Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Argentina’s Matias Rueda entered his featherweight contest with Oscar Valdez Jr with an impressive 26-0 record; but given that all but one of his fights had been fought in his native land against mostly anonymous opposition, there was some question as to how good he really was. The answer, as it turned out, was not very – or at least, to be fair, nothing like good enough to cope with Valdez, a former Mexican Olympian who now has a title belt to go along with his prodigious talent and potential.
From the opening bell, Rueda stood too tall, his erect head an inviting target for left hooks from Valdez (21-0, 18 KOs), who cracked his opponent repeatedly in the first round, following up with a couple of right hands that had Rueda rocking early. It was more of the same in the second, although the end came when Valdez switched his attention to his foe’s body. A left hook to the midriff caused Rueda (26-1, 23 KOs) take a half step back and then drop to a knee. Although he beat the count, he was immediately in trouble again, as Valdez swarmed him and dropped him with another body shot, prompting referee Russell Mora to wave off the contest at 2:18 of the round.
Jose Benavidez Jr managed to simultaneously look frustrating and unimpressive, score a wide and deserved unanimous decision win to remain undefeated, and be booed by the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd. At least from the safety and comfort of a ringside seat, it appeared that Benavidez could have won his welterweight bout with Francisco Santana with something to spare had he boxed differently, but far too often in the early rounds he retreated to the ropes and allowed Santana to rip him with a seemingly never-ending fusillade of punches.
That said, he clearly won the first two rounds, by countering Santana up the middle with some hard uppercuts; a couple of times he actually appeared to have Santana badly hurt. Perhaps falling in love with that approach, however, he spent the next two rounds with his back against the ropes, looking for openings to land counters that didn’t materialize, as Santana (24-5-1, 12 KOs) scored more effectively with his relentless offense. Benavidez (25-0, 16 KOs) began to find a better distance in the fifth, and to land at least some shots from mid-range in the center of the ring; by the sixth, fatigue was clear in both men, which enabled Benavidez to keep Santana at bay somewhat more easily, even if the crowd responded to Santana’s less effective flurries.
It was much the same over the second half of the bout: a fatigued Santana chuntering repeatedly forward, and an almost equally fatigued Benavidez attempting to keep him at bay with spearing jabs but occasionally continuing to retreat to the ropes, and making the bout seem closer than it was. Judge Adalaide Byrd’s score after ten rounds of 100-90 for Beavidez, giving Santana absolutely no rounds, was ludicrous; but the other two scores of 98-92 and 96-94 were more accurate, however much those in the arena were displeased.
Oleksander Gvozdyk recovered from a shock first-round knockdown to break down and beat up former title challenger Tommy Karpency en route to a sixth round knockout in the opening bout of the pay per view.
Halfway through an opening round in which he was landing repeated, but soft combinations, the highly-rated Gvozdyk left himself open for a counter and Karpency obliged, dropping his left shoulder and launching a southpaw right hook in close that dropped Gvozdyk to his back. The Ukrainian (11-0, 9 KOs) looked on shaky legs as he rose and was less than convincing in the second round, even as he sought to regain the initiative. By the third, though, he was once more boxing and moving, turning Karpency repeatedly even if he showed no sign of the power that he has flashed so far in his professional career. But as Karpency (26-6-1, 15 KOs) slowed down, Gvozdyk became increasingly comfortable with his timing and the distance, and landed progressively heavy leather.
By the fifth round, Karpency’s nose was bloodied and possibly broken, and in the sixth, a seemingly innocuous right hand to the face produced a shout of pain from the American, who dropped to one knee after a tame follow-up right to the body, and stayed there as referee Kenny Bayless tolled the ten count.