By Cliff Rold
25-year old Jr. Lightweight Juan Antonio Rodriguez (26-4, 23 KO) of Puebla, Mexico, won his fifth straight on Friday night at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington with an entertaining eight-round decision over 25-year old Domincan Yenifel Vicente (25-2-2, 17 KO) of Miami, Florida. There were no knockdowns in the bout. Vicente, who typically fights near the Jr. Featherweight limit of 122 lbs., was a late replacement for Arash Usmannee who was forced to withdraw due to an ankle injury.
Both men weighed in one pound below the division limit at 129 lbs. The referee was Tim Wood.
The southpaw Rodriguez, visibly the larger man, had Vicente uncomfortable from the outset with successful aggression keeping the presumed slicker man off balance. The quicker Vicente may have won the first but the struggles of the night were beginning.
Rodriguez looked for a moment as if he’d scored a knockdown in the third but replays showed Vicente had slipped through the ropes. Further review showed the ropes were not properly secured and the fight continued under those conditions.
In the fourth, Vicente did his best to keep distance and find Rodriguez coming forward but the strategy was tough to maintain. Late in the round, Rodriguez was on him, pounding away against the ropes and away from them in close quarters.
In the fifth, Rodriguez had his man in almost full retreat. Vicente tried to find occasional hard shots to change his fortunes, but Rodriguez was guarding well, particularly against the right. Digging to the body and staying on top, Rodriguez kept control in the sixth. The ropes, still too loose, almost caused Vicente to fall through again.
Vicente opened up more in round seven and the bout had some of its best exchanges. Rodriguez landed more but there was no quit in the man presumably behind. Implored by his corner to let it all hang out in the final round, Vicente came out winging in round eight. Feinting his way in, Vicente landed the right hand once, and then again, before being knocked off balance by a left from Rodriguez.
Halfway through the round, it was Vicente coming forward as roles reversed, Rodriguez moving and letting the clock run. A lead left hand landed partially for Vicente, Rodriguez moving away and back to safety. Vicente tried one more Hail Mary left before the bell, the blow glancing off Rodriguez and time slipping away.
The official scores came in at 77-75 twice Rodriguez with an outlying draw scorecard at 76-76. Rodriguez wins his fifth straight, and first over the distance, since a ten-round loss to former Featherweight titlist Billy Dib in July 2012. Vicente sees a two-fight win streak halted.
Neither fighter was rated by any of the major sanctioning bodies entering the contest.
The co-feature saw the continuation of a comeback.
37-year old Jr. Welterweight Zahir Raheem (35-3, 21 KO), 139, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, won a ten-round unanimous decision over 31-year old Mongolian Bayan Jargal (17-5-3, 11 KO), 139, of Arlington, Virginia. It was Raheem’s first distance contest since returning to the ring in 2013 following an almost three-year layoff.
Raheem, a member of the 1996 US Olympic team that also featured Floyd Mayweather, is best recalled for a clinical win over the great Erik Morales in 2005. He parlayed that win into a 2006 shot at the WBO Lightweight title, then held by Acelino Freitas, losing a split decision.
On Friday, Raheem showed off many of the traits that had made him successful in years past, using his feet and an educated left jab to build a strong lead through six rounds. Jargal rebounded down the stretch of the fight and looked like he won some of the late frames, but never had Raheem in any trouble. It was too much to overcome as Raheem cruised to scores of 97-93 and 99-91 twice.
The referee was Bobby Howard.
In the televised opener, Nigerian 30-year old former Cruiserweight contender Lateef Kayode (20-0, 16 KO), 222, of Hollywood, California, made it 2-0 in the Heavyweight division with a sixth round stoppage of 30-year old Jonte Willis (9-8-1, 3 KO), 219 ½, of Tacoma, Washington. The fight was uneventful until Kayode put together a salvo in the final round that left Willis with his back turned. Referee Jeff Macaluso called the bout at 1:07 of bout.
Kayode continues the long rebound after a draw against former Light Heavyweight Champion Antonio Tarver in 2012 that was later made a No Contest when Tarver failed a post-fight drug test.
The card was broadcast on ESPN2 as part of its “Friday Night Fights” series.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org