Demetrius Andrade defeats Artur Akavov in New York

Smooth boxing stylist Demetrius Andrade retained a middleweight title with a 12th-round TKO over Artur Akavov at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

Andrade was originally scheduled to fight Billy Joe Saunders, but Saunders, who won a 12-round decision over Akavov in March 2016, failed a prefight drug test and relinquished the title.

Previously, Andrade's career has been hampered with managerial problems and inactivity, but this was his second bout in three months. He now hopes to step up to the division elite, perhaps against the winner of the Canelo Alvarez-Danny Jacobs unification bout scheduled for May 4.

Andrade (27-0, 17 KOs) boxed superbly behind his southpaw jab, keeping the squat Akavov (19-3, 8 KOs) at long range throughout the fight. The defending titleholder also made excellent use of heavy body punches that gradually slowed down Akavov.

Only in the ninth round did the Russian challenger get close enough to land anything significant. Akavov, also a southpaw, connected with a combination to the head and body, snapping Andrade's head back.

"I felt great, I displayed skills and how to use a hell of a jab for 12 rounds, baby," Andrade said. "That's it. I look forward to getting in there with the best. Akavov moved, he used the ring real well. I wasn't trying to force anything. The jab was working beautiful all night. At the end of the day, you put GGG [Gennady Golovkin] in front of me and I am going to destroy him"

Andrade, 30, from Providence, Rhode Island, quickly regained control in the 10th round and continued to outbox his challenger. An accidental clash of heads opened a cut over Akavov's right eye in the same round, but it was not a major factor.

It seemed that Andrade was cruising to an easy decision victory when referee Arthur Mercante Jr. inexplicably stopped the fight at the 2:36 mark of the final round. Akavov, who protested vigorously, seemed in no immediate danger. Mercante's controversial move took away Akavov's opportunity to last the distance, which he had earned by fighting bravely, if ineffectually.

Now it's on to bigger and better things the rest of the year.

"All I can do is just keep destroying the top 15. After I keep destroying the top 15, they have nobody else but GGG, Canelo [Alvarez], Danny Jacobs and all those great guys up there," Andrade said. "That's all we're looking to do, make great fights, baby. That's it. And may the best man win."

Cano upsets Linares

Pablo Cesar Cano, 29, of Atizapan de Zaragoza, Mexico, sprung a massive upset, stopping three-division former titleholder Jorge Linares at the 2:48 mark of the first round of a scheduled 10-round junior welterweight bout.

Seconds into the opening round, Cano (32-7-1, 1 NC, 22 KOs) floored Linares with a right hand that landed in back of his opponent's ear. Linares beat referee Ricky Gonzalez's count, but was soon down again after Cano connected with another hard right to the jaw. Linares regained his feet, and Cano moved in and put him down a third time with a short left hook to the head.

Linares (45-5, 28 KOs) beat the count yet again but wobbled backward on unsteady legs, and the referee stopped the fight.

Linares, 33, of Venezuela, was fighting for the second time since being knocked out by Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 12, 2018.

Cano had won only three of his last six bouts, but looked sensational tallying the biggest win of his career.

"I'm very happy, very content," Cano said. "I always wanted a victory over a great fighter like Jorge Linares."

In other bouts:

TJ "The Power" Doheny (21-0, 15 KOs) made his first defense of a junior featherweight title with an 11th-round TKO of Ryohei Takahashi (16-4-1, 6 KOs). Southpaw Doheny, 32, an Irishman based in Bondi Junction, Australia, knocked down Takahashi with a right and three lefts to the head in the third round.

Takahashi, 28, of Yokohama, Japan, took the fight on two weeks' notice, but gave a game performance. However, he lacked the punch to hurt Doheny, who was a superior technician. Takahashi was still on his feet fighting as best he could when referee Michael Ortega suddenly stepped in and stopped the fight at the 2:18 mark to save him from further punishment.

Brooklyn's Amanda Serrano (36-1-1, 27 KOs) wasted no time winning a title in a seventh weight division, knocking out Eva Voraberger, of Vienna, Austria, just 35 seconds into the first round of a scheduled 10-round junior bantamweight bout. Voraberger fell to 25-6 with 11 KOs.