By Jason Pribila, ringside at Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA: If any of you are interested in bringing the sport of boxing to the new multi-million dollar events center that you just built, a recipe for success was on display in Bethlehem, PA on Friday night. Contact promoters Main Events and Peltz Boxing, each known for building local attractions, allow Hall of Famer Russell Peltz to handle the match making, and add a television network willing to take the chance to pay for fights and not fighters and you are well on your way. That combination, along with impressive performances from Gabriel Rosado and Ronald Cruz made for a memorable third edition of NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night Series.
Philadelphia’s Rosado (20-5, 12 KO) returned to the series and built momentum off his career best performance, a knockout victory against the normally durable Jesus Soto-Karass. His opponent, Sachew Powell (26-5, 15 KO), took the fight on short notice with the hopes of halting his two fight losing streak, and reviving his once promising career in the progress.
Tensions ran high during the final press conference and weigh-in, and there was hope that it would carry-over into the ring, however, as is often the case when an orthodox fighter faces a southpaw, the opening rounds played out more like high stakes chess. Rosado was the aggressor and he was able to use his legs and head movement to get close, but Powell was able to pick off most of the single punches that were being thrown. When Rosado was able to land a straight right, his target was gone before he could follow up. When Powell decided to counter, he was able to catch Rosado, but offense was secondary to the defensive-minded Brooklynite.
At the midpoint of the fight the bout was even on the judges’ cards, but it was clear that Rosado was well ahead in the mental game. It was at this point that it was obvious that two careers rapidly heading in different directions crossed paths. Rosado, a self-made fighter who learned his craft on the job by being matched tough at the gym and in the ring, was walking toward Powell with his hands at his sides. Powell, a decorated amateur who fell short of expectations, had a look of resignation in his eyes. A realization that he would be unable to dig deep to salvage his career.
While the foundation of these fighters’ fates had been built upon for years, it took an eighth round Rosado uppercut that landed like a wrecking ball to Powell’s chin for the drama to unfold. Powell was hurt and his legs were losing the battle in their attempt to keep him upright. He grabbed the top rope to steady himself, and fortunately for him the normally solid referee, Steve Smoger, missed what should have been ruled a knockdown. Powell would survive the rally, and land a counter left as a big Rosado round came to a close.
The leather Rosado tasted at the bell may have been the reason why he began the ninth round cautiously. However, after around two minutes he found himself with prime real estate, and an opponent who was trapped against the ropes. Again, it was the uppercut that did the most damage. A reeling Powell fell forward and his gloves touched the canvas. Referee Smoger stepped in and began an eight count, but Powell would need a much longer respite in order to survive.
A relentless Rosado came forward and began to land chopping right hands to what remained of Powell. A final left hook sent Powell to the canvas, forcing the stoppage at 2:43 of round nine.
Rosado was again victorious in a bout that he dominated psychologically, despite being tight on the scorecards. At the time of the stoppage, two of the three judges had the bout even, while the third had Rosado ahead by a point.
Rosado will continue to rise in the alphabet rankings, and he should be another victory away from a possible title shot. The division is deep, but it is also very top heavy. Mayweather will likely return to welterweight; leaving Cotto and Alvarez as the division’s cash cows. Austin Trout and Cornelius Bundrage have titles but lack notoriety or interest from cable networks. Rosado could be in the perfect position to parlay his recent audience pleasing success into a title shot.
Judging by the ovation, one would have a hard time convincing the 1,800 screaming fans that their hometown hero, Ronald Cruz was anything but the main event. Cruz (17-0, 12 KO) was fighting in his hometown for the second time, but this was the first time it was captured by network television. Wherever Cruz looked he no doubt recognized a face in the crowd, but none meant more than that of his father, who watched his son fight live for the first time.
His opponent, Prenice Brewer (16-2-1, 6 KO) brought a very successful amateur pedigree and style into the ring. Fighting at welterweight for the first time, many felt that Brewer’s best chance at winning would be to turn the fight into a track meet.
Cruz has faced better boxers before, but he relies on his pressure to eventually break down his opponents. Once the opening bell rang, Cruz immediately returned to doing what he does best. Straight rights and left hooks quickly began to pile up on Brewer’s slender frame. Brewer continually relied on lateral movement to escape the charging Cruz, but he was unable to slip a few lead left hooks that brought the crowd to their feet.
Cruz’s workman-like approach enabled him to put all of the early rounds in the bank. At times Brewer had success playing matador to Cruz’s raging bull, but at some point the thought of throwing counter punches needed to cross his mind.
Cruz landed a big right cross that seemed to wobble Brewer in the fourth round. With the body shots piling up, and the fact the Brewer was fighting at welterweight for the first time, the crowd began to sense it would only be a matter of time.
Cruz closed the gap again in round five and began to do damage against the ropes. Cruz remained patient, despite a frenzied crowd sensing a knockout. To his credit, Brewer kept his head clear, he rolled with many of the punches that Cruz landed, and began to counter off the ropes.
Cruz took a well-deserved rest in round six, and Brewer finally won a round on my scorecard by default.
Cruz had another big round seven. Again it was the right hand that did the damage and forced Brewer to the ropes. Cruz then turned southpaw in an attempt to find an angle that would possibly be enough to take his opponent off his feet. I had criticized Cruz in the past for switching stances during fights, but he got a pass because he did so at a moment where he seemed safe from being hit with anything big in return.
As we approached the championship rounds, it was clear that Brewer was more interested in taunting fans at ringside, than he was in engaging Cruz. He remained on his toes and avoided anything big from landing down the stretch. He would attempt to steal rounds by throwing flashy combinations during the final ten seconds, but it was too little too late.
At this point Cruz had to know that he had the fight won. He was smart to accept a wide decision, and avoid taking the bait and risking getting caught with a miraculous shot. The crowd was on their feet as the final seconds ran off the clock.
All three judges turned in cards that reflected the action that took place in the ring. Cruz was a unanimous 118-110 winner. He goes home with a regional belt, and something that not many American fighters could say. He has a fan base that will continue to grow and buy tickets to support one of their own.
An emotional bout took place on the untelevised portion of the undercard. Sergey Kovalev (18-0-1, 15 KO) made short work of Darnell Boone (19-19-3, 8 KO), forcing a Steve Smoger stoppage at 1:32 of round two.
What many ringside fans did not know is that this was Kovalev’s first fight since a previous bout ended in tragedy. In December, Kovalev stopped Roman Simakov in seven rounds. Simakov lost consciousness and slipped into a coma. He died three days later due to complications from head trauma.
An emotional Kovalev admitted to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix earlier in the week that he was unsure how he would react once he was back in the ring.
The outcome of Kovalev’s fight was not nearly as important as the fact he was able to again climb the stairs and step between the ropes. It was a reminder of how fragile this sport could be. A reminder of what these fighters risk each time they engage in combat for our entertainment. And finally, it was a reminder that when a tragedy does occur, there is always more than one victim.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PribsBoxing.