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Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez II: Do Not Miss This Fight

Matt McGrain

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Of all the sequels that boxing could make, Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez II, staged this weekend in Dallas, Texas, is the most fascinating. Superflyweight has been over-delivering on top-class competition for years now but this being the second Gonzalez-Estrada fight, coming more than eight years after the original, makes it special even for 115lbs.

Their first fight was a classic and classical, a combat of legitimate intensity fought at the highest-level boxing can deliver. Estrada, fast-handed, longer and taller than Gonzalez, started fast and stayed fast while Gonzalez, immediately aware of an unexpected danger, sunk tactical boreholes to try to find the answer. The answer, as it happened, was as old as boxing, a pressure and corner style, paying tolls, picking himself to win two thirds of the spells of technical craftsmanship they swapped inside, Estrada dangerous with uppercuts, Gonzalez lashing him with the compact combinations that made him famous.

It was close and remained close and many of the rounds were close and this was unexpected.  Estrada was unrated and underrated, 26-1 and had never fought in a twelve-round fight. I think about that sometimes; Estrada fought his first twelve round fight against an absolute monster of a champion in Roman Gonzalez, an all-time-great pound-for-pounder. Estrada took an early lead in the fight, was pegged back by a tactical adjustment and began to fight his way out of the predicament.  Then Gonzalez adjusted again.

Estrada was inexperienced and unheralded; he is anything but that now.

Ranked number nine pound-for-pound by TBRB he is the reigning champion of a 115lb division which remains the deepest in all of boxing, he is thirty years old and 41-3, in his physical prime and is coming off a stoppage victory over Carlos Cuadras, a man who took Gonzalez to the absolute edge in 2016.

“I am stronger and have more desire than the first fight,” said Estrada in the build-up. “In the first fight, I was 21 years old, and I had no experience of big international fights, he was a pound-for-pound star at that time, but now I think this time it favours me.”

It is impossible to verify that the established Estrada is more motivated than he was as a twenty-one-year-old with none of the material trappings he has since gathered, but everything else he says is irrefutably true. And there is more.

“We are fighting two weight classes above the first fight, so it is already very different. I know that I can win this time. I know it’s a tough fight and I think it will be a better fight, but I have already faced him, I know his qualities and I feel that I can beat a fighter who has been knocked out.”

Here, Estrada touches upon two key points. First is size; there can be little doubt that the 115lb limit suits Estrada more than Gonzalez. 115lbs was always going to be the absolute roof for Roman, a short, stocky fighter who brings pressure and absorbs punishment despite an elite defence, he can ill-afford to take on bigger men. That he has made it from 105lbs to 115lbs is in itself a testimony to his surprising elusiveness; but these returns have been diminishing as the smaller man has aged.

Which brings us to Estrada’s second point. Gonzalez, at thirty-three, an advanced age for a fighter who turned professional at 105lbs, has been in wars, and he has been hit and has been hurt. He is indeed a fighter “who has been knocked out” having been devasted by Wisaksil Wangek as long ago as 2017. Since, Gonzalez has glimmered, smouldered, but never blazed as he did in the days when he was tearing top fighters to pieces. Estrada sees something different now than he did the first time he looked upon Gonzalez, and the confidence is clearly flowing.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, is training principally for power. This makes sense. His first attack in earnest upon 115lbs saw him match Carlos Cuadras in 2016. It would be an exaggeration to say that Cuadras walked through him – that ignominy awaits at bantamweight should he have an unfortunate rush of blood – but it was shocking to see Cuadras live with him for spells of exchanges. This limitation was then firmly underlined by Wangek and since, Gonzalez has been matched stiffly but not dangerously.  In terms of quality of opponent, Estrada is the first to represent a callback to an opponent as good as Wangek since that knockout loss.

“One of the things we are working on is long combinations. He threw more than 1000 blows in the previous fight, but now he`s punching with greater power,” trainer Marcos Caballero told Boxing Scene. “We are going to war with Estrada.”

