For the first time in his career, Masayoshi Nakatani was knocked down. Felix Verdejo even did it twice, striking in the first, and then again in the fourth. And for most of the fight, it looked like Verdejo was in control. The scorecards agreed. Then, in the seventh round of their co-main event fight on the Shakur Stevenson-Toka Kahn Clary undercard, Nakatani flipped the script, starting down the path to a comeback that initially didn't seem like it would come.
Nakatani landed a straight right hand, and everything seemed to change in an instant. Verdejo was stunned, and Nakatani took advantage. He attacked in the eighth, and then, in the middle of the ninth, Nakatani landed a left jab on Verdejo's chin. Verdejo got up, and seconds later, Nakatani knocked him down again and knocked him out, winning the vacant WBO Intercontinental lightweight title at 1:45 into the ninth round.
It's the fifth time in Nakatani's past six fights that he has won by knockout or technical knockout. The sixth was a hard-fought loss against now-unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez.
"Throwing shots from the top didn't work, and with the distance it was difficult," Nakatani said. "So I went from below to get the shots in."
Verdejo seemed to be in complete control early in the fight. He knocked Nakatani down in the first round and again in the fourth. There were windows for him to really end the fight, but he didn't take advantage.
"I fought Lopez, and I wanted to fight him again. That's why I kept going," Nakatani said.
Verdejo was up on all three cards when he was knocked out -- 78-72 on Max De Luca's and Tim Cheatham's cards, and 77-74 on Patricia Morse Jarman's card.
There was a small opening in the eighth round, too. After Nakatani appeared to stun Verdejo, Nakatani's right leg looked like it buckled a little bit. But Verdejo wasn't able to take enough advantage of it.
After the fight, Nakatani said he would like another shot at the only person he has lost to -- Lopez, who beat Nakatani by unanimous decision on July 19, 2019. On Top Rank's final card of 2020, Nakatani made his case for another major fight in 2021. When asked about potentially getting another shot at Lopez, Nakatani said he would approach it differently.
"I want to go for the knockout like I did today," Nakatani said. "And that's going to be my style."
Berlanga makes it 16 first-round KOs in 16 fights against Sierra
Sixteen fights. Sixteen first-round knockouts. That's the pro career of 23-year-old super middleweight Edgar Berlanga thus far, as he took care of Ulises Sierra in 2:40 on Saturday by pummeling from the start. Every punch Berlanga landed echoed inside of the MGM Conference Center with the power behind it, like a fighter landing on a heavy bag.
Even though Sierra (15-2-2, 9 KOs) tried to protect himself and kept his gloves around his face, it did not matter. Not. Even. Close. Berlanga (16-0, 16 KO) knocked Sierra down for the first time 90 seconds into the first round. Sierra got up. Thirty seconds later, Sierra was down again, held up only by the ropes.
The last knockdown didn't take much longer than that. Berlanga also did it without cornerman/trainer Andre Rozier in attendance, as he was unable to be in the MGM Grand bubble on Saturday.
Berlanga is a future star in the sport, the type of fighter who can be a crossover star because of his knockout power and the quickness of his fights. The question now for him is who should go into the ring with him next, and how fast Top Rank wants to put him in the ring with a fighter who might be able to challenge him.
Berlanga knows what could come in the future, which is why, when Bernardo Osuna asked him what he needs in 2021, Berlanga made it very simple.
"Rounds," Berlanga said. "That's stepping up competition."
Post-fight, Berlanga continued with those sentiments.
"We're looking for a big step-up next year," Berlanga told ESPN. "My team, myself, we're not really tripping, you know. Like Andre Ward told me, take your time, there's no rush, and that's exactly what we doing. We know what we doing. We're doing it the right way and when that time comes, we're going to shock the world again. I'm shocking the world right now. But I'm going to shock the world when I show them that I can go rounds."
Berlanga is now tied with Young Otto for fourth-place all-time in first-round knockouts to start a career, according to CompuBox data.
LaVallais hands Collard first 2020 loss in sixth fight
Clay Collard threw a lot of punches. Over and over again, a flurry of small, quick combinations. But it was ultimately the right hand of Quincy LaVallais connecting with Collard's head that controlled Saturday's middleweight fight. Neither fighter knocked the other to the canvas, and neither one seemed very close to making it happen, either.
But LaVallais largely dominated the eight-round featured preliminary card bout, which he won by unanimous decision, 78-74, 77-75 and 77-75. It was the first loss of 2020 in six fights for Collard, who fights in both boxing and MMA.
