Find me one person who thought that Saturday night’s Juan Manuel Lopez-Rogers Mtagwa pairing had fight of the year potential. Please, who amongst us thought 25-12-2 Mtagwa would do more than simply make it tough for the Puerto Rican being groomed as the successor to Miguel Cotto? Not I; but that doesn’t stop me from calling the JuanMa-Mtagwa bout the 2009 Fight of the Year.
WBO super bantamweight champion JuanMa, out on his feet for the end of the 11th and much of the 12th after being knocked down, managed to stay on his feet, and came away with a unanimous decision, by scores of 115-113, 114-113, 116-111. TSS agreed with the decision, even if many fans in the theater at Madison Square Garden in New York booed with gusto. The card was titled “Island Warriors-Latin Fury 12” and ran on pay-per-view. Hopefully, promoter Top Rank will make it available on HBO, Showtime or ESPN, or just YouTube, to let everyone check it out.
Mtagwa said after he thought he won, and said he’d like a rematch. “The referee missed three knockdown,” said JuanMa’s promoter Bob Arum, who believed his man deserved a wider margin on the cards.
In the first, JuanMa (from PR; 121 pounds; 27-0) scored a knockdown with his first punch, which had Mtagwa’s glove touch the mat, but it wasn’t called. It was a right hook, with an added ¼ shove. The lefty showed heavy hands and accuracy, and movement, and composure, in the first minute. A right then put Mtagwa (born in Tanzania; 121 pounds; lives in Philly; now 25-13-2) down, but again, the ref didn’t see fit to call a knockdown. In the second, JuanMa’s fast, accurate blasts kept Mtagwa off balance. The overmatched foe tried to score with overhand rights, and at the end of the round, woke up JuanMa with a sweeping left hook. In the third, the right hand worked for Mtagwa, though he paid dearly for getting off. He opened a nick on JuanMa’s left eye, and one could see what Russell Peltz was telling us last week about the challenger’s heart. Mtagwa’s right scuffed up JuanMa a tad, it was noted.
In the fourth, JuanMa’s right hook behind the ear kept on doing damage, but Mtagwa kept plodding ahead. He ate sharp punches but stayed in JuanMa’s grill, making the Puerto Rican work 24-7. In round five, a right hook sent Mtagwa down, and it was correctly scored a knockdown. JuanMa does give a little push-off to finish his hooks, so I guess it can be hard to separate the punch from the push. Even with the knockdown, it was clear that Mtagwa wasn’t out of it, and was making the puncher-boxer JuanMa earn every penny of his purse. In the sixth, JuanMa did a better job sticking to boxing, as opposed to slugging with the bottomless pit of heart, Mtagwa.
In the seventh, Mtagwa let loose with nasty right hands, and he buzzed JuanMa midway through. He may have depleted his gas tank with so much movement in the prior round. The Tanzanian may well have taken the round on a card, even. In the eighth, JuanMa came forward more to start, trying to dictate pace. It worked but that tenacious Tanzanian was still bringing it to end the round. In the ninth, the crowd roared when Mtagwa landed a right hand. JuanMa was warned for a low blow, but of course, Mtagwa kept winging. JuanMa complained of a head clash. They warred to end the round, and the crowd was transfixed. In the tenth, JuanMa complained of a low blow. Was he getting frustrated? Mtagwa, like out of a zombie flick, kept on coming on. He ate shots, was staggered slightly, but refused to cave. Meanwhile, JuanMa stayed composed, and for the most part, on message. A right to the body and left hook buzzed JuanMa, but he too showed stellar heart. Left hooks and a right hand JuanMa just about out on his feet, but the bell saved him. In the 12th round, JuanMa hit deck, but no knockdown was called, as he was down simply from exhaustion. He was good to go for about two minutes, but somehow stayed aloft, and exited the round. We’d go to the cards.
WBA featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa (from Cuba, living in Florida; 124 ½ pounds; 16-0, 14 KOs) took out Panamanian Whyber Garcia (22-7; 124 ½ pounds) in the fourth round, after taking some time to get warmed up and sizing up his somewhat hesitant opponent. As usual, Yuri didn’t bother with the jab, preferring to bang with meaning when banging at all. Garcia’s hands looked to be in slo-mo compared to the Cuban, big time. In two, the smooth operator Gamboa played it patient, easy to do as Garcia mostly posed. In the third, Garcia was a bit more aggressive, as Gamboa was not. Was the Cuban looking to get rounds in? In the fourth, we learned. A right dropped Garcia. Gamboa closed the show, via TKO, after Garcia arose, jumping on him and swarming him with everything in his arsenal. Ref Steve Smoger interceded and pulled the plug, at :58. Garcia gave less than one would’ve hoped, and if I paid money to see this card, I would’ve liked Gamboa to be in tougher.
