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Forged by Longtime Coach Al Mitchell, Mikaela Mayer Seems Destined for Stardom

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Mikaela Mayer makes the first defense of her WBO 130-pound world title on Saturday at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas against her toughest opponent yet in Argentine veteran Erica Anabella Farias. A win by Mayer would be another feather in the cap of her 77-year-old trainer Al Mitchell who is one of boxing’s most interesting personalities.

One of the bedrocks of amateur boxing in America, Al Mitchell grew up in Philadelphia in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. “Most of the kids on my block would eventually go to prison,” says Mitchell.

Some of them spent time in prison with Mitchell who got caught up in the street life as a teenager and was remanded to the city’s Holmesburg Prison whose alumni would come to include Bernard Hopkins. When he got out, he went back to the recreation center where he had learned to box but rather than resuming his amateur career, he found coaching more to his liking.

In 1988, Mitchell took a team of boxers to a Junior Olympics tournament at the Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan. Founded in 1985, the center was designed for the purpose of allowing elite athletes to continue their education while providing them with the resources to maximize their athletic potential. Athletes of college age attend classes tuition-free at Northern Michigan University and reside with their younger cohorts in the school’s dorms. For many years, NMU was home to the National Junior Olympics Tournament.

In an oft-told story, when Mitchell was returning with his team to Philadelphia, he came across a 15-year-old boxer from Georgia who was stranded at the airport. Mitchell called the kid’s mother and promised her that he would see that her son got home safely and let his Philadelphia team go on ahead without him.

The 15-year-old boxer was Vernon Forrest who would turn pro under Mitchell’s tutelage and go on to win world titles in two weight classes.

The honchos at the training center were impressed with Mitchell’s compassion and with the tools displayed by the young boxers he brought there. The coaching position was vacant and they induced Mitchell to take the job. He arrived in Marquette in the summer of 1989. He reckoned that he would only be there for a few months.

From a ‘hood in Philadelphia to a sleepy college town in Michigan’s Northern Peninsula is quite a transition. Marquette is white; not predominantly white, just white. And then there’s the weather. Arriving in the summer, Mitchell didn’t appreciate how cold it would get when winter set in. In December, January, and February, the average daily HIGH temperature in Marquette is below freezing.

Mitchell acknowledges that he almost left several times. His boxers, notably Vernon Forrest and Ricky Ray Taylor, a Golden Gloves champion from the Mississippi Gulf Coast who never turned pro and currently trains boxers in New York, talked him out of it. In time, however, Mitchell settled in. When the weather is nice, he says, Marquette is the most beautiful town in the world. And the locals were more than welcoming.

After three years in the NIU dorm where he lived on the same floor as his boxers, Mitchell, who is divorced, purchased a home. It’s four blocks from the shoreline of Lake Superior and one-and-a-half blocks from the college. When he is gone for any length of time, he can count on his neighbors to mow his lawn.

“My neighbors all have the keys to my house,” he says. “In Philadelphia that would never happen. Around here, if I hear bang, bang, bang, I know that it’s just a car backfiring.”

Mitchell was never shot, but he was brutally attacked by robbers during the time that he owned a North Philadelphia bodega, a place where most walk-ins came to turn in their numbers, i.e., their selections in the daily lottery-type game that was once a staple of community life in America’s ghettos.

The assailants got him when he was closing up for the day and left him in such bad shape that he spent five days in a coma during a lengthy hospital stay. He bears a souvenir of the incident, a plate in his head.

Mitchell was named the head coach of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that included Floyd Mayweather, David Reid, Fernando Vargas, and Antonio Tarver, and was a consultant to the 2004 and 2012 squads, the latter of which was the first to include women.

The greatest U.S. Olympic team was the 1976 edition that won seven medals (five gold) in Montreal. They set the benchmark against which future squads would be unfairly compared.

There were 11 weight divisions in 1976, a number that would grow to 12 and currently sits at eight for boxers with male chromosomes. A boxer faces more hurdles today as there are more boxing federations which has given rise to more international qualification tournaments. Back in the days of Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers, notes Mitchell, a U.S. Olympic boxer who made it all the way to the finals wouldn’t have faced more than one Russian. “Today he may face three.”

By that he means that in the old days, fighters from such countries as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan would have been classified as Russians. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, those countries became separate entities. And they have mirrored the Russians and Cubans by investing heavily in their amateur athletes with stipends and other perks that encourage their boxers to delay or forego their entrance into the professional ranks.

