12:07 AM ET
Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
LAS VEGAS — Lightweight up-and-comer Ryan Garcia felt like he had something to prove against Romero Duno, and he did just that on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Garcia scored a sensational first-round knockout in the co-feature of the Canelo Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev fight.
“It’s kind of what I expected,” Garcia said. “All respect to Duno. He came to fight, he came in shape. He caught me with an overhand right and I took it and from there I knew I could keep taking them and keep coming at him. When I took his best shot, I knew, all right, I got him. Everybody knows he has a big overhand right. He’s put a lot of people to sleep with that, and then when I took it, I thought, ‘Oh, OK, that’s what it is.’ And I felt good from then.”
Garcia (19-0 16 KOs), 21, of Victorville, California, who was the 2017 ESPN prospect of the year, went to Duno and blew him away from the start. Duno, who earned $50,000 to Garcia’s $250,000, got in a few decent shots, but Garcia took them with no issue. Garcia stayed poised and put punches together before an impressive closing sequence. He landed a left jab and a right hand before flooring Duno with a sweeping left hook to the head.
Duno (21-2, 6 KOs), 24, of the Philippines, who is trained by former junior flyweight world titlist Rodel Mayol, went down awkwardly and tipped over onto his face and referee Tony Weeks waved it off at 1 minute, 38 seconds.
“Kingry” took criticism from his promoters at Golden Boy and many fans on social media that he felt was wholly undeserved when he declined to face Duno on 24 hours’ notice six weeks ago. Garcia was due to fight Avery Sparrow in the co-feature of a Mexican Independence Day weekend card in Carson, California, on Sept. 14, but when Sparrow was arrested the day before the fight, it was canceled.
Golden Boy wanted Garcia on short notice to instead face Duno, who would have moved up from being deep on the undercard. Duno agreed to the fight but Garcia didn’t. Duno won his undercard fight and Garcia didn’t fight.
The situation led to a near breakup between Garcia and Golden Boy, but they eventually worked out their issues and signed a five-year contract extension. Garcia, who trains alongside Alvarez with trainer Eddy Reynoso, insisted that his first bout of the deal be against Duno to prove he was not ducking him, as Duno had accused.
Garcia wants to move on from the Duno soap opera and fight even better opposition.
“I’m just learning my overall game, footwork, speed, power,” he said. “I’m just soaking it in. With Canelo there [in training camp], it’s an honor. It makes me feel good just watching him spar, watching him train. He tells me I’m gonna do good, and I feel good.
“I just want better competition the more I step up. I’m only 21 and a lot of people forget that. But I’m going at my pace, whatever I feel I’m ready for, I’ll take on.”
Estrada tops Esparza via technical decision
Flyweights “Super Bad” Seniesa Estrada and Marlen Esparza each professed their dislike for the other for the past two years, and they were anxious for the opportunity to finally fight each other.
When they did, Estrada dominated en route to a ninth-round technical decision victory. She claimed a vacant interim women’s flyweight title in a bout in which three-minute rounds were employed rather than the usual two-minute rounds used in most women’s bouts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission allows three-minute rounds for women if both sides agree to it.
Moving up from junior flyweight, Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs), 28, of East Los Angeles, won 90-81, 89-82 and 88-83. Estrada and Esparza went right after each other from the outset and spent long stretches of the fight brawling, although Estrada was getting the better of the action.
Houston’s Esparza (7-1, 1 KO), 30, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and 2014 world amateur champion, suffered a deep cut along her hairline from an accidental head-butt in the fifth round. The blood poured down Esparza’s face and the cut seemed to get worse as the fight went on. At the end of the ninth round, referee Robert Byrd stopped the bout, sending it to the scorecards.
“Head-butt or not, I still whupped her ass every round,” said Estrada, who added she has no interest in giving Esparza a rematch. “I didn’t really target [the cut] too much. I’ve fought with a gash on my head. Blood was dripping down my face. I still won the rounds because I’m a fighter, that’s what I do. No, the beef is not settled. Respect to her team, but I still don’t like her.”
Said Esparza: “I couldn’t see anything. I could have stopped after the third round, fourth round, whenever it happened, but it was really hard to deal with. It was really hard to see.”
Cobbs survives knockdown for win
Las Vegas welterweight Blair “The Flair” Cobbs survived an early knockdown and rallied for a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Ortiz to win a vacant regional title.
Late in the first round, the southpaw Ortiz (11-5, 11 KOs), 35, of Mexico, nailed Cobbs with an overhand left that landed behind the head as Cobbs was leaning over, but the round ended before Ortiz could get off another punch.
