Weekend Boxing Recap: Billy Joe Saunders, Gassiev-Lebedev and More

WEEKEND BOXING RECAP — The first Saturday of December marked the return of undefeated (24-0) Billy Joe Saunders who successfully defended his WBO middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Russia’s Artur Akavov at the Lagoon Leisure Center in Paisley, Scotland.  Saunders, who had been sidelined with a hand injury, was making his first start in 12 months and ring rust appeared to be a factor in his lackluster showing. After the bout, he was his own worst critic, saying “I stunk the place out.”

Saunders is a member of the Irish Traveler community, as is Tyson Fury who accompanied him into the ring bearing Saunders title belt. Saunders has his sights set on a unification fight with Gennady Golovkin, but conceded in post-fight interviews that he would be well-served by another tune-up fight.

In the chief undercard bout, up-and-coming Jack Catterall, who competes at 140 pounds, improved to 17-0 at the expense of Argentina’s Diego Gonzalo Luque. Despite hurting his hand in the second frame, Catterall won every round on two of the scorecards. A 23-year-old southpaw, he spent a good portion of 2015 in the United States sparring with Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez.

A more compelling match played out at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow where 37-year-old Denis Lebedev, with Freddie Roach in his corner, risked his IBF world cruiserweight title against undefeated Murat Gassiev. Youth was served as the 23-year-old Gassiev, coached by Abel Sanchez, dethroned his Russian countryman by a split decision (116-111, 116-112,113-114) that should have been unanimous.

Lebedev (29-3) was the busier fighter, but Gassiev (24-0) landed the harder blows.  A wicked body punch had Lebedev on the canvas in the fifth stanza. The defending champion fought more cautiously from that point on while continuing to keep his hands busy.

The cruiserweight division, historically under the radar, is suddenly brimming with good young talent. Oleksandr Usyk of the Ukraine, Mairis Briedis of Latvia, Yunier Dorticos of Cuba, now fighting out of Miami, and two Las Vegas cruiserweights, Michael Hunter and Andrew Tabiti, are all undefeated. It will be interesting to see where Murat Gassiev goes next.

There was a shocker in the co-feature when little-known Julius Indongo flattened defending IBF 140-pound world champion Eduard Troyanovsky with a left hand to the jaw in a bout that was over in 40 seconds. Hailing from the small nation of Namibia in southern Africa, Indongo, a lanky 5’10” southpaw, was undefeated (20-0 going in), but had fought exclusively in his homeland and was accorded little chance of defeating the previously unbeaten (25-0) Troyanovsky who had won 16 straight inside the distance and was being compared favorably with Terence Crawford. The 36-year-old Troyanovsky waited until he was 29 years old to launch his pro career and may find it difficult to claw back from this bombshell.

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Moscow was also the site of the most noteworthy bout on Friday’s deep card. At the Tough Fight Gym, in a very entertaining fight, Russian lightweight Dennis Shafikov improved to 38-2-1 with a 12-round split decision over Ghana’s Richard Commey. This was the second straight loss by split decision for Commey (24-2) who came up just a wee bit short in his previous go vs. Robert Easter Jr. in a bout contested for the vacant IBF world lightweight title. Shafikov becomes Easter’s mandatory opponent, but Easter plans to have a fight in the interim.

Other Friday Fights of Note

At the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, former U.S. Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez improved to 19-0 (14) with a 6th round stoppage of Issouf Kinda, a late replacement for Gabriel Bracero. Ramirez dominated throughout and ended the contest with a series of body shots. The Bronx-based Kinda, who hails from the West African country of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), drops to 18-4.

Ramirez, the son of farm workers from nearby Avenal, is developing a huge following in the area. The announced attendance, 13,700, was roughly identical to the attendance for Kolavev-Ward, although it should be noted that ticket prices were considerably cheaper. Two super welterweights, Esquiva Falcao (15-0) and Daniel Valdivia (13-0), kept their unbeaten records intact with 8-round unanimous decisions on the undercard.

