by Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
Well on his way to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, 38-year old lineal World Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez (54-6-1, 29 KO) of Mexico City, Mexico, added an interim WBO Jr. Welterweight belt to previous laurels at Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight, adding a degree of pizzazz to an otherwise pedestrian, often dull, outing on Saturday night at the New Mexico City Arena in his hometown. To his credit, Marquez closed strong and tried for a late knockout but 31-year old Sergiy Fedchenko (30-2, 13 KO) of Kharkov, Ukraine, kept his feet en route to a unanimous decision verdict for Marquez.
Marquez came into the contest spot on the division limit of 140 lbs. Fedchenko scaled at 138 ½. The referee was Benjy Esteves, Jr.
Marquez, still hoping for a fourth fight with Manny Pacquiao, controlled most of the action on the night, standing in front of Fedchenko and showing off the combination punching brilliance that has marked the bulk of his career. It was rarely exciting as Fedchenko’s low power, sound fundamentals style meant Marquez could box comfortably. He ate some shots on the night, but he didn’t have to worry about stopping power and Fedchenko’s offense was predictable enough to allow Marquez room to mitigate what chances the Ukrainian had.
In the final round, well ahead on points, Marquez opened up with his right and had Fedchencko reeling. The referee kept close watch as Fedchenko struggled to keep his feet, holding where needed. In the final thirty seconds, Marquez again caught him and Fedchenko tied up again. He wanted the final bell badly and he got it.
Marquez got academic scores at 119-109 and 118-110 twice. With the win, Marquez leaves himself open for a rumored July date at Cowboys Stadium and a possible showdown with Pacquiao later in the year. Despite a loss in his last contest, fellow Mexican legend Erik Morales could still help to move a massive haul of tickets and Mike Alvarado, who won big on Saturday as well, would be a deserving foe.
Marquez-Fedchenko headlined a split site pay-per-view broadcast. If the winner in its main event gets the Marquez date in July, it sends the worst of messages about the sport. Morales, in defeat to Danny Garcia a few weeks ago, did more to earn a crack at Marquez than Brandon Rios did in victory on Saturday night.
At the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the main event for paying customers was a well-built grudge match that turned into an awkward clinic and, at the finish, one of the worst scoring blights in boxing history.
Yes, it was that bad. 25-year old Brandon Rios (30-0-1, 22 KO), 137, of Oxnard, California, who failed to make weight for the second fight in a row after losing the WBA Lightweight belt on the scale last year, was soundly outboxed throughout twelve rounds only to be given a split decision against 29-year old Cuban interim WBA Lightweight titlist Richard Abril (17-3-1, 8 KO), 135, of Miami, Florida.
The referee was Vic Drakulich.
The taller, longer Abril opened the fight with long jabs, plenty of lateral movement, and timed right hands. Rios did little in the first, pressing if seldom punching. A late right hand from Rios knocked Abril backwards from mid-ring, but it appeared Abril’s balance was also affected by the paint of the ring logo. Rios picked up his activity level in the second, digging in some hard hooks to the body. Abril kept up and managed to stay a step ahead, making Rios miss upstairs and continuing to land his long, stinging right.
Abril boxed beautifully in the third though it could appear Rios was doing better. A late uppercut landed clean for Rios but it looked like his best attempts, mostly left hooks upstairs, were being picked off with ease by the right glove and arm of Abril. It was more of the same in the fourth, Rios throwing left hooks and finding nothing but sound defense for his trouble while getting tagged with right hands whenever Abril had space.
The fifth round stayed to trend but Abril moved his hands a little less in the second half of round six. Rios got through with some pushing jabs and outworked Abril down the stretch to make it one of the closer rounds of the night.
There was little in the way of drama in the next three rounds. Abril sometimes held, but more often stood right in front of Rios, casually outworking him and serving a clinic on inside defense. It got no better in the tenth, Rios employing a game plan analogous to insanity, repeating the same tactics over and over and getting no result. He complained when Abril hooked him and rode his neck, but it was his inability to solve the shoulder and glove work of Abril that was truly aggravating.
Rios actually landed a clean left hook in the eleventh but Abril answered back quickly with an slashing right and otherwise controlled another round of the fight. A gassed Rios, who initiated plenty of clinching in the ring himself, came out with a bit more fire early in the twelfth and made it close but for the most part it was a repeat of all the rounds that came before. It appeared anyone rational would have to bend over backwards to have Rios remotely close in the fight.
This is boxing, a flexible endeavor.
The scores came in at a single 117-111 Abril, was overruled at 116-112 Rios and 115-113 Rios. BoxingScene scored the contest a shutout at 120-108 for Abril, believing Rios had won three rounds at best. The Abril score was turned in Adalaide Byrd. Judges Jerry Roth and Glen Trowbridge scored the contest for Rios.
In a year with controversies like Gabriel Campillo-Tavoris Cloud and Carlos Molina getting ticky-tacked out of a chance at victory versus James Kirkland, among other scoring travesties, this appeared the worst, the sort of decision that validates the massive exodus of fans in the U.S. from boxing who no longer stomach watching honest efforts receive unjust outcomes.
It was in sharp contrast with the honesty and integrity of outcome displayed one fight earlier.
Fans were treated to an absolutely splendid battle in the chief support to Rios-Abril. For 31-year old Jr. Welterweight Mike Alvarado (33-0, 23 KO), 140, of Thornton, Colorado, it was the second time in a row he stole the show on a broadcast featuring Juan Manuel Marquez. In November, Alvarado stopped Breidis Prescott in the tenth round of a war. This time, he had to settle for a unanimous decision in ten against a game, tough 31-year old Mauricio Herrera (18-2, 7 KO), 140, of Lake Elsinore, California.
The fight was hot from the start. Closely contested in the first two rounds, Alvarado looked like he might pull away in the third and fourth only for Herrera to come roaring back. Alvarado badly damaged the left eye of Herrera, so much so that at the end of the eighth it looked like the ringside doctor might call a halt to the action. He did not, and the fans were the better for it as Herrera closed strong and stayed in the trenches with Alvarado in the final two rounds, even giving Alvarado a nicking cut on the corner of his right eye. Standing ovations from the crowd occurred regularly at the end of rounds.
At the close, it was Alvarado’s heavier hands favored over the volume of Herrera, the judges giving the nod to Alvarado at 96-96, 97-93, and a perhaps too wide 99-91. Given the nature of the fight, it was certainly possible to see one fighter winning almost all of the rounds as so many were closely contested, but one would think Herrera deserved more credit there.
The referee was Robert Byrd.
The loss will certainly be a disappointment for entered off five straight wins, including an upset of then-undefeated Ruslan Provodnikov. It shouldn’t hurt him in the eyes of fans and could certainly justify a ranking from one of the major sanctioning bodies.
Alvarado entered rated #11 by the WBA, #9 by the IBF, and #3 by the WBO at 140 lbs. His all-action style will be attractive when he finally gets his crack at some hardware. A shot at Marquez would be more than fair after his last two wins in the division.
The televised opener featured a Jr. Welterweight inching closer to contention. 24-year old Filipino Mercito Gesta (25-0-1, 13 KO), 137, of San Diego, California, scored a knockdown with a body shot in the seventh and ended matters with a right hand in the eighth against 27-year old Oscar Cuero (15-8, 12 KO), 138, of Cartagena, Colombia. Referee Robert Byrd halted matters at 1:38 of round eight.
It was Cuero’s sixth loss in his last eight fights. Gesta entered the bout rated eighth in the world at 140 lbs. by the WBO and seventh in the world at 135 lbs. by the WBA. Gesta looked solid in the ring on Saturday and may be better served in the higher division.
The card was televised in the U.S. as an independent pay-per-view, distributed through HBO, promoted by Top Rank.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]