The last time "Lightning" Rod Salka appeared in a fight in front of the Showtime brass, he delivered a winning performance only to be denied by the judges.
Befitting of his nickname, lightning didn't strike twice this time around. Salka scored a major upset less than an hour from home with a 10-round decision win over previously unbeaten Alexei Collado in their ShoBox main event Friday evening at the Convention Center in Monroeville, PA.
Scores were 96-93 (twice) and 96-94. Salka scored a knockdown in round three and fended off a late rally from Collado to preserve the biggest victory of his career.
It was evident from the outset that it would be a long night for Collado and for Iron Mike Productions, his promoter. The event was widely celebrated as Mike Tyson's return to Showtime, having fought on the network in the 1990's and early 2000's, and now making his promotional debut on Shobox.
Two of his three prospects on the televised tripleheader struggled mightily; Felix Diaz managed to remain unbeaten but was forced to work for his eight-round split decision over Emmanuel Lartey. Collado wasn't anywhere nearly as fortunate, as he was bloodied early, dropped hard and outboxed over the course of the 10-round affair.
Salka was the local favorite coming in, but also entering the bout on the heels of a horrific robbery against Ricardo Alvarez this past March on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez - Ricardo's far more famous brother - in his stoppage win over Alfredo Angulo. For a few rounds, it was wondered, first if Salka could keep up the pace and - if so - whether or not he would be properly compensated by the judges at the end of the night.
Collado didn't offer much to disrupt his opponent's rhythm. A headbutt left the Cuban with a cut over his eye in round two, but it was a surprise knockdown towards the end of round three that produced the first truly dramatic moment of the evening. Salka is your typical blue-collar fighter from a blue-collar town, but with just three knockouts in 21 pro fights prior to Friday was never perceived as a punching threat.
That statistic made the knockdown - the lone of the evening - that much more dramatic. Collado managed to shake it off and attempt to box his way back into the contention. The visiting prospect enjoyed mild success in the middle rounds, but never offered the sense that he could seize control of the fight.
If a hint of that moment ever surfaced, Salka made sure to kick into high gear and stay in the lead. Collado could never fully adapt, save for a rally late in the fight. Salka was briefly hurt, although the instance under normal circumstances would not even enter the conversation. But because referee Gary Rosato was involved in a controversial stoppage just two weeks ago, there existed the momentary concern that the local underdog would be denied the biggest win of his career.
Rosato came under fire for what was viewed as a premature stoppage in Curtis Stevens' come-from-behind knockout win over Tureano Johnson earlier this month. Johnson was way up on the scorecards but rocked late in round ten, prompting a stoppage that was quickly met with outrage from the viewing public.
There was no such concern in this particular bout. Salka was never hurt to that degree, nor did he ever show signs of not being able to fight back, as was the case with Johnson two weeks ago. Free of controversy, Salka was permitted to finish the fight, and simply wait out the scorecards.
The last time Salka - who hails from Bunola, about 40 minutes from the venue - fought in the area, he scored a unanimous decision over Ryan Belasco. One of the three judges in Friday's fight - Phil Rogers - had the closest score of the three officials in that fight, leaving Salka a narrow points winner in a bout not only believed by many to have been a clear victory, but on a show in which he also served as promoter.
The official scorecards in Friday's main event seemed a little closer than the ten rounds of action suggested, but the right guy won on all three cards in the end.
Salka escapes with a well-earned uanimous decision for the biggest win of his career as he improves to 19-3 (3KO). Collado suffers his first pro loss, falling to 18-1 (16KO).
Felix Diaz ran the tables in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, capturing a Gold medal for the Dominican Republic. Despite a perfect record in the pro ranks, the southpaw is not enjoying anywhere near the same level of success. The latest piece of evidence came in a struggling eight-round split decision over Emmanuel Lartey in their televised co-feature.
The bout was the first of 2014 for Diaz and also his first since working with red-hot trainer Robert Garcia. The experience of training with some of the best in the sport around his weight - including welterweight Marcos Maidana, who faces Floyd Mayweather next month - has proven valuable, but the results didn't translate in Friday's fight.
Lartey (15-2-1, 7KO) is best known for taking another Olympic boxer the full eight rounds in his last ring appearance, disrupting Errol Spence's knockout streak although dropping a wide decision last October. Whle Spence was a 1st round knockout winner in another show on Friday evening, Lartey was once again standing tall against a former decorated amateur boxer.
Diaz eventually took the lead, but never seemed in full control of the fight. The unbeaten welterweight was the superior boxer of the two, but at 5'5" - very short for the super lightweight and welterweight divisions where he spends his time - found himself in an inside fight more often than should have been the case.
Scores were 77-75 across the board - one card in favor of Lartey, though overruled by matching cards in favor of Diaz, who improves to 15-0 (8KO). The welterweight looks to be a work in progess, but at 30 years old will have to step up the pace on that front.
The feature attraction of the evening saw local welterweight Sammy Vasquez bring the crowd and a lot of pain. The unbeaten knockout artist scored three knockdowns en route to a 1st round stoppage of unbeaten but overmatched Juan Rodriguez Jr.
Vasquez - a decorated military veteran who served two tours of duty overseas in Iraq - didn't waste any time gunning for the knockout. A huge admirer of Tyson the fighter, Vasquez impressed his promoter and former baddest man on the planet, dropping Rodriguez seconds into the fight.
The evening jumped off from there, as fans were on the edge of their seats in anticipation of a spectacular finish. Vasquez didn't disappoint. A vicious body attack paved the way for the second knockdown midway through the fight. The Monessen (PA) native was persistent in his attack, with a volley of power punches sending Rodriguez Jr. to the canvas for a third and final time, bringing an end to the fight.
The official time was 2:49 of round one.
Vasquez improves to 14-0 (10KO) with the win, his second since signing with Iron Mike Productions earlier this year. Rodriguez Jr. suffers his firsr pro loss, falling to 11-1 (5KO).
Vasquez' involvement on the show prompting the Armed Forces Network to pick up the live feed, allowing over 1 million military members to tune in around the world.
Off-TV, teenage sensation Erickson Lubin remains perfect as a pro after scoring a 2nd round knockout of Jovan Ramirez (3-2, 0KO). Lubin needed just three minutes and 18 seconds to get his work done, giving him barely 15 minutes worth of ring action through five fights as a pro.
Lubin (5-0, 5KO) has struggled to find opposition willing to face him, but the 18-year old - who made his pro debut just five months ago - remains active. The Florida native left a lasting impression on ringside observers, including Showtime commentator Steve Farhood, whose reaction was simply, "Wow!"
Yudel Jhonson picked up his third straight win with an eight-round shutout of Lenwood Dozier. The Cuban southpaw - now fighting out of Miami - scored an opening round knockdown but was forced to settle for a clean sweep on all three scorecards, winning 80-71 across the board to advance to 15-1 (9KO).
Albert Bell has gone four rounds in each of his first four bouts to date. The 21-year old Miami-based prospect scored a 4th round knockout in his first pro fight, but has been extended the four-round distance in each fight since.
The latest resulted in a four-round sweep of overmatched Micah Branch (now 2-10-1, 0KO). Scores were 40-36 across the board in their curtain raiser.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox