Munguia outlasts Rosado in unanimous decision at Honda Center

ANAHEIM — The first punch was delivered at 8:54 p.m. The last, 9:42. All told, Jaime Munguia Jr. and Gabriel Rosado did not stop during their all-action 12-round WBO intercontinental middleweight title fight at the Honda Center on Saturday.

Mungaia, 25, retained the belt in front of a partisan crowd that roared each time the Tijuana native fired off combinations and responded in kind to the game Rosado.

Judges at ringside scored it unanimously for the Mexican fighter (118-110, 119-109, 117-111).

Fighting 113 miles north of Tijuana, Munguia felt right at home as the crowd responded to every attack he made, every punch he dodged, every power shot he absorbed. Attendees at the Honda Center had many reasons to stand and cheer as Munguia and Rosado, 35, delivered the kind of contest that was anticipated from both men.

Munguia, the unbeaten favorite with Erik Morales in his corner, continued a perfect run at 160 pounds after a stint at junior middleweight, where he held the WBO title.

In his fourth fight at 160, Munguia (38-0, 30 KO) was forced to go the distance for the first time at the weight. The performance further establishes Munguia as a top contender to either WBC champion Jermell Charlo or WBA titlist Demetrius Andrade.

Fighting out of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Rosado, a native Philadelphia of Puerto Rican descent, earned the chance to headline the DAZN card when he starched Bektemir Melikuiev in June with picture perfect overhand right that is on the shortlist for KO of the year.

During his 12-rounds with Munguia, Rosado (24-16-1, 15 KO) repeatedly attempted that land that debilitating punch, but even when it connected the champion walked forward.

Rosado’s advances were almost always met by a strong Munguia response, and the champion gave his supporters everything they wanted by coming on strong in the championship rounds to seek a finish even though the cards were clearly in his favor.

The crowd heavily favored Mexican fighters, but that didn’t stop them from chanting the name of 24-year-old Santa Ana-based welterweight Alexis Rocha while he wore down durable Colombian Jeovanis Barraza en route to a ninth-round stoppage.

Rocha, a southpaw, turned up the pressure throughout the 10 rounder by hammering Barraza (23-2, 15 KO) with digging hooks to the body and, later, power shots to the head among the 233 punches he landed.

Rocha (18-1, 12 KO) won each round on the judges’ cards, and the seventh and eighth periods leaned heavily towards the local fighter, prompting referee Ray Corona to protect Barraza and wave off the fight 33 seconds into Round 9.

Judges at ringside were in lock-step for Maryland middleweight D’Mitrius Ballard (21-0-1, 11 KO), whose first fight in 23 months resulted in a trio of 98-92 scorecards and a unanimous decision over Mexico’s Paul Valenzuela Jr. (26-10, 17 KO).

William Zepeda (24-0, 22 KO), of Santa Mateo Atenco, Mexico, retained the WBA continental Americas lightweight title with a technical knockout at 1:59 of Round 4 against Miami’s John Moralde (26-10, 17 KO).

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Whicker: Canelo Alvarez leaves no questions hanging after his knockout of Caleb Plant

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, poses with the belts after defeating Caleb Plant in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, celebrates after defeating Caleb Plant by in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, knocks down Caleb Plant to win a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Caleb Plant hits Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Caleb Plant hits Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Referee Russell Mora separates Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, left, and Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, celebrates after defeating Caleb Plant by TKO in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, knocks down Caleb Plant to win a super middleweight title unification fight by TKO, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, hits Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, celebrates after defeating Caleb Plant in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, celebrates after defeating Caleb Plant in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, left, fights Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Caleb Plant sits in his corner between rounds against Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Caleb Plant, right, fights Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, right, fights Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, right, fights Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Caleb Plant sits in his corner between rounds against Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, right, fights Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, against Caleb Plant during a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, before a super middleweight title unification fight against Caleb Plant, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, before a super middleweight title unification fight against Caleb Plant, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

  • Fher Olvera of the band Mana after a super middleweight title unification fight between Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, and Caleb Plant, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

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LAS VEGAS — He knows boxing history, he yearns to add to its traditions, and yet Canelo Alvarez has no time for the one thing that has defined nearly every great fighter before him.

He’s not into rematches.

It isn’t as much of a personal preference as it is a necessary corollary.  A rematch requires doubt. It cleans up something unresolved. Canelo had to fight Gennady Golovkin twice to square account, at least to his satisfaction after their initial draw, and he was stubbornly reluctant to do that. Since then he has plowed through everyone else and left no doubt. Pete Carroll, circa 2005, would be proud of him.

