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The Hauser Report: Claressa Shields Did What She Had To Do To Win

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The Hauser Report: Claressa Shields Did What She Had To Do To Win

Years from now, historians will write that 2022 was the year when women fighters emerged as a significant force in boxing. Much of that history will key on the April 30 fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano that delivered ten exciting rounds fought at a high skill level before a roaring sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. On October 15, an all-women fight card at the O2 Arena in London built upon that platform.

The October 15 card was co-promoted by BOXXER and Salita Promotions in association with Top Rank, streamed in the United States on ESPN+, and televised by Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Originally scheduled for September 10, it was postponed out of respect for the Royal Family following Queen Elizabeth’s death on September 8.

Alycia Baumgardner outpointed Mikaela Mayer in the first co-featured bout on October 15 to claim the WBC, IBF, and WBO 130-pound belts. But the fight that resonated most with the public and had the most historical significance was Claressa Shields’s unanimous-decision triumph over Savannah Marshall for the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO 160-pound titles.

Shields, now 27, won a gold medal in the middleweight division at the 2012 London Olympics (the first year that women’s boxing was an Olympic sport). Four years later, she repeated that achievement at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics as the capstone on a 77-1 amateur record. Since then, she’d won 12 out of 12 professional fights and accumulated belts in three weight divisions. She entered the Marshall bout with the WBC WBA, and IBF 160-pound titles.

Claressa is also given to unrealistic statements, such as telling TMZ, “I spar with men. I drop men. I beat men up all the time. They may be stronger than me, but their boxing ability isn’t like mine. I think I can beat up Keith Thurman. I really do. GGG, he’s older now. I could give GGG a run for his money.”

To put that comment in context, Shields has scored one knockdown and two stoppages in six years as a pro.

Marshall, age 32, was also 12-and-0 in the professional ranks but with ten knockouts. She’d won the WBO 160-pound belt in 2020 and engendered considerable comment when she rendered Femke Hermans unconscious with a brutal left hook in round three of their April 2, 2022, encounter.

It was Marshall who dealt Shields the sole loss (amateur or pro) in Claressa’s sojourn through boxing – a 14-8 decision at the 2012 AIBA Women’s World Championships. Shields was 17 at the time; Marshall was 21. Later that year, Savannah lost in the first round of competition at the London Olympics to Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan (who Shields defeated in the second round). In 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Marshall lost in the second round of competition to Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands (who Shields defeated in the gold-medal bout).

There was some trash-talking at the July 5 kick-off press conference. Marshall told the assembled media that the fight was taking place in the UK “because Claressa doesn’t sell a ticket,” and added, “I’ve knocked out people you went ten rounds with. That’s all you need to know. I’m a better fighter. I’m not just going to beat you. I’m going to hurt you. See you on September 10, babe.”

“I don’t hate nobody,” Shields responded. “But I do have a huge dislike for her. My grandma told me not to use the word ‘hate,’ so I won’t use it.”

Leading up to the then-scheduled September 10 fight, Shields was the more loquacious of the two fighters:

*         “Her beating me in 2012 before the Olympics was the fluke of her career. I’ve never seen something like this in boxing before, someone who lives off of an amateur win for ten years. It’s like they’re trying to erase everything I’ve done in the past ten years because I have been dominant in boxing for a decade, since I was seventeen. I won the Olympics. I won it again. I turned pro. I won titles. And it’s like, ‘Wow! It’s still not enough for you guys.'”

*         “If her game plan is to try and stand there in the middle of the ring and to out-bang me, she going to be sleeping. If her game plan is to be smart and try to box, move, she’ll last a bit longer. If it has to be a war, it’s going to be a war that I win. If it’s going to be a boxing match, I’m going to win the boxing match. And if it has to be both, I’m prepared to do it all. I live for moments like this.”

*         “To all of you that are doubting me, just make sure you apologize after the fight. Say, ‘We were wrong. You’re the best and we respect you,’ and that you respect my hard work and my accomplishments.”

Meanwhile, Marshall had her own take on the impending battle, saying, “I’m going to take her into deep water and drown her in the Thames.”

Then everything changed. On September 8, Queen Elizabeth died, ushering in a period of unprecedented national mourning. Out of respect for the Royal Family, the British Boxing Board of Control ruled that the fight card would be postponed.

“I’m sad about the fight being postponed,” Shields acknowledged. “But I’m a big girl and I understand that the Queen of the country passing has an entire country mourning. Whatever the decision, I’m respectful of it.”

Marshall seemed to take the postponement harder, telling Sky Sports that she went to Buckingham Palace with a sister and a friend to pay respects before adding, “I had a week off, and I needed it. I felt emotionally drained. I didn’t get out of bed for a couple of days after. I was trying to be positive but I was disappointed. I was upset, the ‘it always happens to me’ kind of vibe.”

In due course, the card was rescheduled for October 15. Ten days before the bout, the WBC announced that it had created yet another belt to add to the many baubles that it bestows on fighters; this one a specially-crafted “Elizabethan Belt” (purple, not green) that would be given to the winner of Shields-Marshall.

When fight week arrived, some of the buzz that swirled around the original September 10 date had dissipated. But anticipation was still high.

Peter Fury (who trains Marshall) said of Shields, “She’s got fast hands, she’s good defensively, and she’s good with counters. She puts flurries together well. With her feints, she makes fighters hesitant. Before they know it, she’s in range and teeing off on them with her quick hands.”

And of his own charge, Fury noted, “She’s got the ability to switch people’s lights out, and that’s a different sort of power than most.”

Meanwhile, Shields remained the more quotable of the two fighters, offering a range of thoughts:

*         “I’m not worried about Savannah Marshall. Nobody was ever running from her. Nobody was ever scared to come over here and fight her. We said, ‘Let’s do it. And you better punch as hard as you say you can. Because if you don’t have any punching power, it’s going to be a hard night for you.'”

*         “Of course, we’ve got to talk about her punching power. She’s going to try to come out there and land a big shot. That’s really all I see. But it’s a boxing match. I may get hit in there. But if she thinks she won’t get hit, then she’s mistaken. If she thinks she is a better boxer than me, she’s mistaken. I’m going to adapt and do whatever I have to do to win and make the fight easy. She can’t outbox me. She’s not very skilled.”

*         “I really feel in my spirit that I am going to knock Savannah Marshall out. This is going to be my statement fight. She’s not going to be able to handle my shots.”

This was the first time that a women’s bout had headlined a fight card at the O2 Arena. In keeping with that theme, all eleven bouts on the bill showcased women fighters. The first nine were expected to be relatively easy outings for promoter favorites. Shields-Marshall and Mayer-Baumgardner were another matter.

Mayer, age 32, came into her fight with a 17-0 (5 KOs) ring record. She’d won the WBO and IBF 130-pound belts by decision over Ewa Brodnicka (in 2020) and Maiya Hamadouche (2021) and defended them successfully by decision over Jennifer Han earlier this year.

Baumgardner, age 28, (12-1, 7 KOs) annexed the WBC 130-pound belt with a surprise knockout of Terri Harper last year.

Mayer was a 5-to-2 betting favorite. The women “had to be separated” during a fight-week interview on Sky Sports, again at the final pre-fight press conference, and once more at a post-weigh-in staredown, proving that women fighters can act as silly as the men.

When fight night arrived, the hostilities between them were more muted. Baumgardner prevailed on a 96-95, 96-95, 93-97 split-decision, and ESPN expert commentator Tim Bradley opined, “The next time they do it, I want to see more action.”

Shields-Marshall was far more fan-friendly and a classic confrontation between boxer and puncher.

The women had three common opponents – Sydney LeBlanc, Hannah Rankin, and Femke Hermans. Shields outpointed all three without losing a round on any of the judges’ scorecards. Marshall (in her pro debut) won every round against LeBlanc, stopped Rankin in seven rounds and, as previously noted, knocked Hermans unconscious.

