Photos: Ed Mullholland
By Eric Raskin
It was a pay-per-view undercard that seemed stocked with its share of competitively matched fights and opportunities for combatants to make statements. It seemed that way.
Instead, the three scheduled 10-rounders at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas building up the Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward showdown gave us one highly controversial decision, at least one hand injury, one elbow injury, and no memorable statements made by anyone.
In the final bout before Kovalev and Ward made their way to the ring, Colombian veteran Darleys Perez appeared to get the better of prospect Maurice Hooker, only to settle for a hard-to-figure draw. Perez (33-2-2, 21 KOs) gave away several inches of height and reach but mostly took Hooker (21-0-3, 16 KOs) to school anyway, timing him with looping counter right hands and getting inside enough to pile up the points. One of the judges saw it that way, scoring 97-93 for Perez. But the other two official scorers were watching a different fight, as one had it an outrageous 97-93 for Hooker and the third judge turned in a 95-95 card. It was an appropriately deflating end to a generally unsatisfying undercard.
In the previous fight, Ukrainian light heavyweight prospect Oleksandr Gvozdyk did something Sergey Kovalev couldn’t, as he scored a stoppage win over contender Isaac Chilemba. But it isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds. Chilemba (24-5-2, 10 KOs) retired on his stool after the eighth round with an injury to his right elbow, bringing to a premature close a somewhat disappointing fight.
That shouldn’t take anything away from Gvozdyk (12-0, 10 KOs), who was taking a massive step up in class and produced a workmanlike winning performance. The 29-year-old gradually built a lead, mostly working from the outside behind his jab, bloodying Chilemba’s nose and stealing close rounds with timely flurries when he had to. The eighth round was actually the most entertaining of the fight, with both fighters having moments and letting loose more power punches than they had been previously, but as soon as it seemed the bout was ready to meet expectations, it was over. At the time of the stoppage, Gvozdyk led 79-73 on all three judges’ cards.
Veteran middleweight Curtis Stevens has established a tradition of sorts, opening pay-per-view telecasts from the T-Mobile Arena in victorious fashion. However, unlike when he did so via emphatic second-round knockout of Patrick Teixeira in the first fight card at the venue back in May, this time he did his marketability no favors, as he labored to a disappointing 10-round decision over theoretically easy mark James De La Rosa.
“The Cerebral Assassin” got off to an encouraging start, dropping De La Rosa with a left hook at the end of the first round. By early in the second, De La Rosa had a badly swollen left cheek and a cut on his left eye and it seemed only a matter of time before Stevens connected with a knockout blow. Stevens had his best round in the third, but after his onslaught along the ropes failed to finish the gutsy De La Rosa (23-5, 13 KOs), the tide began to turn. Stevens told his trainer, John David Jackson, that he’d injured his left hand, and it showed; the fight tightened as De La Rosa swept rounds five through seven. But Stevens let his hands go enough down the stretch—despite a point deduction in the eighth for a low blow—to pull out a deserved win by scores of a perplexingly wide 98-90 and two identical tallies of 96-92. Stevens achieved his baseline goal of advancing his record to 29-5 (with 21 KOs), but he didn’t achieve the nearly-as-important goal of creating demand to see him in a major fight to kick off 2017.