Talk of war is well and good but the postscript was more interesting to me:

“We know the quality of the opponent, but we trust that in the ring, the one who arrives better prepared and with the best strategy, will win. That will be us.”

Roman’s strategy in the first fight, was war. He recognised quickly that he was being presented with a different proposition than he had been prepared for and adjusted accordingly. The final adjustment he made was to introduce in earnest his left-hook. It was awful to watch and underlined Estrada’s toughness for all time.

Remember, this was not superfly Gonzalez who bounces hard punches off hard fighters; this was light-fly Gonzalez who steamrolled those he could hit. At the beginning of the eighth, as Estrada tried to operate his own right, having slipped behind in the fight for the first time, Gonzalez repeatedly landed his torpedo-like left-hook and riffed behind it with increasingly fluid, terror-laden combinations. Gonzalez is the best combination puncher in history below 112lbs – with apologies to Ricardo Lopez fans – and when he finds that afterburner, he is essentially impossible to beat.

The problem is that these torque-filled punches have proven resistible at 115lbs – that is why the interest in power-punching during training. Estrada was perhaps the only man below 115lbs that really stood up to these punches in a meaningful way, in a way that allowed him the opportunity, at least, of turning the tide. Of the five available rounds after Gonzalez ignited his left, he won three of them; but it is notable that Estrada was able to outfight his prestigious foe in what must have felt to both men a key twelfth round. Still, the predominance or otherwise of the Gonzalez left hook may determine the result of this fight.

Round eight will be too late this time, I suspect. Estrada was close to being too big for Gonzalez first time around and that was in a weight division that better suited the smaller man. Now Estrada is in the weight division that he arguably most belongs in while there is ever a sense that Gonzalez is waiting in the knowledge of the bigger man. The law of Joe Louis says this though: once a puncher has found a mover, he has found him for all time. While I am not suggesting Gonzalez is the equal of Louis, he is, or at least was of that class by my eye; there is a possibility that having found Estrada with his left in the eighth of the last fight, he will find him in the first of this, their second fight, regardless of how long has elapsed. In the first fight Estrada bagged the first two rounds, the key punch perhaps the uppercut; Gonzalez needs to meet and greet that punch with one of his own and outfight the bigger, younger, faster man early, a tall order for even a great fighter.

Roman Gonzalez looks different now. His face, full even at 105lbs in a boyish way, has taken on the puffiness of a civilian. He never wore the visage of a fighter but he is beginning to look like the favourite uncle of your youth. He talks openly of retirement. He knows some ending is approaching.

He is a dramatic underdog here, in the twilight of his career. Should he win, he will match Wangek in a second dramatic rematch. If he loses it will be retirement or the continued career of a fighter with problems. There is nowhere for Gonzalez to go if Estrada masters him; 118lbs would be a dangerous disaster, 112lbs is beyond the reach of his pugilist’s body. Either he becomes the champion of a division in which he has always walked the tightrope or his career as an elite sportsman is over.

Estrada could stand to lose and box on, even 118lbs not entirely beyond his lither frame but elite sports is so rarely about “who wants it more.” It is about who is better. I believe Estrada is a better 115lb boxer than Gonzalez – therefore I pick him to win a fight that feels close, with close rounds, but where the scorecards speak of a comfortable win, somewhere in the region of 117-111.

But – keep your eyes peeled for that Gonzalez left early in the fight. I’ve been publishing fight reports on Roman Gonzalez for more than a decade now and if it is said of him that he is training for war, I believe it. Winning a war remains his last best chance of becoming a champion once more.

At the risk of sounding redundant, do not miss this fight.

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Top 12 New England Boxing Ratings as of July 2021

Jeffrey Freeman

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For the sake of these regionalized rankings, the New England region officially consists of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. And I know I don’t have to remind TSS readers that the glory days of Willie Pep and world title fights at the old Boston Garden are over.

It’s now 2021.

New England boxing boasts only one current world champion to crow about and no top contenders to get too excited about. The championship run of New Haven’s Chad Dawson and the championship aspirations of Worcester’s Edwin Rodriquez are presently a thing of the past.

