By Jake Donovan
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. avoided disaster with a come-from-behind 7th round stoppage of countryman Jonathan Oquendo in their pay-per-view headliner Saturday evening in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Vazquez Jr. weighed 121 ¾ lb for his first bout since a points loss to Nonito Donaire earlier this year. Oquendo came in that the divisional limit of 122 lb. for their regional title fight.
Oquendo was a replacement for Rafael Marquez, who twice pulled out of the fight due to separate injuries. The 29-year old Puerto Rican made the most of the unexpected opportunity, jumping out to a quick lead, hardly surprising considering that Vazquez Jr. is a notoriously slow starter.
What was of concern was the fact that Vazquez was repeatedly beaten to the punch during the moments in which he attempted to initiate the action. A similar pattern held true in the second. Vazquez Jr. performed like a fighter who has fallen in love with his power, loading up on each shot rather than throwing in combination.
The calming presence of his father Wilfredo Sr in the corner kept Vazquez Jr. in the fight mentally, but offensively still struggled to get untracked. Oquendo grew braver with each passing round, hooking off the jab and scoring with straight rights. A silver lining for Vazquez Jr. came at rounds end, scoring a flush right hand upstairs that momentarily froze Oquendo in place.
Vazquez Jr. found his punching range in the fourth, forcing Oquendo to expend energy trying to work his way inside before catching him with clean left hooks. The issue for the second generation puncher was sustained momentum. Every time he gained control, Oquendo found a way to box – and sometimes slug – his way out of trouble, to the point of winning rounds.
A battle of the jab broke out in the fifth, though it was the only semblance of pure boxing action. The round quickly developed into the all-out war that most fans expected of this replacement fight. Oquendo was game, going punch for punch and getting the better of the action, only to be cheated out of a knockdown when a slip was incorrectly ruled as Vazquez Jr’s glove touched the canvas.
The round was a major wake-up call for Vazquez Jr, who sought to brawl his way out of a severe deficit on the scorecards. Oquendo’s earlier decision to engage in a war proved costly, as Vazquez Jr. enjoyed his best round of the fight in the sixth.
That was of course, until the seventh round rolled around.
Oquendo was all but punched out, a fact not lost on Vazquez Jr, who unloaded with power shots. The telling blows took its toll on Oquendo, who was willed to the canvas by a series right hands and left hooks upstairs.
The referee began counting, though the look on Oquendo’s face was that of a fighter resigned to defeat. The count reached ten as Oquendo remained seated on the canvas before slowly rising to his feet once the bout was waved off.
The official time was 2:33 of round seven.
Vazquez Jr. improves to 22-2-1 (19KO) with a much needed win, having lost two of his previous three bouts. Another title run figures to be in his future, though there exists legitimate concern about the lack of development in recent years.
Oquendo offered one of the better performances of his career, but the crash landing when it mattered most resulted in his first loss in nearly five years. An eight-fight win streak comes to an end as he falls to 22-3 (15KO). The stoppage marks his second loss inside the distance, suffering a third round knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Lopez in Feb. ’08.
Where Vazquez Jr. heads from here depends on a number of things. The October 13 showdown between Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka should determine divisional supremacy at super bantamweight. Vazquez Jr. lost a clear – though strangely scored – decision to Donaire earlier this year. The split decision verdict didn’t come close to telling the full story, as the bout itself was decisive enough to where a rematch is hardly in order.
That said, it’s entirely possible that Donaire – favored to win over the streaking but inactive Nishioka – moves up to featherweight following next week’s bout.
There's also the possibility of revisiting a showdown with Marquez, though the former two-division champ has to get past Cristian Mijares in their bout scheduled later this month.
For now, Vazquez Jr. is only focused on the present and the immediate future, which will include the birth of another chid. Beyond that, all he cares about is an opportunity to reenter the title picture, no matter whom against.
“My future is all in the hands of Tuto Zabala to decide what’s in store for my future,” an emotional Vazquez Jr stated afterward. “For now, I just want to let all of my fans know that I’m proud to represent all of my fans in Puerto Rico.”
THE END OF THE ROAD FOR CALDERON?
Moises Fuentes made the second successful defense of his strawweight belt with a 5th round knockout over faded former two-division champion Ivan Calderon in their co-feature bout.
Fuentes (16-1, 8KO) struggled to get out the gate, as Calderon offered an early reminder of why he was regarded for years as one of the pure best boxers of his generation.
The stick and move tactics of the diminutive Puerto Rican lasted for about three rounds. Fuentes managed to draw him into a war in the fourth, which proved to be the beginning of the end. Three knockdowns in the fifth forced Calderon (35-2-1, 6KO) to quit.
A full recap can be found here:
TELEVISED PRELIMINARY BOUTS
Jose ‘Chelo’ Gonzalez (21-0, 16KO) wasted no time in getting rid of late sub Oscar Cuero (15-9, 12KO). A pair of body shot knockdowns brought an end to the bout at 1:54 of the very first round.
Gonzalez is being groomed for a future title shot against current lightweight titlist Ricky Burns.
Victor Bisbal won his 16th straight with a 6th round stoppage over 38-year old Alex Gonzalez in a battle of Puerto Rican heavyweights. Bisbal (21-1, 15KO) won every round and forced a stoppage after busting open cuts surrounding the eyes of Gonzalez (20-8, 10KO), who has now dropped seven of his last nine contests.
A full wrap of the televised preliminary bouts can be found here:
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox