By Jake Donovan
Sammy Vasquez Jr. scored the biggest win of his rising career, outslugging James 'Keep 'Em Sleepin' Stevenson en route to a 9th round stoppage Friday evening at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The pair of unbeaten welterweights had their work cut out for them in their Fox Sports 1-televised main event. The evening's co-feature was a savage war that saw local favorite Monte Meza Clay prevail in a 10th round stoppage of Alan Herrera that has already earned accolades as a Fight of the Year contender.
It took a couple of rounds for the main event to truly warm up and reach that point. Once Vasquez Jr. and Stevenson got going, though, the action was non-stop.
Vasquez Jr., a considerable draw as a rising prospect in the Pittsburgh region, had not only the unbelievable co-feature to live up to, but also appease the bloodthirsty appetite of his promoter, former undisputed heavyweight king Mike Tyson. The undefeated welterweight knockout artist did his part, hurting Stevenson early in round three and threatening to seize full control of the fight.
Stevenson wasn't even close to calling it a night, however. The Baltimore southpaw came roaring back, scoring with chin checks to keep Vasquez Jr. honest.
The two welterweight punchers kept the action going, picking up several notches in a round five that will certainly garner consideration come year-end awards season. Vasquez had Stevenson pinned in a corner, scoring non-stop and seemed to be well on his way to a knockout.
Stevenson's Keep 'Em Sleepin' nickname is a tribute to the fight-altering power he displayed early in his career. In this instance, it was Vasquez who slept on his opponent's ability to absorb. Stevenson made him pay, scoring with right hooks and straight lefts to force the former Army soldier on the back of his heels and towards center ring.
The visiting southpaw enjoyed a similar comeback moment in round seven, taunting Vasquez following a combination (repeating a similar sequence from round two) and then responding with power shots of his own. It turned out to be his last moment in the sun; Vasquez unloaded in round eight, as Stevenson was on his last legs.
Through sheer exhaustion came the bout's lone official knockdown, with Stevenson collapsing to a heap towards the end of the 8th round. A decision to come out for round nine proved ill-advised; Vasquez Jr. went for the kill and scored the knockout his promoter so hungrily craved.
The official time was 0:25 of round nine.
Vasquez picks up his seventh consecutive knockout win, as 'The Who Can Mexican' improves to 16-0 (12KOs). The bout marked his third straight televised appearance, having fought on Showtime, ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 all within the past four months.
Stevenson stepped way up in class, but his bravery in defeat should undoubtedly earn another televised appearance in the near future. The southpaw suffers his first career loss, falling to 21-1 (14KOs).
Also in televised action: As mentioned earlier, Monte Meza Clay finds himself once again knocking on the door of contention after a 10th round knockout of Alan Herrera in a surefire Fight of the Year contender. Opening the show, Ivegen Khytrov needed just 30 seconds to get rid of Willie Fortune in their middleweight bout.
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