Nine months after suffering the only loss of his career, welterweight contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas returned to the ring and scored a KO victory over Mikael Zewski in the main event of a Top Rank card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on Saturday.
For the better part of seven rounds, Kavaliauskas and Zewski fought on even terms, but a perfectly placed right uppercut by Kavaliauskas near the end of the seventh changed the fight. That punch eventually led to an eighth-round KO victory for "Mean Machine."
Kavaliauskas (22-1-1, 18 KOs), who was stopped in Round 9 by WBO welterweight world titlist Terence Crawford in December, fought at a measured pace in the early rounds against Zewski on Saturday night. Zewski (34-2, 23 KOs) looked like the fresher fighter early on, as he was able to beat Kavaliauskas to the punch with quick combinations to the body and head.
The first half of the fight was a tense chess match, with both men working behind hard right hands. There were no sustained exchanges, and the fight was fought tactically, for the most part.
By the fourth round, Kavaliauskas had redness and swelling near his right eye, and going into the second half of the bout the result was up in the air. While Kavaliauskas was perhaps landing the heavier punches, he was getting outhustled at times by Zewski.
"I was controlling the fight. I was never in danger. I was never hurt," Kavaliauskas said afterward.
Regardless of everything that happened to that point, Kavaliauskas landed the uppercut in the eighth and stunned Zewski, who was then backed up along the ropes. Kavaliauskas followed up with a violent flurry of punches that sent Zewski down. He just barely beat the count of referee Kenny Bayless and managed to survive the round.
It was a short reprieve, though, as Kavaliauskas landed an overhand right that sent Zewski to the canvas for the second time. This time Bayless immediately waved off the fight, 7 seconds into the eighth. At the time of the stoppage, Zewski was up on two scorecards.
"I wanted to knock him out faster, but it happened this way," Kavaliauskas said. "You can never count on the knockout. I was working. I was putting pressure on him. I saw him slowing down round by round. I saw him getting weaker and weaker. I was just blocking his punches and not feeling his power.
"I don't think [Terence] Crawford has any other choices at welterweight. I can ask his team, with all due respect, to give me a rematch, because these guys have no opponents yet."
Fight takeaway: Can Kavaliauskas compete with the top welterweights in boxing?
There were times during the fight with Zewski that you wondered if Kavaliauskas was a bit shopworn after his loss to Crawford. But at the end, Kavaliauskas proved that when you are physically strong and have a set of heavy hands, it can still carry you a long way.
Kavaliauskas is still very much a top-10 welterweight, but as well as he performed against Crawford back in December, nobody really wants to see that rematch. Matchups against the other marquee welterweights would be very interesting, but unfortunately, are very unlikely given that fighters such as Errol Spence Jr., Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman have different promoters and are difficult fights to make for that reason.
In other words, Kavaliauskas is in the same situation as Crawford in looking for top opponents -- albeit with the loss to Crawford on his record, and no world title around his waist.
Gonzalez shines in victory over Marriaga
Joet Gonzalez showed there were no lasting ill effects from his WBO featherweight world title fight loss to Shakur Stevenson last October, putting forth a dominant performance in a unanimous decision victory over veteran Miguel Marriaga, whom he steadily beat to the punch throughout.
After 10 rounds, all three judges scored the fight for Gonzalez, 97-93 and 99-91 (twice).
After two relatively even rounds to start the fight, the 26-year-old Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs) began to ramp up his work rate and pressure in Round 3. He landed lashing right hands that snapped back the head of the experienced Marriaga, who tried his best to hold his ground. But as the rounds went on, and as Gonzalez built offensive momentum, the 33-year-old Marriaga (29-4, 25 KOs) simply couldn't keep up with the withering pace set by his younger foe.
Marriaga started backing up in the middle rounds and Gonzalez began to land left hooks to the body. While Gonzalez wasn't able to score a knockdown, he forced Marriaga into survival mode for much of the second half of the fight.
"It was what I expected. He was a tough guy," Gonzalez said after the fight. "He's been in there with three world champions. He tried to make a last run for it, so I expected the best Marriaga because he knows his time was cut short. I expected the best Marriaga, and he put up a good fight."
Gonzalez suffered a cut below his right eye that began to bleed in the ninth round, but he just kept coming forward. Gonzalez threw 466 punches and landed 177, outpacing Marriaga, who landed 108 punches of 351 thrown.
For Gonzalez, this was a solid win. Marriaga's only losses had come against Nicholas Walters, Oscar Valdez and Vasiliy Lomachenko in title fights. With the victory, Gonzalez served notice that he is still very much a threat in the featherweight division.
