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Does Lomachenko Still Have Enough Blue-Book Value to Motor Past Lopez?

Bernard Fernandez

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In December 2017, a few days prior to Vasiliy Lomachenko’s dominant performance against Guillermo Rigondeaux, who quit on his stool after six rounds at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, noted trainer and ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas was unabashedly exuberant in his assessment of the Ukrainian southpaw’s myriad qualities. To Teddy’s way of thinking, Lomachenko, who went into the Rigondeaux fight with a 9-1 pro record, already had stamped himself as a potential all-time great.

“He’s David Copperfield,” Atlas, referencing the famous magician, gushed of the then-29-year-old Lomachenko. “He makes you think something’s happening over here because that’s what he wants you to think. Look, I had Lomachenko rated in my top 10 pound-for-pound after one pro fight. Yeah, I did, and I know why I did. And I know why I have him No. 1 now. He was born to fight and has been trained to do just that almost from the time he came out of his mother’s womb.

“Mentally, physically, emotionally, technically … he’s the best at all of it, or close to it. It’s no accident he is where he is. He’s the whole package. There are guys you can argue that have better separate pure athletic skill sets, but Lomachenko puts the whole package better than anybody.”

As Loma (14-1, 10 KOs) counts the days down to what arguably is the most compelling, most-anticipated matchup of 2020, Saturday night’s ESPN-televised lightweight unification showdown with 21-year-old firebrand Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand “Bubble,” Atlas’ lofty praise of a seemingly flawless fighter remains unchanged. Well, maybe a little.  To Teddy’s way of thinking, predicting the outcome of a fight, any fight, is like shopping for a quality used car. Blue book value matters. A vehicle being considered for purchase might be exquisite on the outside, but before a prospective buyer takes the plunge it always is advisable to check under the hood.

Three 135-pound titles – the WBA and WBO ones held by Lomachenko and the IBF version held by Lopez – will be on the line, as well as the unofficial “franchise” designation conferred upon Loma by the WBC, separate and apart from that sanctioning body’s recognition of Devin Haney as its standard-issue lightweight champion.

There are reasons why Lomachenko, now 32, is a fairly substantial favorite, at -400 according to the Vegas sports books compared to +300 for Lopez. In a poll of so-called experts by one boxing website, Lomachenko was seen as the winner by 18 of 20 respondents. But Atlas sees the matchup as potentially problematic for a still-great practitioner of the pugilistic arts whose heavy wear and tear over a lifetime of highway usage might soon, if not immediately, require a tuneup.

“It’s a dangerous fight for Lomachenko,” Atlas said. “He might have been better off if the fight had happened two years earlier. I don’t judge a fighter’s age chronologically. I judge it the way I judge a car’s age, which is by the mileage on the odometer. A car might be 10 years old, but if it’s got only 5,000 miles on the odometer, to me it’s still a pretty new car. And if you have a car that’s five years old and it has 100,000 miles on the odometer, it’s an old car.

“Lomachenko had, like, 400 amateur fights.  (He was an astounding 396-1, with two Olympic gold medals.) He’s only 32, but you don’t know when the effect of all that mileage is going to start to show. I still think he’s the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound. He and (Terence) Crawford are No. 1 and No. 2, or maybe the other way around. Either way you can’t go wrong. Lomachenko is the best technical fighter on the planet. But, at 32, he might be getting to a place where he’s starting to step a tiny bit into the shadows – maybe not enough where everyone’s going to notice it, but I notice a tiny bit of that.

“If that’s true, it makes this fight even more dangerous for him, going up against a young guy who’s so explosive, and not just as a puncher. What I see from this kid is a real belief in himself. He’s nine years younger, he’s naturally bigger, he not only has power but quick feet. He closes the gap the way Manny Pacquiao used to do years ago. Yeah, Pacquiao could punch hard, but the thing that made him especially dangerous was that he could explode in that last couple of feet before the other guy could react. Lopez has that quickness and suddenness.”

It has been suggested by some that Lomachenko-Lopez mirrors the Sept. 14, 2013, pairing of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez, which ended in a 12-round majority decision for Mayweather, although most observers believed “Money” deserved a clear and unanimous nod, and would have gotten it were it not for the widely criticized 114-114 scorecard submitted by judge C.J. Ross. There are those who contend that Canelo, then 23, lost mostly because of his relative youth and inexperience. Atlas believes any attempt to draw parallels between the two megafights is flawed, mostly because of differences between the Canelo that was then and the Lopez that is now.

“The Mayweather-Canelo model is not a fair comparison,” Atlas said, noting that Alvarez, who turned pro at 15, went into that fight with a 42-0-1 record and 30 KOs, making him much more of a finished product than the Lopez who will swap punches with Loma. “And besides, I just don’t think Canelo was ever going to have the foot speed to close the gap against Mayweather before he got countered, and that’s something Lopez does have. Canelo had the hand speed, but he was too slow for Mayweather with his feet. I just think it was never going to be the right time for him to win against Mayweather, because of their styles.”

Lopez’s closing burst from Point A to Point B, along with the power to put away most opponents with a single, well-placed shot, make him the sternest test Lomachenko has ever faced inside the ropes. Then again, the opposite also applies. Can Lopez solve the puzzle that Lomachenko, so adept at flummoxing frustrated foes with nimble moves, quick pivots and an ability to deliver stinging punches from unorthodox angles, always poses?

“He moves like he’s playing three-dimensional chess,” Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, once said of Lomachenko. “Watching him fight is like watching a fighter paint a great masterpiece.”

But even great masterpieces can be smudged, and in some of his more recent outings Lomachenko has dropped the occasional hint that even an exquisite artist such as himself can be something less than perfect.

“I think Lomachenko is getting hit a little bit more than he used to,” Atlas said. “He got caught a couple of times by (Luke) Campbell, who is not a big puncher. He got dropped by (Jorge) Linares. If that happens with Lopez, it definitely could be a problem.”

For his part, Lopez – whose nickname is “The Takeover,” which is what he expects to do to the sport of boxing once the world at large sees what he is capable of against Lomachenko – is convinced he will demonstrate that even the man of many moves can be put down and out if caught just so.

“He’s on the way out,” Lopez said in an interview with DAZN. “He really thinks he is a god in this sport. I don’t like him and I have my reasons why. I don’t like the way he carries himself. I will beat up Lomachenko and take his belts. Simply as that.

“I’m not the type of fighter to just talk my stuff and not back it up. If I hit him like Linares did, he won’t get up. If he gets knocked down by me, it’s over.”

Simple is as simple does, and Lomachenko has heard past victims talk trash and then have their mouths taped shut inside the ropes. He praised Lopez as an “excellent puncher” with a “high boxing IQ,” but he has heard all the implied threats before and considers them meaningless unless or until the boastful opponent backs up the bluster with victorious action.

“I heard this a lot of times from a lot of boxers,” Lomachenko said of the latest verbal assault directed at him. “But then you come in the ring, and you forget your words. You forget your promise. You just try boxing, you just try fighting. For me, it’s just words.

“Teofimo Lopez can talk all he wants. He’s very good at talking. He has done nothing but say my name for the past two years. Good for Teofimo. When we fight he will eat my punches and his words.”

Now, about the words uttered two years ago that caused Lopez and his trainer-father, Teofimo Sr., to make the conquest of Lomachenko something akin to a holy quest. Appearing on the same Dec. 8, 2018, card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Loma outpointed Jose Pedraza en route to a 12-round, unanimous decision to retain his WBA lightweight title while annexing Pedraza’s WBO belt. The Brooklyn-born Lopez, meanwhile, might have stolen the show by starching veteran Mason Menard only 44 seconds into round one. Two nights earlier, the elder Lopez, apparently inebriated, confronted Lomachenko in the hotel where both fighters were staying and told him that at some point his son would “kick your ass.”

Egos, not surprisingly, were involved, and feelings bruised, with a fight that probably was predestined to happen anyway someday now coated with genuine undertones of animosity. For his part, Teofimo Lopez sided with his father in the belief that Lomachenko and his trainer-father, Anatoly Lomachenko, were guilty of being arrogant and dismissive.

