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Ilunga Makabu struggles before stopping Olanrewaju Durodola

Derek Bonnett reports as Ilunga Makabu retains his WBC cruiserweight title in a tougher-than-expected battle with Olanrewaju Durodola

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Ilunga Makabu retained his WBC cruiserweight title with a dramatic seventh-round stoppage over a very determined Olanrewaju Durodola in Congo. The match-up between two of the biggest punchers in the division was largely overshadowed by the super-middleweight showdown between Canelo Alvarez and Callum Smith on the same night. However, it provided much better two-way action throughout.

Nigeria’s Durodola,34-8 (31), has tested some of the best in the division during his campaign as a cruiserweight contender. His reputation is shaping up like a present-day Bert Cooper. His fists are usually rocking his opponents, but, in big fights, his chin has failed him. His challenge of Makabu was particularly impressive because he seemingly dominated the champion with a controlled two-fisted assault from the opening bell. Makabu passively allowed the challenger to outwork him, but returned fire when he found his opening. A third-round surge saw the champion pumping out greater output, but he was unable to catch his challenger, who fought with a wiser pace to preserve his stamina.

Makabu, 33, won the title in his last outing against Michal Cieslak of Poland. Since a 2016 loss to Tony Bellew, Makabu had fought a steady campaign back to the upper echelon and should have been expected to negotiate the challenge of Durodola more easily. The fourth session will contend for Round of the Year honors as the champion pressed forward with a steady jab in lieu of countering. Durodola, 40, appeared to shock the Congo native with a right hand along the ropes. Makabu responded like a champion and rocked his challenger as he pressed forward to inflict more damage. The round saw explosive, consistent action.

Makabu found the right plan in the sixth as he started using more power punches initiated from the outside. Durodola was able to manage the action on the inside, so the adjustment paid dividends. Unofficially down on the Seconds Out scorecard, Makabu rallied with a pair of left hooks with about a minute to go in the seventh. The first rocked Durodola back on his heels, the second sent him to the canvas. Durodola rose, but the contest was waved off by the referee.

The biggest surprise leading into the bout was that this was only the first meeting between Africa’s two biggest punching cruiserweights. However, after their exciting contest, it may yet have a sequel.

Makabu seeks to fill the massive void left by Oleksandr Usyk. However, it will take a lot more than a come-from-behind KO of Durodola. Makabu saw his record climb to 28-2 (25).

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