What we have here now are mostly youngish prospects and a few potential contenders with a mix of would-be Micky Ward types scattered throughout. What follows are the twelve best and most accomplished New England boxers in all weight classes from the above mentioned states.

Top 12 New England Ratings:

1. Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade, Providence, Rhode Island: The current WBO middleweight champion was recently made to look like a fool after crashing a Canelo Alvarez post-fight presser to declare his fandom and be accused of fighting “no body man” by a smirking Alvarez.

The 33-year-old Andrade is 30-0 (18) and desperate for a payday! Since winning the vacant WBO 160- pound strap in 2018 at the Boston Garden with a boring decision over Walter Kautondokwa, Andrade has beaten four B-level boxers, stopping only one of them with some help from the referee. Eddie Hearn is a good promoter but even he can’t make us like Boo-Boo.

2. Rashidi Ellis, Lynn Massachusetts: The speedy younger brother of Akeem, “Speedy” Rashidi is 23-0 (14) at welterweight and is rated #23 at 147 by BoxRec. Ellis, 28, went pro in Boston in 2013 and fought there three more times before taking his act on the road, fighting frequently in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Ellis has not fought since a 12-round unanimous decision over undefeated Alexis Rocha in 2020. The win earned Speedy Rashidi a minor title.

Promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy, Ellis’ win over Rocha came as a surprise as Rocha was an undefeated GBP prospect beaten by Ellis in his own California backyard.

3. Mark DeLuca, Whitman, Massachusetts: At 33, the “Bazooka” is the most battle-hardened fighter on this list at 27-2 with 15 knockouts. DeLuca avenged the first loss of his career, decisioning Walter Wright at the Boston Garden in 2018. In 2020, he travelled to Sheffield, U.K. for a Matchroom match-up with Kell Brook. DeLuca was knocked out in 7 one-sided rounds.

Despite the setback, DeLuca stayed active in 2020 with two wins late in the year. DeLuca went to Tijuana last February to pick up a win and he’s scheduled to face Charles Conwell in Cleveland next month. Conwell, 15-0 with 11 knockouts, fatally defeated Patrick Day in 2019.

4. Ronald Ellis, Lynn, Massachusetts: AKA Akeem, this 31-year-old super middleweight has been a professional since 2011. In that ten year period, Ellis battled his way up to big fight opportunities, winning some, losing some—and drawing in others. Ellis dropped a Showtime televised decision to DeAndre Ware in 2019 before rebounding that same year to decision Immanuwel Aleem in Brooklyn, NY. Ellis will fight anywhere and he always comes to win.

In 2020, Ellis got a win over veteran Matt Korobov when the Russian broke his ankle and was unable to continue in the bout at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT. Ellis was then stopped last March in 11 rounds by David Benavidez at the same venue. Ellis is now 18-2-2 with 12 knockouts.

The Ellis brothers’ younger sister Rashida is boxing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Team USA at 60 kg. With a 45-16 record in 61 bouts, the 26-year-old is determined to win a Gold medal.

5. “Marvelous” Mykquan Williams, Hartford, Connecticut: This 23-year-old welterweight is signed to DiBella Entertainment and is managed by Jackie Kallen. At 16-0-1 with 7 knockouts, Williams broke his pandemic-induced inactivity last January at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut with a 10-round unanimous decision over undefeated (15-0) Yeis Gabriel Solano on Showtime.

In his final bout of 2019, before missing all of 2020, Williams was held to an 8-round draw in Brooklyn by a southpaw spoiler named Tre’Sean Wiggins. A recent automobile accident resulted in a broken wrist, thus “Marvelous” Mykquan will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

6. Toka Kahn Clary, Providence, Rhode Island: Once a highly touted local prospect, the professional reality of Toka Khan, 29, is clear. At 28-3, this southpaw featherweight has been knocked out by a nobody and beaten by decision twice when he stepped up to world level.

In 2020, Khan was beaten by Shakur Stevenson in Las Vegas, losing every round on all cards. In 2018, he was outclassed at the Boston Garden by British world title challenger Kid Galahad.