Lomachenko is almost always imperturbable, a craftsman not disposed to outwardly showing emotion, but Lopez might be more prone to venting any anger he could be harboring on fight night. And that, Atlas said, likely would be to Loma’s advantage.

“I don’t think it can be a plus for Lopez,” Atlas said of fighters who are more concerned with inflicting as much punishment as possible on their opponent for personal reasons than with executing a fight plan. “It makes you more reckless and more prone to think less and be careless. I think that factor in overplayed in most cases and I disregard it in this instance, but who knows?”

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A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon

Arne K. Lang

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Book Review by Thomas Hauser — Carlos Monzon was born into extreme poverty in Argentina on August 7, 1942. He was mean, violent, surly, brutal, arrogant, occasionally charming, handsome with a smoldering sensuality, and remorseless. His life was marked by street fighting, drunken behavior, domestic violence, and more than forty arrests. In the midst of it all, he found boxing.

Monzon’s story is told by Don Stradley in A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon. It’s the latest in a series of short books from Hamilcar Publications published under the imprint Hamilcar Noir that deal with boxers whose lives were marked and often terminated by violent crime. Told in 128 pages, the story moves at a brisk pace.

Monzon had one hundred professional fights in a career that began in 1962. He reigned as middleweight champion from 1970 until his retirement in 1977 and was honored as the 1972 “Fighter of the Year” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. All told, he compiled an 87-3-9 (59 KOs) record with 1 no contest. The three losses came during the first two years of his career when he was a novice.

Monzon was a big, strong, tough fighter with a good chin and a basic skill set: stand tall, throw a sharp jab, and follow with a hard right behind it. Mark Kram described him as “a perfectly shaped middleweight, tall with long arms and with style running through every sinew up to his dramatic Belmondo face.”

By contrast, British boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge described Monzon as having “little ring grace” and added “he clubs as if wearing a Roman cestus on his fist.”

Those who question Monzon’s greatness point to the fact that the best of the fighters he beat were past their prime (e.g. Nino Benvenuti) or past their prime and naturally smaller men (e.g. Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles). Monzon was also held to a draw by Benny Briscoe before besting Briscoe on a close decision in a rematch. And he only narrowly defeated Rodrigo Valdez in the last two fights of his ring career.

But as Stradley writes, “A strange thing happened to Monzon in retirement. He became a better fighter. The boxer who had often been dismissed as a classless thug was now revered as an all-time great. During the next decade when lists were made of the top middleweights or of great championship reigns, Monzon’s name would always be near the top.”

How good was Monzon?

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler says that he would have been competitive with any middleweight in any era. More significantly, in 2007, I had a conversation with Bernard Hopkins in which I asked Bernard to speculate as to how he would have fared in the ring against Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, and Monzon. Hopkins’ answer is instructive:

“Sugar Ray Robinson at 147 pounds was close to perfect,” Bernard said. “But at middleweight, he was beatable. I would have fought Ray Robinson in close and not given him room to do his thing. He’d make me pay a physical price. But at middleweight, I think I’d wear him down and win. Me and Marvin Hagler would have been a war. We’d both be in the hospital afterward with straws in our mouth. We’d destroy each other. My game-plan would be, rough him up, box, rough him up, box. You wouldn’t use judges for that fight. You’d go by the doctors’ reports. Carlos Monzon? I could lose that fight. Monzon was tall, rangy, did everything right. I see myself losing that fight more than winning it.”

Stradley’s recounting of Monzon’s ring career is largely pro forma. The more compelling portions of the book lie in the portrait he paints of Monzon’s personal life.

Monzon had virtually no formal education and was close to illiterate. At age 19, he married 15-year-old Mercedes Beatriz Garcia. The newly-wed couple lived with her family in a two-room shack where they slept on a mattress on the floor.

“In many ways,” Stradley writes, “Monzon was the typical wife abuser. He was obsessed with control; he had an evil temper; he drank too much.” In 1973, Mercedes shot her husband in the arm and shoulder after a quarrel between them.