Mitchell has proposed moving the Olympic boxing competition from the summer to the winter. With a less cluttered cast of athletes, dispersed over fewer sports, there would theoretically be room for the International Olympic Committee to reinstate the discarded weight divisions. In the United States, this would inevitably translate into more ink for the boxing team, raising the profile of a sport that many no longer consider mainstream.

Mitchell’s proposal fell on deaf ears.

As for the U.S. delegation in Tokyo — five male and four female – Mitchell says it’s a solid team with the women likely to out-perform the men because they have stayed in the program longer. Two of the four women – Ginny Fuchs and Naomi Graham – are in their thirties. On the men’s side, Duke Ragan is the granddaddy at age 24.

The last American to win a gold medal was Andre Ward who accomplished the feat at the 2004 Games in Athens. Ward has morphed into a color commentator for ESPN Boxing where he has impressed knowledgeable fans with his insightfulness.

Al Mitchell, who worked extensively with Ward before he turned pro, isn’t surprised. “Ward and Floyd Mayweather, who was on my 1976 team, had the highest ring IQs of all the boxers that I have coached. When I first worked with Andre, I thought this kid doesn’t punch hard enough to go very far. But he had great anticipation and no one was better at processing what his opponent had and making the right adjustments. I had no doubt that he would perform better against Kovalev in their second meeting than he did in their first.”

Mitchell notes that Andre Ward’s sidekick Tim Bradley is also one of his former students. “He also does a great job and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Mitchell’s style of coaching has been likened to that of a drill sergeant. He would roust his boxers out of bed at 5 am to go running and it made no difference what the weather was like outside. His gruff demeanor when putting his boxers through their paces may have been inherited from his father, a staff sergeant during the Korean War who returned home with PTSD symptoms and died when Al was 16.

Needless to say, many of the boxers who come to Marquette don’t have the fortitude to stay there very long and who can blame them? It’s no picnic, to put it mildly. When Mikaela Mayer first turned up, Mitchell assumed that she would hang around for a few weeks, at most. She fooled him. Asked to identify her chief asset, Mitchell cited her work ethic. The two have been together now for 11 years.

Mitchell had no interest in teaching women how to be better boxers – “My father would turn over in his grave,” he told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel – but with women now eligible to fight in the Olympics, he felt he had little choice. And Mayer owes her success to more than just a good work ethic. Mitchell and his top assistant Kay Koroma have crafted her into a very formidable fighter who, at age 30, perhaps has yet to reach her peak. (And by the way, she’s a lot more attractive than the photo of her that appears in boxrec, whoever that may be; it certainly doesn’t look like her.)

Back in Philadelphia before boxing became all-consuming, Mitchell concedes that he was a hustler. In addition to having his fingers in the illegal numbers game, he ran a speakeasy. He must have been a hard-boiled guy in those days but one wouldn’t know it if meeting him for the first time today. He comes across as a gentle soul although one suspects it wouldn’t be a smart idea to give him any lip.

For her fight with Erica Farias, Mikaela Mayer spent four weeks at Mitchell’s gym in Marquette (which is no longer formally attached to the university which currently supports athletes in only two Olympic summer sports; Greco-Roman wrestling and weightlifting), then three weeks at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, finishing up with a week at the Top Rank Gym in Las Vegas.

Her bout with Farias will be the co-feature of a show headlined by the WBA/IBF bantamweight title fight between Japan’s baby-faced assassin Naoya Inoue and Filipino challenger Michael Dasmarinas. The bouts, and a third fight between Adam Lopez and Isaac Dogboe, air free on ESPN with a start time of 7 pm ET. Undercard action commences at 5 pm ET on ESPN+.

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Boxing and the Splendor of Cuban Sports: An Interview with Author Tim Wendel

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Boxing and the Splendor of Cuban Sports: An Interview with Author Tim Wendel

Cuba is an island nation of roughly 11.4 million inhabitants and while sugar and cigars are major exports, superb athletes aren’t very far behind.

Known as a longtime baseball hotbed, the island has produced countless individuals who played and shined in the major leagues. Not to be overlooked is that Cuba has also given the world some of the best boxers ever to slip on a pair of gloves.

A partial list of standouts includes Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon, Kid Gavilan, Jose Napoles, Kid Chocolate, Sugar Ramos, Benny Paret, Joel Casamayor, Erislandy Lara, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yordenis Ugas.

That’s a mouthful and then some.

Tim Wendel, a Baltimore, Maryland-based writer in residence at Johns Hopkins University and one of the founders of USA Today Baseball Weekly, has visited Cuba four times. Though baseball is Wendel’s specialty, he’s also familiar with the gloved warriors.

Tim Wendel

Tim Wendel

Why has Cuba, despite its small population been so successful in producing so many outstanding athletes?

“Sports provided a way for Cuba to compete and even excel on the international stage. Baseball and such Olympic sports as boxing and track and field were emphasized by the Castro government. It helped that Fidel Castro, the island’s longtime dictator, loved sports, starred at basketball, ping-pong and baseball as a schoolboy,” explained Wendel, who has published 14 books including several works of fiction.

“I had fun teasing out the “what-if” aspect of the latter in my first novel, “Castro’s Curveball.” Winning gold medals and doing well in such international competitions as the World Baseball Classic was a way for Cuba to stand out. In addition, Cuba often had the domestic situation to develop stellar athletes. An understanding of a particular sport was regularly handed down from parent to child, as well as team allegiances. For example, if older members of a family were fans of the Habana Lions, once one of the fabled winter ball teams, the children would likely be Lions fans, too.”

And there have been plenty of incentives for athletes to excel on the world stage.

“More importantly, performing well against the rest of the world was a way for an athlete to help his or her family,” said Wendel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. “For decades, the best apartments and automobiles, what little the island nation had, or the government could provide, went to the best athletes.”

Stevenson, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who recently passed away, never fought professionally.

“It’s unfortunate that Stevenson never boxed against the best. I believe that’s why many baseball players have opted to defect,” Wendel said. “They want to test themselves against the best. Stevenson would have done well against Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and the other elite boxers from the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, politics derailed what could have been some epic bouts.”

Recently the Cuban government has allowed its boxers to leave but in turn they would have to hand over a significant portion of their purse. What’s Wendel’s opinion on this matter?

“The new policy is better than nothing. They started to take a similar approach with baseball about 10 years ago and it allowed some of the top athletes in that sport to have more control over their affairs, make some money, and see more of the world,” he said. “But having a significant portion of their earnings going back to the government sends the wrong message. If the Cuban government believes this will stop or delay their top athletes from defecting, they are misjudging the situation. The more the Cuban athletes hear about how professional sports works in the rest of the world, especially the U.S., the more they want to be a part of it.”

Wendel said there’s something about athletic excellence that any fan, Cuban or otherwise, can appreciate.

“The Cuban people, like sports fans anywhere, enjoy watching excellence and that’s been the island’s legacy for many decades,” he pointed out. “The success of Stevenson eventually led to fellow Cuban champion Felix Savon. Both of them are three-time Olympic champions.”

Many Cuban stars are more than mere athletes, they’re actors on a stage, a really big and grand stage. “A flair for the game, whether it’s in boxing or baseball or other sports, has been misunderstood over the years. Cubans, similar to athletes from other Latin American nations, love to exhibit a joy for the game,” said Wendel. “In this country, that’s sometimes mistaken for showing the other team up. But as more Latinos have played starring roles, especially in the U.S. major leagues, I believe fans and even opposing players better understand where the Latino stars are coming from. Why do they do what they do?”

Wendel focused on something with which he’s very familiar: “A decade ago, I was an advisor on a permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,” he said. “We advocated for a screen showing a highlight loop of amazing plays by Latino stars (Roberto Alomar snaring a line drive, Omar Vizquel bare-handing a ball to save a no-hitter, etc.). That became the most popular part of our “Viva Baseball” exhibit.”

Castro was the boss of the island from 1959 until his passing in 2008. During his four trips to Cuba, did Wendel ever have a chance to speak with El Presidente?

“I never spoke with Castro, which may have been just as well. He’s a major character in the two novels I set in Havana (“Castro’s Curveball” and, most recently, “Escape From Castro’s Cuba,” the latter of which recently won an Indie Book Award). I was six rows behind Fidel at the 1999 exhibition game between Team Cuba and the Baltimore Orioles. That said, it could have been an awkward conversation.”

Wendel did however speak with a Cuban sports legend.

“Besides such Cuban ballplayers as Victor Mesa Sr. and Omar Linares, one of the most intriguing conversations I ever had about Cuba and sports was with Alberto Juantorena, who won the 400- and 800-meter races at the 1976 Olympics,” he said. “When he finished competing, he became one of Cuba’s top sports officials. We met at a reception in Havana for Olympic medalists. I wasn’t invited and got in through a back exit. “What are you doing here?” Juantorena asked me. I shrugged and then we had an enjoyable conversation about Cuba and sports.”

