By Jake Donovan
Nikolay Potapov and Stephon Young went into their 10-round Showtime-televised clash as unbeaten bantamweights. They leave the same way after fighting to a majority decision draw Friday evening at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
Potapov managed a 96-94 nod on one card, overruled by matching scores of 95-95 in the eyes of the other two judges.
Young will look back at this fight and realize the work he failed put in during the early rounds was the difference between another draw and what could have been the biggest win of his career. Potapov created the perception of being the busier fighter largely by mixing in jabs with power punches, while Young mostly waited for his opportunities rather than create openings.
The tactic didn't sit well at all with his chief second, BoxingScene.com 2015 Trainer of the Year Herman Caicedo, who rightfully gave his boxer an earful in between rounds. Young - born and raised in St. Louis but who now literally lives in the gym, housed in Caicedo's training facility in Miami -picked up the pace in the middle rounds, landing the more telling blows versus Potapov, who handled the incoming well but lacked the firepower to properly reciprocate.
What the transplanted Russian boxer was able to do, however, was outwork Young in swinging momentum back in his favor. By round eight, it appeared as if he was well on his way to a decision victory, a point raised by Caicedo who informed his charge that he needed a knockout to win.
Young delivered perhaps his best three minutes of the fight in round nine, even briefly wobbling Potapov during the frame but unable to put together that one final combination to end the fight. Potapov recovered well and closed with a strong 10th and final round to avoid having to taste defeat for the first time in his career.
Potapov is now 14-0-1 (6KOs). Young - who offered a similarly strong outing in a draw versus unbeaten Antonio Nieves last June on BET - is now 14-0-3 (6KOs).
Mason Menard stepped way up in class versus the more polished Eudy Bernardo, but walked away with an instant candidate for Upset of the Year and Knockout of the Year with a vicious 3rd round knockout.
Bernardo has spent most of the still young 2016 year campaigning for a showdown with fellow unbeaten lightweight Felix Verdejo. His level of competition suggested he has a long way to go to get to that level, which was exposed to a degree on this particular night. Menard had never before fought outside of the Gulf Coast, with one trip to Mississippi his lone career fight outside of his native Louisiana.
The 27-year old boxer turned the night into a breakout performance, scoring two knockdowns on the night en route to the highlight reel victory. A series of right hands had Bernardo on the deck in round two, giving Menard a jolt of confidence as he never stopped applying pressure.
A single right hand shot brought an immediate and emphatic ending to the fight in round three. The punch caught Bernardo flush on the chin, knocking him out on his feet with his head slamming against - and bouncing off of - the canvas as he crashed. The fight was immediately halted without a count, with emergency medical attention paid to Bernardo, who laid still for several minutes before being taken out of the ring on a gurney.
Showtime announcers confirmed later in the telecast that Bernardo - now 21-1 (15KOs) - was awake and responsive while being examined in the hospital.
As for Menard, he heads home to Louisiana with by far the biggest win of his career as he improves to 31-1 (23KOs). The lone loss of his career came in his third pro fight way back in 2008.
Constantin Benejaru picked up the biggest win of his young career, though was required to climb off the canvas to preserve his unbeaten record following a 10-round win over Alexey Zubov.
The matchup of unbeaten cruiserweights (both boxers were 10-0 going in and also making their respective ShoBox debuts) turned out to be a one-sided boxing lesson in favor of Benejaru - born and raised in Moldova but now based out of Brooklyn, New York - who won on all three scorecards by tallies of 78-73(2x) and 77-74. Zubov trains out of the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit under the watchful eye of Javan 'Sugar' Hill, but struggled to get his offense untracked against the squat southpaw who applied pressure throughout the contest.
Benejaru was aggressive to a fault, as the lone knockdown of the bout came from his charging in and getting clipped with a compact right hand at the start of round seven. It was a flash knockdown, but still a chance for Zubov to turn the tide in a fight he was hopelessly behind on the scorecards. However, he never kicked it into a next gear - despite repeat demands from Hill to let his hands go - and ultimately let the fight slip away.
With the win, Benejaru advances to 11-0 (3KOs), while Zubov falls to 10-1 (6KOs).
All three bouts aired live on Showtime as part of the network's long-running ShoBox series. The event marked the network debut for promoter Dmitry Salita, a former super lightweight contender whose devout faith to the Jewish religion prevented him from being present at ringside.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox