Middleweight-prospect Jason Quigley survived by far his toughest test as a pro fighter in an action-packed, unanimous-decision victory against Glen Tapia on Thursday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
Quigley and Tapia went toe-to-toe for much of the grueling fight in the main event of the debut card of the "Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN" series as they slugged it out for 10 entertaining rounds.
Although the judges' scorecards were surprisingly wide, especially considering the way Tapia fought over the final few rounds, Quigley was awarded the victory on scores of 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92. ESPN.com scored the fight 97-93 for Quigley.
"I'm taking this little bambino home with me to my people in Donegal [in Ireland] and celebrate with my loved ones," Quigley said, referring to the regional title belt he won. "Then when I come back, I'm going to celebrate with my team. This is a steppingstone to many more belts that are coming my way."
Although Quigley, 25, a former standout amateur from Ireland now living in Los Angeles, was taking on the best opponent of his career, Tapia was viewed by many as faded after suffering back-to-back, fourth-round knockout losses in his past two fights, to former middleweight world titleholder David Lemieux last May and Michel Soro in May 2015.
Early on it looked as though Quigley (13-0, 10 KOs) was going to send him to a third early KO loss as he tagged him repeatedly with powerful right hands and rocked him with one to the chin in the final minute of the opening round. When the round ended, Tapia wobbled back to his corner and looked out of it.
Quigley continued to tee off on Tapia through the second and third rounds, but then Quigley began to tire and perhaps had some doubts when Tapia was still standing, taking his best shots and getting back into the fight. By the fourth round, Tapia (23-4, 15 KOs), who went past the eighth round for the first time, had landed enough hard punches that Quigley's left cheek was swelling.
It had become a battle of attrition late in the bout.
Quigley looked gassed and Tapia's face was smeared with blood as they continued to hunt each other. Tapia's corner told him after the ninth round that he needed a knockout to win, and he sure tried to get one as he bullied Quigley to the ropes and tried to land a big shot.
Perhaps Quigley didn't live up to the prefight hype as the future of the middleweight division, but he gutted out a rough fight and did get the well-deserved victory while sending Tapia, 27, of Passaic, New Jersey, to his third loss in a row.
"I felt slow and sluggish this fight," Tapia said. "I feel like I didn't even get to do to him what I trained in camp for. I was able to put pressure on him and hurt him a couple of times. This was not my best performance."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Quigley landed 257 of 826 punches (31 percent), and Tapia connected on 178 of 712 (25 percent).
Caballero outpoints Ruiz
In the co-feature, former bantamweight world-titleholder Randy Caballero (24-0, 14 KOs), of nearby Coachella, California, had the hometown crowd behind him as he won a hard-fought unanimous decision in a junior featherweight fight against Jesus Ruiz (36-8-5, 25 KOs).
Caballero, 26, returned from a 13-month layoff and had some problems with the rugged Ruiz, 27, of Mexico, but was a bit slicker and quicker as he earned the decision by scores of 97-93, 96-94 and 96-94.
It was an action-packed fight with some accidental head butts and some holding, but Caballero withstood what Ruiz had to offer. He scored against Caballero with many body shots and outboxed him for long stretches. In the ninth round, an accidental head butt caused a cut over Caballero's right eye, but his corner did a good job of keeping the bleeding under control for the final round.
"This was the absolute best way to come back," Caballero said. "My goal is to become a world champion [again], and Golden Boy knows that. Coming back with that performance, I'm on a high right now. My opponent was tough, but I stayed calm and was able to come out on top."
Ruiz had no quarrel with the decision, giving Caballero credit for the way he boxed.
"I am satisfied with our performance in the ring, and the better man won tonight," Ruiz said. "That's boxing. We gave it our all, and we are content with that."
Johnson knocks out Pena
Middleweight-contender Tureano Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs), 33, of the Bahamas, knocked down Fabiano Pena (19-7-1, 15 KOs), 29, of Brazil, twice in the second round before his corner threw in the towel and referee Jack Reiss stopped the contest at 2 minutes, 38 seconds.
Johnson was boxing for the first time in 17 months after earning a mandatory shot at unified-world-champion Gennady Golovkin by outpointing Eamonn O'Kane in a title elimination fight on a Golovkin undercard in October 2015.
However, Johnson injured his shoulder in the bout and needed surgery, which has kept him sidelined since.
"I was pretty anxious to enter the ring after such a long absence, but I was reminded by my team that I am the IBF No. 1-ranked middleweight contender," Johnson said. "Being absent for so long for my rotator cuff was not ideal, and I know that injuries happen, but now that we got this fight out of the way and we shook out the nerves a bit, I am ready to take on the big guys out there and demonstrate that I am still someone to fear in this division."
Herrera ends two-fight skid
Welterweight Mauricio Herrera (22-7, 7 KOs), 36, of Riverside, California, shook off a two-fight losing streak with a shutout, eight-round decision against Hector Velazquez (57-28-3, 39 KOs), 42, of Mexico.
Herrera, who many thought deserved the decision when he challenged then-junior welterweight world-champion Danny Garcia in 2014 only to lose by majority decision, won 80-72 on all three scorecards.
"I needed to get this win, regardless of how I got it," Herrera said. "I've been in a lot of tough fights, and I needed this win as a confidence booster. I'm glad that I came out of this fight pretty clean."
Velazquez lost his third fight in a row.
Tanajara Jr. rallies from early knockdown
Lightweight-prospect Hector "El Finito" Tanajara Jr. (8-0, 4 KOs), 20, of San Antonio, survived a second-round knockdown but won the other five rounds as he outpointed Daniel Perales (7-7-1, 5 KOs), 24, of Mexico, 58-55 on all three scorecards.
"I got too confident in the second round, and when I landed my shots I wasn't expecting him to counter the way he did, resulting in me hitting the mat," Tanajara said. "After that, I got angry. But my corner told me to just continue to outbox him. I noticed his eye was starting to swell towards the end, and so I started to use it as a target in hopes of getting the knockout. We got the win still."