By Jake Donovan
— A night that was originally slated as a title shot instead turned near disastrous for Sergio Mora. The famed former reality star and one-time 154 lb. titlist barely escaped with a debatable split decision over late sub ‘Abie’ Han in their regional middleweight title fight Friday evening at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Both fighters guaranteed an action-packed affair but were slow out the gate in making good on that promise. Mora played the role of aggressor, while Han—who accepted the fight on barely two weeks’ notice—was mobile and selective with his punch output.
A right hand shot from Mora midway through the opening round brought the crowd to life in an otherwise feel-‘em out frame. Han landed the cleaner blows of the two in the moments he elected to let his hands go, though Mora’s busier workrate suggested he was in control.
Minimal action was offered through the first six minutes before things grew interesting towards the end of round three. Han enjoyed his best sequence of the fight in the closing ten seconds of the 3rd round – a round in which Mora landed on a more consistent basis prior to that point - scoring with a combination and creating enough space to keep Mora off balance.
A blown call was offered by the referee, who missed a sneak left hook by Han at the end of the round, causing Mora to sprawl backwards and on to the canvas in what should have been ruled a knockdown. Despite the non-call, Han treated the moment for what it was, now aware that he could hurt his opponent. Mora made the necessary adjustments, bringing the crowd to life as both fighters picked up the pace in the middle rounds.
Mora managed to lure Han in at the start of round six, cutting short a quick prayer to attack with a left hook and right hand to follow. A far more convincing right hand came moments later, bouncing sweat off of Han’s dome and drawing a roar out of the crowd.
Han held his ground and responded in kind, scoring with an overhand right to drive Mora to the ropes. With the power surge came a shift in tactics – Han suddenly became the aggressor while Mora was using more of the ring than was the case in the earlier rounds.
The second half of the fight began with Han’s best three minutes of the fight to that point. Mora was beginning to tire, with a little less offered on his punches. Han dialed up the offense, cornering the Californian at one point and scoring with power shots throughout round seven.
Mora connected with a straight right hand at the start of the eighth, setting the tone for a grueling round that saw both fighters enjoy their moments. Han continued to move in and out as he pleased, pinning Mora along the ropes but also leaving himself open for a left hook.
Time was called at the start of round nine as Mora came out without his mouthpiece, a sequence viewed by Han’s handlers as a stall tactic. It didn’t seem to accomplish much other than stretching out the round a few seconds longer.
With the fight very much on the table, the middleweights dug deep to gain control. Han was enjoying a good stretch before getting gigged for hitting behind the head. The tough-as-nails Texan didn’t let it get to him, coming right back with a right hand and left hook for the bout’s first—and lone—official knockdown as Mora was forced to take a count while on all fours.
Desperation time began to creep in for Mora, who needed the best six minutes of his 15-year career in order to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Han wasn’t having any of it, pouncing on the veteran whenever the moment allowed, flurrying at times but stepping back just enough to also score with straight right hands up the middle. Mora tried to turn the tide towards rounds end, but was only able to collect table scraps.
Chants of “Abie” filled the intimate venue at the start of the final round, as the crowd was clearly pulling for the underdog. Han gave the fans plenty to cheer about to that point and over the course of the final three minutes. Mora tried in vain to reach back for a momentum changer, but it was Han applying pressure and landing the harder shots.
The fight ended with Han raising his hands in celebration before being hoisted in air and escorted around the ring by his cornermen. In the opposite corner, Mora took it all in for a moment before responding in kind, throwing up his hands in celebratory mode but not convincing the crowd on the prospect that he won the fight.
It worked, however, on two of the three judges. Han won 115-112 on one card, but was overruled by scores of 114-113 and 115-112 in favor of Mora, who dodged a major bullet though not the wrath of the crowd who vehemently booed the decision.
The bout served as the main event of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
In the televised co-feature, 19-year old super welterweight prospect Erickson Lubin was forced to put in work in taking an eight-round decision over Michael Finney.
Lubin once served as the United States’ best chance at a Gold medal in the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. Instead, the Orlando-based boxer opted to turn pro, signing with then-newly formed promotional company Iron Mike Productions on his 18th birthday in Oct. ’13.
Plenty of shine has followed his young career, thus far, as Lubin has graced a TV screen in six of his nine pro bouts to date. He was given a stiff—if unexpected—test against Finney, a durable welterweight who came in as a very late replacement for Mexico’s Rodolfo Quintanilla, who had an issue with his medicals that couldn’t be cleared in time to allow him to fight.
The threat of a knockout never surfaced over the course of the bout. Finney was tough enough to take his polished opponent’s best stuff, and also had his moments as he scored to the body in the middle rounds. Neither fighter boasted much in the way of power, but Lubin’s speed advantage was the major difference over the course of the televised eight-round affair.
Scores were 80-72 across the board in favor of Lubin, who advances to 9-0 (6KOs). The bout was his first of 2015 after scoring seven wins in an active first full year in the pro ranks in 2014.
Finney heads back to Columbus, Georgia with his third straight winless performance, but earning industry-wide respect as he falls to 12-2-1 (10KOs).
Ahmed Elbiali was emphatic in his televised debut, rolling through overmatched Dustin Echard in the second round of a matchup of unbeaten light heavyweights.
Elbiali used the opening round to size up Echard (10-1, 7KOs), whose undefeated record was largely comprised of stiffs on the midwestern circuit. Once the unbeaten Miami puncher dialed in, the fight ceased being competitive. An overhand right put Echard down and underneath the bottom rope, to where he arose outside the ropes completely clueless of his whereabouts.
Referee Bill Clancy could have done the right thing and just ended the fight at that moment. Instead, he merely counted to eight and assisted the still loopy West Virginian back into the ring.
Action resumed with Echard in a corner looking around, as Elbiali moved in for the kill. A series of power shots upstairs left Echard helpless, with the referee finally jumping in to halt the onslaught.
The official time was 0:44 of round two. Elbiali, a Miami-based Egyptian slugger who is managed by Luis DeCubas Jr. and fights under the Al Haymon advisory banner, rolls to 9-0 (9KOs).
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox