What a great weekend of boxing. It featured what is so far the card of the year, on Friday night at The Forum in Inglewood, California, headlined by the highly entertaining junior bantamweight world championship rematch between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada. That great card also included a candidate for fight of the year, the junior featherweight title unification fight between Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny in the co-feature.
On Saturday night in Lafayette, Louisiana, the junior welterweight and bantamweight semifinals in the World Boxing Super Series began with a pair of outstanding performances from Regis Prograis and Nonito Donaire.
It was enough to hopefully make us all forget about the horrendous fight for a vacant secondary lightweight world title between former titlists Robert Easter Jr. and Rances Barthelemy, which was Saturday night in Las Vegas and featured virtually zero action. It fittingly ended in a draw and shall never be spoken of again.
But there is much to celebrate about the other bouts.
In a mandatory fight between two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Estrada (39-3, 26 KOs), 29, of Mexico, avenged a majority decision loss in his challenge of Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41 KOs), 32, of Thailand, for the title in February 2018, also at The Forum, in a fight of the year candidate. The rematch, which Estrada won 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113, may not have had quite the drama and intensity of the first fight, but it was another exciting scrap in which they combined to land 519 of 1,990 punches, per CompuBox.
With most of the crowd of 5,127 cheering on Estrada, he got the better of the action through eight rounds and was ahead 80-72, 78-74 and 78-74. But Sor Rungvisai, making his fourth defense (and third in the United States), came on very strong down the stretch in a gallant defeat. A third fight is possible, but one unanswered question: Why did the southpaw Sor Rungvisai oddly fight so much of the bout as a right-hander?
As good as the main event was, Roman (27-2-1, 10 KOs), making his fourth defense, and the southpaw Doheny (21-1, 15 KOs), making his second defense, stole the show with their terrific back-and-forth battle.
Roman, 28, who was fighting in front of a hometown crowd, made his fourth defense and claimed a second 122-pound belt as he pounded the body throughout the fight and dropped Doheny, 32, an Irishman fighting out of Australia, with left hooks upstairs in the second and 11th rounds en route to a majority decision: 116-112, 116-112 and 113-113.
But Doheny, who showed huge heart, had his moments, including nearly knocking Roman down in the seventh round.
"TJ put up a great fight, but I was too much for him," Roman said. "I knocked him down early, late and roughed him up in the middle. It's crazy now that I think about it. This is what I wanted, to unify the division."
With the victory secured, Roman said he wants to further unify with Rey Vargas, a fight Golden Boy is open to putting on as long as Vargas defeats interim titlist Tomoki Kameda in July.
Doheny was all class in defeat. "He is a great fighter but even more than that, he is an absolute gentleman, so all the credit in the world to him," Doheny said. "The plan was to become the unified champion, but that didn't happen. My second plan was to go to war and put on a show for Los Angeles, and we did it."
Prograis (24-0, 20 KOs), 30, the WBSS junior welterweight tournament favorite, won his first world title with a one-sided demolition of Kiryl Relikh (23-3, 19 KOs), 29, of Belarus, who was making his second defense. Prograis, a New Orleans native fighting out of Houston, dropped Relikh with a body shot late in the first round, opened a nasty cut on the bridge of his nose in the second round and dominated until referee Luis Pabon waved off the fight at 1 minute, 36 seconds of the sixth round when Relikh's corner threw in the towel to stop the punishment.
"These boys cannot f--- with me. I f---ing just dominated the whole time. They can't mess with me," Prograis proclaimed. "I'm not surprised at all [by the outcome]. I'm a different animal. He already knew from the get-go. I knew that whoever they put in front of me, they're going to get the same treatment."
Prograis moves on to the final for a unification fight against the winner of the semifinal between titlist Ivan Baranchyk and Josh Taylor, who meet May 18 in Glasgow, Scotland. As for Donaire's performance ...
Knockout of the weekend: Nonito Donaire
Future Hall of Famer Donaire is 36 and in the twilight of his career, but the four-division world titlist can still crack with the left hook. It's the punch that delivered him some of his most memorable victories, including a devastating fifth-round knockout of Vic Darchinyan that won him he flyweight world title in their first fight in 2007. It also was the shot that won him two bantamweight belts when he drilled Fernando Montiel in the second round to win the titles with the 2011 ESPN knockout of the year.