The stakes were high. Whoever won would be elevated to legitimate stardom. Shields was a slight betting favorite. An enthusiastic sold-out crowd of 20,000 witnessed the action.

Marshall knows how to fight. Once the bell for round one sounded, she kept coming forward, firing punches for the entire night. Shields was respectful of Marshall’s power but understood that the only way she could keep Savannah off was to hurt her. Claressa didn’t run. She fired back and often fired first.

A ten-round firefight followed.

Shields was the better boxer, faster, and pulled the trigger more quickly than Marshall did. She was also the more accurate puncher.

Marshall showed more boxing skills than she had in previous fights. Her most effective blows were hooks to the body. And she wasn’t above using her forearms, shoulders, and elbows on the far side of the rules when she and Shields were fighting inside. Claressa didn’t complain. She just fired back.

The women were equally tough.

It was an action fight from beginning to end. Shields showed more fire and firepower than she had in previous outings. She had to in order to win. Each woman gave it everything she had. Both women dug deep in the second half of the fight.

The judges 97-93, 97-93, 94-94 verdict in Shields’s favor was on the mark.

Boxing in the United Kingdom needed a boost in the wake of the ongoing Conor Benn performance-enhancing-drug scandal. Shields and Marshall delivered it.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Artem Dalakian, Sunny Edwards, and the Most Storied Title in Boxing

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When the mighty Roman Gonzalez departed the 112lb division in 2016 he vacated the title and broke the longest remaining lineage in the sport. In a moment of quiet heartbreak for the boxing aficionado, the final direct link with boxing’s glorious past was cut forever.

That lineage had begun back in 1975 with perhaps the greatest flyweight champion, Miguel Canto.  Canto cleaned house that year, shading the wonderful Betulio Gonzalez and the evergreen Shoji Oguma, part of a calendar year that saw him go 6-0 and establish his absolute pre-eminence in the deepest of flyweight divisions. In 1979, old in the face, Canto was out-worked and even in some ramshackle way out-jabbed by a swarming, aggressive Korean named Chan Hee Park. Park was a good fighter, Shoji Oguma lay in wait to send him tumbling with counter-rights, taking his turn in an impressive second tour. In 1981, the new generation asserted itself in the form of Antonio Avelar.  Avelar seemed, briefly, to be the real deal but he was unseated by a murderous punching Colombian, Prudencio Cardona, who inflicted upon Avelar the most violent knockout in flyweight history.

This heralded the advent of a series of caretaker champions, good fighters, all, but no great ones as the early eighties evaporated while the hot-potato flyweight championship passed from Fredy Castillo to Eleoncio Mercedes to Charlie Magri and others, none of them holding it for more than a matter of months. When the mighty Sot Chitalada wrestled it from the last caretaker champion in 1984, Canto finally had a descendent who could be named a peer. In two spells, Chitalada held the title into the 1990s whereupon it was ripped from him by the Thai Maungchai Kittikasem who then dropped it to an early emergent of the Soviet and former Soviet schools in Yuri Arbachakov.  Arbachakov was the first flyweight whose legacy was to suffer at the hands of the ABC title-belt madness, his record-breaking spell as champion marred by matches with WBC-nominated journeymen. Despite his lengthy title reign, Yuri managed to fight men who were held to belong in the top ten just twice as champion.