For decades, getting to Cuba was a difficult proposition for an American. But if you did make it there, it could be a splendid experience.

“Travel to the island got more difficult with Donald Trump as president,” Wendel offered. “In fact, the last trip I made to Havana was in early 2017 before he was sworn in. When everyday people can talk with everyday people, I believe we’re often better off than when politicians are left to dictate everything.”

“One of my best times in Cuba was walking through the old part of town, near the harbor and having a pack of kids and someone’s grandmother show me around,” he said. “In fact, the older lady insisted that the Cubans never trusted the Russians. When I asked why, she replied, “We’re better dancers.”

Wendel added: “On my four trips to Cuba, I bring along new baseballs. I’ll hand them out to the kids playing the game in alleys and backstreets,” he said. “They look at me with big eyes, like I just handed them the Hope Diamond.”

Have sports, including boxing, helped bridge the gap between the United States and Cuba?

“Yes, but we certainly have a long way to go. That said, I’m reminded of my first trip to the island, back in 1992. I was covering some exhibition games between Team Cuba and Team USA. This was a few weeks before the Barcelona Summer Olympics,” Wendel said. “First, I was so impressed with the Cuban’s caliber of play. That’s still one of the best infields, offensively and defensively, I’ve ever seen and I covered the major leagues, on and off, for 20 years.”

“Still, what I remember best about those games in Holguin, on the eastern end of the island, was this old man coming up to me in the stands. He asked me about the Minnesota Twins, who had won the 1991 World Series, one of the best Fall Classics ever, and I told him it would be difficult for them to repeat. The Twins didn’t have the largest payroll in the game.”

Wendel continued: “Undoubtedly, they would lose several stars and they did,” he said. “I was into my sports-talk radio answer when he interrupted me. “I know all that,” he said. “OK, I replied. What do you want to know? “What do they look like,” he said. “That’s when it
hit me what a star-crossed land Cuba is. Here’s this guy who knew as much about the Twins’ roster and payroll as me, but he didn’t know what they looked like.”

And because the island can be isolated from the outside world, it makes it difficult for those there to get any information.

“That’s how separated the island is from the rest of the world, especially the sports world,” Wendel said. “So, I went around the diamond, with major help from several of the other American sportswriters. We put Kent Hrbek at first base, Jack Morris on the mound and finished with Kirby Puckett in centerfield – a guy who’s difficult enough to describe in English. As I was searching for the right words, I was turning to my fellow scribes, looking out at the field. I didn’t focus on the old Cuban gentleman until I was finished. Then I turned back to him and said, “There you go. There’s your 1991 World Series champions.”

Wendel then described the man’s reaction. “The old man had tears in his eyes,” he said. “He slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you. Now, I know.” With that, he disappeared into the crowd and since then I’ve never been able to get Cuba, its sports stars and its people, out of my head.”

Sports aren’t perfect and neither is boxing or baseball, but sometimes they are able to bridge gaps.

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Weekend Boxing Wrap-Up: Budler, Spencer, Rodriguez, Azim and More

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Weekend Boxing Wrap-Up: Budler, Spencer, Rodriguez, Azim and More

South African light flyweight Hekkie Budler, who has had a very interesting career, set himself up for another world title shot on Saturday in Mexicali, Mexico, with an upset of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto, the former WBO 108-pound world title-holder. Soto, 25, was the younger man by nine years, but he couldn’t hold off Budler who scored the bout’s lone knockdown in the final round to eak out a narrow decision (114-113 across the board) in a bout that without the knockdown would have been ruled a draw.

Budler (34-4, 10 KOs) has been a 12-round fighter since early in his career. He’s appeared in 23 fights sanctioned for one title or another. His signature win was an upset of heavily favored Ryoichi Tagouchi in Tokyo. Ironically, that fight was also scored 114-113 across the board.

Elwin Soto, who was 19-2 heading in, was a consensus 6/1 favorite over the South African invader. The locale loomed large in shaping the odds but Budler’s relative inactivity was no less salient. He had missed all of 2019 and 2020 and would be making his first start in 30 months.

Budler vs. Soto was framed as a WBC eliminator. That makes Budler the mandatory opponent for Japan’s newly-crowned Kenshiro Teraji. If he chooses to go in a different direction, an intriguing fight awaits with Jonathan Gonzalez who stripped Soto of his title by split decision in Fresno last year and successfully defended his belt on Friday with a unanimous decision over Filipino challenger Mark Anthony Birraga. And don’t rule out a rematch with Soto who was off-balance when Budler scored the decisive knockdown, leaving Soto more surprised than hurt.

An even bigger upset was forged on Thursday in Montreal where Dante Jardon upended Artem Oganesyan. Jardon had Oganesyan on the deck in the opening round and went on to win a clear-cut, 10-round decision.

A super welterweight who was 13-0 (11) heading in, Oganesyan, a 22-year-old Montreal-based Russian, is managed by Camille Estephan who also manages Artur Bieterbiev. Estephan had been touting him as a smaller version of Beterbiev.

Mexico City’s Jardon, who improved to 35-8, has proven to be quite the spoiler. In August of last year, he went to Sheffield, England, and scored a ninth-round stoppage of Sheffield’s previously undefeated Anthony Tomlinson. Jardon is a former world title challenger but back then he weighed only 130 pounds.

The Oganesyan-Jardan match was on the undercard of a show headlined by a 10-round match between Canadian-Armenian super middleweight Erik Bazinyan and Argentina’s Marcelo Esteban Coceres. Bazinyan improved to 28-0 (21) with a wide 10-round decision over Coceras (30-4-1) who was the first fighter to extend Edgar Berlanga the distance in a 10-round fight.

Middleweight Steven Butler and junior welterweight Yves Ulysse were victorious in other undercard bouts as was super welterweight Mary Spencer who stepped in up class and stole the show with a smashing first-round knockout of Uruguay’s Chris Namus. Spencer had Namus, a former IBF world title-holder, on the canvas three times before the bout was halted at the 1:56 mark of the opening round.

At age 37, Spencer has little time to waste if she wants to make her mark in this sport, but she’s very good. A three-time world amateur champion, she lost a four-round split decision to Claressa Shields on Shields’ turf in Michigan in 2017. An Indigenous Canadian on her father’s side, Spencer is 6-0 (4) as a pro and has yet to lose a round.

Also on Thursday, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller returned to the ring on a small show in Buenos Aires after an enforced absence of more than three years and won a unanimous decision over hard-trying but overmatched Ariel Esteban Bracamonte.

If there were a Hall of Shame for fighters who have failed tests for banned substances, Big Baby would have the largest plaque in the joint. Against Bracamante, who brought an 11-7 record and been stopped five times, he weighed in at 341 ¾ pounds, 25 pounds heavier than his career high, but actually looked in better shape than his flabby Argentine opponent.

miller2

It was a workmanlike performance in the words of ringside scribe Diego Morilla. Big Baby lost a point for a low blow in round four, but prevailed on scores of 97-92 across the board, advancing his ledger to 24-0-1 (20).

Kazakhstan’s heavyweight hopeful Ivan Dychko, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist, was also on the card and, akin to Big Baby Miller, went 10 rounds against a local man with a flabby physique who proudly stayed the course, exceeding expectations.

Dychko had won all 11 of his previous pro fights by knockout. He topped Kevin Espindola (7-4) by scores of 100-90 and 99-91 twice.

—-

In Coventry, England, on Saturday, local fan favorite Sam Eggington (32-7, 18 KOs) stayed relevant in the 154-pound class with a hard-fought, 12-round unanimous decision over Poland’s spunky Przemyslaw Zysk (18-2). All the talk, however, was of 20-year-old phenom Adam Aziz who blasted out Belgium’s Anthony Loffet in 66 seconds on the undercard.

Azim, whose older brother Hassan Azim followed him into the pro ranks, is trained by Shane McGuigan whose stable also includes WBO world cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie and WBA secondary heavyweight champion Daniel Dubois. McGuigan has called Azim an unbelievable talent and predicted that he will go on to transcend the sport, an opinion echoed by Amir Khan who parlayed an Olympic medal at age 17 to become a big star in the U.K.

That’s high praise and Azim (5-0, 4 KOs) didn’t disappoint on Saturday. He had Loffet on the deck in the first 25 seconds and was so dominant that Loffet’s corner tossed in the towel before the first round was half over.

Adam Aziz and Mary Spencer turned in show-stopping performances on their respective cards, but the prize for the best performance in a high-profile fight goes to boxing’s youngest reigning world champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez who delighted his hometown fans with an eighth-round TKO of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on a Matchroom show in San Antonio.

Rodriguez turned heads in February when he out-pointed veteran Carlos Cuadras for the vacant WBC super flyweight title. Rodriguez, who took the fight on six days’ notice and was moving up a weight class, impressed the cognoscenti and his footwork and his utilization of angles, inviting comparisons to Vasyl Lomachenko.

