WORCESTER, Mass. – A onetime Tijuana street urchin, Alejandro (Terra) Garcia’s Nom de Ring translates into English as “dirt,” and Terra got a few unanticipated mouthfuls of that very substance Saturday night when he made five inelegant trips to the musty canvas at the DCU Center in losing his WBA 154-pound title to Worcester’s Jose Antonio Rivera.

On the other hand, Terra had it in him to pay his successor the highest possible compliment.

“I have to give him a lot of credit,” said Garcia. “He fought like a Mexican.”

The 33-year-old Rivera scored a lopsided unanimous decision in the main event of Don King’s six-bout card, before a raucous but two-thirds empty house in the new champion’s hometown.

Rivera, who had lost his WBA welterweight title to Luis Collazo in the same building (but before nearly twice as many people) 13 months earlier, isn’t supposed to be a puncher, but he shocked Garcia from the get-go with two first round knockdowns.

The first came a minute into the fight, when Terra walked straight into a Rivera jab and went down in his tracks. (“I knew a jab wasn’t going to hurt him and I knew it was a flash knockdown, but I also knew it was going to help on the scorecards,” said Rivera.)

The second came late in the round when the combatants threw simultaneous rights and Rivera’s got there first. Garcia followed through with his punch and then went down in a delayed reaction.

Garcia scored his only knockdown of the evening in the fourth. Following a brief clinch, the boxers were trying to get out of each others’ way (as was referee Dick Flaherty, who was a bit too close to the action for comfort as well) when Terra nailed Rivera with a right off the side of his head and sent him down.

Although Garcia appeared to have climbed out of a big hole with the knockdown, Rivera was able to reassert himself over the middle rounds, and utterly dominated the last third of the fight, scoring knockdowns in three of the last four rounds.

In the ninth Rivera caught Garcia with a left-right combination that dropped him in his tracks. In the tenth, the two fired simultaneous left hooks and once again Rivera beat his man to the target. Garcia spun around in his tracks as his left glove eerily inscribed the arc of his intended punch before he crashed to earth yet again.

And just before the final bell, a Rivera right hand put the soon-to-be ex-champion down for the fifth time.

With that many knockdowns, Rivera didn’t even need help from the all-Massachusetts panel of judges, two of whom, Roland Milton and Leo Gerstel, had the new champion ahead 116-106, as did TheSweetScience. The third judge, Don O’Neil, had it only slightly closer, at 114-107.

Garcia (25-2), at a loss to explain a night that saw him going up and down like a yo-yo, might as well have blamed the slippery ice at the old Centrum.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “My legs just weren’t there.”

Rivera said he was surprised that Garcia kept getting up, “but those Mexican fighters are hard to keep down.”

“Conditioning,” Rivera (37-3-1) insisted, was the difference. A Worcester Court Officer in his day job, he had taken six weeks’ vacation in order to prepare for his second chance before the Worcester crowd.

When he fought Collazo last year, Rivera pointed out, he had only been able to take a week off from work. He had used up his bankroll of vacation time a year earlier, preparing to fight Ricardo Mayorga in a fight that fell apart at the last minute when the Nicaraguan failed to make weight.

“And I was dehydrated (against Collazo). I had to lose about 25 pounds to make 147,” he recalled.

Having engaged the services of a nutritionist and a strength coach and fighting at a more comfortable weight this time around, he said “this time I was ready.”

Rivera, who raised his son as a single parent for several years before remarrying last year, plans to be back on the job Monday morning, but he might take his new belt along with him when he reports to the courthouse. It might be more apt to get the attention of a surly defendant than his revolver would be.

Rivera winning at all was probably something of a surprise to most boxing insiders, but the convincing fashion in which he did it was absolutely stunning, and it seems likely that he dramatically enhanced his earning power next time out.

So who is next? The truth of the matter is that he’d love to fight De La Hoya (mucho dinero) or even Mayorga (old score to settle), but Rivera knows which side his bread is buttered on.

