On the boxing front, the month of February came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. The capstone to the final weekend played out at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, AL, where Deontay Washington (38-0, 37 KOs) defended his home turf and his WBC world heavyweight title with a fifth round stoppage of Gerald Washington. The announced attendance of 12,346 was the largest ever for a heavyweight fight in Alabama.
Wilder looked very pedestrian until he found the solution, taking out Washington with a three-punch combination. The middle punch, an overhand right, did the damage. “He lost focus for a split second,” said Washington’s trainer John Pullman, “and against a devastating fighter like Deontay Wilder you can’t do that.” Wilder was ahead 39-37 on one of the scorecards through the four completed rounds while the other judges had it even. Those scoring at home likely had Washington in the lead.
At the Spektrum in Oslo, Norway, welterweight Cecilia Braekhus (30-0) reaffirmed her status as the top female boxer in all of Europe, if not the world, with a lopsided 10-round decision over Sweden’s Klara Svensson. No less than five sanctioning bodies sent supervisors to monitor the event, so Braekhus and her co-promoters had a big nut to cover.
Braekhus, widely considered the best female boxer to come down the pike since Lucia Rijker, is trained by Johnathan Banks. A protégé of the late Emanuel Steward, Banks also trains Wladimir Klitschko. Klara Svensson trains in Denmark under former 130- and 135-pound world titlist Joey Gamache.
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In Quebec City, Canada, Eleider Alvarez TKOed Lucian Bute in the fifth round in a fight framed as a WBC 175-pound world title eliminator. This bumps Alvarez to the head of the line for a match with Adonis Stevenson. And it’s likely the end of the line for the 36-year-old Bute, a former IBF super middleweight champion who has won only two of his last seven starts.
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At Temecula, CA, junior middleweight Justin DeLoach, now 17-1, made short work of former amateur standout Christopher Pearson, knocking him out in the second round. DeLoach hails from Augusta, Georgia. The community, home to the Masters Golf tournament, also spawned the late Beau Jack and the later Vernon Forrest.
The Temecula show was promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr. In the chief supporting bout, Mayweather’s newest signee, lightweight Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, nearly came a cropper, but rallied from a fifth round knockdown to win a split 10-round decision over Chile’s Oscar Bravo. Rodriguez improved to 21-0-1.
Also on Friday, super lightweight Maurice Hooker ventured to Tijuana and scored a 10-round decision over 39-year-old Cristobal Cruz, a former IBF world featherweight champion who has devolved into a trial horse. Hooker, the recipient of a gift draw against Darleys Perez in his previous start, stays undefeated at 22-0-3. He is promoted by RocNation, the same group that promotes Andre Ward.
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At the Ice Arena in Hull, England, Rey Vargas kept his unbeaten record intact and won the vacant WBC 122-pound title with a 12-round majority decision (117-111, 116-112, 114-114) over Gavin McDonnell. A Yorkshire man, McDonnell had the home field advantage but his punches didn’t have enough mustard to stymie the Mexican import. Had he prevailed, Gavin would have joined his twin brother Jamie McDonnell, a bantamweight titlist, as a reigning world champion. But at least for the moment, there is no oreo counterpart to the amazing Charlo twins.
Vargas improved to 29-0. It was the first pro defeat for Gavin McDonnell who declined to 16-0-2. In the co-feature, lightweight Luke Campbell, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist at bantamweight, dismissed Mexico’s Jairo “Doberman” Lopez in the second round, advancing to 16-1 (13).
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At Szczecin, Poland, it was sweet revenge for heavyweight Krzysztof Zimnoch (21-1-1) who turned away Mike Mollo who wasn’t able to answer the bell for round seven. In their previous encounter, in February of last year, Mollo journeyed to Poland and pulled a shocker, KOing Zimnoch in the opening round. By winning the rematch, Zimnoch positioned himself for a nice payday — perhaps against Deontay Wilder who he defeated as an amateur. The 37-year-old Mollo returns to Chicago with a record of 21-7-1.
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There were 11 fights overall on the Wilder-Washington card in Birmingham, two of which were included in the FOX TV broadcast. The opener was a zesty appetizer, a Pier Six donnybrook between once-beaten Dominic Breazeale and Izuagbe Ugonoh (17-0 going in), the latter a 30-year-old fighter from Poland by way of New Zealand who was making his U.S. debut.
Knocked down in round three, the Polish Kiwi returned the favor in the next round and appeared to be in firm control of the fight. But Breazeale fought his way back and terminated matters in the next frame, scoring two knockdowns, the second of which knocked the arm-weary Ugonoh through the ropes and forced the stoppage.
After the inelegant brawl, a bout between more skilled fighters was needed to put the science back into the sweet science. Junior middleweights Jarrett Hurd and Tony Harrison answered the call. They competed for the IBF world 154-pound title vacated 10 days earlier by Jermall Charlo who moved up to the middleweight class.
Hurd, who was being out-slicked in the early rounds, captured the belt via TKO 9. A lazy jab by Harrison was countered by an overhand right and Harrison went down hard. Up at the count of nine, he spit out his bloody mouthpiece in response to the referee’s question of whether he wanted to continue. The ref interpreted that as a “no” and called a halt.
In another bout of note, super middleweight Caleb Plant, the pride of Ashland City, Tennessee, improved to 15-0 with a lopsided 10-round unanimous decision over Thomas Awimbono. Plant put Awimbono on the deck in the opening frame and won all 10 rounds on two of the scorecards. It was the third straight loss for Awimbono (25-7-1), a 36-year-old Brooklyn-based fighter from Ghana.
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