SOME armchair observers felt Khalid Yafai was lucky to keep hold of his WBA super-flyweight title after a spirited 12-round challenge from Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez inside the Casino de Monte Carlo Salle Medecin. In truth, the unbeaten Brummie did just enough to keep his title.
The scores that favoured Yafai (116-112 twice and 117-111) were likely too wide but, in a close fight with close rounds, such tallies are just about justifiable.
The champion struggled at times in the early going with the tenacious Gonzalez, whose work to the body was particularly impressive. Credit Yafai – who has now been WBA boss for two years – for picking up the pace and measuring his 22-year-old rival well after a taxing start.
Gonzalez’s own body came under attack in the sixth as Yafai’s jab started to create openings. The challenger showed signs of tiredness in rounds seven and eight before an eye-catching Yafai left scored in the ninth. The blow only served to enliven Gonzalez who roared forward in the final quarter to keep the contest – officiated by Luis Pabon – in the balance.
Yafai was disappointed with his performance at the end but his cleaner shots ensured his unbeaten record remained. Promoter Eddie Hearn spoke of unification for Yafai in 2019 but they should be wary of a certain Jerwin Ancajas, who defeated Gonzalez far more conclusively in February.
The career of Enfield’s Frank Buglioni was handed a fierce blow when he was halted in five rounds by China’s Fanlong Meng. A deep gash on Buglioni’s right eyelid, seemingly opened by a left hook, presented referee Timo Habighorst with little choice but to call it off at 1-58 of the session. The cruel ending was tough on Buglioni, who was rallying in the early part of the round, but Meng appeared to be crafting a winning performance long before the blood poured.
The slick southpaw, quick of hand and foot, measured the former British light-heavyweight champion’s attacks perfectly in the opening two rounds. Buglioni had some success in the third, roughing up Meng on the inside and digging to head and body, but Meng was far from being overawed.
This time last year, Russia’s Alexander Ustinov was handed a shot at a secondary WBA heavyweight title, which tells you all you need to know about that organisation’s shambolic championship system. But surely even the WBA won’t be able to rescue Ustinov’s career following a decisive ninth round loss to Michael Hunter.
The Californian, fresh off an upset win over Martin Bakole in October, dominated from the start of this scheduled 12-rounder with his looping right hand again a troublesome weapon. Ustinov was all at sea at the end of the fourth but showed some pluck to last as long as he did.
That right hand decked him in the eighth, before a sustained attack in the ninth saw referee Gustavo Padilla accepted surrender from Ustinov’s corner at 1-52. It was Hunter’s fourth victory since stepping back up to heavyweight following a 2017 loss to cruiserweight king, Oleksandr Usyk.
Denis Lebedev marked his return to 200lbs with a one-sided beating of Mike Wilson, fighting out of Medford, Oregon. Wilson, 35, was 19-0 going in but the leap in class to Lebedev was enormous, and so it proved from the third round until the last.
The Russian’s left hand couldn’t miss, whether aimed at the ribs, stomach or head of Wilson and by the fourth, blood dribbled from his nose. One only has to look Lebedev’s features for evidence of his long and punishing career but here, at 39, the southpaw likely secured a title shot when Usyk makes his expected jump to heavyweight and leaves all four major crusierweight titles vacant.
The scores in Lebedev’s favour were 119-109 twice and 117-111. The referee was Jean Robert Laine.