TULSA, Oklahoma -- Joshua Franco settled the score on Saturday, capping a rivalry that climaxed with a controversial finish in November and ended at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino with a decisive victory over Andrew Moloney in the ESPN main event.
"The Professor" retained his secondary WBA title at 115 pounds with a decision over Moloney with all three judges scoring the fight the same: 116-112.
Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez is the recognized champion at junior bantamweight. Earlier this week, WBA president Gilberto Mendoza announced his intentions to clean up the plentiful secondary titles that have muddied the championship picture. But with the win, Franco figures to earn a shot at one of the "big four" at 115 pounds in the near future, a stacked division headlined by Juan Francisco Estrada, Gonzalez, Kazuto Ioka and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
"I see bigger fights. I see Chocolatito, Gallo Estrada, Ioka," said Franco, ESPN's No. 6 boxer at 115 pounds. "For sure, this win puts me top 5, on the same list at the other champions. I needed this fight to prove myself."
Franco (18-1-2, 8 KOs) consistently beat Moloney to the punch and landed the cleaner, harder shots. The bout featured plenty of inside fighting, but it was always Franco who was able to push Moloney back in those exchanges.
Despite being just 25, Franco has now been a part of two boxing trilogies. He fought Oscar Negrete three consecutive times in 2018 and 2019, with a win sandwiched between two draws. Saturday's win over Moloney was their third meeting.
In Frisco: Ortiz scores biggest win of career against Kavaliauskas
Vergil Ortiz Jr. fought for the 18th time in his young career on Saturday night. He knocked out his 18th opponent.
The 23-year-old rising welterweight, competing before an enthusiastic crowd of home fans in Frisco, Texas, took on the toughest test of his career and passed it in a big way, knocking down onetime title challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas five times on his way to an eighth-round KO.
It was not as easy for Ortiz as it sounds. Kavaliauskas staggered him in Round 2 with a short left hand, then swarmed the young fighter and landed several more punches. But Ortiz waved him in and threw power shots in return as the crowd roared.
"He caught me with a good shot, but I took it well and I recovered from it well," Ortiz said. "And here I am."
One round later, Kavaliauskas connected with a big right hand and again moved in, thinking he had Ortiz hurt. And within seconds Ortiz was on the canvas -- not from a Kavaliauskas punch, though, but from winging one of his own so hard that when it missed he lost his balance. Ortiz got right up and went after his opponent, dropping him with a left hand with just 10 seconds to go in the round.
Ortiz prevailed over a competitive fighter. Kavaliauskas, a 33-year-old two-time Olympian from Lithuania, had lost only once before, suffering a ninth-round TKO in a 2019 challenge of WBO champion Terence Crawford, who is No. 2 in the ESPN men's pound-for-pound boxing rankings.
But after the knockdown, Ortiz took over the fight. He remained poised, fighting behind his jab. Kavaliauskas became the first opponent to take Ortiz to Round 8, but by that point he appeared slowed. Ortiz dropped him with a body shot with 1:43 left in the round, then floored him with a left hook to the head with 42 seconds left, again with another hook at the 22-second mark, then ran across the ring to finish the job.
When an Ortiz flurry sent Kavaliauskas (22-2-1) back to the canvas just before the bell, referee Laurence Cole jumped in to wave off the bout at 2:59.
"I got the win. I could have looked a little prettier doing it," Ortiz said after the bout. "But I'm happy with my performance, and we're only gonna get better from here.
"My dad told me before the fight the body shots were gonna be the key to victory. I slowed him down, and that's all she wrote." -- Jeff Wagenheim
In Carson, California: Casimero retains title in split decision win over Rigondeaux
To his left, back along the ropes, circling to his right. Guillermo Rigondeaux, even at the age of 40, shuffled around the ring an infuriating amount as John Riel Casimero looked for any punch that might touch the former champion.
It was vintage Rigondeaux. On Saturday night in Carson, Calif., the Cuban veteran engaged on his own terms. He punched when he wanted to. But Rigondeaux certainly didn't win over those in the crowd at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
And more importantly, he didn't earn the favor of the judges. Casimero retained his WBO bantamweight belt in a split-decision win, 116-112, 113-115, 117-111. The one who pressed the action was ultimately rewarded.
"I'm focused on [the] knockout, but Rigondeaux always runs," Casimero said in his post-fight interview on Showtime. "Rigondeaux just always run. No fighting."
It was a historically boring fight. The 91 combined punches was the lowest for a 12-round bout in CompuBox history. Neither fighter landed more than seven punches.
In Tulsa: Ali Walsh makes successful pro debut in TKO win
Ali's grandson, Nico Ali Walsh wins Top Rank Boxing debut via TKO
Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of Muhammad Ali, wins his Top Rank Boxing debut via TKO vs. Jordan Weeks.
Wearing a pair of white-and-black trunks his grandfather gifted to him, Muhammad Ali's grandson, Nico Ali Walsh, made his pro boxing debut Saturday with a first-round TKO of Jordan Weeks in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ali Walsh, 21, displayed the kind of flair for the dramatic Ali would surely be proud of, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his right hand as the referee administered a 10-count following the knockdown. The middleweight followed up with a barrage of punches, bloodying Weeks' face, before the referee stopped the mismatch.
"I think me and him made a little bit of history tonight," said Ali Walsh, who is trained by "SugarHill" Steward, the same man who guides heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
"This lived up completely to my expectations," he added. "It's been an emotional journey. ... Obviously my grandfather, I've been thinking of him so much. I miss him."
In Tulsa: Barboza shines in victory over Moran
Arnold Barboza Jr. continued his ascent in the 140-pound division with a unanimous decision victory over Antonio Moran.
Two judges scored it 99-91 with one shutout score of 100-90.
Barboza (26-0, 10 KOs) threw less punches than Moran, yet outlanded him 278 to 82. Moran (26-5-1, 19 KOs) showed his grit and toughness once again, though, never wavering.
The 28-year-old Mexican's two most-recent losses came against world-class fighters: Devin Haney and Jose Pedraza. The Haney defeat was one of the most spectacular knockouts of 2019.
Barboza, 29, was in control from the opening bell in his first fight since a tragic victory over Alex Saucedo in October. Saucedo, a former title challenger, suffered two brain bleeds in the bout and retired afterward.
The Long Beach, California, native sits just outside the top 10 at junior welterweight but is knocking on the door. -- Coppinger
In Carson: Russell vs. Rodriguez ends in no decision
Gary Antonio Russell (18-0, 12 KOs) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-2, 12 KOs) had their bantamweight bout stopped just 16 seconds into the first round because of a brutal accidental head-butt.
Rodriguez, an orthodox fighter, clashed heads with Russell, who is a southpaw. The top of Russell's head gashed the middle of Rodriguez's nose. Rodriguez immediately went down as blood trickled onto the canvas. After several seconds, the referee called off the fight and it was ruled a no-decision because of the accidental foul.
Both fighters were visibly frustrated. -- Ben Baby
In Carson: Warren dominates Vazquez for second-round TKO
Rau'Shee Warren, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, crushed an overmatched Damien Vazquez on the first fight of the televised Casimero-Rigondeaux undercard.
Warren loaded up on big hooks and connected often as Vazquez just didn't see the punches coming. In the first round, Warren put Vazquez down twice, with two right hooks. Vazquez, who lives in Las Vegas, wobbled to his feet and survived the last minute of the opening round.
That was his best accomplishment of the night. Warren (19-3, 4 KOs) picked up a rare stoppage when he landed a blinding left hook in the middle of the ring that staggered Vazquez (15-3-1, 8 KOs) and forced the referee to stop the fight.
It was a pretty good performance for Warren, who hails from Cincinnati. It took current junior featherweight champion Brandon Figueroa 10 rounds to finish Vazquez in their Sept. 2020 bout.
"I always knew I had that power and I always knew I had that speed," Warren said after the fight. "It's just about taking your time in the ring and letting them come. When I saw the opportunity, I went for it."
Warren, who won a secondary bantamweight world title in 2016, now turns his attention towards winning a world title.
"Next fight is a title fight. I am the No. 1 contender for the WBA. ... Next fight I am grabbing that title. Maybe I will fight the winner of the main event tonight [Rigondeaux vs. Casimero]. I proved tonight that I'm ready for a big fight. Now it's back home and back to the gym and back to the drawing board."
According to CompuBox, Warren landed a staggering 57% of his power punches in the brief bout. -- Ben Baby
In Frisco: Gutierrez edges Alvarado to retain junior lightweight title
Roger Gutierrez retained the WBA "regular" junior lightweight title in a unanimous decision over Rene Alvarado, the man he took the belt from in January. The bout was the rubber match in a trilogy that began with an Alvarado knockout in 2017, Gutierrez's first career defeat.
This meeting was fought at a slower pace than the first two fights. The first fight was all Alvarado, and in the rematch earlier this year Gutierrez scored three knockdowns. But this time there were few sustained exchanges. Alvarado (32-10, 21 KOs) was the aggressor and often sent his opponent into retreat or a clinch, but Gutierrez (26-3-1, 20 KOs) found a home for his counter right hand often enough to bruise the left side of Alvarado's face.
Gutierrez, a 26-year-old from Venezuela, took some damage as well, as his left ear was bloodied. Two judges scored the bout 116-112 and the other had it 115-113.
Alvarado, who is 32 and from Nicaragua, is the brother of IBF junior flyweight champ Felix Alvarado, who won the bout right before this one. -- Wagenheim
In Tulsa: Jason Moloney earns decision victory over Greer
In a crossroads fight, Jason Moloney pounded out a 10-round unanimous decision over Joshua Greer Jr.
Two judges scored it 98-92, while the other had it 96-94. The win keeps Moloney alive in the 118-pound division. He was coming off a seventh-round KO against Naoya Inoue in an October title fight.
For Greer, the future is far less certain. He hasn't won since a decision over Antonio Nieves in October 2019. The 27-year-old from Chicago was upset by Mike Plania in June and then settled for a draw vs. Edwin Rodriguez in his last outing.
Greer (22-3-2, 14 KOs) started strong, but Moloney (22-2, 18 KOs) took control in Round 3. The Australian's twin brother, Andrew, fights Joshua Franco in the main event. Moloney is ESPN's No. 7 boxer at 118 pounds. -- Coppinger
In Tulsa: Morrison outlast Haynesworth for unanimous decision
Trey Lippe Morrison, the son of former heavyweight title challenger Tommy Morrison, was extended the distance for the first time in a shutout decision over Don Haynesworth.
The hometown favorite from Tulsa won 60-54 on all three cards in his first action since April, a sloppy fight that featured more brute than skill.
Morrison (18-0, 17 KOs) and Haynesworth both winged big punches but rarely met their mark. Both heavyweights seemed to tire easily, with Haynesworth, 38, completely gassed by the end of rounds. At 288.6 pounds, Hayneworth (16-7-1, 14 KOs) was an immobile target but Morrison, 31, still couldn't find him with his power shots on most occasions.
Haynesworth, a native of New Rochelle, New York, has now lost four straight. -- Coppinger
In Frisco: Alvarado scores first-round TKO of Vazquez
Felix Alvarado, the IBF junior flyweight champion, made quick work of his late-replacement opponent in a non-title bout.
Israel Vazquez, brought in just this week, came out aggressively and landed some shots, but Alvarado swarmed him in the second half of the opening round and dropped Vazquez with a clubbing right hand. Alvarado returned to his feet, but the referee deemed he couldn't continue, prompting the stoppage at 2:50.
For Alvarado (37-2), it was the 32nd knockout of his career, and his 16th in Round 1. It was also the 19th straight victory for the 32-year-old Nicaraguan, who had been scheduled to defend his belt against Erick Lopez. Lopez had to withdraw because of visa issues. Vazquez (10-5-2), of Puerto Rico, has lost five of his last six bouts. -- Wagenheim
In Frisco: George Rincon defeated Nikolai Buzolin by unanimous decision after eight rounds of a junior welterweight fight by scores of 80-72, 80-72 and 80-72
In Tulsa: Balderas stops Cervantes in impressive performance
Karlos Balderas, once one of the most highly touted prospects in boxing, made the most of his fresh start.
The 24-year-old scored a second-round TKO of Fidel Cervantes, battering his opponent from the opening bell. He landed a brutal left hook followed by a flurry of punches in Round 1 that dropped Cervantes (9-2-1, 4 KOs) and then staggered him again late in the round.
The 30-year-old from Kansas never regained his senses and absorbed a beating in Round 2 before the referee stopped the fight at 2:03.
In December 2019, Balderas (10-1, 9 KOs) was upset via a sixth-round KO against Juan Rene Tellez and parted ways with PBC afterward. The Southern California native regrouped during the long layoff. He linked up with renowned trainer Buddy McGirt and signed with Top Rank.
"I'm back and better than ever," Balderas said after the fight. "Even with this victory, I have things to work on. I'm going straight back to the gym to get ready for the next one. ... I'm only getting started."
Now in his second act, Balderas is hoping to fulfill his vast potential that's been touted since he fought his way into the lightweight quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. -- Coppinger
In Tulsa: Cortes demolishes Servania in first-round KO
Andres Cortes scored a devastating first-round KO of Genesis Servania in the biggest win of his young career.
Cortes landed a right hand followed by a left hook that sent Servania, who is from the Philippines, crashing against the ropes. Servania, a former title challenger, attempted to get up but was in no shape to continue.
Cortes (15-0, 8 KOs), who resides in Las Vegas, will likely step up again in his next fight. Servania (34-3, 16 KOs) dropped a decision to Oscar Valdez in a 2017 world title fight at 126 pounds. -- Coppinger
In Tulsa: Bell dominates Cortez for one-sided victory
Albert Bell scored a shutout unanimous decision over Julio Cortez, winning 80-72 on all three judges' scorecards.
Bell (19-0, 5 KOs), a native of Toledo, Ohio, was coming off an eight-round decision win over Manuel Rey Rojas in April. The 130-pounder easily outboxed Cortez (15-3, 11 KOs), using his significant height and reach advantage to keep the Ecuadorian on the outside.
Bell might not pack much pop, but at 6 feet, he's very tall for the 130-pound division, and he has the boxing skills to go along with it. He appears to be inching closer to a top-10 ranking in a stacked weight class. Now he just needs the step-up opponent to prove he's at that level. -- Coppinger
In Tulsa: Nova outpoints Pumicpic for unanimous decision win
Abraham Nova returned from an Achilles tear with a successful performance, earning a unanimous decision victory over Richard Pumicpic in the ESPN+ opening bout.
Nova (20-0, 14 KOs) was stunned late in the first round but settled into the fight to win by scores of 79-73, 78-74 and 79-73. The power-punching 130-pounder was competing for the first time since a June 2020 decision win over Avery Sparrow.
Pumicpic (22-12-2, 7 KOs), a native of the Philippines, has lost four of his past five fights. -- Coppinger