by Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Cozzone
An intriguing early career clash between unbeaten blue chip Light Heavyweights turned into a showcase for talented 26-year old Ukrainian Ismail Sillakh (15-0, 12 KO) of Simi Valley, California on Friday night at the Jostens Center, Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Sillakh used an educated jab and surgical accuracy to cut, drop, and thoroughly outpoint 31-year old Cuban Yordanis Despaigne (8-1, 4 KO) of Coral Gables, Florida, over ten rounds.
Both men weighed in below the Light Heavyweight limit of 175 lbs., Sillakh at 174 ½ and Despaigne at 172 ¾.
The referee was Max Parker.
Taller by at least a couple of inches at 6’1, Sillakh showed greater speed and snap at the outset, working right away with his left while Despaigne patiently came forward. Timing his offense, Despaigne thudded home some singular lefts and rights before the opening frame was half over. The action remained tense, if contained, over the second half of the round, Sillakh using the lead left and a sharp body shot to keep an edge in the proceedings.
Sillakh, utilizing his jab where Despaigne was ignoring his, kept the edge in round two, blocking the bulk of Despaigne’s offense and steadily increasing the tempo of his. A jab opened up a perfect right hand with time winding down in the second, Despaigne clearly hurt. Stumbling back towards the ropes, Sillakh followed, a left hook sweeping across the cheek of Despaigne and sending him to a knee. Despaigne rose and made it safely back to the corner at the bell, Sillakh unable to attempt an immediate finish.
With only a token attempt at the start of the third, Sillakh continued to box assertively but with respect. Despaigne, cut over the left and then right eyes, had no real answer for Sillakh and stayed walking into shots. An adjustment in angles allowed Despaigne to improve his fortunes in the fourth, a big right hand late in the round catching Sillakh’s attention even if it was still difficult to give Despaigne a round.
That changed in round five. His jab suddenly a weapon in the affair, Despaigne found the head of Sillakh with a hard right early and kept effective pressure while taking some stiff incoming. Both men would have their moments in the sixth, neither really holding the advantage for long in the round. The momentum would shift solidly back to Sillakh in round seven, his jab and superior accuracy carving away at a flagging Despaigne. As the bell sounded, signaling only three rounds remaining, Despaigne walked to the corner with blood dripping from his refreshed right eye wound.
The crimson stream continued and matters grew worse for Despaigne in rounds eight and nine. When a crackling right caught Despaigne in the waning seconds of the latter round, it appeared victory was out of reach. Survival was the only question and Sillakh was content to move and box for most of the final round, removing the threat of the stop on his own. He didn’t need it. The victory was emphatic enough on its own as evidenced in scores of 98-91 twice and 99-90, all for Sillakh.
Both men came into the bout rated in the top ten of the WBC, Sillakh at eight and Despaigne at nine. The WBC belt is currently held by lineal and Ring Magazine World Light Heavyweight Champion Jean Pascal. Despaigne defeated Pascal at the 2004 Olympics. Sillakh missed the 2004 Games due to a doping violation, an unfortunate end to an amateur career with over 300 wins.
The main event performance made up for a sluggish start to the televised card.
Despite hardly losing a round en route to his fifteenth straight win, 32-year old Ghanaian Jr. Welterweight Ray Nahr (25-1, 21 KO), 144 ½, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, struggled to look good against a man who has specialized in making opponents struggle to look good since the 1980s. In his first bout since 2009, 41-year old two-time former WBA Featherweight titlist Freddie Norwood (43-4-1, 23 KO), 143 ½, of St. Louis, Missouri, cycled through a bag of tricks that included low blows, a blatant rabbit shot in the ninth that cost him two points from referee Frank Santorre, and occasionally jarring counter shots only to lose a lopsided ten round decision by scores 99-89 and two shutout post of 100-88.
Nahr’s only defeat was a first round stunner in 2004 to then-undefeated Kid Diamond. Norwood remains most famous for being the first man to post a loss to the ledger of current World Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez in 1999.
The card was televised on ESPN2 as part of its “Friday Night Fights” series, promoted by Square Ring.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]