Jhonatan Romero proved his boxing mettle with a split decision win over Alejandro Lopez on the road Saturday evening in Tijuana, Mexico.
Scores were 116-111 and 115-112 for Lopez, while one judge had it 115-112 in favor of the house fighter in their 12-round vacant 122 lb. title match.
Both fighters came in at the 122 lb. divisional limit. The referee was Geno Rodriguez of the United States.
Romero began the fight walking down Lopez, realizing he would have to work three minutes of every round to win a fight in his opponents hometown. The plan of attack proved successful early on, scoring with combinations while Lopez spent the entire round in reverse.
The next two rounds saw a strange strategy from the unbeaten Colombian, who went on the attack but would back off at key moments. Romero had Lopez hurt in round two, but stepped back and admired his work rather than following through. The same happened in round three. On both occasions, Lopez took advantage of the lull, digging to the body and working his way inside in hopes of discouraging his opponent.
After a successful round four, Romero ran into a bit of trouble in the middle rounds. The unbeaten fighter was warned for rabbit punching, though Lopez oversold it later in the round, literally turning his head towards the punch before complaining of the foul.
Some terrific two-way exchanges took place in round seven, perhaps the first time in the fight that Lopez was able to legitimately hurt his opponent. Romero slowed down in the round, laying on the ropes at times and walking straight back whenever getting caught with a right hand from Lopez.
Romero regained control in rounds eight and nine, though still left himself vulnerable for body shots. Rabbit punching once again resurfaced, when Romero was once again warned for the infraction. Lopez joined in on the roughhousing as well, hitting on the break and attempting to turn the chess match into a dog fight.
Things grew interesting in the championship rounds. Both fighters claimed to be on the receiving end of the same foul. Lopez overshot with a right hand, cupping the back of Romeros head they collided. The sequence left Lopez bloodied and in need of approval from the ringside physician before continuing.
The sight of his own blood lit a spark, as Lopez went on the attack later in the round. Romero. It was his best sequence of the fight, if not the worst sequence for Romero. Both fighters were instructed to finish strong; both fighters obliged. The intense action swayed back and forth, with Lopez getting the best of the action.
Romero nearly dug himself in a call, losing a point in the 12th and final round when Lopez nearly doubled over in pain from a previously received shot to the hip. Little did either fighter realize that their fate was already sealed prior to the end of the round and fight.
Anxious moments preceded the final scorecard announcement, at which point Romero collapsed to the ground in celebration once learning he won the vacant title. His record now advances to 23-0 (12KO); Lopez falls to 24-3 (7KO), snapping a four-fight win streak that included a split decision victory over former champ Takalani Ndlovu.
The televised co-feature saw a minor upset, as Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. scored a 2nd round knockout of local favorite Hanzel Martinez in a matchup of unbeaten bantamweights.
Both fighters came out swinging from the opening bell, believing they could inflict immediate damage on the other. Such mentality led to a bizarre momentum shift in round two, when they landed simultaneous left hooks. Gonzalez rocked backwards but quickly regrouped and attacked a dazed Martinez.
The fight ending sequence was a flurry of straight rights and left that floored Martinez. The referee gave the Tijuana prospect every chance to recover, but eventually waved it off when the fighter arose to unsteady legs and glazed eyes.
The official time was 0:41 of round two.
Gonzalez Jr. improves to 16-0-2 (11KO), picking up the first significant win of his young career. The 21-year young Martinez suffers his first pro defeat, falling to 19-1 (15KO).
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox