Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INGLEWOOD, Calif - Given recent history in the stacked 130 lb. division – Francisco Vargas’ come-from-behind knockout win over Takashi Miura; his draw with Orlando Salido; Miura’s gutty win over Miguel Roman; and Miguel Berchelt’s stoppage victory over Vargas – there was widespread anticipation that Saturday night’s battle at The Forum between Berchelt and Miura would produce another Fight of the Year candidate. It did not do so, because Berchelt produced a nuanced and skillful boxing performance, thwarting and frustrating his Japanese opponent for much of their 12-round contest and securing a unanimous decision victory.
Berchelt (32-1, 28 KOs) immediately came out on his toes, circling and moving as Miura stalked forward. The opening couple of minutes were uneventful, the crowd already expressing murmurings of disquiet at the lack of action, when a short right hand and left hook landed to Miura’s right temple and the Japanese fighter found himself on the canvas. The thought immediately occurred that perhaps Miura had been in too many wars and that this would be the night on which his bravery and fortitude came to an end, but he was able to not only beat the count but resist Berchelt’s follow-up assault and survive the round.
The second and third frames did little, however, to suggest that he might have much more in store. He walked forward in straight lines, but could get nowhere near Berchelt, who circled and circled, waiting for an opening to strike, which came whenever Miura reached with a punch and the Mexican stepped to his side, tagged his opponent with one punch and then launched several more before moving out of the way and resetting.
But Miura (31-4-2, 24 KOs) betrayed no emotion and no sense of defeat or submission, instead chugging forward steadily as he sought to land his patented southpaw to the body and slow his foe down. It was a task that was not made any easier by the fact that he seemed incapable of displaying any lateral movement or any ability to cut off the ring, and because as a result he was at no stage in position to throw more than one punch at a time.
Even when he appeared to be having a better round, it was generally not as good as the round Berchelt was having, as the Mexican would take a left hand to the head here, or a punch to the body there, but then maneuver himself into position to unload another combination that froze Miura in place.
A sequence in round 5 epitomized the flow of the fight: a series of straight right hands from Berchelt landed flush on Miura’s face, Miura responded with a shot to the body and missed with a sweeping left hand upstairs, which left him in the perfect position for Berchelt to crack him with a left hook and remove any hope of Miura building momentum.
Through six rounds, it was a masterclass of boxing from Berchelt, although bit by bit, as the Mexican tired almost imperceptibly from his efforts, Miura reeled in the distance ever so slightly, still losing the rounds but doing so by progressively smaller margins. Entering the ninth, Miura’s face was swollen and he had likely lost every round on all three official scorecards, but in that round he focused on one punch and one punch only, hurling left hands at Berchelt’s body that thudded home with growing frequency slowing down the Mexican and leaving him in range for still more body shots.
Still, Berchelt kept moving and boxing, and still he responded to Miura’s shots with flurries of his own, but the balance had shifted now. It was Miura who was winning the rounds and Berchelt who was seeking to remain competitive in them. Even so, there was no way that just winning rounds would be sufficient for Miura, as there were not enough remaining; the tension and uncertainty lay in whether he would land enough of his increasingly punishing body blows to bring Berchelt to a halt.
It was, ultimately, to no avail; Berchelt’s energy reserves were being sapped, but he had enough of them in the bank for one final burst in the twelfth, closing strong with combination after combination, Miura responding in kind as best he could, the two men exhausted but refusing to leave anything on the table as they threw punches at each other and the crowd at The Forum roared.
The scorecards – 116-111, 119-108, and 120-109 in favor of Berchelt – were a fair representation of the Mexican’s dominance. But they could not tell the full story of Miura’s dogged determination and Berchelt’s resilience in the face of a determined assault by a dangerous foe.
In a fight that was scrappy, sometimes sloppy, but entertaining throughout and full of drama and controversy, Panama’s Jezreel Corrales (22-1, 8 KOs) retained a 130 lb. title by majority decision over Robinson Castellanos after their scheduled 12 rounder was halted in the 10th following an accidental head butt that left the Mexican challenger bloodied and unable to see clearly through his right eye.
The opening three rounds were fast paced but uneventful, with Corrales firing off fast but inconsequential flurries of punches while Castellanos (22-12, 14 KOs) winged heavier but less accurate punches in the opposite direction. The most significant blow through three landed south of Corrales’ belt line and dropped him to his knees, but the fight exploded into action in the fourth. Corrales walked into a Castellanos counter left that dropped him to his knees; he recovered, returned to offense and began sitting down on his punches more than he had done previously as he sought to inflict damage in return; and then Castellanos landed hard again, this time dropping Corrales onto his haunches.
Corrales recovered strongly, however, fighting with purpose and finding a groove by the fifth, digging punches to body and head before gliding out of the way. He was at times in danger of relaxing too much, however, and shipped some strong Castellanos counters when he did so. A left hand dropped Castellanos to the canvas just before the bell to end round 7, and appeared to cement Corrales’ advantage, but the Mexican never stopped coming, and several rounds were difficult to score as the two men flung punches at each other with little attempt to set up their offenses with any kind of obvious strategy. Castellanos was already bleeding from his scalp as a result of a butt when Corrales fell into his cheek with his forehead 30 seconds into the 10th round. The clash opened up a bloody gash on Castellanos’ cheek, which immediately swelled up, causing the Mexican to blink and complain about his eyesight. The ringside physician advised referee Jerry Cantu that Castellanos could not continue, and because the bout was halted on an accidental foul, it went to the judges’ scorecards. Zach Young saw it a 94-94 draw, but Carla Caiz scored it 94-93 and Pat Russell a perhaps more representative 96-92 in favor of Corrales.
Fighting for the first time in front of the father he had to leave behind when he fled Cuba, Sullivan Barrera recovered from a first-round knock down to dominate Joe Smith Jr., scoring a unanimous decision win over ten rounds of light-heavyweight action. It was the third win in a row for Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) after suffering his only career defeat as a professional to Andre Ward early last year, and a disappointing return for Smith to the venue where he blasted Bernard Hopkins out of the ring and into retirement in December.
It appeared as if the fight would end both much more swiftly and differently when, in the middle of an exchange in the opening frame, Smith (23-2, 19 KOs) landed a left hook high on Barrera’s head, sending the Cuban backward and sprawling on the canvas. Barrera beat the count comfortably enough and was able to repel Smith’s assault over the closing part of the round; and in the second, he hurled himself into the task at hand, deciding to treat fire with fire by launching fierce punches at the Long Islander. A right uppercut landed clean and would be just the first of what soon became one of the Cuban’s go-to punches; he would pair those uppercuts with booming overhand rights, and although one just missed at the end of the round, there would be more to come.
The speed and variety of Barrera’s punches soon had Smith looking confused, and as the American tried to figure out how to respond, Barrera kept throwing. A huge uppercut landed on Smith’s chin in the fourth, snapping back his head; Smith was hurt, and another uppercut didn’t aid his cause, but he landed a strong hook of his own to back his opponent off as the round came to a close. A series of right hands had Smith in trouble again in the fifth, followed by more booming rights and another uppercut in the sixth.
The pace slowed over the final few rounds – the total number of which was unexpectedly cut from 12 to 10 by the promoter at the last minute – but the story remained the same, with Smith seeking to find a way to deal with Barrera’s speed, skill and movement, and Barrera appearing to hurt him with every right hand he landed. When the end came surprisingly early, the result was in doubt, and the scores of 97-92 (twice) and 96-93 were as close as Smith might have hoped for.