By Jake Donovan
Natural two-fisted power propelled Marco Antonio Rubio to the title picture, but it was a disciplined performance that finally put a major belt around his waist.
The longtime middleweight contender finally came up big in a title fight, boxing early before exploding late to score a 10th round knockout over Domenico Spada, Saturday evening in Delicias, Mexico.
With the win, Rubio claimed an interim middleweight title, a major bargaining chip considering what lies ahead and what he is still owed.
It’s been more than eight months since the 33-year old contender was last seen in action. The inactivity showed in the early rounds, as Rubio struggled at times to contend with the aggressive attack put forth by Spada, who was fighting out of Europe for the first time in his 12-year career.
At a rare physical disadvantage, Rubio stepped back and gave boxing a try. The disciplined attack was the result of months spent in camp with new trainer, the red hot Robert Garcia. The tactic didn’t slow down Spada’s attack, but helped neutralize the Italian’s most effective attributes. The disciplined measures paid off, or so suggested open scoring; Rubio was up 39-37 (twice) and 40-36 on all three scorecards through four rounds of action.
No matter how far behind he fell on the scorecards, Spada never changed gears. If anything, his aggression intensified as the rounds wore on. Rubio spent most of round five at a distance, prompting Spada to pick up his attack and force his way inside. The move cost him big in round six, losing two points for roughhouse tactics.
The deductions put Spada at the point of no return in regard to the official scorecards. The sequence appeared to have taken the air out of his tires, as Rubio seized momentum in round seven and never looked back.
Scores through eight rounds helped put the writing on the wall for Spada, as Rubio was ahead 80-70, 79-71 and 78-72 on the three official cards.
The long time contender remained disciplined in his attack, but more purposeful with his punches. Spada began to show the effects, no longer in Rubio’s face or able to dig in and brawl. The momentum shift set the stage for a big finish, a violent left hook that put Spada down and out in round ten.
The official time was 1:38 of round ten. Rubio was up on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, by scores of 88-81, 89-80 and 90-79.
Rubio improves to 59-6 (51KO) with the win, his sixth straight. Five of his past six wins have come by knockout, none bigger than Saturday’s performance.
Spada remains winless on the road, falling to 38-5 (19KO). All five of his career losses have come outside of his native Italy, including a narrow points loss to Sebastian Zbik in his lone other title shot three years ago in Germany.
In the way of titles, the third time’s a charm for Rubio, a perennial bridesmaid in the middleweight division. The Mexican puncher fell miserably short in his first attempt, suffering a stoppage after nine one-sided rounds versus then-lineal middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in Feb. ’09.
Rubio rattled off nine straight wins – including a major upset knockout win over then-unbeaten David Lemieux – to set up his next title shot. He would once again come up short, albeit in a competitive performance versus Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in San Antonio more than two years ago.
The loss turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Rubio, if only for the post-fight follies which followed. The WBC and the Texas Department of Licensing played ignorant over who dropped the ball over the absence of post-fight drug testing. Rubio and his handlers threatened to sue the WBC, who in turn decided after further review in 2013 that – due to the “oversight” – he should return to mandatory title challenger status.
The move meant he would become the mandatory challenger to Sergio Martinez, only for the current World middleweight champ to have spent the remainder of 2013 on the sidelines nursing an assortment of injuries. Rubio hadn’t fought since last July, as his handlers demanded a title shot of sorts along with assurances that – with a win – bigger things would come.
Rubio did his part on Saturday. With his first ever major belt around his waist, all that’s left for the moment is to wait out the winner of Martinez’ title defense versus former three-division champion Miguel Cotto on June 7.
Perhaps the winner honors their mandatory challenge and looks Rubio’s way. Perhaps the winner looks in another direction, a move that would leave the WBC no choice but to upgrade its newly crowned interim titlist to full championship status.
Whatever the future has in store, this much is certain: persistence has finally paid off for the veteran middleweight, with the ultimate payoff to taste even sweeter.
Edgar Monarrez picked up his first knockout in nearly two years with a 7th round stoppage of Juan Jose Montes in their featherweight co-feature battle. The win is the second straight for Monarrez, who improves to 17-0 (13KO). “Goofy” Montes is now winless in four straight as he falls to 23-5-2 (14KO).
Local middleweight Marcos Reyes (31-1, 24KO) picked up his 18th consecutive win with a 2nd round knockout of overmatched Idiozan Matos (32-19, 26KO)
Ibeth Zamora (20-5, 8KO) opened the telecast with a unanimous decision over Judith Rodriguez (6-7, 4KO), earning her fifth straight win in the process.
All bouts aired live on Televisa in Mexico.
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: @JakeNDaBox