7. Kendrick Ball Jr., Worcester, Massachusetts: The now 28-year-old super middleweight mostly flew under the radar while fighting for Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) on Mr. B’s Twin River, Rhode Island undercards. After a win here, a draw there, and a loss there later, the tall Ball (6’ 2”) won twice in 2020 (and in 2019) before decisioning veteran Bryan Vera last April in Derry, New Hampshire on a Granite Chin promoted show.

Ball, 16-1-2 (11) is scheduled to main event the CES card scheduled for August 7 in Springfield, Massachusetts at the recently reopened MGM casino venue in the western part of the state.

8. Greg Vendetti, Stoneham, Massachusetts: The Murphys Boxing promoted “Villain” Vendetti (now 31) is a come-forward fighter who earned his chops on the local scene before stepping up and into the international fray with mixed results. A 2018 win over Yoshihiro Kamegai in California was followed by a devastating second-round knockout loss to Michel Soro in France.

Vendetti regrouped with a pair of local decision wins in 2019 before going back to California for a 2020 shot at Erislandy Lara’s two junior middleweight titles. Vendetti, now 22-4-1 (12), dropped a wide 12-round unanimous decision to the very defensively oriented Cuban freedom fighter.

9. Cassius Chaney, New London, Connecticut: This 34-year-old super-sized heavyweight got a late start in boxing in 2015 after relocating from Baltimore to Connecticut and switching sports. At six foot six, Chaney played basketball in college. In boxing, Chaney is undefeated at 20-0 with 14 KOs and he is Greg Page huge! His afro is even bigger. According to his bio on the Main Events website, Chaney boasts an 85-inch reach and was named after Cassius Clay. With a degree in sports management, he’s a stinker and a thinker! Still, despite being named after the GOAT, this Cassius is still in 8-rounders and hasn’t fought anyone expected to challenge him.

Chaney won four times in 2019, twice in 2020 and he is scheduled to fight on the Rivera Promotions show (New England’s Future VII) on August 14 at the Worcester Palladium.

worcester

10. Richard “Popeye” Rivera, Hartford, Connecticut: The most charismatic fighter on this list, Rivera is a free-swinging cruiserweight who gladly plays the part of Popeye The Sailor Man, bringing a pipe to the ring and singing the trademarked “Toot Toot” jingle. After blasting out “Vermont Bully” Kevin Cobbs in 2018, Rivera has been extremely active, winning four more times that year, seven more times in 2019 and twice in 2020. Rivera won another stay-busy fight last February in Orlando, Florida, a first-round knockout of some Mexican punching bag.

At 19-0 with 14 knockouts, Rivera is back in action on next month’s (August 14) RPE promoted show in Worcester, Massachusetts at the Palladium where he made his pro debut back in 2017.

11. Jamaine Ortiz, Worcester, Massachusetts: This Jimmy Burchfield promoted lightweight is 14-0-1 (8). Last April, he showed great promise on a Top Rank promoted show in Florida, drawing in 8 with undefeated (14-0-2) TR prospect Joseph Adorno. Many ringsiders felt that Ortiz, 25, deserved to get the win and that Adorno was fortunate to keep his unbeaten record.

12. Irvin Gonzalez, Worcester, Massachusetts: Now 14-3 with 11 knockouts, the losses are starting to pile up for this once highly regarded featherweight prospect. Before losing his “0” by knockout in 2019 to journeyman Elijah Pierce at Foxwoods Casino, there was talk of Gonzalez being signed by Evander Holyfield’s upstart promotional company. Three months later, Gonzalez lost again at Foxwoods, this time a wide 10-round decision loss to Toka Khan.

Gonzalez also lost his most recent fight, an 8-round split decision loss to Texas tough-guy Edward Vazquez in Los Angeles on a Jimmy Burchfield promoted show in November of 2020.

Irvin is still only 25, he can build back better.

