By Jake Donovan
A competitive ESPN-televised main event produced an anti-climactic conclusion when Donatas "Bondas" Bondorovas was deemed unfit to continue after seven rounds of action against Brian Vera in their middleweight bout Friday evening in Verona, New York.
Referee Charlie Fitch took it upon himself to stop the contest in between rounds when a brief Q&A led the attention-hungry third man to believe that Bondas wanted out of the fight.
The seven rounds of action and his own reaction speaks volumes to the contrary.
Bondas entered the fight as the perceived underdog: a 33-year old Lithunian whose prime years have been spent fighting on the club circuit in the greater Chicago area. In other words, the type of fighter that a spoiler like Vera habitually exposes.
The line result will suggest as much at first glance once this fight becomes a distant memory. For the moment, the viewers and the fighters know different.
Vera was served notice from the opening bell that he was in for a real fight. Bondas showed no fear in the early rounds, taking the fight to the Texan at times, while confidently bouncing on his toes during moments when openings weren't immediately available.
The tide began to turn in round three, when Vera dialed up the pressure. It was hardly a permanent shift in momentum, however; Bondas continued to attack, digging to the body when on the inside and countering brilliantly with right hands whenever Vera was foolish enough to walk in with his guard down.
Vera continued to serve as the aggressor in round four, showing no fear in the potential incoming as his own right hand began to land with regularity. A cut was produced over Bondas' left eye, the blood clearly affecting the Lithuanian as he continuously pawed at the wound while simultaneously focusing on his opponent.
The cut became a bulls-eye for Vera, who manages to time Bondas' attempt to switch back and forth between a conventional and southpaw stance. Enough right hands landed to where Bondas' face was a mask of blood by the end of round five.
Vera saw victory well within his sights, but perhaps grew a bit too wild in attempting to finish. The blood continued to flow, but Bondas braved the wound and had an answer for nearly every power punch offered by his veteran opponent.
A stream of blood dripped down the center of Bondas' face for the entire 7th round, but Vera was unable to properly capitalize. Right hands landed for the fringe contender, but Bondas offered enough movement to disallow more than a punch at a time getting through. Conversely, it was his favored opponent now eating more right hands as the rounds wore on.
Luckily for Vera, there were no more rounds to worry about throwing away. Not so lucky for the fans, it was due to a horrible misunderstanding between the referee and a fighter who did his best to understand questions not coming in his first language.
Time was called between the 7th and 8th rounds for the third man and the ringside physician to examine Bondas. ESPN cameras picked up the conversation mid-stream.
"Are you saying you can't see anymore," Fitch asked Bondas.
"Can't see?" Bondas asked his corner, who served as translators.
"He said 'not good'," trainer Sam Colonna relayed to the referee.
The response was enough to send Fitch running to the ringside officials to declare that Bondas was unfit to continue.
Only that wasn't at all the case, nor was it the version that the referee passed along to the event's handlers.
"I asked him if he could see, he said he couldn't see," insisted Fitch, though revising his story immediately thereafter. So I told the doctor, "I asked if he could see, he said 'Not so good.' He wanted out."
Nobody in the ring seemed to agree with that take, least of all Bondas' corner.
"He didn't understand you," insisted promoter Bobby Hitz, who has guided Bondas' career since the fighter's arrival to the United States in 2009. "You don't speak Lithuanian, do you? He didn't understand you."
"I believe he did," suggested Fitch.
That response was met by a visit from the fighter himself.
"I can," Bondas repeated to the referee, now well aware of what was happening and pleading his case to reverse the decision.
"No, it's over," Fitch would tell the fighter.
With that came the official decision, as Vera was awarded a technical knockout at 3:00 of round seven.
The win advances Vera's record to 23-6 (14KO) as he has now won four straight. The bout marked his second straight at the Turning Stone Casino, having scored a 10th round stoppage over former 154 lb. titlist Serhiy Dzinziruk just two months ago.
Bondas' brave effort proved for naught as he loses for the first time in nearly two years. A five-fight win streak comes to an end as he falls to 17-4 (6KO).
The visiting middleweight entered the bout on the heels of a pair of 2nd round knockout wins over David Thomas, the most recent taking place just six weeks ago. Their first fight - which took place last November - saw both fighters hurt, with Bondas overcoming an injured shoulder and hand as well as a cut and an opening round knockdown to stop Thomas in the very next round.
The result was met with an immediate protest from the Thomas camp, who lobbied for a rematch. Bondas was surprised by the declaration, at the time not finding fault with what took place in the fight.
"The truth is that the job of a ring referee is to take responsibility of athletes’ health." Bondas said of their first fight, in the days leading up to their rematch this past February. "This is a sport, not gladiator combat! My opponent was out on his feet. I saw his eyes were rolled back and maybe another blow could have been tragic. So, I think the referee acted adequately. You can risk your own life, but not somebody else’s!"
Bondas left no doubt in the rematch, battering Thomas until the referee in that fight - Kurt Spivey, who also officiated their first fight - was left with no choice but to stop the contest. Both fights ended just past two minutes into the second round.
Perhaps Bondas will be given another chance to prove himself against Vera. Maybe it turns out the same way or maybe justice will be served.
Until that day comes (if at all), a valuable lesson has been served to the Lithunian export: protect yourself at all times - and allow your corner to protect you in the event that you don't understand the question.
Umberto Savigne continues to serve as a prime example of a fighter benefiting from an earlier career loss. The Cuban light heavyweight picks up his ninth straight win after his upset 4th round knockout win over previously unbeaten Jackson Junior.
The fight began according to the pre-fight scouting report, with Junior taking the lead in the opening round and laying the foundation for an impressive showcase on national television.
Savigne wasn't quite as willing to cooperate, deciding to take the fight to the unbeaten prospect. Junior literally never knew what hit him, as he was rocked and dropped late in the second after controlling most of the round. A right hand put the Brazilian on wobbly legs, with a follow up flurry punctuated by another straight right by Savigne to score the first knockdown.
Junior would hit the canvas three more times in the fourth round, the last of which saw his legs come out from under him as he flailed to the canvas. The three-knockdown rule went into effect, prompting the stoppage at 2:17 of round four.
Savigne continues to flourish since signing with Acquinity Sports a year ago. The 34-year old was dismissed as an over-seasoned amateur who turned pro too late when he was stopped in a 2012 tune-up fight, but has developed into one of the more promising prospects in the light heavyweight division. He improves - in every sense of the word - to 11-1 (8KO).
The knockout loss is the first time that Junior tastes defeat as he falls to 14-1 (12KO).
The televised opener saw the pro debut of 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist Taras Shelestyuk (1-0, 1KO), who had no problem turning back the challenge of fellow debutante Kamal Muhammad (0-1, 0KO). Shelestyuk scored two knockdowns en route to an early knockout at 1:39 of round one.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox