In the lead-up to their fight, Miguel Berchelt and Miguel "Mickey" Roman excitedly talked about producing the kind of battle on Saturday night that would go down in Mexican boxing lore alongside revered fights involving their famed countrymen Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez.
And just as they promised, the bitter rivals, who would not touch gloves before the opening bell, delivered a riveting slugfest, but one that turned quite one-sided as the younger, fresher, more skilled Berchelt ultimately laid a beating on Roman.
Berchelt knocked him down three times en route to a ninth-round knockout victory to retain his junior lightweight world title for the fourth time in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card before 5,420 at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, just across the United States-Mexico border from crowd favorite Roman's hometown of Ciudad Juarez.
"I want to thank Mickey Roman for being such a valiant warrior," Berchelt said through an interpreter. "This was the toughest of my four world title defenses. It was tougher than [Francisco] 'Bandido' Vargas; it was tougher than Takashi Miura; tougher than any other fight. So, first off, I want to give my respect to Miguel 'Mickey' Roman as an opponent."
They began the fight exactly as they said they would, by going straight to each other in the first round, and the action never relented.
Roman, the mandatory challenger, rocked Berchelt with a left hook in the second round, but Berchelt came storming back and was roughing him up as the round ended.
Berchelt had a huge third round during which he staggered Roman with a left hook and continued to pound him. He nearly dropped him at the end of the round with another clean left hook.
Although Berchelt appeared firmly in control, Roman never stopped stalking and pressuring him, and landed several clean right hands that very clearly stunned Berchelt.
But Berchelt's chin withstood the blows, and in the sixth round he began to pummel Roman. He hurt him repeatedly with body shots and dropped him twice in the round with head shots. First it was a right hand that flattened Roman, who looked so out of it that Berchelt climbed the ring post to celebrate, thinking the fight was over. But Roman willed himself up before getting dropped again with a combination with about 20 seconds to go in the round.
Berchelt (35-1, 31 KOs), 26, continued to batter the game Roman (60-13, 47 KOs), 32, in the eighth round as he landed unanswered shot after unanswered shot. But Roman managed to stay on his feet despite being staggered. By the time the round was over he had a cut over his left eye and had very little left.
Berchelt stayed on the attack in the ninth round and landed numerous flush shots until finally knocking Roman down with a flurry of punches. Roman made it to his feet again, but as Berchelt continued to pound away with him on the ropes, referee Jon Schorle stepped in and waved it off at 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
"The key to victory tonight was the work to the body," Berchelt said. "In Round 6 I punished him. I pounded shots to the body and the head and this man kept getting up. I got to give him all the respect as a valiant Mexican warrior because he gave me a war and I repeat: This is the toughest of my four world title defenses."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Berchelt landed 276 of 843 shots (33 percent) and Roman connected with 167 of 626 (27 percent). Over the final three rounds, Berchelt outlanded Roman 127-52.
The title shot was the third and probably last of Roman's 15-year career. In 2011, he challenged Jonathan Victor Barros for a featherweight belt and lost a unanimous decision. In 2012, he suffered a fifth-round knockout challenging Antonio DeMarco for a lightweight title. But he came into the fight riding a four-fight winning streak, including a ninth-round knockout of former two-division world titlist Orlando Salido in an all-action fight in December, to earn another shot.
He was extremely confident he would take the 130-pound belt in front of the partisan crowd.
"I'm really sad right now, not so much for me but for all the fans who came out here to give me their support," Roman said through an interpreter. "They know that I have heart. That's what kept me up. They know that I came here to give my all and that's what I did. I'm actually embarrassed, but I know I'm willing to die in the ring for them.
"Miguel is a great champion and he deserves the victory tonight. I gave everything that I had, but I am very sad because I did not fulfill that promise to my son that I was going to leave this ring with the green world title [belt]."
While Roman's career is in doubt, Berchelt's is on the rise. There is a distinct chance that he will move up in weight to fight lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2019 as long as they both continue to win. But before that, Berchelt hopes to meet another of the titleholders to unify belts.
"The first thing I'm going to do is take a rest and spend some time with my family and then I want to unify. There are great champions at 130 pounds," Berchelt said before listing the other titleholders: Tevin Farmer, Gervonta Davis, Alberto Machado and Masayuki Ito. "I think the fans want to see me unify this belt."
Also on the card:
In the co-feature, featherweight Miguel Marriaga (27-3, 23 KOs), 32, of Colombia, who has three times unsuccessfully challenged for world titles -- twice at junior lightweight and once at featherweight -- knocked out Jose Estrella (20-15-1, 14 KOs), 28, a Mexico native fighting out of West Covina, California, with a left hook to the liver in the fourth round.
Marriaga, who won his second fight in a row after back-to-back losses to Oscar Valdez and Lomachenko in world title bouts, relied on a heavy body attack throughout the fight, but it was a lead left hook to the face that dropped Estrella with about a minute left in the third round. In the fourth round, Marriaga ended the fight when he dug a brutal hook to Estrella's body, dropping him to the mat in agony as referee Rocky Burke counted him out at 2:43.
"He was a very tough and strong opponent," Marriaga said. "I know he trained hard for this fight, but I trained harder. In the end, my experience was key in getting the victory. The plan was to attack the body and that's exactly what I did. I knocked him out with a huge left hook to the body.
"I know that I have what it takes to become a world champion. I want to challenge for another world title."
Junior lightweight prospect Robson Conceicao (10-0, 5 KOs), 30, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist for Brazil, rolled through Joey Laviolette (9-2, 5 KOs), 30, of Nova Scotia, with ease en route to a shutout decision win. Conceicao won 80-72 on all three scorecards and was not challenged for a moment.
"This is my second bout fighting eight rounds and I felt great," Conceicao said. "I always train hard and I am always in great physical condition. I feel like I'm prepared to go the 12-round distance. I want to face the best. I'm ready to battle against the champions of the junior lightweight division. I want Tevin Farmer, the winner of Berchelt versus Roman, Alberto Machado or Gervonta Davis. I don't care who it is. I want a title!"
Lightweight Saul "Neno" Rodriguez (22-0-1, 16 KOs), 25, of Riverside, California, who returned from a 20-month layoff after re-signing with Top Rank, stopped Claudio Tapia (28-19-4, 13 KOs), 38, of Argentina, in the second round of their scheduled 10-rounder. Rodriguez dropped him to a knee with a left-right combination with about a minute left in the first round and then with a four-punch combination in the second round, which prompted referee Robert Velez to wave off the fight at 1:57.
"I was anxious and excited to get back in there after such a long time out of the ring," Rodriguez said. "It was a long time coming, but I did what I had to do and got the job done."