By Jake Donovan
Just five weeks after it appeared that he was forever done as a major player, Kermit Cintron picked up the pieces in a big way.
Accepting a comeback fight on short notice, the former two-time titlist bounced back strongly with a unanimous decision win over perennial spoiler Antwone Smith in their 10-round main event Friday evening at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri.
Scores were 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94 in their ESPN2-televised main event.
Cintron kept it strictly boxing in the early going, rarely opening up or taking a chance. Smith gave the impression that he was controlling the action, grunting on every punch thrown as if he were knocking down walls. Despite Smith’s aggression, it was Cintron’s jab that was producing the most telling results.
Two-way action ensued in the third, though never at a pace that would suggest a war was coming. Both fighters landed flush right hands while standing shoulder to shoulder in center ring, neither fighter moving back very far or showing any effects from the incoming.
Smith picked up the pace in the fourth after three rounds of consistently connecting (around 42%) but throwing very little. Cintron was content to fight almost exclusively behind the jab, although he mixed in the occasional left hook. Smith threw every punch imaginable, but was never able to cease control.
Action remained at a phone booth’s distance in the fifth, where Smith mixed in a body attack. For the first time in the fight, the upset specialist was able to get Cintron’s attention, as the Puerto Rican began to let his hands go.
The second half began with both fighters mixing it up. Smith increased his rate of activity with each passing round, while Cintron bit down and began to commit more to his punches. Smith settled for volume, but paid the price on the defensive front as Cintron was able to plant his feet and connect solidly with left hooks upstairs.
In what became a positive sign in the suddenly declining career of Cintron, things swung in his favor over the course of the final four rounds. Smith kept up the aggression, but it was mostly of the ineffective variety. Cintron easily controlled the action whenever he was able to create space between the two, and waited out Smith’s flurries before getting off his own shots whenever they fought on the inside.
Smith never stopped trying, but found himself without a feasible backup plan and wound up playing out the string. Even as he fell behind, the same template followed – plenty of shoeshines, very little of substance landing.
Even with momentum clearly in Cintron’s favor, trainer Ronnie Shields refused to take anything for granted as the bout headed into the final round. The veteran cornerman demanded more activity in the final round, and for Cintron to treat it as if he needed a knockout to win.
Cintron didn’t quite go full throttle, but also never allowed Smith to take the lead or give him the chance to land anything dramatic. Smith kept throwing, but couldn’t find that opening to turn things around. He took a consolation prize in drawing blood from a cut just outside of Cintron’s right eye, but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference on the scorecards.
The win is Cintron’s first in nearly two years as he ups his record 33-4-1 (28KO). He entered the bout looking to snap a two-fight losing streak, including his bizarre technical decision loss to Paul Williams more than a year ago in which he went sailing out of the ring and wound up getting the small of his back caught on the corner of a ringside table, knocking the wind out of him and forcing him to leave on a stretcher.
Questions were raised as to whether or not the bout should’ve went to the cards, with even more people questioning the actual outcome, as it appeared Cintron was in control of the brief amount of action that took place.
What was indisputable was his lethargic showing last month against Molina, getting humiliated in their Showtime-televised co-feature, to where he was written off by nearly everyone in the industry.
To his credit, Cintron saw the writing on the wall and demanded to get back in the ring as quickly as possible, jumping at the opportunity to prove himself against an opponent who has made a career out of upsetting the odds.
However, it appears as if the magic has run out for Smith, who falls to 20-3-1 (12KO).
Smith enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2009, scoring three straight upsets in a year where many plead his case for serving as Prospect of the Year. Oddly enough, the accolades came on the heels of knocking off a string up prospects, including highly touted Henry Crawford, who was undefeated at the time of their Showtime-televised bout.
The Cinderella story ended in his first fight in 2010, suffering a knockout loss to Lanardo Tyner before slinking off to obscurity while on the comeback trail.
The Miami-based spoiler hoped for this fight to provide a second chance at a lasting impression, but the evening instead left the suggestion that his future in the sport is that of a gatekeeper or steppingstone in a forever active welterweight division.
Such was where Cintron appeared to be heading prior to Friday evening, but the bounceback win affords him at least one more chance to restore old glory.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].