By Jake Donovan
Matthew Villanueva earned his 10th pro win the hard way, going ten rounds for the first time in his career and also in his first fight outside of the United States.
The unbeaten super flyweight prospect was given a stiff challenge from Julian Rivera, but fended off the determined journeyman to take a unanimous decision in their main event Friday evening in Mexico City.
Villanueva knew to expect a tough test from Rivera, a former title challenger whose lone stoppage loss came early in his career. The American was dominant early on, offering a healthy mix of boxing and slugging in his best effort to wear down Rivera.
The fight became interesting midway through, when Rivera rallied after taking his opponent's best punches. His efforts weren't properly reflected in the eyes of two of the three judges, but wasn't lost on Villanueva.
"He was resilient, he was tough like I thought he would be," Villanueva admitted after the fight. "I had to be smart in there and take my time."
Villanueva showed poise deep in the fight, a remarkable statement considering it was the first time he has ever been extended beyond the eighth round in his young career. A strong finish allowed the 26-year old to remain unbeaten.
Matching scores of 98-92 (twice) didn't properly reflect the competitve nature of the fight, as the third scorecard of 96-94 was more in line with what took place in the ring. Regardless, it's another win for Villanueva, who advances to 10-0-1 (8KO) on a night that marked another pair of firsts - his debut under the All-Star Boxing banner and his first headliner on the the Boxeo Telemundo circuit.
Rivera falls to 12-8-1 (2KO), having now lost two straight. The local fringe contender entered on the heels of a failed title bid against super flyweight titlist Juan Carlos Reveco last November on the road in Argentina. A three-fight win streak preceded his title challenge, all of which came on Telemundo.
Jessie Valenzuela joined his older brother south of the border, but failed to preserve his unbeaten record in falling short to Oscar Pena in their six-round super bantamweight bout.
A first-round knockdown proved to be the difference on the cards, with Pena prevailing by majority decision in a give-and-take affair.
Villanueva was vicious in his body attack - including several low blows that had Pena and viewers cringing in pain. However, it was a body shot from Pena that produced the bout's lone knockdown, a right hand that cause Villanueva's legs to kick out from under him.
The ensuing rounds saw both fighters give as well as they received, with Villanueva scoring repeatedly to the body. His momentum stalled in the final round, when back-to-back low blows forced Pena to twice drop to the canvas. A stern warning from the referee was followed by two-way action until the final bell.
Pena prevailed by scores of 57-56 (twice), overruling the knotted 56-56 verdict on the third card, as he advances to 3-2 (0KO). Villanueva loses for the first time, falling to 6-1 (4KO).
Salvador Juarez settled up past business in violent fashion, scoring an emphatic 2nd round knockout of Carlos Barraza in their flyweight bout.
A body shot froze Barraza along the ropes, giving Juarez time to plant his feet and drive home a long right uppercut to put his familiar foe down and out for the ten count and beyond.
Juarez evens up his record at 2-2-2 (1KO). Barraza falls to 7-4-1 (2KO), ending a four-fight win streak. The two fought to a four-round draw nearly two years ago.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: