By Derek Gionta, from press row:
Sammy "The Who Can Mexican" Vasquez Jr. fought on the biggest stage of his career in front of his hometown at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center Friday night (8/8), defeating James "Keep em’ Sleepin" Stevenson of Baltimore by a ninth round TKO, claiming the USBA welterweight title.
Vasquez, 16-0 (12),known for his exciting fan-friendly style, overcame a few obstacles along the way against a solid undefeated fighter in Stevenson, 21-1 (14).
This was Vasquez’ fourth fight under Mike Tyson’s IMP banner, and his third on TV. Fox Sports 1 televised the main event along with two other bouts.
The two opening rounds were quiet as both fighters looked to find openings behind a tight defensive posture. Vasquez was the busier fighter and landed a straight left hand down the middle in the second, tallying his second 10-9 score on my card.
Stevenson danced a little, claiming to have not been affected by the early display, with little offensive attack to share at this point.
Stevenson picked it up in the third, landing a right uppercut and straight right hand on his southpaw opponent, earning the round on my card.
At this point, you felt a possible back and forth battle brewing in front of the reported 3500 fans in attendance.
The methodical offensive attacks from both fighters continued.
Vasquez looked to have sealed the fourth, while Stevenson finished the fifth strong in a nip and tuck round. He did so playing possum on the ropes before landing a few clean shots, buzzing Vasquez briefly at the end of the round.
Stevenson had his best streak of the fight in the sixth and seventh, while Vasquez continued forward looking to unload and pick his shots more selectively with the sneaky counter attack of Stevenson in mind.
By the middle of the fight, Vasquez cutman Mike McSorley had center stage in the corner, tending to a cut over the right eye of Vasquez, which was believed to have been caused by a punch.
Stevenson continued taking his time, waiting on Vasquez to make the first move.
This, at times, allowed for dull moments which drew Vasquez in before Stevenson capitalized behind short combinations.
The eighth round Vasquez showed the grit and mettle his fans are used to seeing and what would be expected from an Army vet.
As Stevenson bounced around the ring, leaning out of range, Vasquez caught him with good lunging shots, scoring the first and only knockdown of the fight.
With two rounds left the proud Monessen, PA native had the momentum.
Vasquez continued pressing forward in the ninth, letting his hands go with frequency.
Stevenson backed up with little counter attack. Referee Ernie Sharif then stepped in calling off the fight just 25 seconds into the round.
Stevenson was by no means in a position to counter effectively as he backed into the ropes, but was not out on his feet or in any real danger. Many felt the stoppage was premature but the ending was fitting and inevitable for Vasquez.
Secondsout’s scorecard was 77-74 for Vasquez entering the ninth. The fight was scheduled for ten rounds.
Vasquez commented after the fight mentioning this being his toughest and longest fight, and he was happy with the win but will be back in the gym correcting his mistakes.
While earning the USBA belt and now an IBF ranking is a valuable step in his career progression, going past the sixth round for the first time against an undefeated fighter was more important for the development of Vasquez as a fighter.
In the ten round co-feature, lightweight Monty Meza-Clay, 36-3 (22), of nearby Rankin, PA scored a thrilling tenth round TKO over Mexico’s Alan "Explosivo" Herrera, 32-7 (21), in the evening’s fight of the night.
The action started immediately as Meza-Clay slipped his way inside throwing left hooks and overhand rights to his much taller opponent.
Herrera was unaffected and kept his jab on Meza-Clay.
As much of the same continued, some activity after the bell sparked Rankin’s Little Big Man as Herrera threw a punch after the bell followed by a head butt. Meza-Clay retaliated with a head butt of his own.
At this point a real brawl was in full effect.
Meza-Clay scored a knockdown in the sixth round with a two-piece combo after a clean right hand softened up Herrera moments earlier.
Herrera continued battling in a phone booth style of fight, which was more suited for Meza-Clay.
Herrera landed a big left hook to the head of Meza-Clay in round nine, nearly finishing him. Meza-Clay hung on and finished the round.
With the scorecards seemingly in his favor, Meza-Clay entered the tenth and final round throwing from all angles charging forward. Herrera was affected but fought back.
Referee Rick Steigerwald jumped in stopping the fight at the two minute mark, with Meza-Clay earning what he called the biggest win of his career.
Meza-Clay, trained by Tom Yankello, said at the pre-fight press conference that he was the main event, noting his fan friendly style.
He mentioned after the fight, "I’d like to fight for a world title next."
Whether or not a world title is next on the menu, bigger fights under the IMP banner seem well in the works.
In the opening TV bout of the night , world amateur standout Ievgen "The Ukrainian Lion" Khytrov, 6-0 (6), of Brooklyn, NY easily demolished Detroit’s Willie Fortune, 17-2 (8), in the first round of a scheduled six.
When asked by an observer at the pre-fight presser how he felt fighting a guy with 18 pro fights, the friendly but confident Khytrov referred back to his amateur pedigree and how he began boxing at age 10.
Fortune came out a bit fast and hit the canvas just as fast after an onslaught of power punches put him down and out just 30 seconds in to the fight.
Erickson Lubin, 7-0 (6), W TKO 1 over Francisco Javier Reza, 12-9 (9)-Welterweights
Claudio Marrero, 16-1 (12), W TKO 2 over Felix Perez, 8-7 (3)-Featherweights
Vincent Jennings, 5-0-1 (4), W UD 4 over Dennis Galarza, 5-1 (3)-Featherweights. Scores: 58-55, 58-54, 58-56.
Ryan Martin, 8-0 (4), W TKO 1 over Engelberto Valenzuela, 8-3 (3)-Lightweights
Amonte Eberhardt, 2-0 (1), W UD 4 over Travis McLaren, 1-5 (1)-Welterweights. Scores: 40-36, 39-37 X 2.
Steve Geffrard, 3-2 (1), W UD 4 over Darius Harris, 0-1-1-Cruiserweights. Scores: 40-36, 39-37 X 2.
IMP plans to come back to the Consol Energy Center November 14th to once again feature Sammy Vasquez and possible young local Pittsburgh talent.
August 8, 2014