was making up the numbers from around 2015. Still, a powerfully impressive first half of the decade secures him the number three slot.

02 – Murat Gassiev

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 26-1 Ranked For: 29% of the Decade

Murat Gassiev was ranked for a fraction of the time that Huck was ranked for, but only once could he have been considered a true underdog. Gassiev was Huck plus, patient in the stalk but both more powerful and precise in the punch.

The year after his razor-thin defeat of Lebedev, Gassiev found himself in the ring with another veteran in the shape of Wlodarczyk, still clinging on to a top ten ranking and still respected enough to command a berth in the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series tournament. As detailed above, Wlodarczyk, like Lebedev, like Huck, had all the necessary qualities to torture a less experienced foe. Gassiev steam-rolled him. He was thoughtful about it; he felt his man out – but in the end, he just bombed through him.  The body punch that ended matters was hard enough to end all resistance but casual enough to strike fear into the hearts of lesser men.

Yunier Dorticos though, didn’t box scared against Gassiev when the two met early in 2018 but Gassiev sat down on his work in the second half of the fight and finally dumped his game opponent out of the ring and onto the apron in the dying seconds of the twelfth. He had turned in two winning performances against two elite cruisers in back-to-back contests and when the match with Usyk was made that summer the boxing world appeared to have the fight it most wanted to see.

In fact, it proved a mismatch. Usyk summited to greatness that night and Gassiev found himself scrambling around in the foothills seeking survival rather than victory. Injury has since robbed him of heavyweight riches.

Nevertheless, he was a prestigious puncher at the 200lb limit and seemingly impervious to the violent attentions of elite opposition. Gassiev isn’t locked at number two, and Huck, certainly, has a very reasonable case for being ranked above him, but in the end I’ve been more forgiving of Gassiev’s failure to beat Usyk in his prime than Huck’s failure to beat Glowacki, Briedis and Usyk just past his.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-0 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

I’m unsure how many undisputed decadal number ones we will run into in the course of this series, but I do know that Oleksandr Usyk is one.

Marco Huck, ranked number three here, made the bad mistake of making things personal with Usyk in the run-up to their September 2017 contest. That is the Usyk fight to watch or re-watch if you want to see him at his most vicious. Not a noted puncher but one who hit often and hard enough to mix his man’s mind, Uysk is happy with a decision as a general rule but it was clear in the case of Huck that he coveted the stoppage. So motivated, he turned the trick more quickly than the brute Glowacki, taking him out in ten, faster than any other fighter. Tony Bellew, too, who returned from his adventures at heavyweight late in 2018 to confront Usyk, felt the full wrath of Usyk’s most full-blooded shots, succumbing in eight.

But it is as a boxer, not a puncher, that he has most excelled in the second half of this stacked decade, most of all (and in doing so proving his indisputable supremacy over the field) in his defeat of decadal number two Gassiev. Usyk completely outclassed Gassiev, turned his stalking style against him with deluxe footwork of the highest order that saw the division’s premier puncher reaching for nothing.

Briedis stretched him further with that cultured left-hand and smarts on defense closing the gap but dropped a decision, nonetheless. Throw in wins that had something of a routine feeling over divisional strongmen like Huck and Glowacki and two things become clear: Usyk is clearly the best cruiserweight of the decade and must be named among the very best fighters of the decade.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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