Less than a year after the lineal title and Arbakachov were parted, it would be wrapped around the waist of a youngster named Manny Pacquiao, who had crushed Chatchai Sasakul in eight who had in turn outpointed Arbachakov. From the madness of the alphabet soup to the emergence of one of the greatest fighters of our time, the story of the flyweight lineal championship is the story of modern boxing untrampled by titular uncertainty. The history of the championship, of the divisional king, can be traced back to a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the world and so a fistic tendril connects Ali, a hero to his people, to Pacquiao, a hero to his. Pacquiao nearly ruined it all though.  Manny missed weight for his 1999 match with Boonsai Sangsurat and had he won that fight, the title would have been vacated as he departed the weight forever, but fortunately, a weight-drained mess, he was crushed in three rounds.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam then, when he lifted the title in 2001, became the latest great to trace his lineage back to Canto. Wonjongkam’s reign was as modern as can be imagined, dictated thoroughly by ABCs, fought almost exclusively in his backyard, and despite amassing an astonishing twenty title defences in two spells as king, his win resume underwhelms. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Wonjongkam made way for Sonny Boy Jaro of The Philippines who made way for Toshiyuki Igarashi and Akira Yaegashi, both of Japan, underlining what has always been the most international of championships. And finally, at the end of the longest road in modern boxing, the title was lain at the feet of a great fighter from Nicaragua, the wonderful Roman Gonzalez.

Roman Gonzalez was my favourite fighters for years, I watched his boxing obsessively. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article predicting his eventual enshrinement as a pound-for-pound number one and his likely vanquishment by a southpaw, even going so far as to predict this would occur up at 115lbs, all of which came true. But it cut me when he stepped aside in 2016, the lineage that had begun with Canto destroyed, a lineage that had run through four different abdications and coronations at 160lbs, that ran all the way back to the last golden age of the flyweight division.

From the ashes, finally, a phoenix menaces. Far from stipulated, certainly not sure, but stirring. On Saturday night, Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (pictured) came to London to meet David Jimenez on the undercard of the Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde fight. Dalakian-Jimenez is one of those rare and wonderful fights British and American fans are sometimes treated to, elite combat athletes who struggle to secure rewarding purses fighting low on a card which a just sport might see them headline. Jimenez, the challenger for Dalakian’s strap, refutes befuddlement with aggression, boxable but brutal, left floundering early in the biggest fight of his career against Ricardo Sandoval only to button up and fire forwards, hard-scrabbling enough rounds to conquer his more cultured foe. This would be his approach, too, against Dalakian. Dalakian is a fighter of no small culture whose activity suffered during those COVID months but with a legacy that stretches back to the last generation of top flyweights and a victory over Brian Viloria. Having boxed just twenty rounds in three years he was now bringing an unfortunate mix of rust and, at thirty-five years old, age.

Nevertheless, for me he dominated Jimenez. The younger man was reasonably quick-handed and tried to remain ambitious in his rushes, but Dalakian was never less than the cleaner puncher and rested on a steeper bank of experience that saw him nullify his more aggressive foe inside while consistently out-scoring him outside. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that confirmed Dalakian’s remaining superiority over most of the rest of the division. Jimenez, in just his thirteenth fight, had established himself firmly in the divisional top five and likely has a future at 112lbs if he wants it. This was a crossroads fight only in the sense that it tested the last generation with the new, and the new was found wanting.

This victory, a unanimous decision over twelve, was a significant one for Dalakian, however. For me, it establishes him as the number one flyweight in the world but at worst he is the number two. The man with whom he shares the top table is one Sunny Edwards, a London boy and very much the division’s coming man. Edwards has boxed nearly as many contests in the upper echelons of the division as Dalakian, and Dalakian’s victory over Viloria aside, Edwards probably has the most meaningful victory of the two having defeated the ageing Moruti Mthalane in early 2021. The recency of his important victories is the source of the tension concerning the number one divisional flyweight currently.

Sunny

Sunny Edwards

The hope is the two will settle this in the ring.

While it is not unusual for a fighter to arrive from foreign shores and never be seen in a British ring again, it is more often the case that they arrive with targeted opposition when they are boxing at title level, and from Dick Tiger to Zolani Tete, Britain welcomes foreign winners with open arms. It is likely that Dalakian has been brought to Britain to tease a fight with the only man in the division that might be seen as his better and in the only fight either man could hope to box and be similarly enriched. Some promotional tensions exist, but what would be unusual money for a flyweight contest might tip the scales.