Monzon’s pattern of physically abusing women, assaulting people in public, reckless driving, and other anti-social acts was a constant in his life before, during, and after his championship reign. But as his fame grew, so did his following.

“Monzon,” Stradley notes, “didn’t look like other fighters of the day. He was photographed to look like a stylish Latin pop star, usually in a long leather coat, with plenty of gold jewelry. Argentina’s El Grafico [a popular magazine] treated Monzon like a model, featuring him in regular photo spreads.”

In 1974, while married to Mercedes, Monzon met Susana Gimenez (a popular actress and talk show host). Soon, they were involved in a torrid affair that lasted for four years. At one point, Mercedes complained to her husband about Susana and he punched her in the face, breaking the superciliary arch above her eye. Monzon was arrested and avoided a prison term by pleading temporary insanity. A divorce followed.

Susana’s film credits included adult-oriented comedies. In Stradley’s words, “Monzon had abandoned the mother of his children for a slutty clown. It didn’t help that her sartorial sense ran towards pink denim.”

Even so, Stradley recounts, “Monzon and Susana were now the most photographed twosome in Argentina. Journalist Alfredo Serra estimated they appeared on more than three hundred magazine covers, describing the pair as combining ‘the strength, beauty, fame and glamour of the world in a single couple.'”

During his championship reign, Monzon parleyed his fame as a fighter into several film roles. Then he retired; his relationship with Susana ended; and he met Alicia Muniz Calatayud.

Alicia had worked as a model and belly dancer in addition to once managing a hair salon. She and Monzon married in Miami because his divorce from Mercedes wasn’t recognized under Argentine law. They lived together from May 1979 through August 1986 and again during a brief reconciliation in 1987. On several occasions, Alicia filed complaints with the police alleging that Monzon had beaten her.

By 1988, Stradley writes, “Monzon was still famous but no longer important. Most of the time he was drunk.”

On February 14, 1988, during a weekend they were spending together, Monzon murdered his estranged wife.

“Here’s what probably happened,” Stradley posits. “When Alicia came for the weekend, she reminded him that he was late with his monthly payments [for child support]. They returned from their night out, a night where they’d been unfriendly to each other and a witness had seen Monzon hitting Alicia. At some point before 6 a.m., she said something that made the dynamite in his head go off.”

Monzon told conflicting stories after Alicia’s death, all of which centered on the claim that she’d accidentally fallen over a balcony railing during an argument between them. Then an autopsy report revealed that Alicia had been strangled to death.

“Medical examiners,” Stradley recounts, “estimated thirty-five pounds of pressure or more had been applied to Alicia’s throat. Strangling only requires eleven pounds. They estimated it had been done with a two-fingered grip, probably thumb and forefinger in a kind of one-handed death clamp. It takes only twenty seconds or so to strangle someone into unconsciousness. The damage to Alicia’s throat would take much longer. It wasn’t done by accident or in the heat of the moment. It took a few minutes of full-on rage. Alicia had been strangled long after she had passed out. It’s also rare that a strangling victim has visible marks on the neck or throat. The imprints on Alicia were clear and deep, as if someone had tried to squeeze her head off at the neck. He dumped her body over the balcony to make it look like she’d fallen.”

Monzon was charged with murder. The trial was broadcast live on radio throughout Argentina. Monzon testified that he and Alicia had argued about money and admitted that he had slapped her. “I have hit women on other occasions and nothing happened to any of them,” he told the court. “I hit all of my women except one. My mother.”

A three-judge panel found Monzon guilty of murder. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison with the possibility of time off for good behavior.

By 1993, Monzon was allowed to spend daytime hours and weekends outside of prison. On Sunday, January 8, 1995, after attending a barbeque, he was behind the wheel of a car, probably drunk and definitely speeding.

“By the rules of his furlough agreement,” Stradley writes, “he had to be back at the Las Flores prison by 8 p.m. He didn’t want to risk being late. He only had a short time left to serve on his sentence and didn’t want any infractions on his record. So he drove fast. He’d always been a terrible driver. Being in prison hadn’t made him any better at it.”