KO’s Honorable Mentions: Chris Traietti (cruiserweight, Quincy, MA), Ryan Kielczweski (lightweight, Quincy, MA) and Brandon “The Cannon” Berry (welterweight, West Forks, Maine).

The 35-year-old Traietti is more promoter than active fighter these days but he still laces up the gloves on his own Granite Chin Promotions shows and he sports a 30-4 (24) record. He was beaten by Lowell’s Joey McCreedy, Worcester’s Edwin Rodriguez and by Mike Lee in Chicago.

Known as the “Polish Prince” in the ring, Kielczweski turned pro in 2008 and racked up a 22-0 record before his first decision loss in 2015 to Danny Aquino. Momentum killing decision losses to Miquel Flores, Frank De Alba, Tommy Coyle, and Gabriel Flores have stalled his career at 35.

All of which brings us to Maine’s Brandon Berry. A short little welterweight with no reach and little in the way of technique, Berry gets by on pure heart. The 33-year-old is now 22-5-2 (15) and has both fought and promoted himself to 9 straight victories since a pair of losses in 2018.

Berry now fights for the memory of best friend Joel Bishop, a fellow boxer who died on Berry’s wedding night in 2017. Berry has overcome personal tragedy, humiliating losses in the ring and a shoulder injury requiring surgery to carve out a respectable professional boxing career.

*** As noted above there are a few New England shows scheduled that local live fans should know about. Next Saturday night on July 31, Vertex Promotions has a club show scheduled in Dedham, MA featuring several novice local pros in action. Then on August 7 in Springfield, MA, CES is putting on a show at the MGM Springfield with Kendrick Ball Jr. in the main event.

Promoter Jose Antonio Rivera (the former WBA junior middleweight champion) is then back at the Palladium in Worcester, MA on August 14 with “New England’s Future VII” featuring the return of the popular “Popeye” Rivera. And on August 28 in Derry, NH, Chris Traietti’s Granite Chin promotions returns for what Chris calls an “invitational elite class boxing tournament.”

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A former member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Story Under 1500 Words. Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The WBA’s 50-Year-Old Cruiserweight Contender and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The WBA’s 50-Year-Old Cruiserweight Contender and More

Boxing’s seniors tour continues on Sept. 11 when Oscar De La Hoya returns to the ring after an absence of almost 13 years to fight former MMA star Vitor Belfort. The bout is scheduled for eight two-minute rounds and will count against De La Hoya’s professional boxing record which currently stands at 39-6 (30). More details will be revealed tomorrow at a Los Angeles press conference.

De La Hoya turned 48 in February. If he is looking for inspiration, he need look no further back than this past Saturday where cruiserweight Firat Arslan continued his ascent toward yet another world title shot with a fourth-round stoppage of Argentina’s Ruben Eduardo Acosta. Arslan is older than Oscar, he’s 50!

The match took place in Goeppingen, Germany, before a small gathering in Firat Arslan’s gym. It was sanctioned by the WBA for an “international” belt. A southpaw of Turkish descent, Arslan (pictured on the right) entered the contest ranked #5 by the repugnant organization and will presumably move up a notch.

Arslan is in his 24th year as a pro. His signature win was a 12-round decision over Virgil Hill in 2007. Hill was then 43 years old. Coincidentally, the man that Arslan just defeated was also 43.

The victory over Hill, a future Hall of Famer, earned Arslan a world cruiserweight title. He lost it to Guillermo Jones after one successful defense and would come up short in three other stabs at a world cruiserweight title, losing to Marco Huck twice and to Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

One doesn’t know if Ruben Eduardo Acosta turned up in Germany intent on rendering an honest effort. He went down three times from body shots and was counted out on his last trip to the mat. But the Argentine sported a decent record (38-17-5) and had gone seven years without being stopped, a pocket of 17 fights.

There’s an obvious difference between Arslan and De La Hoya. Arslan was out of the ring for 21 months after losing his title to Jones, but has otherwise maintained a steady schedule. His weight has never ballooned between fights and he has the physique of a man twenty years younger. De La Hoya has led a sedentary life since leaving the ring and is effectively starting over. He figures to weigh about 170 for Vitor Belfort which would be 25 pounds more than he carried for his last fight against Manny Pacquiao.

