The 140-pound division took center stage on the second weekend of March with two world title fights and two other matches in the weight class bearing the label of a title eliminator. Overall, the bouts were entertaining and when the smoke cleared Mikey Garcia claimed his fourth world title, Kiryl Relikh stood tall, and the star of Regis Prograis shined even brighter.
FREEMAN COLISEUM, SAN ANTONIO
Mikey Garcia improved to 38-0 (30) and captured the IBF 140-pound title with a unanimous decision over Sergey Lipinets who was making his first defense. A former European kickboxing champion, Lipinets (13-1) did his best work in the middle rounds although Garcia landed the best punch of the fight, a counter left hook that knocked the Kazakhstani to the mat in round seven.
In an upset, Kiryl Relikh claimed the vacant WBA 140-pound title with a clear-cut decision over previously undefeated Rances Barthelemy who was bidding to become the first boxer from Cuba to win world titles in three weight classes. Relikh (22-2, 19 KOs), who threw more than twice as many punches, won 10 of the 12 rounds on two of the scorecards and nine rounds on the other.
This was a rematch. Barthelemey won the first meeting in May of last year, prevailing by margins of 4, 6, and 8 points, tallies that were widely denounced as too wide. There was no controversy tonight as the Belarusian was in control from the get-go. It was the first pro loss for the Las Vegas-based Barthelemy who was 26-0 going in.
Fighting before his hometown fans, hot prospect Mario Barrios, yet another junior welterweight, knocked out Eudy Bernardo (23-3) of the Dominican Republic in the second round with a perfectly placed right hand. This was the second time that Bernardo was on the wrong side of a one-punch knockout. Mason Menard turned the trick in April of 2016. Bernardo appears to have a glass jaw. The steadily improving 22-year-old Barrios (21-0, 13 KOs) has stopped each of his last five opponents.
In an exciting lightweight contest, Ghana’s Richard Commey (26-2, 23 KOs) took a major step toward a rematch with reigning IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr. with a sixth round stoppage of previously undefeated Alejandro Luna (22-1) of Bellflower, California. Commey and Easter Jr. fought for the vacant IBF strap in September of 2016 with Commey losing a split decision.
Fighting in a steady rain, WBO world featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (24-0, 19 KOs) overcame a bad cut inside his mouth to upend Scott Quigg (34-2-2) by unanimous decision. A two-time Olympian making his fourth title defense, Valdez won by comfortable margins on the scorecards (117-110, 118-109 twice) but had several anxious moments against his bigger adversary who rarely took a backward step. Quigg came in almost three pounds over the 126-pound limit, so the title was at stake only for Valdez.
Someone’s “O” had to go said ring announcer Michael Buffer before the 10-round junior lightweight contest between 20-0 Andy Vences and 17-0 Erick DeLeon, but Buffer was wrong. The match was scored a draw. The fight was devoid of fireworks but relatively entertaining as the combatants were well-matched.
Alex Saucedo had a more difficult time than expected before putting away Tijuana’s Abner Lopez in the seventh frame of a 10-round junior welterweight contest. Saucedo ate a lot of leather but gave more than he got before ending the contest with a left hook to the liver. An Oklahoma City product who trains with Abel Sanchez in Big Bear, Saucedo advanced to 27-0 (17). Lopez declined to 21-9.
Andy Ruiz, making his first start in 15 months, made short work of Devin Vargas, taking him out in the opening round. Ruiz, who improved to 30-1 (20), came in at a pudgy 260 ½ pounds, giving him a 43-pount weight advantage. The 36-year-old Vargas, once considered a very promising prospect, has lost five of his last eight with all five losses inside the distance.
Earlier in the day in Paris, France, WBA junior middleweight champion Brian Castano (15-0, 11 KOs) had all the best of veteran Cedric Vitu (46-3) before stopping him in the final round. The match was live streamed in the United States for free on Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports digital platform.
Castano, a highly decorated amateur, is rated in some quarters the best of the current crop of Argentine fighters. He holds the title vacated by Demetrius Andrade.
The best performance of the weekend was turned in by fast rising junior welterweight Regis Prograis who blew away former WBA/IBF 140-pound world titlist Julius Indongo inside two rounds at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Casino in historic Deadwood, South Dakota. Prograis knocked Indongo off balance with the first two punches that he landed. The Namibian was on the floor four times before referee Ian-John Lewis decided that he had seen enough.
A southpaw, the undefeated (21-0) Prograis has knocked out 14 of his last 15 opponents. The colorful New Orleans native is now a client of Churchill Management, an agency led by Hollywood heavyweights Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, but when it comes to “building his brand” his best assets are his fists. When the pound-for-pound lists are updated, look for his name to appear. Prograis is the real deal.
The chief undercard match was another contest in the 140-pound weight class. The match between transplanted Russians Ivan Baranchyk and Petr Petrov was a one-sided affair. Baranchyk, based in Brooklyn, had too much firepower for the globetrotting Petrov, a late replacement for Sweden’s Anthony Yigit. The end came in round eight. Petrov was being hammered against the ropes when referee Mark Nelson intervened.
The IBF garbed the bout an eliminator, putting the victorious Baranchyk (17-0, 11 KOs) in line to fight the winner of the next day’s contest between Mikey Garcia and Sergey Lipinets. Petrov, a two-time world title challenger, declined to 38-6-2.
In another bout of note, New Zealand heavyweight Junior Fa improved to 14-0 with a messy 8-round majority decision over Detroit’s Craig Lewis (14-2-1), a former National Golden Gloves champion.
Also on Friday, junior featherweight Azat Hovhannisyan scored a sixth round stoppage over heavily favored Ronnie Rios at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. Hovhannisyan, with Freddie Roach in his corner, scored the biggest win of his young career.
Through the completed rounds of the action-packed fight, the LA-based Armenian was up by one point on one of the cards whereas the other judges had it even. Hovannisyan improved to 14-2 (11). Rios, a former world title challenger who was fighting within a few miles of his home, declined to 29-3.
Alexis Rocha (11-0, 8 KOs), the 20-year-old brother of Rios, salvaged the day for the home folks with a first round stoppage of Tijuana’s Miguel Dumas on the undercard.
Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME
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Photo: Amanda Westcott – Showtime Boxing