By David Finger
Photos: Sumio Yamada
Boxing officials and dignitaries attending the 31st annual WBO Convention in Panama City, Panama were given a rare treat courtesy of PR Best Boxing on Wednesday night: an action packed card featuring three world class contenders fighting for WBO regional belts.
And after two fights were scrapped at the last minutes the biggest winner of the night was undoubtedly the unheralded undefeated New Mexican: Jason Sanchez. Sanchez came in against the highly touted Puerto Rican prospect Jean Carlos Rivera, capturing the vacant WBO Youth Featherweight title by way of ten round unanimous decision.
In the early rounds, it looked like Rivera was content to counterpunch the aggressive Sanchez with laser like precision, landing wicked counter right hands with alarming regularity in the first two rounds. But the pugilistic surgeon was simply unable to derail the New Mexican tank in Sanchez. Sanchez, the prohibitive underdog going into the fight, refused to ever take a backward step against the undefeated prospect and never let Rivera derail his unrelenting pressure. Rivera seemed to have an effective strategy in the opening round, letting Sanchez come on strong but making him pay for his aggression with hard overhand rights. In round two it appeared that Rivera had even rattled the New Mexican when he landed a hard left that appeared to affect Sanchez’s balance. But even as he landed hard counter punches, Rivera could never get the New Mexican to ease up off of him, and soon the relentless pressure of Sanchez began to take its toll. Rivera began to wilt from the pressure by round four and by round six there was no question that Sanchez was now in control. Rivera, who was never able to keep up with Sanchez’s punch output even in the early rounds, continued to slowly fade in the late rounds as his picture perfect counter right became less pronounced and his punch output, always lagging Sanchez’s, began to drop off as well.
By round ten it appeared that Sanchez was ahead, but the Albuquerque fighter wisely elected to fight it out and not leave anything to chance. His aggression and perseverance paid off when he badly rattled Rivera with a left hook that sent the Puerto Rican stumbling into the corner where referee Ken Chevalier correctly ruled a knockdown, noting that the corner and ropes was the only thing that prevented Rivera from hitting the canvas.
But the freight train was not about to let up, even with the decision all but in the bag. Sanchez pressed forward for the knockout against his foe, winning over the Panamanian fight fans and closing the round in dominant fashion, All three judges has Sanchez the winner by scores of 96-93, 97-92, and 97-92. With the win Sanchez captures the WBO Youth Featherweight title, while also improving his record to 13-0, 6 KOs. For Rivera, it was his first loss as he saw his record slip to 15-1, 12 KOs.
The acquisition of the Youth title is expected to propel Sanchez into the WBO world rankings as well. Currently there are seven Youth Champions ranked by the WBO, with the highest Youth Champion being ranked #1 in the mini-flyweight division.
“This is a dream come true,” Sanchez said after the fight. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my whole life. I worked hard for it and thank God everything went good.”
In the co-main event WBO Latino Champion and #11 ranked junior featherweight Yenifel Vicente scored a dominant first round knockout over Monterrey Mexico’s Victor Proa at 1:22 of the opening round. Although Proa had an impressive record of 29-5-2, 22 KOs, he was coming into the fight having lost four of his last five (with his only win coming against a fighter with a record of 1-14) and he had yet to win a fight against any fighter of the level of Vicente. The gap in skill was pronounced as Proa was dropped a minute into the fight with a wicked overhand right. Referee Chris Flores reached the count of 10 at 1:22 of the round; giving Vicente the easy win that could propel him into a world title fight with WBO world champion Isaac Dogboe. With the win Vicente sees his record improve to 34-3-2, 26 KOs.
In another WBO Latino championship fight Argentina’s Agustin Mauro Gauto saw his record improve to 10-0, 6 KOs after dominating Colombian Jose Antonio Jimenez, stopping him at 2:35 of the opening round. Gauto found success with the right hand and then dropped the Colombian with a picture perfect left hook. Although Jimenez was able to get up, he was nonetheless unable to continue. With the loss Jimenez sees his record drop to 20-10-1, 9 KOs. Gauto captured the vacant WBO Latino Light Flyweight title with the win.
Rounding off the card Panamanian Eliecer Tenorio won a close six round unanimous decision over countryman Jose Beitia. There were no knockdowns in the fight, but Tenorio was able to use his jab and keep enough distance to frustrate Beitia’s aggression. Tenorio sees his record improve to 3-2, 1 KOs while Beitia sees his record slip to 4-2-1, 4 KOs.
The original main event fight was cancelled on the day of the event when fighter Francisco Fonseca came down with an illness shortly after the weigh-in. Several other people at the convention also seemed to come down with flu like symptoms, and none of the people in attendance regarded his illness as suspect.