Showtime Championship Boxing might have played second fiddle to The Golden Boy and HBO PPV, but they still put on the best, most competitive fights.
At the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, Alejandro “Terra” Garcia of Tijuana, Mexico, put his WBC junior middleweight title on the line against local product Jose Antonio Rivera. While these fighters lack fame and riches, they’re possibly superior to Oscar at 154, in spite of his brilliant comeback performance. At the very least, they’re more formidable than the crude sideshow Ricardo Mayorga.
Rivera (now 38-4-1, 28 KOs) is best known for losing to Luis Collazo last year in a fight-of-the-year candidate nobody saw. He lost the WBA welterweight strap Ricky Hatton now hopes to make his. He’s known as a granite-chinned, face-first, body puncher. He doesn’t have major pop but makes up for it with volume and relentless pressure. Like his hometown, he’s blue collar all the way. Even holding a world title, he toiled in obscurity for small paydays and worked full-time as a court officer.
But a star was born Saturday night—it was just thirteen and a half years in the making. Rivera dropped Garcia five times en route to a unanimous decision over 12 action-packed rounds. Scores were 114-107 and 116-106 twice. He’s now a forced to be reckoned with, and may have to consider quitting his day job
Rivera, 33, claims he’s fighting better today since moving up from welterweight, which drained him terribly. Another factor in his success was saving up two months of vacation time to give himself a proper camp for Garcia.
In the first round Rivera uncorked a stiff jab that dropped Garcia to a knee. (That’s something only a young George Foreman used to do.) With a seconds left on the clock, he caught Garcia once more with an overhand right. The Mexican crumpled to the canvas in parts, as if in slow motion. To his credit, he remained composed while his corner assessed his condition. He seemed okay but must have felt strange being on the other side of things—23 of his 25 wins have come by knockout.
Garcia showed in the second that he wouldn’t go gently. He connected on heavy right hands and left hooks, which Rivera mainly caught on the gloves but sometimes absorbed directly.
Both fighters did good work in the next round. What was surprising was how well Rivera fought from the outside. It was assumed he’d have to work in close to get things done. But he employed a stiff jab behind a high guard, and raked body shots from a distance.
Garcia’s best moment came in the fourth when he delivered a succession of clean left and right hooks to Rivera’s body that drove him back into the ropes. Rivera listed over to the side like a ship struck by a rogue wave, and stagger across the ring. A straight right to his face put him down. It was the first time he kissed the canvas in his entire career.
Both boxers hurt each other equally in the fifth, punching at a remarkable work rate. Both tried to establish the geography of the ring in the sixth; Garcia wanted to work in the middle, Rivera sought to get him on the ropes. Garcia’s pace slowed in the seventh and eighth, as Rivera’s bodywork began to tell.
Rivera’s trainer, the ex-super middleweight John Scully, did superb corner work throughout the night. His advice was consistently plain, accurate, and digestible. Before the ninth, he reinforced that the bodywork was breaking Garcia down. “Don’t let him escape—and hands up!” he urged. But it was a picture-perfect long right hand to the chin that dropped Garcia for the third time. For a couple seconds he was spread over the canvas like pancake mix. Somehow he gathered himself and beat the count. Rivera’s respect for his punching power and determination was such that he didn’t go in for the kill and risk getting caught when opening up.
With twenty seconds left in the tenth, a short left hook upstairs put Garcia down for the fourth time. These knockdowns belied the strength that Garcia still possessed in his young legs and heavy hands. Once more, he gathered himself and answered with hard punches before the bell sounded.
Garcia had a strong eleventh round. His legs never looked weak, and any one of his blows had the potential to change the course of the fight. Before the last stanza, his corner reminded him that he was the champ, but he needed a knockout in the final round if he wished to remain so. He gave it his all. But again, with a few seconds left in the fight, Rivera caught him on the button with an overhand right. He fell, got up, and then the time ran out.
Rivera’s wife and young son rushed the ring and held him tightly. It was a scene that made Rocky yelling “Adrian!” seem unsentimental. “Dad, I love you,” his son cried. “You did it.”
In the post-fight interview, Rivera conceded he’d like a big payday from his promoter Don King. “I keep it simple. I just want to pay off my house and live comfortably with my family. I have a job I’m going to on Monday.”
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The co-feature introduced a new name to American fight fans and a threat to anyone in the talent-rich super flyweight division: Dimitri Kirilov. The Russian challenged the gutsy IBF champion Luis Alberto Perez for his belt, and beat him; that is, if you concur with this writer (watching on telly), Showtime commentator Al Bernstein, and the three ringside press members polled throughout the bout.
Two of the three ringside judges had a different take, awarding the split decision to the champion. Scores were 117-110 for Kirilov; 115-113 and 114-113 for Perez.
Before the fight, one’s expectations weren’t especially high. The 27-year-old from St. Petersburg had never fought in the States and little was known about him—unless you’re a fight junkie beyond help and tracked down a tape of him. His record is solid but unspectacular, now 28-3 with 9 KOs. When he stepped up in 2004 against the WBC champion, Masamori Tokuyama, he was (allegedly) outclassed. Looking too young to shave, his trunks had “BABY” inscribed on the front,.
Round one told a different story. Kirilov quickly found his range and easily slipped Perez’s undisciplined blows. The champ, who hadn’t fought in over a year, showed rust. Whereas Kirilov was primed, having made camp at Freddy Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California, where he sparred against Jose Navarro.
During the break before the second, the southpaw Perez got a haircut from his cutman, countryman, and former multiple titlist Rosendo Alvarez. Strands of hair kept getting in his eyes, but his shorn locks didn’t improve his boxing.
I had Kirilov sweeping every round through the seventh. He slipped punches beautifully and fought a textbook match against a lefty. Circling clockwise, he lined up his right in front of Perez and connected on ramrod shots to the grill over and over. When he wasn’t moving forward to unleash a brisk three-punch combo, he was frustrating Perez with constant lateral movement. El Demoledor looked ungainly and amateurish by comparison.
Rugged, fiery, and fierce, Perez was frequently helpless at the hands of the cool European technician. But an overconfident Kirilov held his left by his waist and began standing in front of the 24-1 brawler. In the eighth, Perez threw a short right hook downstairs and then brought it up and over Kirilov’s low left. It landed square on the jaw and dropped the boyish challenger to the canvas.
A woozy Kirilov got up and fought gamely for the rest of the round. But the shift in momentum restored Perez’s confidence, and had him believing in his proverbial puncher’s chance. (And since two of the judges—shockingly—didn’t see Kirilov as dominating the first half of the fight, the two extra points made it a fight.)
The ninth was close. Before the tenth, Rosendo Alvarez, who was more cornerman than cutman, told his fighter, “We need to knock him out in the next three rounds.” Had the judges not been so off the mark, it would’ve been sage advice. Turned out, all Perez needed to do was keep it lively.
The championship rounds offered thrilling back and forth salvos. They were close rounds and hard to score. When the boxers touched gloves for the twelfth, the crowd gave a standing ovation. All three judges gave Kirilov the last round (one of the few sessions one could confidently give to Perez), but judges Mike Ancona (115-113) and David Hess (114-113) still had Russian losing the bout.
Before the scores were read, a Russian flag was proudly draped over Kirilov’s shoulders. He was euphoric, Perez was uneasy. When the decision was announced, the flag suddenly fell to the canvas. The crowd booed vehemently. Commentator Steve Albert responded to the fraudulent moment appropriately: “A lot of people would call that highway robbery.”
Off TV Results:
Victor Burgos over Luis Doria: UD 10
DeVarryl Williamson beat Mike Mollo: TKO 4
Elio Rojas stopped Frankie Martinez: KO 2
Randy Griffin bested Anibal Acevedo: TKO 6