Jahi Tucker called for a showdown with Xander Zayas but gladly settled for his stablemate.
The unbeaten prospect survived a major gut check and passed with flying colors to outpoint Georgian bruiser Nikoloz Sekhniashvili. Judges Henry Ellick (77-74), Chris Flores (77-74) and Chris Ritter (77-74) all awarded five of the eight rounds to Tucker in their furiously paced junior middleweight contest Saturday evening on ESPN+ from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tucker and his team wisely made the decision to move up to the 154-pound division after blowing weight and getting pulled from the December 10 show in New York City. The 20-year-old from Deer Park section of Long Island, New York was given as stiff a test as could be expected at this stage of his young career.
Sekhniashvili—who trains with Zayas under the guidance of Javiel Centeno in South Florida connected with a swarm of power shots in the opening round, including a double left hook to snap back the head of Tucker. The early storm was braved by Tucker, who landed a right hand near the end of the round.
Tucker fully extended his long, left jab to create some distance in round two. It worked to a degree but Sekhniashvili eventually worked his way inside and raked Tucker’s midsection with a left hook. Tucker managed to partially deflect a left hook upstairs by Sekhniashvili but had to ride out a right hand.
A furiously paced round three was briefly marred by both fighters issued warnings for hitting on the break. The lesson didn’t take, as the same sequence occurred in round four. Referee Gerald Ritter was grossly out of position in calling for a break but on the wrong side of Sekhniashvili. Tucker threw a punch, to which Sekhniashvili responded with a right hand of his own. Tucker continued to throw until Ritter finally separated the two, at which point he instructed the judges to deduct a point from Tucker’s score total.
Tucker picked up the pace in round five and managed to slow down Sekhniashvili’s output in the process. The unbeaten Long Islander took the lead during every exchange. It resulted in an occasional left hook coming back from Sekhniashvili, though mostly with Tucker landing purposeful jabs, straight right hands and thudding body shots. Tucker was once again warned by Ritter for being too active during in-ring breaks.
Sekhniashvili was forced to deal with the consistent jab of Tucker along with a gushing cut over his left eye. Tucker didn’t waste time solely focusing on the wound. Instead, he offered a well-balanced stream of jabs and right hands from the outside, and body shots whenever the two were tied up at close quarters. Sekhniashvili landed enough left hooks to get Tucker’s attention, though largely in reactionary mode.
Tucker repeatedly punched his way out of two separate clinches early in round seven. Sekhniashvili responded with a left hook to the body, which Tucker shook off and responded with combinations upstairs.
Makonnan Tucker. Jahi’s father and head trainer, did his best to temper his son’s mood prior to the start of the eighth and final round. Firm instructions were given for the younger Tucker to use his jab, obey the referee’s commands and at one point demanding he drink water.
Tucker spent the entire final round with a smile on his face. He pumped his left hand in Sekhniashvili’s face and threw plenty of right hands behind it. Sekhniashvili (8-2, 6KOs) was pushed in reverse and forced to cover up before going on the hunt, though to no avail, in the closing seconds of the contest.
Tucker advanced to 10-0 (5KOs) after going eight rounds for the second straight fight.
Headlining the show, Robeisy Ramirez (11-1, 7KOs) and Isaac Dogboe (24-2, 15KOs) meet in a scheduled 12-round vacant WBO featherweight title fight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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