Against Sor Rungvisai, Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KOs) had the fight well in hand before dropping Sor Rungvisai in the seventh round with an overhand left. In the following frame, he pinned the Thai veteran against the ropes and strafed him with a fusillade of punches, forcing the stoppage.

Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez would be a shoo-in for Breakthrough Fighter of the Year if the year ended today. When the next quarterly pound-for-pound surveys are released, his name will inevitably appear in the “also receiving votes” category. The polish he displays at the tender age of 22 is another feather in the cap of his trainer Robert Garcia who will be Anthony Joshua’s main man in the corner when Joshua opposes Oleksandr Usyk on Aug. 10.

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Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez Dazzles on DAZN; Akhmadaliev and McCaskill Win Too

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Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez overpowered the dangerous Thai champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by stoppage and retained the WBC super flyweight title in spectacular fashion on Saturday.

“Feels like a dream,” said Rodriguez.

Fighting in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, the 22-year-old Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KOs) befuddled and battered the powerful Sor Rungvisai (50-6-1, 43 KOs) at the Tech Port Arena. Most expected a decision win against the always dangerous Thai warrior.

When Rodriguez was asked to face the two-time conqueror of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and victor of Juan Francisco Estrada, many felt he was being shoved into the situation too early.

He was more than ready.

The memories of young champions put into the fire too early always loomed in the back of many experts’ assessment of the outcome.

“Bam” Rodriguez put those concerns to rest.

Behind his clever footwork and use of angles and jabs the muscular younger brother of IBF super flyweight champion Joshua Franco controlled the ring. Sor Rungvisai, 35, was unable to connect solidly for three rounds.

Though Rodriguez won the first three rounds clearly, the Thai fighter was eager to exchange with the intent of landing one of his big blows. When Sor Rungvisai could not pound the head, he targeted the body.

When the Thai fighter resumed targeting the body, he was met with stiff jabs and a strong Bam uppercut. From that point on the Texan who trains in Riverside, California seemed in even more control.

“His power wasn’t the same after the third round. That’s when I took advantage,” said Rodriguez.

During an exchange of blows Rodriguez connected with a counter left and down went Sor Rungvisai. He easily got back up but seemed surprised by the outcome. He never seemed the same after the knockdown.

“I threw my left shot and he went down,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez opened the eighth round with a veteran’s confidence and unleashed a five-punch combination that seemed to surprise and stun Sor Rungvisai. The crowd sensed a big moment and Rodriguez did too. The young champion unleashed another combination that stunned the Thai fighter and Rodriguez opened a torrential flood of blows until the referee stopped the fight with 1:50 of the eighth round.

Rodriguez had stopped Sor Rungvisai on his feet.

“We came out here tonight to put on a show,” said Rodriguez.

Super Bantamweight Title

WBA and IBF super bantamweight titlist Murodjon Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs) could have defeated veteran Ronny Rios (33-4) by a decision but was convinced to go for the knockout and did in the 12th and final round.

It was Akhmadaliev’s third defense of the two world titles.

The Uzbekistan fighter used his southpaw jab to score heavily and battered the body to keep Rios from gaining too much confidence. Akhmadaliev was winning most rounds but his corner convinced him to go for the knockout and he did. A body shot followed by several blows put Rios down. He got up but a flurry of blows forced the referee to end the fight.

Undisputed welterweight champion

Once again Jessica McCaskill (12-2, 5 KOs) surprised the experts and ran Mexico’s Alma Ibarra (10-2, 5 KOs) out of the ring with a bludgeoning attack to retain the undisputed welterweight world championship.

With most predicting a stiff test, McCaskill immediately erased all doubt with a withering offensive burst that stunned the much taller Ibarra with the first punch she absorbed. From the first round on the taller Mexican fighter was unable to connect with more than a few punches and instead relied on holding to survive.

I thought it was going to be a crazy firefight Mexican vs Mexican,” said McCaskill who is half Mexican and half Black. “I just knew my training was spectacular. I just had too much power, too many angles.”

McCaskill said she will be dropping down to super lightweight.

“I think I’m going to go down to 140. 147 doesn’t interest me,” McCaskill said.

Also

Raymond Ford (12-0-1, 6 KOs) cruised to victory over Richard Medina (13-1) in a battle between undefeated featherweights. Ford was as comfortable as an old sofa behind his southpaw jab in all 10 rounds and simply stuck it into Medina’s face with little danger of return fire.

Photo credit: Matchroom

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