In a rematch of a June 29, 2019, fight that was a draw in New Orleans between Collard (9-3-3, 4 KOs) and LaVallais (10-0-1, 5 KOs), there was no question this time. While Collard appeared to be more active and aggressive in the first two rounds, continuously directing LaVallais to the ropes, Collard appeared to begin to tire by the third round. LaVallais started to be smarter with his combinations and also got away from the ropes.
The two fighters also had no problem jabbing with each other verbally, too. At one point in the fourth round, Collard told LaVallais, "Come on, I'm right here," and then motioned to LaVallais with his glove. LaVallais responded by going right at Collard.
After the sixth, when it seemed LaVallais was in control of the fight by using his right hand to continuously connect with Collard's head, he pounded his chest with his right hand right in front of Collard.
Rodriguez clinical in KO of Juarez
Saul Juarez hit the ropes. Then he fell right down. Jesse Rodriguez had been measured throughout the light flyweight fight, patient with when he threw punches and economical when he tried to land. Sure, he took a punch or two making the move in, but Rodriguez didn't seem to care.
Rodriguez blew through whatever Juarez tried to land anyway. Rodriguez went to the body often. He moved Juarez around the ring wherever he wanted to take him. And then, at 2:05 into the second round, a left uppercut landed and Juarez bounced against the ropes and fall to the ground.
This was a good, easy fight for Rodriguez (13-0, 9 KO) against a veteran in Juarez at age 30 who has clearly hit his ceiling. Juarez (25-13-2, 13 KO) has lost five of his past six fights -- and he narrowly beat Mario Andrade in 2019. Juarez hasn't been a consistent winner since 2016, so this doesn't tell us too much about Rodriguez, who won his fifth straight fight by knockout. Perhaps it's time for Top Rank to put Rodriguez in the ring with a real challenger as his 2021 campaign begins.
Ramirez punishes Valdes in sixth-round TKO
Robiesy Ramirez was patient. He seemed to have control and confidence throughout his fight against Brandon Valdez, but Ramirez fought how he often does: counter-punching and using his high-level footwork and ability to bounce away from an opponent's punches to take over a fight.
That's exactly how the fight played out through the first five rounds. Valdes kept trying to throw punches, and more often than not, Valdes either hit nothing or the guard of Ramirez. There was flair, too, from the former Olympic champion -- the consistent sticking out of his tongue made that obvious, as did the tapping of his own head. In the sixth round, before the fight was stopped, Valdes lost a point for low blows -- he had been warned about it in the fourth -- but by then, it seemed like Ramirez had control of the fight by using his defense.
Then, in the sixth, Ramirez (6-1, 4 KO) became more aggressive. He started coming forward, throwing a flurry of combinations at Valdes (13-2, 7 KO) in the final minute of the sixth round -- leading the fight to be stopped with 11 seconds left in Round 6 with a combination of hooks and uppercuts.
It was a good level of aggression from Ramirez, who continues to be a fighter who it seems Top Rank is trying to push to become a name fighter sooner rather than later. After a disastrous pro debut, Ramirez has rattled off six straight wins.
Brady bests Land by TKO
Featherweight Haven Brady Jr. staggered for a second early in his second pro fight as Michael Land -- who walked out to the ring in a robe that appeared to be inspired by a Victorian-era clown costume -- was aggressive. But that was short-lived. By the second round, Brady (2-0, 2 KOs) took complete control.
Land (1-2, 1 KO) didn't throw a punch that connected for almost 30 seconds and couldn't get anything going in Round 2, continually absorbing uppercuts and straight right hands from Brady. It became apparent Brady was the better and more aggressive fighter, and Land didn't seem to have much left by the end of Round 2. Land and his corner showed that, as Land did not come out for the third round, giving Brady the technical knockout.
Goldston earns first career KO over McClamy
Kasir Goldston didn't wait too long to pick up his first career knockout. Less than two rounds into his second pro fight, the 17-year-old welterweight prospect knocked Llewelyn McClamy (2-1, 1 KO) down twice in under a minute in the second round to finish off the fight. Goldston (2-0, 1 KO) first dropped McClamy with a couple of left hands to McClamy's head, and then moments later scored the second, decisive knockdown with a flurry of punches. It led to a technical knockout at 1:35 into the second round.
Goldston was the more aggressive fighter throughout the bout, consistently moving around the ring and forcing McClamy to take a defensive approach from the opening minute of the first round. McClamy showed one brief bout of productivity early in the second round, but it didn't last as Goldston reasserted control moments later.