And if they settle it in the ring, as the number one and number two flyweight contenders, they will start a new lineage, a new passage of the flyweight title. More than that, the fight would be a fascinating and evenly matched contest between Dalakian, a technician who will likely be forced to box with pressure as a result of his physical limitations and Edwards, a quick-footed slickster who will nevertheless have to commit to outworking maybe the only fighter in the division with superior straight punches. That is not to say that Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez will be excluded – clearly the division’s number three, he may yet have a say.

But if a new and meaningful lineage is to begin it is Dalakian and Edwards, the two best flyweights on the planet, who must seed it.

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Emanuel Navarrete Aims to Become Champion in a Third Weight Class on Friday

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Champion in both the super bantamweight and featherweight categories, the strong Mexican puncher Emanuel Navarrete will try to be champion at 130 pounds on Friday, February 3, when he faces Australian Liam Wilson at the Desert Diamond Arena in the city of Glendale, Arizona. ESPN will be broadcasting the fight.

For Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), who has a 31-fight winning streak since his one and only setback in July 2012, the duel with Wilson will be his debut into the super featherweight division.

Navarrete, 28 years old and born in San Juan Zitlaltepec, defeated his countryman Eduardo Báez with a sixth-round knockout last July in San Diego, California, where the winner made his third successful defense of the WBO featherweight title.

Subsequently, Navarrete decided to seek the WBO championship at 130 pounds which had been vacated after the talented American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was unable to make weight on the scale before unanimously defeating Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23rd in New Jersey.

The WBO accepted Navarrete’s request to fight for the vacant title and opened the doors to fellow Aztec Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), ranked second by the WBO and third by the WBC.

But in December, Valdez’s camp announced that he was withdrawing from the fight after undergoing a medical evaluation. Australian Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs), ranked third by the WBO, was designated to take Valdez’s place.

A confident Navarrete stated: “This is my opportunity to become a three-division world champion. I am going for that crown. Liam Wilson is a good fighter, but this is my moment, and everyone will see a much more complete ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete that has a lot of thirst for victory. My ideal weight is 130 pounds, and that will be demonstrated on February 3rd when I become world champion for Mexico and San Juan Zitlaltepec. Wilson will not get in the way of my dream.”

Navarrete began his string of 31 wins after losing in four rounds against his compatriot Daniel Argueta on July 26, 2012, at the José Cuervo Hall in the finals of the XVIII Gold Belt Tournament. Despite the setback, Navarrete was the one declared champion of the contest, as Argueta failed to show up for the mandatory weigh-in.

Although he is on the verge of conquering his third championship in a third weight division, Navarrete has not defined what his immediate steps will be.

“Let’s see how things evolve,” Navarrete said. “We will see how I feel (at 130 pounds), and then make the right decision. It all depends on how I perform in February and analyze the result. How my body assimilates to the new weight class and things like that.”

Likewise, Navarrete confirmed that he was having difficulty making 126 pounds and that during his career in both the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions he had tried to unify the titles with the other champions without success.

“You know that I have been seeking unification fights in other weight classes,” stated Navarrete. “That is what I want, and what I’m looking for. I hope I can unify in this weight class (130 pounds). But first I hope to win against Wilson, and then we will decide.”

When analyzing his possibilities in the super featherweight division, Navarrete said that he has a tall stature which can benefit him. In the same sense, he considered that now at 130 pounds he will not have to wear himself out to make weight so he will be strong.

Wilson, 26 years old, won the vacant WBO International belt against Argentine Adrián Rueda (37-2, 32 KOs) on June 29th of last year in Brisbane, Australia. Wilson’s lone loss came from Filipino southpaw Joe Noynai (20-3-2, 8 KOs), who knocked him down once in the 1st round, twice in the 4th round, and again in the fifth round on July 7, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia, before referee Phil Austin stopped the lopsided match.

Wilson, however, got even eight months later in a rematch where he chloroformed Rueda in the second round and regained the WBO Asia-Pacific title.