While speeding back to the prison, Monzon lost control of the vehicle which turned over multiple times, killing him instantly. Two other passengers also died in the accident. He was 52 years old.

After Monzon’s death, his body lay in state at City Hall in his hometown of Santa Fe. An estimated ten thousand people filed past it. Twenty thousand more lined the route to the Municipal Cemetery while six thousand mourners waited at the cemetery entrance.

Argentine president Carlos Menem told the nation. “Remember Carlos Monzon as a champion, not as a man jailed for murder.” But Argentinian journalist and political commentator Bernardo Neustadt took a contrary view, declaring, “We are a macho society that idolizes a man who beats or violates a woman; a macho society that taught Monzon to dress up, to speak a bit better, but didn’t teach him to think; a macho society that wasn’t horrified when Monzon said he beat all his women.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

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Lipinets and Clayton Battle to a Draw at the Mohegan Sun

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight’s PBC show at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino, billed as a “Showtime Special Edition,” was to feature Sergey Lipinets against Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in the main event. That match-up would have pit fighters born in neighboring countries in Central Asia, the first major fight of its kind on American soil, but Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov had visa problems and a Canadian filled the breach.

Custio Clayton, whose 18-0 record was suspect because he had done all his fighting in Eastern Canada, proved to be more than just a worthy opponent. The 33-year-old ex-Olympian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia held Lipinets (now 16-1-1) to a draw and the general feeling was that he had done just enough to edge it out. Don Trella scored the 12-round welterweight bout for him (115-113), but Trella’s counterparts Glen Feldman and Tom Schreck both had it even at 114 apiece.

Conspicuously bigger than Lipinets – to the eyes if not on the scale – Clayton did his best work in the late rounds. Lipinets, briefly the IBF world 140-pound title-holder (he lost the belt to Mikey Garcia; no shame there) is something of a one-dimensional fighter and as the rounds wore on he connected with fewer punches on the more multi-dimensional Canadian.

In theory, the winner would have been in line for a match with Errol Spence.

Martinez-Marrero

Prior to tonight, Sacramento junior lightweight Xavier Martinez had never fought beyond the eighth round and tonight it appeared that he wouldn’t see the ninth. He was on the deck twice in round eight and nearly didn’t make it to the bell. But he lasted the full 12 to win a well-earned unanimous decision over Claudio Marrero

Marrero, a 31-year-old southpaw from Santo Domingo, DR, was well behind on the scorecards when he caught Martinez with a big right hook shortly after the start of the eighth round. He pressed his advantage and knocked him down again with a flurry of punches. But Martinez recuperated and prevailed on scores of 115-111, 114-112, and 114-112 to keep his undefeated record intact, advancing to 16-0.

This was quite a departure from Martinez’s previous bout when he knocked out his opponent in 21 seconds. Marrero (24-5) lost for the fourth time in his last five outings. The match was billed as a WBA 130-pound title eliminator.

Matias-Hawkins

The TV opener was a 10-round junior lightweight contest between Malik Hawkins and Subriel Matias. Hawkins, a former National Golden Gloves champion from the same Baltimore gym that produced Gervonta Davis, came in undefeated (18-0). Puerto Rico’s Matias, who opened his career with 15 straight knockouts, was looking to rebound from his first defeat, having lost a 10-round decision to Petros Ananyan on the Wilder-Fury II undercard.

Matias’s bout with Ananyan was his first start since his match will ill-fated Maxim Dadashev. The Dadashev tragedy may have preyed on his mind, but according to his promoter Juan Orengo, he was lax in his training for Ananyan. Whatever the case, Matias rebounded from that defeat tonight, saddling Hawkins with his first pro loss.

Matias forged ahead in the sixth, knocking Hawkins to his knees and then pursuing him around the ring to apply the finisher. Hawkins survived the onslaught but had no argument when he was pulled out by the ring physician before the next frame.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Juan Francisco Estrada KOs Carlos Cuadras; Chocolatito Wins Too

David A. Avila

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WBC super flyweight world titlist Juan Francisco Estrada led a triumvirate of world title fights with a sizzling knockout victory over Mexican rival Carlos Cuadras to retain the world title and set up a future clash with former foe Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez who won his bout in the co-feature.