At the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, local super lightweight Tevin Farmer continued his winning ways with a wide unanimous 10-round decision over Dardan Zenunaj, an LA-based fighter from Kosovo. Farmer, a 26-year-old southpaw, is an interesting story. Eleven fights into his pro career, his record stood 6-4-1. Then something clicked. He will ride a 17-fight winning streak into his next match. The last man to beat him is Jose Pedraza, the reigning WBA world 130-pound champion.

At the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, Rhode Island, super featherweight Toka Khan Clary (20-1, 14 KOs) got back on the winning track with a second round stoppage of trial horse Mario Antonio Macias. Khan Clary was matched soft. Macias is now 2-10 in bouts outside his native Mexico with seven of those losses inside the distance. However, Khan Clary, a decorated amateur who trains in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, needed a confidence-booster after being blasted out in the opening round by Filipino journeyman Jhon Gemino in his previous bout in what stands as one of the most shocking upsets of the year.

In the co-feature, Providence super featherweight Shelly Vincent (19-1) won an 8-round unanimous decision over obscure Marquita Lee, imported from Northern California. Akin to Khan Clary, Vincent was also coming off a loss. In her last start, she was outpointed by fellow unbeaten Heather Hardy at Coney Island in a robust scrap that was nationally televised.

At Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Ashley Theophane scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Yakubu Amidu. It was the fifth straight loss for Amidu, an LA-based fighter from Ghana who is 1-7-1 in his last eight starts. After the fight, Theophane (40-7-1) called out WBA world 140-pound champion Ricky Burns, but don’t look for that fight to be made anytime soon. With only 11 knockouts in 48 starts, Theophane, the British transplant, simply isn’t very marketable.

This was the fourth boxing show at Sam’s Town this year, all of which were co-promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “The Money Team,” and it was easily the least attractive of the lot. Theophane-Amidu was noosed to a very tepid undercard. The leading Las Vegas daily didn’t bother to send a reporter to cover the event.

More Saturday Activity

BULGARIA

Fighting for the first time as a professional in his hometown of Sofia, Kubrat Pulev had a happy homecoming, turning away blubbery Samuel Peter who retired after three rounds complaining of an arm injury. It was the fourth straight win for the 35-year-old Pulev (24-1) who was manhandled by Wladimir Klitschko in his lone defeat. Barring unforeseen developments, Pulev is in line to fight the winner of the fight between Klitschko and Anthony Joshua.

Not surprisingly, it was a hollow performance by Samuel Peter, a former heavyweight title-holder, who ate a lot of jabs before he called it quits. Hopefully we have seen the last of him.

MEXICO

At the Centennial Sports Center in Los Mochis, super bantamweight Eduardo Ramirez, fighting in his hometown, advanced to 19-1-2 with a 10-round unanimous decision over fellow southpaw Edivaldo “Indio” Ortega. Tijuana’s Ortega, 24-0-1 going in, incurred his first pro defeat.

In the co-feature, Johnny Navarrete (33-8-1) outpointed Jorge “Maromerito” Paez Jr. (39-9-2) in a 10-round super welterweight encounter. This was the third straight loss for Paez who was coming off a 10-round scrap with comebacking Antonio Margarito. The bouts aired on Azteca TV in Mexico and on Spanish language BeIN Sports in the United States.

GERMANY

In Karsruhe, Germany, Vincent Feigenbutz delighted his hometown fans with a second round knockout over Albania-born countryman Mike Keta who was counted out at the 1:49 mark of the second round. Feigenbutz (25-2, 23 KOs), who turned 21 in September, previously split two bouts with Giovanni De Carolis in matches sanctioned for the WBA world 168-pound title.

Down the road, it figures that Feigenbutz will match up with Leon Bauer who appeared on the undercard and advanced to 10-0 with a second round stoppage of Gheorge Sabau. Bauer, akin to Feigenbutz, his fellow German, is mature beyond his years. Germany’s youngest professional boxer, Bauer turned 18 in August.

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