By Jake Donovan
Abner Cotto managed to overcome an early point deduction and the perils of fighting on the road to take a split decision win over Jerry Belmontes, Thursday evening in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Belmontes won 95-94 on one card, but was trumped by tallies of 95-94 and 96-93 in favor of Cotto, who lost a point in round three for low blows.
The fight was must-win for both fighters, even with Belmontes riding a wave of momentum in a strong showing versus fellow Texan, unbeaten lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa earlier this year. The local boxer offered a spirited effort but managed to let the title opportunity slip away in the late stages of the fight.
History repeated itself, this time in his hometown and without a title at stake.
Cotto showed no fear at any point in the fight, although he was understandably frustrated early on. A second cousin of four-division champ and reigning middleweight king Miguel Cotto, the rail-thin Boricua was caught with a low blow in round two, only to respond in kind in the next frame and have a point deducted for his efforts.
The irony in the deduction was that Cotto went on to have his best round of the fight. Given Texas' shady history of its officials robbing visiting fighters blind, the round seemed to encapsulate Cotto's chances of scoring an upset - offering your best, but unable to overcome the hometown edge.
Only, Cotto wasn't giving up that easily. Belmontes believed he could get away with brawling versus the visiting boxer, but his plan miserably backfired. Cotto constantly beat him to the punch, connecting almost at will upstairs save for the moments when Belmontes offered head movement in lieu of lifting up his guard.
An odd sequence developed late in the fight, as the two became tangled, resulting in a double-takedown. Cotto stumbled to the canvas, accidentally tripping Belmontes in the process. Belmontes placed his gloves down in an attempt to steady himself, only Cotto was in the way of the fighter and the canvas.
Cotto took issue with the gesture, insisting he was pushed down and was ready to fight even after the bell. Referee Jon Schorle offered a rare moment of restoring order, immediately jumping in to calm down the fighter after having spent the better part of the main event and co-feature enjoying the guided tour rather than actually laying down the law.
Belmontes seemed to need the final round big, but instead fought the 10th like a fighter who had either just didn't have enough left in the tank or believed he was far enough ahead to where he could coast. Cotto never relented, scoring repeatedly with combinations upstairs while Belmontes struggled to keep up.
The visitor's hard work was well-reflected on the scorecards. Having lost two of his last three heading in - including a 1st round knockout loss to Figueroa last April in his only other pro fight in Texas - Cotto now improves to 18-2 (8KOs), scoring one of the biggest wins of his young career.
Belmontes falls to 19-5 (5KOs). All five of his career losses have come in the span of his past seven bouts.
Keandre Gibson earned an eight-round split decision over Jose Hernandez in a co-feature bout that threatened to spiral out of control.
Scores were 79-73 and 78-74 in favor of Gibson, while a third judge credited Hernandez with a 77-75 nod.
Gibson found himself in a dogfight early, thrown to the canvas as the two fighters became tangled in a corner towards the end of the opening round. Referee Jon Schorle, pedestrian throughout, didn't even so much as issue a warning to Hernandez, who was aggressive to the point of bordering on dirty at times.
The role Hernandez intended to play was clear - make things as uncomfortable as possible for the unbeaten St. Louis native. He obviously succeeded, at least in the eyes of one judge. He was also able to get away with several questionable tactics, including another takedown in the eighth and final round, finally prompting a warning from Schorle, who otherwise did his best to make people forget about Vic Drakulich's inept role in Brandon Rios' disqualifcation win over Diego Chaves last weekend.
Gibson overcame the fouls and the feisty nature of his challenger to prevail in the end, even if forced to sweat out the scorecards. The 24-year old improves to 11-0-1 (5KOs). Hernandez falls to 14-8-1 (6KOs), having now lost three of his last four.
In the opening out of the telecast, Oscar Cantu kept his undefeated record intact with a six-round decision over a determined Joseph Rios.
Scores were 60-54 (twice) and 59-55, not at all indicative of the action that took place in the ring. Cantu (8-0, 1KO) was the rightful winner, but the light-hitting bantamweight was forced to work every round in order to preserve victory.
Rios (13-10-2, 4KOs) did his best to make the local prospect uncomfortable throughout the bout. Cantu was forced to brawl at times when he would rather box, but was able to fend off the stiff challenge and prevail in the end.
The bout was just the second ring apperance of 2014 for Cantu, who recently celebrated his second full year in the pro ranks. Rios, coming up on eight years as a pro, has now lost three straight.
All three bouts aired live on Fox Sports 1.
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