In front of a small Mexico City crowd Estrada (41-3, 28 KOs) proved he could defeat Cuadras (39-4-1, 27 KOs) again and did it emphatically to retain his title by knockout. There was no squabbling about scorecards in this clash like their first encounter in 2017 that ended with Estrada by decision.

It did not begin well for Estrada who endured Cuadras imposing his strength and speed behind a very strong left jab in the first three rounds. And then a sneaky right uppercut followed by a left hook sent Estrada down for the count in the third round.

But that only proved to be a spark for the fighter known as “El Gallo.”

Estrada realized he was falling behind, especially after the knockdown. Instead of counter-punching, the boxer from Sonora, Mexico began moving forward and became an aggressor. The dynamics of the fight changed suddenly.

Cuadras was hurt by a body shot in the sixth round and spent most of his time looking to avoid more contact. Estrada was in full control.

Despite the change in momentum no round was easy for either Mexican pugilist. Both exchanged freely always looking to end the fight with a big blow. Though each were hurt at times, neither showed signs of relenting.

From the eighth through the 10th round Cuadras seemed to find a second wind, or maybe it was desperation. The Mexico City native known as “Principe” fought possessed and managed to swing the momentum back toward his way for maybe two of those rounds.

In the 11th round both exchanged blows and Estrada connected with a left and right and down went Cuadras. The former world champion got up and was then floored with a counter right cross. He got up again a little shaky and Estrada attacked with a four-punch combination that forced referee Lupe Garcia to stop the fight for a technical knockout at 2:22 of the round.

Estrada retained the WBC super flyweight world title and will now meet Chocolatito.

Chocolatito

Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (50-2, 41 KOs) proved that an opponent like Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez (25-3) can be faster, taller, longer and younger but the Nicaraguan will find a way to beat you. He did that with a convincing unanimous decision win after 12 rounds to retain the WBA super flyweight world title.

Chocolatito will now probably meet Juan Francisco Estrada for a long-expected rematch. In their first encounter back in 2012, the Nicaraguan won by decision in Los Angeles.

Chocolatito looked dominant in his ability to deflect the speedy combinations by the young Mexican fighter Gonzalez. Nothing worked against the Nicaraguan who skillfully manipulated his way through barrage after barrage and connected inside with body shots and uppercuts.

It was a masterful performance.

JC Martinez

Mexico City’s Julio Cesar Martinez (17-1, 13 KOs) was defending his WBC flyweight world title against Moises Calleros (33-10-1) a virtual bantamweight weighing more than 7 pounds over the 112-pound flyweight limit. Even the extra weight could not help him.

In the first round, Martinez exploded with a blistering three-punch combination the sent Calleros to the floor dazed and confused. He beat the count and survived the round.

The second round wasn’t too kind for Calleros who became the punching bag for the quick-fisted Martinez who opened up with a nine-punch salvo that forced the referee Cesar Castanon to end the slaughter at 2:42 of the second round.

Other Bouts

Diego Pacheco (10-0, 8 KOs) used his height and reach to score a knockout with a snapping right uppercut to the chin of Mexico’s Juan Mendez (12-3-2) in a super middleweight fight. The end came at 2:02 of the second round with Mexican referee Rafael Saldana stopping the fight at the perfect moment.

Austin “Ammo” Williams (6-0, 5 KOs) powered through Esau Herrera (19-12-1) with body shots and combination punches to win by knockout in a middleweight battle. The end came at 1:36 of the fifth round.

Otha Jones III (5-0-1, 2 KOs) and Mexico City fighter Kevin Montiel (6-0-1) fought to a split draw after six rounds in a super featherweight clash. Both fighters started quickly with Jones having good rounds in the middle portion of the six-round fight, but he tired and allowed Montiel to rally from behind. The scores were split with 58-56 for Jones, 58-56 for Montiel and 57-57.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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