AFTER being parachuted in as a late substitute for the injured Zolani Tete on Thursday (April 25), World Boxing Super Series tournament reserve Stephon Young was eyeing an upset against his celebrated opponent, former four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire. However, any hopes that the tricky Saint Louis southpaw had of defeating Donaire and reaching the WBSS bantamweight final were dramatically extinguished in the sixth round at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana on Saturday night (April 27).
Donaire was composed and patient in the first five rounds, as he probed for openings to land his vaunted left hook. When the opportunity presented itself in the sixth, the California-based Filipino did not require a second invitation. His thunderous honey punch cannoned off Young’s jaw, leaving the American down and out at 2-37.
As mightily impressive as the finish was, Donaire’s route to the final has undoubtedly been less treacherous than it first looked on paper when the quarter-finals were drawn last year. The 36-year-old got past Ryan Burnett in fortuitous circumstances in November, when the previously unbeaten Northern Irishman was forced out with a slipped disc in his back after only four rounds.
This win gave Donaire the WBA bantam belt, which he was set to defend in a unification fight against WBO boss Tete, before the skilful South African suffered a shoulder injury which ruled him out. In stepped Young, 30, at the last minute – an acceptable replacement for Tete at such a late stage, but someone who had nonetheless been comprehensively outpointed by Reymart Gaballo just over a year ago.
What is certain is that Donaire will face his toughest tournament test by far in the final, when he takes on either IBF champ Emmanuel Rodriguez or the betting pick to win the competition, Naoya Inoue. The undefeated pair meet in their semi-final bout on May 18.
The other WBSS final-four clash on the card also ended in the sixth session, as powerful portsider Regis Prograis, 30, maintained his perfect record with a stoppage of heavy-handed Belarusian Kiryl Relikh, 29. With the victory, Houston’s Prograis – a native of New Orleans – not only earned WBA super-lightweight honours, but also became the first man to stop Relikh, who is well known for his sturdiness.
After decking Relikh with an accurate body shot in the initial frame, Prograis continued to exhibit his eye-catching skills – both in defence and attack – as the contest progressed. The explosive American opened up on Relikh in round six, pounding the bloodied Eastern European with thumping strikes to necessitate the conclusion at 1-36.
Next up for the bookmakers’ favourite in the 140lb final will be either Josh Taylor or Ivan Baranchyk. The unbeaten duo collide for the latter’s IBF crown on May 18.
In other US action on the same night (Saturday April 27), Robert Easter Jnr and Rances Barthelemy cancelled each other out in what was an uninspiring lightweight encounter at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, which finished in a split draw.
Neither man landed with any considerable note or frequency during the match, making for dull viewing. Rangy 28-year-old Easter (Toledo, Ohio) won 115-113 on one scorecard, while the switch-hitting Barthelemy (Las Vegas via Cuba) took it by the same margin on another. The third judge had things even at 114-114, meaning that neither Easter – a former IBF 135lb ruler – or the 32-year-old Barthelemy – a previous two-division world titlist – got their hands on the vacant secondary WBA strap that was up for grabs.
On the undercard, Ukraine’s ex-WBC super-lightweight belt-holder Viktor Postol, 35, proved too good for French southpaw and former European welter king Mohamed Mimoune, 31. Postol, who fights out of Los Angeles, dominated proceedings with his jab and footwork, resulting in a wide unanimous decision success (99-91, 98-92 and 97-93). Postol is now in line to challenge WBC 140lb leader Jose Ramirez.