Mexico’s Erika Cruz won the biggest fight of her career with a dominating technical decision upset over long-reigning WBA Featherweight World Champion Jelena Mrdjenovich in Thursday night’s Ring City USA main event on NBC Sports Network and live from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Cruz (13-1-0, 3 KOs) cut short the title reign of three-division world champion Mrdjenovich (41-11-2, 19 KOs) as she attempted to make her sixth defense of the WBA crown. Cruz, 30, came out fast and overwhelmed the champion with wide, yet effective, power punches and a barrage of combinations. This wa s the first time that Cruz did not have her father and lead trainer Guillermo Cruz in her corner.
“I told you yesterday, Mexicans are warriors and I demonstrated that,” said Cruz. “Every single round that went by, I thought of my father and this victory is for both of us. I couldn’t come this far and disappoint him. I didn’t and now I will bring this title back to him.”
As predicted by both fighters during fight week, the righty vs. lefty matchup led to numerous head clashes early in the fight. In the third round, the commission ruled that a cut over Mrdjenovich’s right eye was caused by a clash of heads, but a Ring City USA replay showed that the initial cut opened as a result of a thunderous right hand from Cruz.
“At first I was nervous but as I saw that my punches were more powerful, I realized that this was my strongest weapon,” explained Cruz. “She endured because she has experience. She connected on me a few times and I realized I couldn’t get too close, I had to be careful. But my power is what carried me forward.”
Referee Benjy Esteves called a halt to the fight at :25 of round seven due to the deep cut over Mrdjenovich’s right eye from earlier in the fight. The fight went to the scorecards where all three ringside judges saw the fight identically as a clear shutout victory for Cruz at 70-63.
“She came to fight and go to war,” said the former champion Mrdjenovich. “I am super disappointed that the fight was stopped. I got away from my game plan and it’s disappointing to lose my world title. I fight well in the later rounds and I am disappointed I didn’t get to show that. I have been known to drop my opponents in the later rounds. I felt I was starting to find my groove and I am just disappointed.”
For Mrdjenovich, 38, of Canada, the fight marked her second fight on Ring City USA and her first time fighting a southpaw in more than 13 years. Her face was bloodied in the later rounds and she was ruled unable to continue. Following the fight, on Ring City’s post-fight show Inside the Ropes on Twitch, she called for a rematch.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” added Mrdjenovich. “I am going to lick my wounds a little bit and get back to the drawing board. We will see about a rematch. I feel a little cheated tonight.”