By Jake Donovan
After losing a belt without losing in the ring and coming up short in one court battle after another, Rances Barthelemy finally beat Argenis Mendez where it matters most - in the ring.
The unbeaten Cuban finished what he started six months ago, scoring a unanimous decision over Mendez to claim a 130 lb. title Thursday evening at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. Scores were 115-111 across the board for Barthelemy, who flirted with disaster as he was docked two points for low blows.
The bout came as a rematch to their controversial first fight, when Barthelemy knocked out Mendez after the bell to end the 2nd round of their ESPN2-televised affair in Minneapolis this past January. Barthelemy was ruled a knockout winner, only for the decision to get overturned later that month by the Minnesota commission.
Barthelemy came out like a fighter pissed about how the past few months have turned out, including his having to return the title to Mendez and accept the less favorable end of the purse split. The opening round saw the reinstated challenger gunning to repeat what took place at the end of the first fight. Mendez was rocked early and spent far too much of the fight on the ropes and not enough of it throwing punches.
Lucky for the defending titlist, he didn't have to worry much about getting knocked out. Whether he injured his hand or just wasn't willing to go all out, Barthelemy eased off of the gas enough to turn a fight into a boxing match. Most of the first eight rounds saw Mendez plod and wait for openings that never presented itself, Barthelemy picking his spots, and the crowd - on hand and watching at home - growing increasingly restless.
Even former heavyweight king-turned-promoter Mike Tyson was frustrated over the lack of action, particularly from Mendez after his Iron Mike Productions company and its hired legal team fighting so hard to keep their fighter a champion heading into Thursday's bout. The Hall of Fame ex-champion sat on the broadcast, adding his thoughts throughout the evening, most of his comments expressing disappointment that Mendez wasn't letting his hands go.
Things finally grew interesting in round nine, when Barthelemy was docked a point for a questionable low blow. Further drama ensued in round 10 when the unbeaten Cuban lost another point for a punch that landed on the beltline, but sold well enough by Mendez to convince referee Telis Assemenios that a foul occurred.
The sequence marked the last time in the fight Barthelemy attemped a body shot. A touch of irony came in round 11, when Mendez began targeting the body, catching Barthelemy with non-consecutive digging punches to the ribs. The rare burst of aggression was not only short-lived, but nearly backfired as the Dominican boxer opened up enough to get caught with counter shots upstairs that left him wobbled.
Barthelemy closed strong in the 12th and final round, fighting as if there was concern over getting robbed on a show presented by his opponent's promoter. The three judges were fair and accurate in their final assessment, all scoring nine rounds to three in Barthelemy's favor.
The win marks the first official title fight victory for Barthelemy, who improves to 20-0 (12KOs).
Mendez' 17-month title reign comes to an end as he falls to 21-3-1 (11KOs). His entire championship stay lacked a single win beyond his title-winning effort over Juan Carlos Salgado last March. His two title defenses were a draw with Arash Usmanee last August, and the knockout loss-turned-No-Decision this past January.
Hypoglycemia was blamed for Mendez' poor performance in the first fight. Weight struggles were wrongly suggested for that night, but a legitimate concern this time around. Mendez struggled to make the 130 lb. limit, and ballooned up to 145 lb. by fight night. It's likely his next fight takes place at lightweight or heavier.
As for Barthelemy, his first order of business figures to revolve around a mandatory title fight with Michael Farenas. Whatever comes, it will most likely not come in a courtroom, as the newly crowned titlist was able to have his final say while the action was still on the clock.
Humberto Savigne continues his quest for a light heavyweight shot, scoring a 2nd round stoppage over what resembled the walking corpse of Jeff Lacy in the televised co-feature.
Lacy, a former super middleweight titlist and a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Boxing squad returned to the ring last November in hopes of one last run in 2014 but simply had nothing left in the tank. Savigne feasted on that weakness, unloading with power shots during the brief affair.
The lone knockdown of the bout came midway through round one. Lacy broke the cardinal rule to protect yourself at all times, repeatedly complaining about a punch that caught the back of his head. The sequence was missed by the referee, but Lacy left himself unprotected as Savigne connected upstairs and with a digging body shot before sending the faded veteran to the canvas.
Lacy stumbled to the mat moments later, though not from a punch but due to his inability to regain his legs.
Savigne continued to unload in round two, connecting repeatedly on a now-defenseless Lacy before the referee finally intervened to stop the massacre.
The official time was 2:04 of round two.
Savigne moves to 13-1 (10KOs), while Lacy staggers to 26-5 (18KOs).
Welterweight prospect Erickson Lubin pitched an eight-round shutout over Noe Bolanos in the opening bout of the telecast. Scores were 80-72 across the board for Lubin, who had never gone past four rounds before but was able to control the action every minute of his first scheduled eight-round affair.
No knockdowns were scored, nor was Bolanos in trouble at any point in the fight. The veteran boxer from Mexico did his best to rattle the 18-year old rookie, but Lubin showed poise and intelligence every step of the way, never wasting punches and wise enough to know that the knockout just wasn't going to come.
The win advances Lubin's record to 6-0 (5KOs); Bolanos falls to 25-10-1 (16KOs).
Like Lubin, Yunier Dorticos was also forced to go the distance for the first time in his career, pitching a virtual shutout over aged former middleweight contender Edison Miranda, now a 33-year old cruiserweight.
Scores were 100-90 (twice) and 99-91 in favor of Dorticos (18-0, 17KOs), who had previously never been extended beyond the sixth round of any given fight. Miranda (35-10, 30KOs) has now lost four straight.
Super featherweight prospect Albert Bell cruised to a four-round decision over Cody Walker. Bell (5-0, 1KO), 21, made his pro debut last June, when Iron Mike Productions was officially formed as the result of Tyson joining forces with Acquinity Sports.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox