By David Robinett at ringside
Former IBF super featherweight champion Jose “Sniper” Pedraza (24-1, 12 KOs) continued his climb up the lightweight ladder with a ten round unanimous decision over Antonio Moran (22-3 15 KOs) by surprisingly close identical scores of 96-94. For his trouble Pedraza picked up the WBO Latino lightweight title. Pedraza, who took most of the year off in 2017 after losing his belt to Gervonta Davis, looked sharp in this one, using superior upper body movement and defense to evade many of Moran’s flurries and attempts at combinations, and then firing back with sharp, accurate counterpunches that shredded Moran’s face, leaving it a bloody mess from about the third round forward. When he wasn’t slipping punches Pedraza was able to cover up and absorb many of Moran’s punches with his gloves. In the later rounds, as Moran’s aggression started to fade, Pedraza switched out counterpunching for stinging lead left hands which Moran was too slow to avoid. Pedraza’s lack of one-punch power might be a liability against the best, but against Moran it just prolonged the punishment, the proverbial death by a thousand cuts, culminating in an impressive performance establishing Pedraza as a legitimate contender in his new weight class.
In a WBA world title eliminator, undefeated Jose Benavidez (27-0, 18 KOs) barely broke a sweat in quickly disposing of previously unbeaten knockout artist Frank Rojas (22-1, 21 KOs) via first round knockout. A straight left hand by Benavidez, followed by a left hook to the body, caused a delayed reaction by Rojas, who backed up a few steps, and then dropped to the canvas for nearly a minute, with an official end of 1:24 of the first round. Although the win might have been as much about Rojas’ padded record coming into the bout as it was the body punch by Benavidez, following a nearly two year layoff after being shot in the leg, the win was undoubtedly a welcome one for comebacking Benavidez, who now has two wins in a row since returning to the ring this past February.
Earlier on the card Top Rank’s second youngest signee cruised to an easy win. Not to be outdone, Top Rank’s youngest ever signee, at 16 years of age in 2016, the now 18-year old Gabriel Flores (8-0, 5 KOs), passed a tough test against his rugged Mexican opponent Jorge Rojas (4-4-1, 2 KOs), earning a unanimous decision by scores of 40-36 on all three scorecards in a four round lightweight bout. Flores was in control the entire bout, but Rojas came forward nearly every round and made the youngster earn it. Flores fought taller than his 5’9” frame, getting full extension on his jab and power punches early, enabling him to land effective punches without offering a reachable target for Rojas to counter. Rojas’ solution after two rounds was to come forward more aggressively, and he had the chin to walk through Flores’ fire and give Flores a little trouble, as Flores was forced to fight more off his back foot in retreat. He still outlanded Rojas but with less steam on his punches. Nevertheless, the fight was never in question and it was undoubtedly a good learning experience for the teenager from Central California.
2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (7-0, 4 KOs) put on a dazzling show for as long as it lasted, knocking down his Brazilian opponent Aelio Mesquita (16-2, 14 KOs) five times in less than five minutes. Referee Benji Estevez saved Mesquita from further punishment by stopping the fight at 1:45 of the second round in a scheduled eight round featherweight contest. Stevenson was unstoppable from nearly the opening bell, dropping Mesquita early with a blazing fast straight left, right hand combination. Mesquita was not badly hurt, yet, so the southpaw Stevenson softened him up with several popping right jabs before putting Mesquita down again onto the seat of his pants with a straight left hand. Mesquita made it into round two, where Stevenson promptly deposited him onto the canvas again with a combination punctuated by a left hook. Mesquita was in stoppage territory by then, although the referee surprisingly let him continue after knockdown number four, a combination that started with Mesquita upright and continued as Mesquita crumpled to the canvas, drawing a probably unfair warning from referee Estevez to Stevenson for hitting Mesquita while he was down. One more knockdown shortly thereafter was enough for everyone, resulting in the stoppage midway through round two. Fun stuff from Top Rank’s seemingly endless stable of young talent.
Undefeated Russian Maxim Dadashev (11-0, 10 KOs) successfully took a big step up in competition, punctuating a workmanlike performance with a tenth and final round stoppage of former WBA lightweight champion Darleys Perez (33-4-2, 21 KOs) to capture the NABF junior welterweight title. It was a solid if unspectacular performance from Dadashev, who was simply a little better in every aspect of the fight against a former champion probably a year or two removed from his prime.
Perez (33-4-2, 21 KOs) who represented Columbia as a lightweight at the 2008 Summer Olympics and won his WBA title in 2014, started the fight well, countering Dadashev with quick punches as Dadashev came forward. However Dadashev gradually increased his output as the fight progressed, and by round five momentum had swung firmly in Dadashev’s favor, with the Russian outlanding Perez by an increasingly wide margin, effectively mixing punches to the head and body with both hands. Perez still had some fight in him in the later rounds, occasionally landing quick hooks in between Dadashev’s attacks, but no combinations and not without enough power to discourage Dadashev’s aggression. The fight seemed headed to the scorecards when in the middle of round ten a Dadashev straight right caused Perez to wobble, and Dadsehv quickly followed up with a barrage punctuated by a big right hook that put Perez on the canvas. Although Perez rose and was game to continue, referee Jay Nady felt, maybe a little prematurely, that he was too shaky to go on, and waved the bout over at 1:49 of the round.
Light heavyweight Steve Nelson (11-0, 9 KOs) remained undefeated with a sixth and final round stoppage of Dashon Webster (10-2, 6 KOs). Nelson, an army veteran who served a tour in Afghanistan and later was a 2012 Olympic alternate in London, simply wore down the smaller Webster, walking through Webster’s ineffective jab each round until he finally dropped Webster from an accumulation of punches in round five. In round six, Nelson was landing at will against a visibly gassed Webster, until referee Russell Mora had seen enough at 0:46 of the final stanza and ended the fight.
In the opening bout on the undercard of Crawford vs. Horn at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of Top Rank’s youngest ever signees, 17-year old David Kaminsky (2-0, 1 KO), breezed through his second pro bout, stopping Trevor Lavin (1-1, 1 KO) at 1:12 of the second round in a scheduled four round middleweight bout. Kaminsky, an Israeli by birth who lives and trains in Southern California, dropped Lavin with a right to the body early in round two. Lavin beat the count but went down again moments later after Kaminsky’s follow-up barrage, prompting the referee to call a halt to the bout.