By Francisco Salazar
Rustam Nugaev entered his fight against Denis Shafikov on Friday night as the betting favorite.
The proof was in the pudding so to speak as he had won his six fights in a row, his last five by knockout.
Despite having lost his previous fight and having a physical disadvantage against Nugaev, Shafkiov was not about to back down. Instead, he pulled off the win in surprising fashion.
Shafikov withstood Nugaev's best punches to eventually break down the hard-hitting fighter, eventually stopping him in the ninth round at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, CA. With the victory, Shafikov becomes the mandatory challenger for the IBF lightweight title, which is current;y held by Miguel Vazquez.
Early on, Nugaev stalked the southpaw Shafikov around the ring, connecting very little with the punches he threw. On the other hand, Shavikov began to find a rhythm, slipping Nugaev's punches and countering with left crosses to the head and body.
From the third round, Nugaev had to deal with a cut on the bridge of his nose that was caused by a punch and a cut above his left eye.
Nugaev mounted a rally in the third and fourth rounds, where he was able to catch Shafikov with right crosses and an occasional uppercut to the head of Shafikov.
Undaunted, Shafikov withstood Nagaev's best punches to begin breaking Nugaev down. He would either side-step Nugaev to land to the body or continued to slip under Nugaev's punches to counter back to the head.
As the bout progressed, Nugaev's eye looked grotesquely worse, as it began to slowly close and blood was oozing out of the cut. Nugaev's lack of attack to the body allowed Shafikov to move around the ring and increase his punch output after each round.
After consulting with the ringside physician prior to the ninth round, referee Jack Reiss kept a close eye on Nugaev. After Shafikov landed a combination that culminated with a left hand to the head, Reiss saw enough and stopped the bout at 1:16.
Shafikov, from Miass, Russia, improves to 34-1-1, 19 KOs. Nugaev, from Perm, Russia, falls to 27-7-1, 17 KOs.
Welterweight Francisco Santana (21-3-1, 10 KOs) stopped Luis Alfredo Lugo in the fifth round. Santana landed the more telling blows throughout the fight, although Lugo (13-22-1, 6 KOs) did connect with a few overhand rights to the head. As the bout progressed, Santana began to often to the head of Lugo. After an exchange in the fifth round, Lugo's corner threw in the towel, prompting referee Jack Reiss to stop the bout at 1:20. Lugo did not look hurt and stormed out of the ring.
Featherweight Khabir Suleymanov (17-4-1, 6 KOs) won a six round majority decision over Rufino Serrano. Suleymanov dropped Serrano with a counter right to the head midway through the first round. After getting up and moments later, Serrano (14-6, 1 KO) dropped Suleymanov with a counter right to the head. Both had their moments midway through the fight, but Suleymanov controlled the fight during the last two rounds. One judge scored the bout 57-57, while the other two judges scored the bout 58-56 and 58-55 for Suleymanov
In the co-feature bout, super featherweight Jose Pedraza stopped Juan Carlos Martinez, as Martinez did not answer the seventh round.
Pedraza stopped Arturo Uruzquieta in his last bout on June 7 and seemed to have kept the momentum going in his favor.
Pedraza was the quicker of the two fighters. He was at his best getting off first, almost landing at will with left hooks to the head of Martinez. Undaunted, Martinez did well in the early rounds, scoring with lead and counter right hands to the head Pedraza.
Any offense Martinez mounted was thwarted by Pedraza, who began to assert himself more with each passing round. Pedraza began to dominate each round by initiating exchanges, which allowed him to attack the body of Martinez more.
By the sixth round, Martinez's punch output dropped significantly. He engaged less with Pedraza, backing away as if he was in survival mode. After the round ended, Martinez's corner told referee Dr. Lou Moret that Martinez was unable to continue.
Pedraza, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, improves to 18-0, 12 KOs. Martinez, from Indio, Calif., by way of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, falls to 20-15-1, 7 KOs.
Super bantamweight Edwin Sandoval won a one-sided four round unanimous decision over Lyonell Kelly. Sandoval (3-1, 1 KO) was the busier fighter and landed repeatedly to the head of Kelly. Sandoval could have broken Kelly (0-4-1) down had he attacked to the body, but did enough to win on all three judges' scorecards. Scores were 40-36 in favor of Sandoval.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing