Albuquerque has its first male world champion since Johnny Tapia.
Angelo Leo wore down Tramaine Williams with his relentless body attack and won a 12-round unanimous decision Saturday night to capture the vacant WBO junior featherweight title at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Leo’s victory made him boxing’s first male world champion from Albuquerque since the late, legendary Tapia owned the IBF featherweight title in 2002.
Judges Don Ackerman (117-111), Glenn Feldman (118-110) and Don Trella (118-110) all scored the fight for Leo (20-0, 9 KOs), who is promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s company.
“It feels good,” Leo told Showtime’s Brian Custer immediately after his biggest victory to date. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. It feels surreal.”
The 26-year-old Leo likely will have to make the first defense of his title against Stephen Fulton, his original opponent for this main event Showtime televised. Philadelphia’s Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs), the WBO’s number one contender at 122 pounds, was removed from their championship match Wednesday, when he tested positive to for COVID-19.
The sixth-ranked Williams (19-1, 6 KOs, 1 NC), of nearby New Haven, Connecticut, replaced Fulton on three days’ notice. The previously unbeaten southpaw was supposed to box unbeaten Ra’eese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs), who instead stopped Marcus Bates (11-2-1, 8 KOs) in the 10th round of their 12-round, 122-pound rematch in the bout before Leo defeated him.
Williams got off to a strong start, but by the fourth round Leo began taking control by persistently pressuring him and slowing down Williams with his brutal body attack. Leo also adjusted to Williams’ straight left hand, and the newly crowned champion took fewer of those shots as the action continued.
“The first three rounds I was just feeling him out, getting his timing, getting the feel of him,” Leo said. “I felt him kind of loosening up and breaking down, and that’s when I started putting the pressure on him a little bit more, every round. That was the key factor in this fight, was the body work and the pressure – definitely.”
Williams was able to fend off Leo well enough during the 12th round to make it to the final bell, but Williams obviously was way behind when that round began.
Clearly in control, Leo landed to Williams head and body when Williams wasn’t trying to tie him up in the 11th round. Williams was worn down by then, seemingly way behind on the cards, though he did catch Leo with a straight left hand about 10 seconds before the 11th round concluded.
Leo landed various shots to Williams’ head in the 10th round. Referee Harvey Dock warned Williams for a low left hand that caused a brief break with 25 seconds to go in that 10th round.
Leo relentlessly went after Williams’ body throughout the ninth round, just as he had done during the prior periods. Williams tried tying him up
Leo landed a left to Williams’ body and followed up with a right uppercut that snapped back Williams’ head right around the midway mark of the eighth round. An aggressive Leo continued going after Williams’ body in that round as well.
Williams made Leo miss wildly with a left hand and connected with a right uppercut with just under a minute remaining in the seventh round. Leo landed to Williams’ body a few times during the seventh round, though.
Leo landed several hard lefts to Williams’ body in the sixth round, but Dock warned him for landing a low right below Williams’ belt with 1:08 to go in the sixth.
Leo landed a straight right hand with about 50 seconds to go in the fifth round. Leo was the aggressor throughout that round.
Williams and Leo spent much of the fourth round wrestling inside. Leo caught Williams with a straight right hand just before the fourth round ended, though.
Leo tried to work his way inside in the third round, but Williams was able to keep him at bay by landing left hands and tying him up.
Williams backed up Leo with a straight left hand about 30 seconds into the second round. A short, straight left by Williams landed to the middle of Leo’s face toward the end of the second round.
Williams grazed Leo with a left uppercut with about 35 seconds to go in the first round. A straight left by Williams backed up Leo with just under 20 seconds remaining in that opening round.
Leo had difficulty catching Williams with a clean shot in those first three minutes.
Eleven rounds later, however, Leo proudly reflected on joining Tapia, former two-division champion Danny Romero and former women’s welterweight champion Holly Holm in exclusive company among Albuquerque natives.
“I’m pretty sure they’re celebrating for sure,” Leo said of boxing fans in his hometown. “They have I think four world champions because you can’t exclude Holly Holm. So, you’ve got Johnny, Danny, Holly and now me. There’s four champions [from] that city, and I think I made history today.”
Leo unintentionally excluded the late Bob Foster, who held the WBA and WBC light heavyweight titles.
Foster became Albuquerque’s first world champion in May 1968, when he knocked out Dick Tiger in the fourth round at Madison Square Garden to win the WBA and WBC 175-pound championships. Foster later challenged Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali for heavyweight titles, but he lost both bouts by knockout.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.