"This puts me back in the position I want to be," Gonzalez said. "I wanted to be back in with tough guys. I told my manager, Frank Espinoza, and my team at Golden Boy that I didn't want no tuneup fights. I wanted to show people that I could compete with the top guys and be in with heavy hitters and boxers and compete for another title real soon.
"I want another world title shot. I think I've earned it."
Fight takewaway: Is Gonzalez a legit featherweight contender? What would be a great next fight for him?
This says a lot about the class of Shakur Stevenson, whose slick boxing helped him dominate Gonzalez last fall. On Saturday, Gonzalez served notice that he is still very much a tough matchup for anyone at 126 pounds. He's an active pressure fighter, who builds momentum through the rounds.
He's just 26, and he is entering his physical prime. Gonzalez is also a focused and determined fighter, and you get the sense that in his second title opportunity he will be better -- and he won't be facing Stevenson, who is now campaigning as a junior lightweight.
I'm still on Twitter break but I'm logging in to say Joet is a really good fighter he looked real good tonight against Marriaga and deserves his tittle shot 💪🏾 #SeeYallSoon— Shakur Stevenson (@ShakurStevenson) September 13, 2020
Looking forward, a very logical fight is one with Xu Can, who holds a version of the WBA featherweight title and is promoted by Golden Boy. Xu is an absolute windmill who throws a multitude of punches, round after round. A Xu-Gonzalez fight would be an all-action affair, and from a stylistic perspective, much easier to decipher for Gonzalez than Stevenson was.
Jumakhonov demolishes Ramos in KO victory
Aleem Jumakhonov stopped Jorge Ramos in Round 3 of a scheduled eight-round featherweight contest, when Jumakhonov landed a right hand over the top that sent Ramos down and Ramos was unable to beat the count of referee Robert Byrd.
Despite having a three-inch advantage in height, the 5-foot-10 Ramos (7-3-1, 4 KOs) never truly established his jab or utilized his length. From the onset of the fight, Jumakhonov was able to march straight forward and get inside, where he let his hands go liberally.
Jumakhonov, who dropped an eight-round majority decision against Martino Jules inside the Top Rank bubble at the MGM Grand on July 16, kept his vow to be more active with his hands and steadily pounded away at Flores.
Flores stops Rodriguez in Round 5
Manuel Flores scored an impressive fifth-round knockout of Jonathan Rodriguez in a battle of unbeaten bantamweights. Flores, a southpaw, showed an impressive all-around skill set and slowly chipped away at Rodriguez.
There were a lot of similarities between the two coming into the fight, as both Flores and Rodriguez had eight fights under their belt and both are 21 years old. But the one thing that separated them was that Flores is a left-handed boxer, and he used that as an advantage to create openings against Rodriguez, who has problems defending that attack.
After two relatively close rounds to start the bout, which was scheduled for six rounds, Flores (9-0, 6 KOs) scored a knockdown of Rodriguez (8-1, 3 KOs) with an uppercut-right hook combination. Though Rodriguez was still game after the knockdown, Flores began to slowly break him down with his accurate punching.
In the fifth, a booming left hand capped off a big series of punches that forced referee Robert Hoyle to wave the fight off at 1:11 of that round.
Chavez dominates Gonzalez late for win
Anthony Chavez recovered from a rough start to defeat Adan Gonzalez by unanimous decision in a well-contested junior lightweight contest. Chavez had issues early on with the aggression of Gonzalez, but his superior technical skills took over in the second half of the bout.
All three judges had Chavez up by scores of 58-55 after six rounds.
Chavez hit the deck in Round 1 in what was originally ruled a knockdown. But after the Nevada State Athletic Commission reviewed the sequence, it ruled that it was a clash of heads more than Gonzalez's right hand that caused the fall.
In the third round, a short, compact left hook from Chavez (9-1, 3 KOs) sent Gonzalez (5-4-2, 2 KOs) sprawling to the ropes, and referee Robert Byrd ruled it a knockdown. From that point on, Chavez took control of the bout and started to become more and more aggressive. While Gonzalez was still willing to trade, Chavez landed the cleaner blows, working off his quick, flipping jab.
Puente stays unbeaten
Lightweight Eric Puente defeated Luis Norambuena by unanimous decision to kick things off Saturday in a hard-fought four-round bout. Puente (4-0) remains undefeated, winning by scores of 39-37, 40-36 and 40-36.
Coming into this contest, neither boxer had scored any knockouts in his career, but they weren't shy about letting their hands go. Puente worked behind a steady jab, while Norambuena (4-6-1) proved to be a persistent opponent who kept coming at Puente.
The rounds were relatively close, but Puente landed the cleaner punches.