Donaire took on World Boxing Super Series alternate Stephon Young, who moved into the tournament from the undercard after titlist Zolani Tete dropped out three days before the fight because of a right shoulder injury. The result was a dominant performance from Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs), the Philippines native fighting out of Las Vegas, as he scored another gargantuan KO.
Donaire handled Young (18-2-3, 7 KOs), 30, of St. Louis, easily through five rounds before landing a left hook on Young's chin to turn out the lights in the sixth. Young was unconscious before he hit the mat, and referee Mark Nelson immediately waved off the fight at 2:37. Come December, this one will be in the KO of the year conversation for sure.
The next step: Donaire, who moved down two weight divisions from featherweight to join the field, advanced to the WBSS bantamweight final, which will take place this summer or perhaps as late as September. The final will be a title unification bout, as he will face the winner of the semifinal between titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez and secondary titlist Naoya Inoue, the tournament favorite. They meet on May 18 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at London
Heavyweight Daniel Dubois (11-0, 19 KOs) TKO4 Richard Lartey (14-2, 11 KOs).
In a fight streamed in the United States on ESPN+, Dubois, 21, of England, continued to show why he is one of boxing's best heavyweight prospects as he took out the rugged Lartey, 27, of Ghana, with one punch to end a spirited fight.
Dubois and Lartey exchange wild blows in Round 3
Daniel Dubois and Richard Lartey exchange a fury of punches throughout their heavyweight contest.
Lartey, who had visa problems and didn't arrive in London until two days before the bout, caught Dubois with a couple of good shots, but Dubois took them well. Lartey, however, did not take Dubois' power well. He was hurt multiple times and grabbed on tight and was warned for holding by referee Robert Williams. After a sensational toe-to-toe exchange in the third round, Dubois ended it in the fourth when he flattened Lartey with a right hand. Lartey beat the count but was badly dazed, and Williams waved it off at 1:50.
There's a slim chance that Dubois could face fellow unbeaten prospect Joe Joyce (8-0, 8 KOs), who was ringside, for the vacant British title in July. Joyce, the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight silver medalist, last week signed a co-promotional deal with Frank Warren, who is also Dubois' promoter.
Friday at Inglewood, Calif.
Junior middleweight Jessie Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs) TKO6 Humberto Soto (69-10-2, 37 KOs).
In an unexpected slugfest, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist Vargas stopped the usually durable former junior lightweight and lightweight titleholder Soto, 38, of Mexico, in a bout contracted at 151 pounds on the Sor Rungvisai-Estrada II undercard. Soto was coming off a decision over Brandon Rios in a February slugfest, but Vargas is a lot fresher than Rios.
Vargas, 29, in his first fight with trainer Freddie Roach, fought through a bloody cut over his left eye that was inflicted by a second-round accidental head butt. After nonstop action, Vargas dropped Soto on his rear end with a clean right hand in the sixth round. When the fight resumed, Vargas put together an onslaught of punches, and as he was rocking Soto, referee Thomas Taylor stopped it at 1:48.
Soto could be headed for retirement. Vargas is headed for something much bigger.
Junior welterweight Shakhram Giyasov (8-0, 6 KO) W10 Emmanuel Taylor (20-6, 14 KOs), scores: 99-91 (twice), 97-93.
The Brooklyn, New York-based Giyasov, 25, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist for Uzbekistan, took a step up in competition and looked a bit shaky despite the wide scores against Taylor, 28, of Ridgeley, Maryland. Taylor, coming off a two-year layoff, hurt Giyasov in the opening round and in the fourth round of a fight in which Giyasov really had to work for the win.
Middleweight Austin "Ammo" Williams (1-0, 1 KO) KO1 Joel Guevara (3-5-1, 2 KOs).
Williams, a 22-year-old southpaw from Houston, made a very impressive professional debut. The former amateur standout, who had been ranked No. 1 in the United States at 165 pounds, took out Guevara, 31, of Charleston, West Virginia, as expected. But he looked sharp and displayed a diverse arsenal. During a flurry, he caught Guevara with a left to the body for a knockdown. Guevara beat the count, but Williams was relentless and referee Ray Corona stopped it at 2:06 with Williams dishing out punishment.