“That,” he said, “is up to Don King.”

With matters playing out the way they did a continent away in Las Vegas, somebody had to salvage Nicaragua’s national honor Saturday night, and that duty fell to Luis Perez.

Most ringsiders, including this one, didn’t think Perez actually beat Dimitri Kirilov, but two judges did and in the end that was what mattered. Perez won a highly unpopular split decision to successfully retain his IBF junior bantam title in the Showtime co-feature, a decision that was loudly booed and produced a sustained chant of ‘Bullsh–!’ with as much outrage as 4,858 people can produce in a 15,000 seat building.

Kirilov, who for reasons devoid of irony answers to ‘Baby,’ did fight superbly against the Nicaraguan champion. If it wasn’t a textbook lesson in how to fight a southpaw, it was at least a textbook lesson in how to fight this one.

Perez tries to set up his opponents with a heavy-handed jab and then crack them with his business hand, but from the third round on Kirilov kept his gloves high enough to smother the right coming in, waited for Perez to throw the left, and when he did, unfailingly speared him with a counter right. The tactic was so effective that by the fight’s midpoint the Russian was able to time Perez so perfectly that he was nailing him with counter-rights even when he feinted with the left.

Things were going so well, in fact, that he allowed himself to ignore another weapon in Perez’s arsenal and paid for it dearly. In the eighth, he anticipated the jab-left hand combination but got caught flatfooted when Perez instead nailed him with a big right hook and knocked him to the floor.

Kirilov took a mandatory eight-count from John Zablocki, the Massachusetts referee who was working his first world title bout, and then waded back into battle, but the damage had been done. A round he well might otherwise have won swung to 10-8 in the champion’s favor, a margin that in the end cost him both the fight and the championship.

“I got caught by the shot, but I came back and won the rest of the rounds,” complained the Russian through an interpreter. “From the eighth on I did anything I wanted to do.”

Despite the knockdown, Kirilov led 115-112 on the SweetScience scorecard and by an even larger margin, 117-112, on that of Paul Barry. The other two judges, Mike Oncona and David Hess, favored Perez by 115-113 and 114-113.

It should probably be pointed out that even though he arrived at the same winner we did, Barry’s math was even more out of touch than that of his two counterparts who voted for Perez.  (The Massachusetts official gave Perez just one round other than the knockdown round.) Ironically, Barry had initially been appointed to the main event, but when King’s Director of Boxing Bobby Goodman reminded Nick Manzello that Barry had produced a similarly skewed scorecard in siding with Rivera in last year’s Collazo fight, the Massachusetts Commission chairman agreed that it might raise some eyebrows and switched him to the 115-pound title fight instead.

Kirilov (who had IBF junior middle champ Roman Karmazin helping out in his corner) was predictably distressed by the verdict, and defiantly waved a Russian flag from the ring to further whip up an already sympathetic crowd.

“Of course I won,” said Kirilov. “I was robbed. I can’t imagine a decision like this in America. It was clearly unfair.”

Kirilov demanded a rematch, and Perez indicated his willingness to give him one.

“It was a tougher fight than I thought it would be,” said the Nicaraguan after his third straight successful defense. “But after I knocked him down, I knew I was going to win.”

With the victory Perez improved to 24-1, while Kirilov dropped to 28-3 with the loss.

In the principal non-televised bout, erstwhile contender DaVarryl Williamson halted the unbeaten run of King’s newest heavyweight signee, Mike Mollo, stopping the Chicagoan at 2:59 of the fourth.

Mollo showed well in the early going, but midway through the third Williamson caught him with a left-right combination that stopped him in his tracks, and between then and the time the bell ended to rescue Mollo had him in a world of trouble, belting him all around the ring.

The fourth was more of the same once Williamson caught Mollo with a hard left hook to the body. As the youngster attempted to retreat, Williamson jumped on the Mollo and was landing blow after unanswered blow on his by-now defenseless opponent when referee Bob Benoit stopped it at 2:59 of the round.

