By Kieran Mulvaney
CARSON, CA –
The record will show that Cecilia Braekhus defeated Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes tonight under the stars on a cool evening at the StubHub Center, that Juan Franciso Estrada stopped Victor Mendez and that Claressa Shields outpointed Femke Hermans to run her professional record to 8-0.
And yet, on this strangest of nights, in which boxers traded their punches in front of a small crowd, the stories of the individual fights were all but lost in a broader narrative. For all six competitors in the three bouts, Saturday night was just the latest step in an ongoing career progression. But for so many others, the theme of the evening was of finality.
In the opener, Shields was seconds away from dropping and possibly stopping Femke Hermans (9-2, 3 KOs), but was forced to settle for a unanimous shutout decision over 10 rounds. Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has agitated for women to be permitted to fight three-minute rounds like their male counterparts, as opposed to the abbreviated two-minute frames they are presently obliged to contest, and understandably so: on several occasions during the contest, Shields (8-0, 2 KOs) appeared to have Hermans hurt, only for the bell to ring before she could press home her advantage. The American’s hand speed was vastly superior to that of the less-experienced Belgian, and her punches accordingly carried greater snap and heft; in particular, the Shields left hook proved an increasingly effective punctuation to her blistering combinations. It was one such hook that detonated on Hermans’ jaw in the dying seconds of the contest, spinning the Belgian’s head around and leaving her reeling. Shields was able to half-land a follow-up right hand as Hermans stumbled forward, but time expired before she could deliver the coup de grace.
In the co-main event, bantamweight Juan Francisco Estrada was, however, able to score a stoppage win when opponent Victor Mendez elected not to emerge from his corner after seven increasingly one-sided rounds. Mendez (28-4-2, 20 KOs) strode forward purposefully at the start of round one, looking to utilize his greater height and reach and working behind stiff, straight punches. But fellow Mexican Estrada (38-3, 26 KOs) soon established himself as being of an entirely different caliber. Calmly landing sharp combinations in the second, and steadily increasing the pressure as the rounds unfolded. Estrada retreated enough to encourage Mendez to come forward and throw punches, but not so much that he yielded the center of the ring, from where he took advantage of the opportunities that his compatriot’s aggression afforded him.
In the fifth, Mendez upped his punch output in an attempt to battle his way to even terms, but in doing so he played into the hands of Estrada, who ripped repeatedly into the Mendez torso. By the sixth, Mendez was fading as Estrada turned aggressor, a short right hand behind a left hook clearly hurting Mendez and sending him into retreat for the rest of the round, and although Mendez attempted to stage a rally in the seventh, it was to no avail. He returned to his corner at the end of the seventh and slumped on his stool, where his team elected to keep him.
And then just one remained.
Cecilia Braekhus, who seven months earlier had been the first female boxer to feature on HBO, as she recovered from a knockdown to score a decision win over Kali Reis in this same StubHub ring, returned to close out the card, the night, and a boxing franchise against Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes. Braekhus is widely regarded as the best female boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, a consequence not just of her natural talent and her tutelage under experienced trainer and former fighter Jonathan Banks, but also two decades of experience that began when she shimmied her way down a drainpipe outside her window as a 14-year-old to train furtively in a local MMA gym. Magdziak-Lopes, in contrast, did not begin boxing until her thirties, and for all her obvious athleticism and strength, that gulf of experience showed.
Magdziak-Lopes (18-5-3, 1 KO) showed immense heart and smarts, but simply didn’t have the toolkit or the fluidity to compete on level terms with the more versatile champion. Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs) sought to find that special punch that would pierce the Magdziak-Lopes guard and bring the evening to an early close, and although she was unable to do so, by the fourth round, she had rendered her opponent increasingly uncomfortable as she fired punches from angles that her foe could not match. With the encouragement of her trainer-husband, Magdziak-Lopes sought to rally in the final couple rounds, but even as she did so, Braekhus simply moved up through the gears once more.
There could be no doubt about the decision, and nor was there, Braekhus winning all ten rounds on two cards and nine on the other.
Afterward, Braekhus apologized for not scoring the knockout – partly a consequence, she said, of her being over-eager to do so. She went off to find Cris Cyborg, who was waiting ringside and who has expressed enthusiasm for meeting Braekhus in what would be surely the biggest fight that could be made in women’s boxing.
The lights went down, the small crowd dispersed, and it was all over.