Rounds three and four were much better for Cunningham as he boxed from the outside. He landed crisp right hands Mansour’s body, stalling his attack. Cunningham’s ripping rights not only got him back into the fight but also caused a mouse under Mansour’s left eye.
Things got interesting in round five when Mansour unleashed a right hook that floored Cunningham, who looked done for. Shockingly, Cunningham was not only able to respond to referee Steve Smoger’s count but also rise to his feet. Clearly dazed, Cunningham tried to elude Mansour’s incoming fire but Mansour ripped a second right hook, again dropping Cunningham in the corner. To the surprise of most, Cunningham regained his footing and heard the bell for the end of the round.
Round six saw Cunningham use the ring to avoid Mansour’s wild power shots. Cunningham got back to throwing rights to the body and head by the end of the round.
The boxing acumen Cunningham used in rounds three and four returned in round seven and would be consistent for the remainder of the fight. “USS” went back to using his sweeping right hands to Mansour’s head and body, accompanied by a stiff jab that offset the timing of Mansour’s power shots. It was clear that Cunningham’s early body and his return to “swimming without getting wet” got him back into the fight.
As the fight reached the pivotal 10th and final round, “Hardcore” seemed to need one more solid round in order to emphasize he was the better man. As both warriors unleashed what they had left in the tank after nine hard rounds, Cunningham’s sharper shots landed from a tighter distance than Mansour’s. Clearly exhausted from the give-and-take, Mansour was dropped toward the end of the round. Even though he was not put on the seat of his trunks, Mansour’s glove touched the canvas, warranting a count from Smoger. Both fighters were content to throw and hold as the end of the fight approached and when the final bell rang, they received a standing ovation from everyone inside of the arena. Cunningham earned a unanimous decision victory via scores of 95-92 (twice) and 97-90, earning him the USBA belt.
In another early candidate for “Fight of the Year,” Curtis “Showtime” Stevens, 27-4 (20), took on the undefeated Tureano “Reno” Johnson, 14-1 (10). Johnson proved that talk of having a padded record meant nothing as he showed the crowd that he didn’t just belong in the ring with Stevens; he might just have been the better man on this evening.
The action started fast and furious with Johnson jumping all over his opponent. His pressure in the first two rounds had Stevens pinned against the ropes and Johnson landed solid body shots while withstanding speedy counters from Stevens. Stevens tried to land jabs to ward Johnson off while backing away when the action flowed back to center ring. Johnson used good head movement to avoid the jabs and fired lefts upstairs to stunt Stevens’ attempts at boxing him.
Round three saw Stevens countering more effectively as he warmed up and timed Johnson a little more. Stevens’ power shots clearly won him the third heat and in round four, the action continued at a torrid pace. Although continuously peppered with body shots, Stevens finally landed a powerful combination stunned Johnson. Still, Johnson eluded several of Stevens’ follow-ups and survived the round.
Rounds five and six saw much of the same action with Johnson backing Stevens into the ropes with effective aggression and great head movement. Every time Stevens attempted to turn Johnson in order to get off of the ropes, Johnson looked like an old veteran by spinning Stevens back to the ropes in turn.
Round eight was Stevens’ last good round till the end as he finally boxed around the ring, potshotting Johnson. Stevens entered the 10th and final round needing a come-from-behind knockout in the eyes of most ringside observers. With Johnson seemingly ahead in the round and on the way to an upset win, Stevens unleashed a hellacious left hook that clearly rocked Johnson.
Johnson didn’t go down but was pinned against the ropes while Stevens fired combinations that didn’t seem to really punctuate his one effective hook. Referee Gary Rosato was the only one in the arena who felt Johnson was done as he jumped in and stopped the fight with just 51 seconds remaining.
Whatever fog Johnson was in quickly vanished when Rosato stepped in to stop the fight. He immediately protested the stoppage and rightly so. At the time of the stoppage, Johnson was well ahead on all three judges’ scorecards at 87-84 and 89-82 (twice). The majority of the media had Johnson ahead as did Maxboxing.com at 87-84.
With the victory, Stevens may move on to bigger fights instead of a rematch but he should be thankful he won. As for Johnson, he is an entertaining fighter who may give a few problems to some quality middleweights.