“This puts me back in the mix,” said Williamson, now 23-4. “It wasn’t pretty, but I got the win. After the first couple of rounds my corner was pleading with me to go after him.”

It’s now presumably back to the drawing board for Mollo, who fell to 15-1 after his first step onto the big stage. In retrospect Mollo, though an accomplished club fighter, was probably trying to make an unrealistic leap in class, but manager Al Bonnani, reckoning that Williamson might be on the downside, had opted for the bout.

“Too soon,” shrugged Bobby Goodman, “but Al wanted to roll the dice.”

Dominican-born Brooklyn featherweight Eloi Rojas remained unbeaten at 16-0 with a second-round knockout of Colorado journeyman Frank Martinez (7-8-2). Late in the round Rojas clipped Martinez with a hard left hook to the jaw that sent him spinning to the floor. Martinez took most of Benoit’s count on all fours before attempting to rise at “nine,” at which point his legs buckled and he went straight back down again. The end once again came with just one second left in round two.

Louisville middleweight Randy Griffin scored a 6th-round TKO over Puerto Rican veteran Anibal (The Cannibal) Acevedo in their undercard bout. Griffin (23-1-2) had floored Acevedo (13-5-1) earlier in the round, and when Griffin’s savage body attack forced his opponent to take a knee, Benoit waved it off at 51 seconds of the sixth, with no argument from The Cannibal.

The referee’s intercession merely hastened the inevitable. At the time of the stoppage, Griffin was pitching a shutout on two scorecards and had won all but one of the first five rounds on the other.

Relegated to an early prelim that commenced at 6 pm, former IBF champion Victor Burgos of Mexico earned a unanimous decision over game Colombian Luis Doria, but there were few witnesses to the nonstop flyweight war. (The matchup between the two jockey-sized scrapppers commenced in front of a few dozen fans and ended – just minutes after the conclusion of the Kentucky Derby – before a few hundred.)

Burgos (39-14-3) boxed in black-and-silver silks bearing his name on the front and, in equally large letters, the legend “FARMACIA VIB” on the back. The Gringos in the audience seemed unsure whether ‘Farmacia’ was meant to be Victor’s sponsor or his nickname. (Who does he think he is, anyway, Barry Bonds?)

There were no knockdowns, but there could have been at least one. In the second round Doria (20-13-1) knocked Burgos backwards and only the fact that his backside landed on the bottom strand of the ring ropes kept him off the floor. Benoit, who had the option of ruling it a knockdown, allowed the action to continue without administering a count. (Doria won the stanza on all three scorecards.)

The participants traded blows throughout, but by the tenth Burgos was getting far the better of the exchanges, and landed at least half a dozen hard right hands to Doria’s head over the final minute.

Doria’s cornermen hoisted him into the air and paraded him around the ring after the final bell, but if the judges were supposed to be impressed by this show of bravado, they apparently were not. Milton scored it 99-92, Gerstel 98-92, and Barry 97-93, all for Burgos.

DCU CENTER, Worcester, Mass.
May 6, 2006

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Alex Terra Garcia, 152½, Tijuana, Mexico dec. Jose Antonio Rivera, 152½, Worcester, Mass. (12) (Wins WBA title)

JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHTS: Luis Perez, 114½, Managua, Nicaragua dec. Dimitri Kirillov, 114½, St. Petersburg, Russia (12) (Retains IBF title)

HEAVYWEIGHTS: DaVarryl Willaimson, 220½, Denver, Colo. TKO’s Mike Mollo, 220, Oaklawn, Ill. (4)

MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Randy Griffin, 158½, Louisville, Ky. TKO’d Anibal Acevedo, 150½, Moca, Puerto Rico (6)

FEATHERWEIGHTS: Eloi Rojas, 127, Dominican Republic KO’d Frank Martinez, 127, Nunn, Colo. (2)

FLYWEIGHTS: Victor Burgos, 111½, Tijuana, Mexico dec. Luis Doria, 112½, Monteria, Colombia (10)