On Saturday night Canelo lured a screeching throng of 16,586 to MGM Grand Garden Arena to watch him leave exclamation points instead of question marks. He knocked out Caleb Plant in the 11th round, and Plant observed the usual post-fight ritual for Alvarez’s opponents and paid a precautionary visit to the hospital. It gave Canelo a fourth belt in the super-middleweight division and, in case anybody was wondering who the modern-day King of Pop-Pop-Pop is, he wore a crown in the ring afterward.

A Canelo-Plant rematch would excite nobody. Same with Canelo-Billy Joe Saunders or Canelo-Callum Smith. He even ventured into the light-heavyweight division to destroy what was left of Sergey Kovalev, and nobody wants to see that either.

And yet Saturday night was compelling, if inevitable. Canelo has a knack for constructing a 12-round plan that holds up in the face of any difficulty. He isn’t afraid to lose an early round or two if he finds something that will sustain him late. In this case he didn’t always look comfortable against Plant’s jabs and movement, but he kept turning up the volume, judiciously, as the fight went on.

Plant did a nice job absorbing the big shots. It wasn’t a long-term solution.

Once Canelo has poked a hole in your boat, you’re joining the fishes in short order. Perhaps the last man who closed the show with such emphasis was Mike Tyson, who was sitting at ringside.

The first knockdown came after a left hook that crushed Plant’s right ear, followed by an uppercut that came from the general vicinity of hell. Plant went down and, in a testament to his healthy competitiveness and unhealthy judgment, decided to get up. If he was looking to return to Square One, Canelo circled it. He basically punched Plant all over the ring and finished him with three consecutive right hands, which sent down Plant and forced referee Russell Mora to bring out the hook.

Canelo landed 40 percent of his power shots, put nearly half of them on Plant’s body, and was defensively skilled enough to make Plant miss all but 22 percent of his jabs. The three judges had Canelo leading by six, four and two rounds when it ended, and the truth was probably in the middle of all that.

But Plant, despite his relative inexperience and his lack of a right hand, deserves more main events, and certainly is skillful enough to regain his IBF 168-pound belt whenever Canelo moves up or down.

“He was a difficult opponent for me,” Alvarez said. “He has a lot of ability and I respect him. We are both men at the end of the day. He was making it difficult but I followed the game plan that Eddy (trainer Reynoso) put out. I admit I was getting frustrated in the fifth round or so, but the second part of the fight was going to be different. And that’s all that matters, really.”

Plant and Canelo pushed the hype rituals to the breaking point, especially when Plant insulted Canelo’s mother, and the two went to fist city at a Beverly Hills press conference.

Afterward, they talked for a long time inside the ring and hugged warmly.

“He said he really wanted to get up and keep fighting, and I respect that,” Canelo said. “And he also apologized for the things that I said, and I said it was water under the bridge. I wish him well. He’s a great fighter.”

Who’s next? The next obvious fish in the barrel is David Benavidez, 24, who takes a 24-0 record with 21 knockouts into Saturday’s fight with Kyrone Davis in Phoenix. Benavidez is athletic and dangerous, and easily the most deserving super-middleweight to get an audience with The King. It might happen next May.

If so, Benavidez is advised to savor each moment of the all-inclusive package, even that mandatory stop at the hospital.

There is no follow-up visit.

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Deontay Wilder rejuvenated for Tyson Fury finale

  • Deontay Wilder speaks during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Wilder will square off with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury gestures during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Fury will square off with Deontay Wilder for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Broadcaster Kate Abdo, center, moderates a news conference ahead of Saturday’s bout between WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, left, and Deontay Wilder, right, on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The boxers will square off for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Deontay Wilder speaks during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Wilder will square off with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury gestures during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Fury will square off with Deontay Wilder for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Deontay Wilder speaks during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Wilder will square off with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Tyson Fury, right, and Deontay Wilder exchange punches during their February 2020 bout at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. They meet for a third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

  • Referee Kenny Bayless sends Deontay Wilder to his corner during a February 2020 heavyweight title bout against Tyson Fury at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

  • Broadcaster Kate Abdo, center, moderates a news conference ahead of Saturday’s bout between WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, left, and Deontay Wilder, right, on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The boxers will square off for the third time on Saturday night. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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By GREG BEACHAM AP Sports Writer

World champion boxers have reacted to their first career losses in all sorts of dramatic ways while they scramble to cope after their mental armor of invincibility is punctured.

Some fire their longtime trainers. Others make unbelievable, outlandish excuses. Nearly all insist the defeat was an unfair, undeserved setback that will be set right immediately.

Deontay Wilder did all three in the days, weeks and months after Tyson Fury badly beat him in February 2020.

The former WBC heavyweight champion clearly struggled to process his first loss since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he responded by upending his career and his reputation in a quest to make it better. Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) also exercised the rematch clause in his contract, forcing Fury back into a Las Vegas ring with him Saturday night for the long-delayed completion of an already memorable trilogy.

“You’re looking at a rejuvenated and reinvented Deontay Wilder,” he said recently. “The old Deontay is no longer there. I can’t explain it to you, I have to show you.”

The man who helped transform Wilder from an aspiring basketball player to a late-blooming boxer and an eventual heavyweight champ is no longer there, either: Wilder fired trainer Mark Breland, who threw in the towel when his fighter was getting shellacked by Fury.

Wilder blamed his performance on a litany of fantastical factors – Breland spiking his water bottle with a muscle relaxant, Fury using illegal gloves, and even leg fatigue from supporting the elaborate costume he wore on his ring walk. He also accused referee Kenny Bayless, a teetotaler, of being drunk.

It all seemed ridiculous to everyone except Wilder and his most devoted fans, but coping with losses is a difficult part of any boxer’s job. What’s more important is whether Wilder figured out a way to improve from the fighter who seemed tactically outmatched and physically incapable of overcoming it for most rounds of his first two fights with Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), the confident British champion.

“I’ve dedicated myself and devoted my time and my body, me and my team, to reinventing myself,” Wilder said Wednesday. “I’m ready to reintroduce myself to the world. … This fight is about redemption, retaliation and retribution.”

Wilder replaced Breland with Malik Scott, a former heavyweight who was knocked out by Wilder in 2014. Scott has rededicated Wilder to the fundamentals of movement and punching, with the belief Wilder can overcome Fury’s technical precision with a practical application of his fighter’s physical strengths.

But every fight for Wilder is in the head, and it’s still unclear what kind of shape he’s in mentally after his wild excuse-making binge in 2020. On Wednesday, Wilder said he still believes everything he claimed about the loss, and he called Breland “a disloyal trainer.”

“My energy is like my mind,” Wilder said. “It’s very violent.”

After Wilder’s rematch clause and an arbitrator’s ruling forced Fury to drop out of a planned summer matchup with fellow British champion Anthony Joshua, the trilogy bout was delayed from July to October by a COVID-19 outbreak in Fury’s camp. Those three months of training could prove important for Wilder, who has taken a more mature perspective on the loss in recent interviews.

“I needed everything that happened in that (second) fight,” Wilder said. “It was really a blessing in disguise.”

Although he is coming off months of dedicated training, Wilder is still a wild card – which fits this matchup just fine, since Fury isn’t exactly a conventional human being himself.

While promoting the fight earlier this summer, Wilder basically refused to speak at his own news conference – and then engaged in a six-minute staredown with Fury during the ceremonial faceoff.

And in their final news conference Wednesday, promoters wouldn’t allow Wilder and Fury to face off for fear of a brawl breaking out.

“Saturday night is going to be a different fight,” Wilder said. “It’s rare that we get trilogies like this, and I truly believe this one is going down in history.”

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Manny Pacquiao announces retirement from boxing

By KIKO ROSARIO Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao is officially hanging up his gloves.

The eight-division world champion and Philippines senator on Wednesday announced his retirement from the ring, three months shy of his 43rd birthday

“I would like to thank the whole world, especially the Filipino people for supporting Manny Pacquiao. Goodbye boxing,” he said in a 14-minute video posted on his Facebook page. “It is difficult for me to accept that my time as a boxer is over. Today I am announcing my retirement.”

Pacquiao finished his 26-year, 72-fight career with 62 wins, eight losses and two draws. Of those 62 wins, 39 were by knockout and 23 by decision. He won 12 world titles and is the only fighter in history to win titles in eight different weight classes.

His retirement from boxing followed a disheartening defeat to Yordenis Ugas in Paradise, Nevada on Aug. 21. The younger Cuban boxer, who defected to the United States in 2010, beat Pacquiao by unanimous decision, retaining his WBA welterweight title. It was Pacquiao’s first fight in more than two years.

“Thank you for changing my life, when my family was desperate, you gave us hope, you gave me the chance to fight my way out of poverty,” Pacquiao said in the video. “Because of you, I was able to inspire people all over the world. Because of you, I have been given the courage to change more lives. I will never forget what I have done and accomplished in my life that I can’t imagine. I just heard the final bell. The boxing is over.”

Pacquaio had hinted at retirement recently. It also had been expected because he is setting his sights on a bigger political battlefield. Earlier this month, he accepted his political party’s nomination and declared that he will run for Philippines president in the May 2022 elections.

He has accused the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, his former ally, of making corruption worse in the Philippines. He promised to fight poverty and warned corrupt politicians they will soon end up in jail.

Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches life story and legendary career brought honor to his Southeast Asian nation, where he is known by his monikers Pacman, People’s Champ and National Fist.

He left his impoverished home in the southern Philippines as a teenager and stowed away on a ship bound for Manila. He made his professional boxing debut as a junior flyweight in 1995, at the age of 16, fighting his way out of abject poverty to become one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

Eddie Banaag, a 79-year-old retiree, said Pacquiao was his idol as a boxer and he watched almost all of his fights. But he believes the boxing icon should have retired earlier.

“He should have done that right after his victory over (Keith) Thurman,” Banaag said of Pacquiao’s victory over Thurman on July 20, 2019 in Las Vegas, Pacquiao’s second-to-last fight. “It would have been better if he ended his boxing career with a win rather than a loss.”

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Yordenis Ugás beats Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Yordenis Ugás beat Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision on Saturday night, putting on an impressive technical performance on 11 days’ notice and retaining his WBA welterweight title.

Ugás (27-4) seized his opportunity as the late injury replacement for Errol Spence Jr., frustrating Pacquiao (67-8-2) throughout what might be the final fight of the 42-year-old Filipino senator’s career.

The 35-year-old Ugás threw far fewer punches than Pacquiao, but his blows were more precise and more effective. Pacquiao struggled to get inside on Ugás’ effective jab, while Ugás landed his right hand to increasing effect in the later rounds.

Two judges scored it 116-112 for Ugás, and a third had it 115-113. The Associated Press also scored it 116-112 for Ugás.

After an unimpressive performance in his return from the longest layoff of his quarter-century in professional boxing, Pacquiao said he hasn’t decided whether he will fight again. He also wouldn’t confirm whether he will enter the Philippines’ presidential race, as is widely expected. He intends to make an announcement next month.

The victory was the culmination of a lengthy journey for Ugás, who defected from Cuba two years after winning a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics. Ugás quit boxing for two years midway through the last decade, but recovered his career and capitalized on this unexpected shot against one of the greatest fighters of this era, earning his 12th victory in 13 fights.

“He’s a great competitor, but I came in here to show I am the champion of the WBA,” Ugás said through a translator. “A lot of respect for him, but I won this fight.”

Ugás got this opportunity only last week when Spence was forced to drop out after discovering he had a torn retina during a pre-fight physical. Ugás had been booked on the undercard, but he seized the opportunity for the spotlight and payday that had been just out of reach since he left Cuba on a small boat bound for Mexico 11 years ago.

T-Mobile Arena appeared to be essentially sold out despite the late opponent change, and the crowd of 17,438 was vocally behind its Filipino hero. Even after a lengthy layoff in the last stages of his career, Pacquiao remains a surefire draw and a bankable star in a sport lacking both at its highest levels.

Ugás had a clear game plan despite the short notice, working hard in the early rounds with an effective jab and body shots. Pacquiao was more aggressive and occasionally got the crowd to its feet with combinations, but he didn’t immediately find a consistent way to get inside the jab.

Ugás’ confidence grew in the middle rounds, and he responded to some action at the seventh-round bell with a defiant shimmy-shake of his shoulders in Pacquiao’s direction. Pacquiao threw roughly twice as many punches as Ugás for long stretches, but they landed about the same number as Ugás showed off his defense and precision against Pacquiao’s activity.

Pacquiao caught Ugás with a combination in the 10th round and knocked him back as the crowd rose in excitement, but Ugás recovered and rallied with big shots.

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Bellator 263: AJ McKee submits Pitbull to win $1 million title fight

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, knees Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, has his arm raised after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, is choked-out by AJ McKee blue gloves, in the first round during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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INGLEWOOD — A.J. McKee’s call-out finally came home.

The undefeated Long Beach star’s crusade, which started with his professional MMA and Bellator debut in 2016 when he dared to invoke the name of featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull, has been more than six years in the making.

On Saturday night at The Forum, McKee won the $1 million Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix with a technical submission via standing guillotine choke of Pitbull in the first round to claim the belt and establish his superstar status in the sport.

After the pair largely squared off with little action to start the fight, McKee stunned the champion with a left head kick and dropped him with punches against the cage.

The 26-year-old phenom began to prematurely celebrate before Pitbull began to rise. McKee then pounced and locked in a standing guillotine choke, torqueing with all his might before Pitbull began to fade. Referee Mike Beltran jumped in at 1:57 to kick off a wild celebration in front of the partisan crowd.

Pitbull (32-5) hadn’t lost in five years, winning all seven title fights before Saturday – twice dethroning a champion and five times successfully defending his featherweight title.

McKee (18-0) kicked off his professional MMA career more than six years ago, having just turned 20 and collecting a victory via submission at Bren Events Center in Irvine and calling out Pitbull, who was seven months into his first featherweight title reign.

Pitbull and McKee both started their journeys in the grand prix at Bellator 228 in September 2019 at The Forum — Pitbull dominating top contender Juan Archuleta in a unanimous decision after McKee recorded a highlight-reel 8-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan

Three months later against Derek Campos, McKee grinded out a third-round submission win despite tearing his lateral collateral ligament in his left knee at Bellator 236 in December 2019. And in November, he advanced to the final by forcing a tapout via a neck crank/guillotine choke of former Bellator bantamweight champion and NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253 in November.

Pitbull, 34, had been regarded by some as the top 145-pounder in the world. The two-time Bellator featherweight champion also boasts the organization’s lightweight title after his first-round knockout of Michael Chandler at Bellator 221 in May 2019, joining Ryan Bader and Joe Warren as the only double champions in Bellator history.

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Joseph Diaz Jr. beats Javier Fortuna to redeem himself in lightweight debut

LOS ANGELES — Joseph Diaz Jr. vowed that he wasn’t the same fighter from February when he delivered a sluggish performance in a disappointing majority draw.

Diaz admitted that he didn’t train enough in his previous bout, but the training showed Friday night in the championship rounds when he needed another gear to get past Javier Fortuna at Banc of California Stadium.

Diaz redeemed himself after defeating Fortuna via a unanimous decision (117-110, 116-111, 115-112) to claim the WBC interim lightweight title.

“Javier Fortuna is a hell of a warrior and pretty slick,” said Diaz, a 28-year-old South El Monte native. “I couldn’t get body shots in … hats off to Javier Fortuna.”

Diaz, known as “Jo Jo,” started sluggishly and sustained a cut over his left eye after clashing with Fortuna’s head in the third round – a gash in the same area he bled from in his title-winning performance against Tevin Farmer in January 2020. But the 2012 Olympian found his rhythm in the middle rounds and picked up the pace as the fight went into the later rounds.

The crowd chanted “Jo Jo” after the hometown fighter landed a powerful combination toward the end of the 10th round. Diaz picked up the intensity in the final minute of most rounds, something he didn’t do against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov in February.

Diaz (32-1-1, 15 KOs) pushed his manager and promoter Oscar De La Hoya to allow him to fight Fortuna (36-3-1, 25 KOs) after Ryan Garcia withdrew from the bout for mental health reasons. Diaz, a former junior lightweight champion, had never fought at 135 pounds, but he saw an opportunity to redeem himself against a fighter with plenty of power.

“Jo Jo showed once again a lot of guts and a lot of courage,” De La Hoya said. “I think he did a great job against a guy who’s been avoided for years.”

After the signature victory, Diaz said he wants a fight against Garcia or Devin Haney, the WBC lightweight champion. De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions also promote Garcia, the star fighter from Victorville.

“Let’s go,” De La Hoya said after being asked about a potential Diaz-Garcia fight. “Why not? Do the fans want it? Let’s do it.”

RAMIREZ VS. SULLIVAN

In the main event, Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez recorded an impressive fourth-round knockout against Sullivan Barrera.

Ramirez (42-0, 28 KOs) dropped Barrera  (22-4, 14 KOs) twice in the fourth round with a series of body punches. He also recorded a body-shot knockdown in the third round.

The 30-year-old Ramirez’s impressive victory could now put him in line for a title shot in the light heavyweight division. Barrera, 39, now has three losses in his last four fights.

ESTRADA VS. TSUNAMI

East Los Angeles native Seniesa Estrada continued her dominant unbeaten streak and added a new championship during her homecoming bout.

Estrada defeated Japan’s Tenkai Tsunami with a unanimous decision (99-91, 98-92, 98-92) to claim the WBO women’s light flyweight belt. She’s now a two-division champion with a title at 105 pounds.

Estrada (21-0, 8 KOs) smothered Tenkai early with devastating body punches and her aggressive spurts didn’t allow Tenkai to get into a groove.

“I didn’t feel her power, but it was harder to keep her off,” Estrada said about moving up from 105 pounds to 108. “I went to the body because she is a bigger fighter.”

Estrada said she wants to become an undisputed champion at both divisions and is considering a rematch with Marlen Esparza, who was ringside Friday night. Estrada defeated Esparza in 2019.

“I know she wants to come here and witness greatness,” Estrada said. “She can learn something … we can fight in the parking lot right now.”

ZEPEDA VS. TANAJARA

The Golden Boy Promotions card started with an entertaining lightweight brawl between Hector Tanajara and William Zepeda.

Zepeda’s relentless pressure forced Tanajara’s corner to stop the bout after the sixth round. The Mexican fighter’s fast punches punished Tanajara’s body and didn’t allow him to counter for most of the bout.

“I saw from the first exchange that he wouldn’t last with me,” Zepeda said. “I imposed my will and game plan. He tried to get out, but he couldn’t.”

Zepeda improved to 23-0 with 21 knockouts and handed Tanajara the first loss of his career.

Tanajara, a San Antonio native, landed some power punches, but not enough to slow Zepeda, who threw numerous combinations, including uppercuts that snapped Tanajara’s head back in the third and fourth rounds.

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Vasiliy Lomachenko batters Masayoshi Nakatani, scores 9th-round TKO in return

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vasiliy Lomachenko is back, and in vintage form.

The former three-weight world champion was successful in his return to the ring, stopping Japanese veteran Masayoshi Nakatani in the ninth round Saturday night.

With Nakatani’s left eye closed after eight devastating rounds, Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs) used a flurry of battering lefts in front of an announced sellout crowd of 2,072 inside Virgin Hotel’s The Theater, to finish off his much taller opponent in a statement return in his first bout since an upset loss to Teofimo Lopez in October.

“I’ve accomplished my goals and I’m back on track,” Lomachenko said through an interpreter.

Lomachenko landed 59% of his power punches, as he dominated from the opening bell, peppering Nakatani with a steady stream of hard, straight lefts. Lomachenko was only hit by 12% of Nakatani’s power punches.

Lomachenko’s biggest round prior to the ninth was a destructive sixth, during which he landed a number of punches that caused Nakatani’s head to snap backward several times, eventually bloodying the Osaka-native’s eye, nose and mouth.

Lomachenko also knocked down Nakatani in the fifth, using a three-punch combo near the end of the round.

In his last fight, Nakatani was knocked down twice by Felix Verdejo before responding with a ninth-round KO win. This time, Nakatani never stood a chance as he was outclassed by the former pound-for-pound Ukranian great in every round.

It marked the first time Nakatani (19-2) was stopped in a fight, with his only other loss coming by way of decision, at the hands of Lopez in 2019.

“I realized (I was in control) after the third and fourth rounds because I was punching him with straight lefts and punching him with precision,” Lomachenko said. “I’m very happy because of the strategies that had been chosen, and also all the work, all the preparations, the trainings that had been done, all worked just fine and well, so I’m very happy. The result was as we planned.”

With the win, Lomachenko is hoping to land a rematch against Lopez, who was set for his first title defense in Miami on June 19 until he tested positive for COVID-19. His mandatory bout against George Kambosos, and the entire undercard, has been rescheduled for Aug. 14 in Miami, but could be moved to Sept. 11 in Las Vegas.

Lopez’s father, Teofimo Sr., who was in attendance, told ESPN during an interview after the fight his son’s camp is willing to grant the rematch, but with the caveat it must happen immediately after the Kambosos bout.

“After this performance I think the public wants to see this fight,” Lopez Sr. said. “I think I can convince my son to fight him again. After Kambosos it can be made. It’s gonna be the biggest fight in the world. We can make it happen in December. We can make it happen in Madison Square Garden.”

Lomachenko’s loss to Lopez cost the 33-year-old his WBA and WBO lightweight titles and left the former unified champ on the outside looking in on a division that inherited a youth movement of undefeated fighters, including Lopez (16-0), Devin Haney (26-0), Ryan Garcia (21-0) and Gervonta Davis (25-0), who also fought Saturday, defeating Mario Barrios with an 11th-round TKO in Atlanta.

A Lopez rematch could take place later this year or in early 2022, with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum ready to pull the trigger.

“In case there was any doubt, Lomachenko proved he is still one of the very best fighters in the world,” Arum said. “He is healthy and ready to fight any of the lightweights. As the promoter of these two great lightweights, my job and duty is to bring them together for the fight everyone wants to see. I’m fielding offers now from different places in the world.”

In the 10-round middleweight co-feature, 2016 Olympian Janibek Alimkhanuly (10-0, 6 KOs) continued his ascension up the ladder of contenders with an impressive TKO destruction of former world champion Rob Brant (26-3, 18 KOs). The fight was stopped after the eighth round, when Brant’s cornermen requested referee Michael Ortega.

While Alimkhanuly landed 46% of his power punches (65 of 142, including 20 to the body), Brant struggled the entire fight to find confidence to challenge inside, vividly cautious of Alimkhanuly’s counter punches.

“Ever since I turned pro, I wanted a big fight like this,” Alimkhanuly said. “Whenever a title shot comes, I’ll be ready.”

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Gervonta Davis scores 11th-round TKO over Mario Barrios for 3rd world title

ATLANTA — Gervonta Davis stopped Mario Barrios in the 11th round Saturday night to claim the WBA super lightweight title, his third world championship.

Davis (25-0) moved up in weight and won by knockout for the 24th time as a professional. The Baltimore native also holds the WBA lightweight and super featherweight belts.

There was little action through the first half of the fight in front of a sellout crowd of 16,570 at State Farm Arena as Barrios (26-1) and Davis alternated as the aggressor, with the 5-foot-10 Barrios slightly more active.

According to CompuBox, Davis landed just 11 punches over the first four rounds before finding the mark on 85 in the final six-plus rounds.

The 5-5½ Davis made himself hard to hit, with both hands frequently held high.

Barrios threw many more punches (394-296), but Davis connected more frequently (96-93) and effectively, landing 45.1% of his body punches compared to 29.1% for Barrios.

“I’m the type of fighter that wants to catch you with clean shots,” Davis said. “I don’t just want to throw any type of shot. The shots I was throwing were missing, but eventually I caught up with him.”

Davis dropped Barrios twice in the eighth round, first with a right hook about a minute in, and again soon after the restart with a left hook. Blood began coming from a cut under Barrios’ left eye and left ear.

Even with Davis’ domination of that round, judges had scored the fight even through eight.

Barrios rallied in the ninth, twice pinning Davis in corners. While Barrios threw multiple combinations, few of his punches broke through to make solid contact, and the energy expended tired the San Antonio native.

As Davis sat on his stool before the 10th round, his promoter, Floyd Mayweather, yelled to him from outside the ring.

“Floyd came to me and was honest and said I was down. I knew I was down,” Davis said. “So he said show me that you’re great. … I can’t compare myself to all the greats just yet. You know this man set the tone. I’m just following in his footsteps.”

Action slowed in the 10th round when Davis repeatedly ducked to avoid Barrios’ more wild swings and appeared to further slow his opponent with a left uppercut late.

The last punch came when Davis landed a left hook squarely in the middle of Barrios’ face with about 1:10 remaining in the 11th. The fight was soon stopped as Barrios staggered without falling.

“He was the better man tonight, but I’ll definitely be back,” Barrios said after losing his WBA super lightweight title. “Tank’s explosive. He caught me slipping and it’s boxing. At the end of the day, one punch can change the fight. That’s exactly what I felt happened.”

