Richar Abril is no stranger to making fights that are difficult on the eyes. Lucky for him, he often makes it a habit of controlling those fights thanks to his frustrating style.
The recently elevated lightweight titlist produced a similar effort on Saturday night, surviving a hard-fought and dirty fight against unbeaten Sharif Bogere at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Abril (18-3-1, 8 KOs) overcame two cuts above his eyes caused by accidental head butts and pulled away late to score a unanimous decision (115-111, 116-110 twice) in his first full title defense. ESPN.com scored the bout 115-111 for Abril.
It was the 30-year-old Cuban's first bout since dropping a rabidly contentious split decision in a vacant title bout against Brandon Rios -- a fight in which Abril appeared to have dominated -- in April 2012. With Rios coming into the fight overweight and ineligible to win the belt, Abril remained the interim titlist with the WBA and was elevated to full titleholder in the days leading up to the Bogere fight.
While Abril was able to use his height advantage and clean counter punching to expose Bogere's technical deficiencies late on Saturday, the action wasn't for the faint of heart. Both fighters were warned repeatedly for fouling by referee Russell Mora and each were ultimately docked a point -- Abril for holding in the eighth round and Bogere for lunging forward in the 12th.
The two fighters each took multiple trips to the canvas while grappling at close range, although neither scored official knockdowns as a result of punches.
"I won the fight, although it was a dirty fight and [Bogere] was using his head a lot," Abril said through an interpreter to Showtime's Jim Gray. When asked whether Bogere's aggressive strategy of leading with his head played an impact in the bout, Abril answered, "Of course, look how much cuts I have. I wasn't concentrating enough because I don't like to fight against dirty fighters."
Bogere (23-1, 15 KOs), 24, a native of Uganda, found early success by smothering Abril and roughing him up to the body -- effectively stealing close rounds on activity despite the ineffectiveness of both fighters. But it was Abril's second-half adjustments and ability to create space with counter right hands that frustrated Bogere's rhythm and shifted the momentum.
"I thought I won the fight," Bogere said. "I think I did enough to win the fight."
The hard-fought victory puts Abril in a position to potentially secure a fight against some of the top names in the division, including fellow titlist Adrien Broner, who was animated in his reactions throughout the bout from his seat at ringside.
"I want Broner next, but I don't want a dirty fight like Shariff demonstrated tonight," Abril said.
Unbeaten Russell injures hand in victory over Gusev
The frustrating saga of exciting featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. continued Saturday on the undercard in a unanimous decision (100-89 on all three scorecards) over Vyacheslav Gusev.
Russell (22-0, 13 KOs), 24, the 2011 ESPN.com prospect of the year, continued his painfully slow climb up the ladder to contention with another mismatched fight against an inferior opponent. Despite another virtual shutout performance, the southpaw Russell added injury to insult by hurting his left hand midway through the bout, saying afterward he feared it was broken.
Gusev (20-3, 5 KOs) suffered a knockdown when his glove touched the canvas following a counter right hook from Russell in the third round. But the Russian fighter continued to come forward despite being outclassed by Russell -- owner of arguably the fastest hands in the sport -- even with the Maryland native fighting with one hand late in the bout.
The victory showcased Russell's intoxicating talent yet continued to punctuate the frustration of seeing him matched with fighters far below his class. Russell has also been chronically inactive over the past 17 months for a fighter possessing this much hype -- a reality that could continue should the injury to his left hand prove to be severe.
Russell mentioned in the days leading up to Saturday's bout of his desire to ultimately exit 2013 with his first world title in hand. After the victory over Gusev, he called out former featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, which will likely prove to be a difficult fight to make considering both fighters are represented by rival promoters.