Odlanier Solis (15-0, 11 KOs; from Cuba, living in Florida; 271 pounds, about 20 pounds over his usual weight) ran over late sub Monte Barrett (37-8; from Queens, NY; 218 pounds). Barrett, who subbed in after Kevin Johnson and Fres Oquendo walked, played the boxer, and he stayed mobile, knowing Solis would have a power edge. “Run and gun,” trainer Tommy Brooks yelled to Barrett. Solis was the busier and more effective man in the first. One wondered if Barrett’s legs were as sturdy as we’d seen before, or if at 38, he was right close to the tale end of his career. Barrett got dropped by a long left hook, and was up at eight in the second. He went down again, it was called a push, but he couldn’t tie up big Solis, or weather the rain. He hit the deck again, after being clubbed repeatedly, and the ref Wayne Kelly waved his arms to signal a finish. The time of the ending was 1:54 of two, via TKO.
Is Barrett done? He’ll have to strongly consider that option, one would think. Is Solis a prospect? Absolutely; though bloated, he has above average power, and fights in a calm way, with professional intensity. The eating habits, we’ll have to see on that…
Carlos Nasciemento (154 pounds; from Brazil; 24-2) came in with an inflated record, and Pawel Wolak (155 ½ pounds; from Poland, living in NJ; 25-1) showed all in attendance that the resume and record were misleading. With an in-your-face fury, Wolak worked Carlos over, and was rewarded with a TKO win after five completed rounds. After two knockdowns, one official, and with his red trunks that much redder from his own blood, reason prevailed and the ring doc told the ref No Mas for Carlos. Wolak had won three straight after a 2008 loss to Ishe Smith; Carlos’ sole loss came to current WBO 154 pound titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in 2007, but most of his wins came against suspect hitters in Brazil and Mexico. Wolak hurt Carlos with a right cross, soon after a gash appeared over the Brazilians’ right eye in round one. Carlos’ corner gave him the business, because he came out winging, less willing to let the Pole dictate terms in the second. The fighters were glued to each other for much of the time, both squared up, cracking. Wolak seemed to have the power edge, if the sound effects from his throws were to be a measuring stick. Carlos went down, but it was called a push late in the fourth. Wolak pinned him on the ropes, and was thisclose to getting a stop. Would Carlos’ corner or the doc let him come out for five? Danny Milano couldn’t stop the cut, and though Carlos came out energized, Wolak was back to business. He scored a knockdown, which looked like a push. Points to Carlos for making it out of the round. The ref David Fields came to Carlos’ corner after the round, and on the advice of the doctor, stopped the bout.
John Duddy (161 pounds; ranked No. 10 by WBO; from Derry, Ireland, now living in NY; now 27-1) took a UD-8 from Michi Munoz (160 pounds; from Mexico, living in Kansas; now 21-4), by scores of 80-73, 79-73, 79-73. You had to notice right away that the legions of amped admirers who used to follow Duddy have somewhat drifted away; it felt like maybe 30% of the people in the building were there to see the Derryman. In the first, Duddy worked the jab, and had Munoz backing up. He ate a few hooks, and his nose was bloodied by the underdog. The blood still dripped to start round two. A right uppercut snapped Munoz’ head back, but the Kansan didn’t drop. In the fourth, Munoz dropped in a combo which psyched up his corner, but didn’t seem to faze the Irishman. Duddy was in total control through four, in a comfortable but not overwhelming outing. The fight progressed the same way in following rounds, with the barrel-bodied Munoz landing the occasional launch, but for the most part taking two for every one he hit with. Munoz looked like he was deteriorating some in the seventh; his reflexes diminished somewhat and Duddy landed cleaner than before. In the eighth round, Duddy moved more, choosing not to press for a stoppage, but he did eat a clean right, and Munoz tried to press more fiercely. He didn’t have the gas, though, and Duddy ran out the clock, save for a final trade at the bell. The judges spoke and there was zero drama that they’d bungle the obvious call.
Cuban/Miamian Yan Barthelemy (listed as 29-years-old) went at it with Jorge Diaz, a slickee from NJ. They traded, and the crowd dug it. The lefty defector swings wide, and ate a left hook, which put him down and out in the final round. He laid and stayed on the canvas, and the ring doc evaluated him earnestly, checking his pupils for severe damage. Bart, who arose after a few minutes, dropped to 8-2, and the winner Diaz is now 10-0, with 6 KOs. The end came at 1:06 of the sixth.
Omar Chavez went to 18-0-1 with a win over New Yorker James Ventry. Julio’s youngest son has an even steeper ride to the top than does his brother Junior. He wasn’t life and death with 7-10 Gentry, but not as much one might think. The judges saw the junior welter bout 58-55, 58-55, 59-54.
Light heavyweight Carlos Negron (from PR; 5-0) showed some skills and potential with a UD win over Larry Pryor (from Texas; 4-5). Pryor has an iron beard. Guy ate a ton up top and to the body and hung tough. He definitely earned his wage.
Michael Torres of Yonkers tasted loss for the first time, at the hands of Martin Tucker (from Ohio; 7-4). The judges scored it 57-56, times three, I the lightweight scrap which kicked off the card.