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Josh Taylor’s left hand allows him to lift all four belts after he wins a decision over Jose Ramirez

  • Josh Taylor celebrates while holding his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez hits Josh Taylor during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez hits Josh Taylor during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor hits Jose Ramirez during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates while holding his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor hits Jose Ramirez, left, during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor knocks down Jose Ramirez during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor holds his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez enters the arena before a junior welterweight title boxing bout against Josh Taylor, Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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LAS VEGAS — They put a historically juicy fight in a hotel theatre Saturday night, in front of 750 fans. It was like playing the World Series on Bad News Bears Field.

The music came on and Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor entered the ring briskly. No frills, no smoke.

As it turned out, no mirrors either.

Taylor was the better of the two undefeated super-lightweights at the Virgin Hotel. He took Ramirez’s two championship belts and added them to his own pair, and he proudly held all four of those heavy accessories at fight’s end.

His unanimous decision was based on two belts, too. One was a left hand on Ramirez’s cheek that floored him in the sixth round. The next, in the seventh round, was a crisp, merciless uppercut on Ramirez’s chin while both fighters were coming out of a clinch.

Those 10-8 rounds provided the margin of victory on all three judges’ cards. Tim Cheatham, Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti all gave it to the Scotsman, 114-112. The only reason it was close was Ramirez’ bottomless heart, which propelled him to the end while Taylor was in four-corners mode. He recedes to 26-1 but is hardly diminished as a champion, and maybe he can start belt-hunting again when Taylor, as expected, moves up to the rich soil of the 147-pound division.

“I don’t know what’s next for me,” Taylor said. “But all I do know is that there’s a new warrior king, and he’s from Scotland.”

Such an event belonged in a sold-out Staples Center or T-Mobile Arena, but the rec-room atmosphere didn’t bother either fighter. Taylor, a left-hander, began the night with effective right jabs, but Ramirez turned up the offense in the third round, with right leads and uppercuts.

At that point Taylor and trainer Ben Davison showed their virtuosity. Taylor began nailing Ramirez with left-hand leads. He also held, muscled and leaned upon Ramirez at every chance, and all the strong-arming probably led to what happened next.

After Taylor had a good fifth round, he came out in the sixth and reacted to Ramirez’s wayward right with a hard left hook on the cheekbone. Ramirez got up without a problem and battled to the bell, but it was still a two-point round for Taylor.

The more decisive shot happened in the seventh, when Taylor and Ramirez clenched. As referee Kenny Bayless was moving them apart, Taylor suddenly lashed Ramirez in the chin, and this time Ramirez had major difficulty gathering himself. Had it happened earlier in the round, Taylor might have closed the show.

“He (Bayless) said he was going to break us,” Ramirez said, “and I broke, and Josh threw the uppercut. You saw it. I just have to handle those situations a little differently next time. Maybe be a little dirty.

Ramirez played it to the end, rocking Taylor in the 10th round with right leads, and Taylor courted disaster by running out the clock. Weisfeld and Moretti gave Ramirez three of the final four rounds, and Cheatham gave him all four.

“I wasn’t running, I was trying to keep boxing him,” Taylor said. “He showed he’s a great champion.”

The peaceful coexistence between Taylor and Ramirez was strained on Friday, when Taylor and some of Ramirez’s Fresno-based fans began woofing after the weigh-in. On Saturday, Taylor ended almost every round by raising his fist on the way back to the corner, and he got into Ramirez’s face after the bell rang to end Round 8.

After the decision, the two hugged in the middle of the ring and talked for several minutes.

What really stood up was the illusion of the tale of the tape, the fact that two 140-pounders aren’t necessarily equal. Both men weighed in at 139.6 pounds and Ramirez actually had a reach advantage. Both are 5-foot-10. But Taylor seemed bigger, broader, stronger, with better levers. He physically controlled Ramirez just as he walked down Regis Prograis, in a split-decision win that set up this unification.

Given the fact that Taylor will get no smaller, it’s doubtful that a rematch can really fly. There will be more intrigue in watching Taylor go after welterweight Terence Crawford, who, like Taylor, is promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank.

Ramirez, for his part, has entertained the idea of fighting unified lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez.

Crawford has been stranded by the news that Errol Spence, the IBF welterweight champ and the theoretical opponent in the Next Last Great Fight (cq), has instead decided to meet 42-year-old Manny Pacquiao in July. Pacquiao hasn’t been in the ring since 2019 and isn’t likely to walk upright out of the one that matches him with Spence.

Boxing fans all want resolution but they prefer to find it at the end of a stirring rematch or two. Josh Taylor’s verdict was undisputed. Now all he needs is a bigger jury box.

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