Undercard Notes from Riyadh where Vargas Retained his Title with an Unpopular Draw


By Arne K. Lang

A long-drawn-out undercard preceded the Joshua-Ngannou confrontation on a long-drawn-out night of boxing at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The preliminaries included two world title fights including Rey Vargas’s WBC featherweight title defense against Liverpool’s Nick Ball.

This match was a tail of two halves. After six rounds, it appeared that Vargas was on his way to winning a lopsided decision. Vargas’s substantial height and reach dictated that Ball turn this into a “fight in a phone booth” and he gave no indication that he could accomplish that. In fact, in the early going it was the lanky Mexican who landed the more effective body punches.

But Ball kept plugging away, rarely taking a backward step, and in round 8 he shifted the momentum sharply in his favor when he landed a left hook as Vargas was falling backward, giving him a 10-8 round. A more legitimate knockdown followed in round 11, a chopping right hand that put Vargas on the canvas once again.

In the end, Vargas (36-1-1) was able to keep his title with a draw. One of the judges favored Ball 116-110. The others had it 114-112 Vargas and 113-113. Ball, who went to post the favorite although being the challenger, was the crowd favorite at the onset and won over neutral observers as the bout progressed. The decision was greeted with boos and Ball’s promoter Frank Warren called it a miscarriage of justice.

Ismail Madrimov vs. Magomed Kurbanov

In the first of the two title fights, Uzbekistan’s Ismail Madrimov (10-0-1, 7 KOs) won a WBA strap with a fifth-round stoppage of previously undefeated Magomed Kurbanov (25-1). A big overhand right marked the beginning of the end for Kurbanov who wasn’t accustomed to traveling outside the confines of his Russian turf. Kurbanov sagged against the ropes and Madrimov followed up with a succession of head shots that forced the referee to intervene.

Madrimov’s promoter Eddie Hearn calls Madrimov the second coming of Gennadiy Golovkin. That’s overstating it, but Madrimov, who was a standout amateur and has never fought a pro fight slated for fewer than 10 rounds, is very good.

Justis Huni vs. Kevin Lerena

In a 10-round heavyweight contest, Australia’s Justis Huni (9-0, 4 KOs) started slow and was wobbled in the final stanza, but did enough otherwise to cop a unanimous decision over South Africa’s Kevin Lerena who lost for the third time in 33 starts. The judges had it 98-92 and 96-94 twice.

It was a difficult week for Lerena who fought with the burden of having lost his mother on Thursday. He looked a little beefy – he has fought the bulk of his career as a cruiserweight – and had he been in better condition he may have pulled the fight out of the fire after hurting Huni with a big left hand in the final stanza. (In theory, a knockdown would have produced a draw, but as in his fight with Danel Dubois, Lerena proved himself to be a poor finisher.)

Huni, 24, is technically sound but isn’t especially fluid and lacks one-punch knockout power. Five of his last six fights have gone the full 10 rounds and the one that didn’t lasted into the 10th before Huni got the stoppage. There’s talk that he may return to Saudi Arabia on June 1 on the Beterbiev-Bivol card with Joe Joyce mentioned as a possible opponent. Joyce returns to the ring next weekend in Birmingham, England, with Kash Ali in the opposite corner.

Mark Chamberlain vs. Gavin Gwynne

Portsmouth, UK, southpaw Mark Chamberlain, a 25-year-old lightweight, showed that he may be ready to rise above the domestic scene with a clinical fourth-round stoppage of Gavin Gwynn. A plasterer by trade, Chamberlain assumed control from the get-go. At the end of the opening round, he had his Welsh opponent already all-marked-up including a damaged left eye that developed a large mouse. Chamberlain improved to 15-0 with his 11th stoppage. Gwynne, 33 declined to 17-3-1.
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