By Cliff Rold
Those waiting for a rebirth of cool in the Heavyweight division saw little hoper for that on Friday night. That doesn’t mean they saw a bad scrap as 36-year old Friday Ahunanya (24-5-3, 13 KO) of Nigeria scored a mild upset over previously undefeated 28-year old Alonzo Butler (26-1-1, 19 KO) of Knoxville, Tennessee at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The two took turns winning rounds through the first three, largely plodding and looking for singular openings. That changed with a series of right hands in round four that would bring out the best action of the entire televised card. Ahunanya landed a succession of rights that stunned and ultimately dropped Butler onto the seat of his pants along the ropes. Butler, his left eye swelling shut, rose on shaky legs, tossing arm shots to keep Ahunanya honest while he collected himself. The African continued to look for another big shot but it was Butler who would find one instead, finally landing a hard overhand right that backed Ahunanya up and spun him towards the ropes. It wasn’t enough to steal the round, but it was enough to keep alive.
The excitement level all but vanished in the fifth with occasional haymakers and pawing jabs slotted between grappling and mean facial expressions, a round Butler was able to secure with better activity. Round six featured similar spreads of inaction though Ahunanya’s was able to land some decent shots behind steady pressure.
The pressure would pay off strong in round seven, a round that featured an inexplicable stop to the action which could have cost Ahunanya the fight on another night. Scoring heavily with the right, Ahunanya opened up with a barrage that had Butler reeling. All but blind out of the left eye, Butler couldn’t see the right and did his best to hold only to take lefts and uppercuts on the inside. A punch landed as Butler attempted to spin off the ropes and rather than let Ahunanya continue to work towards a finish, the referee halted the action to allow the ring doctor to examine Butler’s eye rather than allow Ahunanya to continue to press his obvious advantage. At least a minute would go by before the action resumed; Butler survived the frame.
He would not survive the night undefeated. While Ahunanya failed to push Butler that close the end again, he would stay active enough in the eighth and ninth to maintain control. In the tenth, he winged the right in spots, hoping for the security that sending Butler to the mat again could provide but Butler gutted it out to stay on his feet. It was not enough with unanimous final scores of 96-93 and 95-94 (twice) awarding victory to Ahunanya.
The win pushed Ahunanya to 4-0-1 in his last five after going 0-4-1 from 2004-06.
On the all-Heavyweight televised undercard, an otherwise pedestrian effort was highlighted by two knockdowns, the second of which made the whole fight worth watching. The eight round decision in favor of 25-year old Kevin Burnett (13-1, 1 KO) of Augusta, Georgia was earned the hard way, saved and jeopardized by single seconds thanks to a right hook from 34-year old Horace Grant (12-2, 7 KO) of Bowie, Maryland.
Burnett dominated the bulk of the action, using his jab and superior height to keep Grant on the outside. A barrage of shots in the third would even result in a knockdown in Burnett’s favor. However, the story would be the final second of the eighth round as Grant launched a right hook over the top of Burnett’s low left a mere second before the final bell. Burnett crashed face first to the floor and, the rules of the night stating that one could not be saved by any bell, the referee began his count. Burnett would rise at nine, stumbling forward to hear the judge’s cards. They would rule him the winner by scores of 78-73 and 79-72 twice.
Other Televised Action
Grzegorz Kielsa (6-0, 3 KO) WUD 4 Alvaro Morales (3-2-4)
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org