By Jake Donovan
Juan Carlos Salgado became a two-time alphabet titlist after barely outlasting Argenis Mendez en route to a disputed unanimous decision Saturday evening in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Scores were 114-112 (twice) and a far too wide 115-110 in their 12-round war, which aired live on Televisa.
The bout featured everything you’d want in a vacant title fight, with momentum swaying back and forth throughout the evening. Salgado had Mendez in trouble towards the end of the third round, cornering the Dominican and unloading until the final bell.
The reverse held true in a fourth round dominated by the visiting Mendez, who enjoyed his best round of the fight to that point with crisp combination punching without taking very much in return.
Both fighters had their share of moments in an action packed fifth that was disrupted by an overzealous referee, who docked Mendez one point for rabbit punching. Mendez immediately protested the call in disgust, but could do little more than make up the difference in the form of clean punching.
Action continued to go full throttle in the middle rounds, with neither fighter giving an inch. Mendez had several big moments in the eighth round, twice rocking Salgado and driving him into the ropes. Salgado stuck to a dedicated body attack, which proved to be effective throughout the fight and also bailed him out of trouble on a couple of occasions in the round.
Fatigue began to set in for Salgado in the ninth, fighting much of the round with his mouth wide open and his punches becoming a little sloppy. The Mexican landed a right hand squarely behind his opponent’s head, but the incident went unnoticed by the referee. Mendez responded the best way he knows how – with his fists, rocking Salgado with straight combinations upstairs and forcing his foe to clinch his way to the bell.
Salgado continued in search of his second wind as the rounds reached double digits. However, he managed to turn a negative into a positive, initiating exchanges and then leaning in to smother Mendez to disallow the Dominican from getting off his punches, all while able to catch much needed breathers in between punches.
The shelf life of the strategy’s effectiveness barely lasted a round. Mendez caught on and quickly adjusted as the fight reached the championship rounds, getting off first and using his jab to create space between the two.
Some timely loose tape on Salgado’s gloves allowed the Mexican an unofficial time out midway through the round, a tactic that proved effective as he came out with both guns blazing once action resumed. Mendez weathered the storm and even landed heavy bombs of his own, just enough to avoid any further incoming in the round.
An all-out war erupted in the 12th and final round, both fighters acting in accordance with the championship status that came with the fight. Bombs were flying from the fists of both fighters, but Mendez closed strong, never tiring and battering Salgado to the canvas with a barrage of punches. Salgado beat the count and avoided the embarrassment of a final round knockout, as was the case when he lost his first title more than two years ago.
It turned out that all he had to do was cross the finish line in order to preserve the victory.
The wide margin of victory on the cards confirmed the fears of Team Mendez, who expressed concern over home cooking the moment that Mexico was floated as the likely location for the fight. Mendez’ handlers sought additional investors to secure a winning purse bid, but eventually came to grips with the fact that Salgado’s handlers were going to pay the most in order to make the fight happen.
The reward came at a high price, as Salgado begins his second reign as a super featherweight titlist. His record improves to 24-1-1 (16KO), racking up his third straight win.
Salgado’s first reign also marked his arrival as a future player in the sport after scoring a shocking first round knockout of then-unbeaten – and heavily hyped – Jorge Linares in October 2009. The stay at top was very short lived, suffering a last round knockout at the hands of Takashi Uchiyaman in his challenger’s home county of Japan just three months later.
Mendez falls short in his first bid at a major title in his biggest fight since serving as a member of the 2004 Dominican Olympic boxing squad. A six-fight win streak comes to an end as he falls to 18-2 (9KO).
The title opportunity came about after Mendez went to another opponent’s backyard, easily outpointing Cassius Baloyi in South Africa this past January to earn the mandatory title shot. Mendez was ready to travel to the same location for his first title shot, only for Mzonke Fana to abruptly pull out of the fight, vacating the belt in the process.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].