Coming off a career-long 202-day layoff and a career-worst loss to Devon Alexander, popular Argentine puncher Marcos Maidana (32-3, 29 KOs) got back in the win column with a stirring eighth-round TKO of game veteran Jesus Soto Karass (26-8-3, 17 KOs, 1 no-decision).
The welterweight brawl featured multiple point deductions, plenty of after-the-bell activity, a tables-turning knockdown and finally a dramatic stoppage.
Maidana seemed committed to the jab and a more disciplined boxing style in his first couple of rounds under new trainer Robert Garcia, but he gradually got away from that approach and started gunning for the knockout by the end of the second round. Perhaps he had the $100,000 bonus promised for the night's best knockout on his mind.
At the end of the third round, Maidana let loose a right hand after the bell, angering Soto Karass, of North Hollywood, Calif., and nearly inciting a brawl. When both fighters hit on the break in the fourth, referee Kenny Bayless penalized them each one point.
By the fifth round, Maidana's efforts to finish off Soto Karass led him to begin tiring noticeably, and the underdog charged back into the fight. For a second time Maidana blasted Soto Karass after the bell, again nearly inciting extracurricular fireworks.
Soto Karass dominated Round 6, out-landing "El Chino" 37-17 according to the punch stats, and when Maidana lost a point early in the seventh round for throwing a punch to the hip on a break, it seemed the fight had just about evened up.
But suddenly, with 15 seconds left on the clock in the seventh, a long, lashing right from Maidana crashed into Soto Karass' jaw and dumped him on the canvas. The California-based Mexican fighter rose and was rescued by the bell before Maidana could sufficiently follow up.
So instead, Maidana charged out in the eighth and pounded away, landing two heavy right hands. He unloaded with both hands as Soto Karass covered up along the ropes, prompting Bayless to jump in and stop the fight at the 0:43 mark. Soto Karass disputed the stoppage, but if it was premature, it was by only a punch or two.
In victory, Maidana solidified his standing as one of boxing's hardest-hitting, most entertaining warriors -- a description that perfectly fits another Argentine battler who appeared on Showtime one week prior. Maidana versus Lucas Matthysse, anyone?
De Leon prevails in inconclusive clash
The ending was premature, the scorecards were perplexing, and the whole outcome was anticlimactic. But you won't hear Daniel Ponce De Leon complaining, as he escaped with an important eight-round technical decision victory over Jhonny Gonzalez to claim a featherweight belt on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez-Josesito Lopez fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Whenever a southpaw fights an orthodox boxer, head clashes are to be expected, and it was the right-handed fighter, Gonzalez, who suffered a gash over his right eye when the combatants' heads came together in the eighth round. Referee Kenny Bayless conferred with the ringside physician and they agreed to halt the fight at 2:36 of the round, sending the bout to the scorecards.
It seemed the scores could have gone either way, but the judges were in agreement -- and by surprisingly wide margins. Dick Houck and David Sutherland both had it 79-72 and Jerry Roth saw it 77-74, all for Ponce De Leon (44-4, 35 KOs).
Gonzalez (52-8, 45 KOs) appeared to box his way to an early lead, and neither fighter seemed inclined to engage in the sort of frenzied all-out brawl that fans were expecting from the two Mexican veterans.
Ponce De Leon suffered a cut on his hairline from a clash of heads in Round 3, but he dutifully battled through the blood.
In the sixth, with Gonzalez seeming to have established a lead (though apparently not on the judges' cards), Ponce De Leon swung the fight in his favor with a single sensational counter left hook to the jaw. Gonzalez wobbled, and Ponce De Leon pursued him and knocked him partially through the ropes. Bayless correctly ruled a knockdown, and the bell saved Gonzalez before any more damage could be done.
But the head clash two rounds later did the deciding damage, and Ponce De Leon had himself a meaningful -- if not entirely convincing -- victory.
• Leo Santa Cruz (21-0-1, 12 KOs) did what fellow titlist Abner Mares couldn't, earning a stoppage over former flyweight titlist Eric Morel (46-4, 24 KOs) in his first defense of the bantamweight alphabet belt he won against Vusi Malinga in June.
Morel, fresh off a unanimous decision loss to Mares for a 122-pound belt in April, was more stationary than ever at age 36, which made him an easy target for Santa Cruz, particularly for the 24-year-old Mexican's right hand. A crafty but not at all crowd-pleasing boxer when he was in his prime, Morel gave the fans -- and Santa Cruz -- exactly what they wanted by standing and trading punches. The result was that "Little Hands of Steel" was halted for the first time in 50 pro fights.
In the fourth round, Santa Cruz's body attack began taking an obvious toll, and Morel, a 1996 U.S. Olympian based in Madison, Wis., took a prolonged beating in Round 5. Morel's corner proved proactive and compassionate by refusing to let the fighter off the stool for the sixth.
• Making his U.S. debut, Mexico's Andres "Jaguarcito" Gutierrez (23-0-1, 19 KOs) showed a sizzling uppercut and a willingness to hit and get hit as he won a spirited six-round featherweight scrap over Carlos Valcarcel (12-6-4, 5 KOs) of Puerto Rico. Gutierrez was in control most of the way but couldn't hurt Valcarcel, settling for a points victory by scores of 60-54, 59-55, and 59-56.
• Mexican junior lightweight Francisco Vargas (13-0-1, 10 KOs) overcame a badly swollen left eye to win a high-output affair with southpaw Victor Sanchez (3-4-1, 0 KOs) of Houston by scores of 40-36, 40-36 and 39-37.