For his upcoming fight, Wilson has set up a seven-week training camp in Washington DC at Headbangers Boxing Gym where Isaac Dogboe trains. Dogboe has fought Navarrete twice and can hopefully provide some valuable insight. “I’m only going off YouTube footage, so to get the advice off Isaac and his trainer over here, they’ve been in the corner against him, they’ve seen him in person, up close, so I have to take their advice onboard,” Wilson added.

Wilson is confident going into this fight, even though he has less professional experience. “He’s been in these fights so many times before. This is my first 12-rounder,” Wilson said. “In a sense, he has every reason to overlook me – I’ve only been in 10 rounders, he’s been 12 rounds multiple times, he’s a two-division world champion and for him it’s just another fight, for me it’s what I’ve dreamed of. I think I’ll be the bigger, stronger fighter. I believe I’ll be the biggest puncher he’s fought.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Garcia Promotions’ Event in San Bernardino was a Showcase for Saul Rodriguez

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SAN BERNARDINO-Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, out of action for nearly three years, returned to the prize ring on Saturday in San Bernardino at the Club Event Center in a Garcia Promotions event. San Bernardino is in the Inland Empire which is two counties just east of Los Angeles.

Riverside’s Rodriguez (24-1-1) weighed much more than the designated weight and his match with Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo was demoted to an exhibition because of the weight disparity. Despite wearing head gear, the popular Riverside fighter was able to stop Angulo (6-1) in his first fight since February 28, 2020.

Though Rodriguez looked slightly over-weight as a super lightweight, it didn’t dampen his sharp punching skills. He immediately caught Meza with a well-timed overhand right. Luckily, Rodriguez didn’t put muscle on it. The fight proceeded.

Because of inactivity, Rodriguez seemed to relish getting back to work. He moved around and tried different combinations. Everything seemed to be working in his favor. But Meza countered a left by Rodriguez with a strong right. It proved the popular Riverside fighter needs work on bringing back his left quickly.

After Meza connected things got serious.

Rodriguez immediately opened the third round at a quicker tempo and seemed intent on changing from a wait-and-see attitude to one of bad intentions. Meza didn’t notice the change and looked to catch Rodriguez with a combo and instead was caught with a monster counter-right. Down went Meza with a thud. The fight was stopped.

Fans, many of them wearing Team Neno t-shirts, were deliriously happy to see Rodriguez back in action.

In the co-main event, San Bernardino’s Leo Ruiz clashed with granite-chinned Cameron Krael.

Ruiz (11-0, 7 KOs) unloaded horrific bombs on Krael (19-25-3) who calmly kept his gloves covering his head and although some managed to connect flush, nothing fazed the Las Vegas fighter.

Round after round Ruiz unloaded on Krael only to quickly realize that attempting a knockout was futile. The reputation of Krael’s chin was correct and no need to break a knuckle trying to score a knockout. Instead, Ruiz went six rounds and won every one to take a win by unanimous decision by scores of 60-54 on all three cards.

Other Bouts

Gabe Muratalla (9-0) knocked out Michael Nielsen (6-3) with a four-punch combination in the third round of a bantamweight fight. Body shots dropped Nielsen in the second round.

Ventura’s Jose Delgado (10-1-4), a southpaw, overcome a sluggish start with body shots to defeat San Bernardino’s Jesus Beltran (6-3-1) by majority decision after four rounds in a lightweight fight.

Riverside’s Victor Pelayo (2-0) defeated Milwaukee’s D’Angelo Hopgood (2-1) by decision after four rounds in a very close super bantamweight match. Both fighters showed solid fundamentals in a fight that could have easily been scored a draw. Pelayo won by decision 39-37 on all cards.

Riverside’s Jose Rodriguez (2-0) stopped Henry Mendez (0-9-2) in the fourth round of a super welterweight bout. Mendez was deducted a point in the second round for incessant holding after numerous warnings.

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