De La Hoya vs. Belfort is being promoted by Triller and will air on FITE. Triller and FITE are also collaborating on the Aug. 3 event at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. The headline attraction of what will supposedly be a 10-fight card finds heavyweight contender Michael “The Bounty” Hunter taking on former amateur rival Mike “White Delight” Wilson.

Those attending the event who are over the age of 15 must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative test result within the previous 72 hours. Despite this potential deal-breaker, tickets purportedly disappeared fast, portending a complete sell-out.

Of course, there’s more to the event than boxing. Local rap groups DIPSET and THE LOX will battle it out in a competition ballyhooed as iconic in the promotional literature.

—-

A more compelling fight takes place in North London on Sept. 25 when IBF/WBO/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua defends his belts against former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. It will be the first boxing event at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which opened in April of 2019. Built for the Tottenham Hotspurs, a Premier League soccer club, the stadium was also conceptualized with an eye toward housing an NFL team.

The soccer pitch is retractable. Underneath is an artificial turf for American football. Having the football field at a lower level than the soccer pitch will allow spectators in the first row to see over the heads of football players and coaches standing on the sideline. In soccer, the front row can be closer to the playing field because soccer players sit on chairs when they are not in the game. Moreover, the stadium has a separate entrance dedicated to NFL events and the press sections for American football and for soccer are configured differently.

Pro football fans in the U.S. tuning in on television will be get a bird’s eye view of the new stadium on Oct. 10 and again Oct. 17 when the NFL plays games in London, renewing a tradition that was interrupted last year by Covid-19. The NFL recently signed a 10-year deal with the landlord of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

For the record, the Oct. 10 game features the Falcons against the Jets. On Oct. 17, it’s the Jaguars against the Dolphins. Both games will start at 9:30 am ET, 6:30 am PT. Football fans on the West Coast are advised to set their alarm clocks.

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Fast Results from London: Massive Heavyweight Joe Joyce Keeps on Rolling

Arne K. Lang

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Ponderous but formidable Joe Joyce moved one step closer to a title fight tonight at the Wembley Arena with a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Carrying 264 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist was simply too big for his 40-year-old French-Cameroonian adversary.

In his previous bout, Joyce methodically dismantled favored Daniel Dubois with a steady dose of his thudding right jab. Dubois quit in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. Tonight’s fight followed a somewhat similar pattern.

Takam landed some good shots in the first two rounds as Joyce was slow to find his rhythm, but Joyce stuck to his game plan which was to wear him down and Takam’s punches gradually lost steam in the face of Joyce’s constant pressure.

Early in round six, Joyce rocked Takam with a big right hand and didn’t let him off the hook. Takam protested when the referee indicated that he had seen enough and the stoppage did strike many as premature, but the handwriting was on the wall for the veteran who declined to 39-6-1. The official time was 0:49.

Joyce is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. College educated with a degree in fine arts, he acknowledges that he has no great passion for the sport of boxing and is in it for the financial rewards, not the glory. At age 35, he isn’t going to get any better, but he appears to have a rock-solid chin and his nickname, Juggernaut, is quite fitting.

Joyce entered the bout ranked #2 by the WBO, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who challenges title-holder Anthony Joshua on Sept. 25.

Other Bouts of Note

Ekow Essuman, a 32-year-old Nottingham man, born in Botswana, unseated British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Chris Jenkins, winning on an eighth-round stoppage. A hard right hook followed by a flurry of punches forced the referee to waive it off. The official time was 0:53.

Essuman, who was favored in the 3/1 range, improved to 15-0 with his sixth win inside the distance. A Welshman, Jenkins (22-4-3) was making the fourth defense of his domestic title.

London super welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz, who has been training at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California, improved to 13-0 (9 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of Spain’s Ezequiel Gurria (15-2). Gurria was down twice in the fifth round before the bout was halted at the 2:23 mark.

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