By Jake Donovan
Evgeny Gradovich ended his 2013 campaign the same way it began - by claiming a deicison win over Billy Dib. Victory came in far more convincing fashion this time around, with Gradovich scoring a ninth round stoppage Sunday morning at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
Their featherweight title fight rematch served as the co-feature to the HBO PPV telecast, headlined by the ring return of Manny Pacquiao against former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios.
The first fight between the featherweights saw Gradovich answer the call to duty on short notice. It turned out to be the best phone call he ever received, outworking Dib just long enough to claim a split decision and his first major title.
For the first few rounds, the action picked up where it left off in their first fight. Gradovich was in the lead throughout the contest, but Dib was in his face in the early going, determined to prove the result in their first fight was a fluke.
Gradovich more than had his say as the bout progressed, picking up steam with each round as he gradually beat the fight out of Dib. The beginning of the end came midway through round eight, when Gradovich scored the bout's lone knockdown.
Dib had nothing left and was reduced to questionable tactics for the mere sake of surviving. A brutal low blow landed flush on Gradovich early in the round, a punch that - while not necessarily deliberate - suggested Dib was mentally checked out of the fight.
The ensuing sequence supported that theory. Gradovich acted in the manner in which a champion should perform, ramping up the offense and pounding away at his familiar foe. Referee Allan Huggins was already on his way to stopping the onslaught when Dib's corner opted to race to the ring apron to rescue their charge from further punishment.
The official time of the stoppage was 1:10 of round nine.
Gradovich improves - in every sense of the word - to 18-0 (9KO). The win marked the second defense of the featherweight belt he claimed earlier this year from Dib, who falls to 36-3 (21KO). All three of Dib's losses came outside of his native Australia.
Speculation has run rampant of Gradovich, affectionately known as "The Mexican Russian" possibly being matched with former three-division champ Nonito Donaire sometime next year. The pairing could prove problematic; both are trained by reigning Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia.
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