Cobbs (13-0-1, 9 KOs), 29, who is trained by former bantamweight world titlist Clarence “Bones” Adams, recovered well and took control of the bout. With about 30 seconds left in the sixth round, he landed a clean right hand on the chin that dropped Ortiz. He beat the count but the fight was called off with him on the stool in his corner after the round. Ortiz, who lost his fourth fight in a row, was taken to the hospital to be checked for a possible fractured rib.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and had tremendous power. Ortiz took a tremendous shot to the back of my head, but I just got right back up,” Cobbs said. “I got right back on my horse and kept persevering. I’m working and getting better and better every time. There’s nothing I can’t do. Now it’s game time, baby. I’m ready for anybody, anytime, anywhere. Nobody can stop me, viva Mexico!”
Holyfield smokes Winstead
Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield (1-0, 1 KO) needed only 16 seconds to win his pro debut in a knockout of Nick Winstead (0-2).
Holyfield, whose legendary father — four-time heavyweight world titleholder Evander Holyfield — was ringside, stormed out of his corner and went right at Winstead. Holyfield landed a flurry of punches, including a hard left hook that rocked Winstead. Holyfield landed multiple shots and kept pressing forward until Winstead went down and referee Robert Hoyle stopped the fight as Winstead, 21, of Abita Springs, Louisiana, was getting to his feet. The crowd booed the stoppage with vigor.
“It was such a blessing to be able to showcase my talent on the card like this,” Evan Holyfield said. “I was just expecting to box and I just went out there and did my job. I was zoned in and God just had me.”
Holyfield, 22, of Atlanta, turned pro guided by Main Events, the same promoter that signed his father out of the 1984 Olympics and developed the elder Holyfield into a superstar and the undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight champion.
Evan Holyfield also has conditioning coach Tim Hallmark, who worked with Evander for many years, on his team.
Evander Holyfield said he was a little nervous about his son’s debut but added, “I just zipped it up and let my son go at it and do his work. He went out and took charge, he was first, caught the guy with a couple jabs, caught the guy with a right hand in the temple, and that was it.”
Murtazaliev wins title eliminator
Junior middleweight Bakhram Murtazaliev rolled to a unanimous decision over Jorge Fortea in a world title elimination fight.
Russia’s Murtazaliev (17-0, 13 KOs) won by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 to secure mandatory challenger status for unified titleholder Julian “J Rock” Williams.
“I feel very good. I was listening to the coach. I didn’t try to force anything and I was just listening to my coach,” Murtazaliev said. “I’ll get better and better and better.”
Murtazaliev, 26, who fights out of Oxnard, California, was the bigger man and more aggressive throughout the bout — allowing him to keep Fortea (20-2-1, 6 KOs), 28, of Spain, at bay. Fortea, whose seven-fight winning streak ended with this loss, had a hard time getting inside, although he did land some good shots, as evidenced by both fighters’ faces being marked up by the end.
Kalkreuth outpoints Smith
Cruiserweight Tristan Kalkreuth (3-0, 2 KOs), a 17-year-old from Duncanville, Texas, whom Golden Boy signed in June, outpointed tough Twon Smith (3-4, 2 KOs), of Oklahoma City. Kalkreuth, a junior in high school, won 40-36, 40-36 and 39-37, but Smith never stopped going at him in a spirited effort.
But Kalkreuth, who stood up to some clean shots, landed many more punches en route to the clear win. Smith, 32, lost his fourth fight in a row, but the previous three were each by six-round decision.
“I knew he was tough. He had twice the pro experience I did,” Kalkreuth said. “He’s pretty much a veteran, but for that being my third fight I think I did good. I wish I put more punches on him and obviously the one thing that boxers want is to get the KO and that didn’t happen, but I know this fight is going to help me later down the road.”
Nursultanov shuts out Olivas
Middleweight Meiirim Nursultanov (13-0, 8 KOs), 26, a Kazakhstan native based in Oxnard, California, won a vacant regional belt as he routed Cristian Olivas (16-6, 13 KOs), 27, of Mexico. Nursultanov won by shutout, 100-90 on all three scorecards, as he handed Olivas his fourth loss in a row — all by decision.
Nursultanov did as he pleased throughout the fight, driving Olivas back with a variety of punches and rarely getting hit with anything in return.
“I was very surprised at how durable he was, but it was a good experience,” Nursultanov said. “He was very tough. I needed this to get rounds of experience.”
Melikuziev stops Collard with body shots
Light heavyweight Bektemir Melikuziev (3-0, 3 KOs), who turned pro in June, used a powerful body attack to stop Clay Collard (4-2-3, 1 KO), 26, of Las Vegas, in the fourth round of their scheduled eight-rounder.
In that fourth round, the Indio, California-based Melikuziev, 23, of Uzbekistan, who is trained by Joel Diaz, dropped Collard twice with body shots. After the second knockdown referee Robert Hoyle stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 22 seconds.