Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
LAS VEGAS –Two Mexican warriors renowned for being in brutal brawls, each man fighting time after time in an all-action, brawling style: it was hard to see how the 130-pound clash between Orlando Salido and Miguel ‘Mickey’ Roman could be anything other than a fantastic fight. It proved to be that and more besides: for Roman, a career-saving victory, and for the veteran Salido, a career-ending defeat.
These were two men who had had to overcome a lot, including slow career starts that saw them notch almost as many losses and wins, to fight their way to respectability and main event status. They earned respect through skill and will and a relentless determination to succeed, and they earned more with a tremendous display of fighting heart and strength at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night.
If you have friends who either do not understand or have not watched boxing, show them a video of this contest. It may prove too brutal for the uninitiated, but it will shine a light on the beating heart of everything that this sport is about. This was a fight.
And it was a fight that Salido (44-14, 31 KOs) seemed to be in position to win early on. While Roman began the contest more brightly, aggressively pursuing Salido and forcing him against the ropes and into corners and throwing the faster, sharper punches, the first round went to Salido courtesy of a booming right hand that landed with a thud near Roman’s ear and caused his feet to do a little dance. Another big right in the second hurt Roman again, and Salido was now the one marching forward, looking to land hurtful blows, seizing the initiative and fighting on the front foot.
Roman, however, would not be easily disposed of, and in the third round, he was able to maul Salido in close, denying him the opportunity to gain the space he needed to launch those big right hands. Indeed, whenever there was a little separation between the two, it was Roman who was the quicker to let his hands go, in the process preventing Salido from launching his heavy artillery.
Roman (58-12, 45 KOs) came flying out of the blocks in the fourth, throwing rapid-fire combinations, but shipping another Salido right hand in the process. Suddenly, a Roman combination, ending with a short right hand, sent Salido backward and onto his haunches. The veteran staggered a little as he tried to raise himself, decided to sit against the ropes for a few seconds and collect himself, and then rose to beat the count of referee Robert Byrd and survive the round.
Roman looked to increase the pressure in the fifth and now he was on Salido like a rash, outworking him, firing off combinations in close. But Salido not only had the strength and resolve, he had the knowledge and experience accrued during a lifetime in the sport, and he tried everything he could to negate Roman’s offense and launch his own. He slipped, he slid, he
dodged, constantly trying to find angles that would defy Roman’s offense and allow him to launch his own. Round after round, the two men fought in a phone booth, heads touching as they ripped each other to body and head. Roman, though, emerged from each exchange with the advantage.
In the eighth, Roman found a bit of space and fired off a quick three-punch combination followed by a ripping four-punch one that once more put Salido down. Once again, Salido sat on the canvas against the ropes, this time appearing to question how much more of this he wanted to go through at 37 years old. He eventually decided to stay in the fight, beating Byrd’s count by perhaps a half second; but he appeared spent, clinging desperately to Roman as the two staggered across the ring. Then, suddenly, with a fresh burst of energy, it was Salido who was once more launching thumping right hands as the round ended.
It would prove to be a false dawn. In the ninth, Roman again found a bit of space in which to operate and landed a right hand that snapped back Salido’s head. He bulled his foe to the ropes and dug an uppercut to his body. Salido bent over to his left, Roman landed a left hand, Salido slumped down again and Byrd waved the contest to a halt.
Asked afterward how he was able to succeed this time when so often – as against Takashi Miura in January – he had fought valiantly only to come up just short, Roman said that, “the difference this time was that I had to overcome. It was my moment. Things will change from today on.” The importance of victory was underlined when he revealed that, “If I lost, I would have retired.”
Salido declared that, with this loss, he actually had retired.
“Time takes its toll. I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I am done. This is it. This was my last.”
Kenichi Ogawa scored a controversial split decision victory over Tevin Farmer in a less-than-scintillating co-main event, which essentially featured Ogawa’s dogged aggression against Farmer’s schooled elusiveness. The Japanese boxer at times seemed unsure quite what to do with the crafty Philadelphian, who retreated around the ring behind a shell defense, flicking out southpaw jabs and straight lefts and seemingly deflecting most of the blows that Ogawa was able to land. At one point, in the third round, Ogawa nearly fell over trying to chase Farmer down and land a punch; at another point, in the eleventh, he actually did, flying over Farmer as the American held onto the top rope and ducked.
There were times when Ogawa looked a bit lost; in the fifth, for example, as Farmer dialed up his offense and began to land his left hand convincingly, and in the eighth as Ogawa walked into some powerful counters. But Ogawa (23-1, 17 KOs) never stopped coming, and on several
occasions when he did land a right hand, he appeared to do so with some effect, an appearance that may have been exaggerated by the way in which Farmer pulled back after being tagged. And as the rounds went on, Farmer (25-5, 5 KOs) looked increasingly weary, and the punches he continued to throw lacked their earlier authority. Even so, it appeared he had done more than enough to secure a victory and the scores of 116-112 and 115-113 in Ogawa’s favor, outweighing one of 116-112 for Farmer, were surprising – although warmly welcomed by an arena crowd that clearly appreciated Ogawa’s efforts.
Francisco Vargas scored a technical decision victory over Stephen Smith after an accidental headbutt came remarkably close to severing Smith’s left ear from the side of his head. It was a fight that Vargas (24-2, 17 KOs) was winning handily anyway, as evidenced by the scorecards of 89-82 and 88-83 (twice) that were handed in after ringside physicians stopped the contest in the ninth. But Smith (25-4, 15 KOs) was neither overawed nor hopelessly overmatched, and willingly engaged in the trenches with an opponent whose thirst for violent combat manifested in his being one half of the Fight of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
Smith’s problem was that he was unable to cope with Vargas’ stiff jab and long right hand from range, and when they fought in close, the man from Liverpool, England was slower than his Mexican foe and largely as a consequence did not possess the same snap or power in his punches. Even so, the bout looked on its way to going the full 10 rounds until blood suddenly started pouring from Smith’s ear. Referee Russell Mora immediately escorted Smith to the ringside physicians in the corner, and they had no hesitation in calling a halt to the contest. The crowd initially booed the sudden ending, until the injury was replayed on the screens in the arena, at which point their boos of discontent turned to groans of disgust at the sight of Smith’s ear flapping n the breeze as blood gushed from the wound. Smith, dejected, left the ring before the scores were announced.
Rene Alvarado emerged victorious by way of split decision over Denis Shafikov in an extremely bloody 130 lb. bout on HBO Latino. Shafikov was bleeding from a cut high on the left side of his head from round two, and by the end of the bout, it was streaming down the left side of his body and onto Alvarado, as well as coating the shirt of referee Tony Weeks. The pattern of the contest was essentially Shafikov stalking and landing hard single shots, as Alvarado (28-8, 19 KOs) circled away and responded with relaxed combinations. The fight may ultimately have been won and lost in the fifth round, a round that Shafikov (38-4, 20 KOs) was winning until the very end when a right cross from Alvarado dropped him for a flash knockdown.
Also on HBO Latino, Jaime Munguia (26-0, 22 KOs) remained unbeaten when he dropped Paul Valenzuela (20-7, 14 KOs) twice in the second round, prompting a stoppage by referee Jay Nady despite Valenzuela’s protests.