It took a single mistake by Steven Butler to give WBO World Middleweight champion Janibek Alimkhanuly of Kazahkstan the performance he needed to deliver Saturday night in Stockton, California on the Top Rank Boxing card on ESPN.
WBO middleweight world champion Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan (14-0, 9 KOs) delivered a devastating beatdown in two rounds of Canadian veteran Butler of Montreal, Canada (32-4-1, 26 KOs) at Stockton Arena in California, successfully defending his title.
The powerful middleweight, whose moniker is “Qazak Style,” used a wicked left uppercut as the weapon of choice to drop Butler hard to the canvas twice and closed the performance using a left hook at Butler beat the count from referee Jack Reiss twice. On unsteady legs, Reiss told Butler, “You need to show me something!”
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) May 14, 2023
It was Alimkhanuly who showed Butler was done for the night with the lights out left hook at 2:35 of the second round. Reiss didn't bother with a count the third time.
“Hello, everybody! Champions and the boxing superstars, where are you? Let's fight!” said Alimkhanuly in greatly improved English. “I am the most avoided boxer. I am the middleweight king. Top Rank, who's next?”
Alimkhanuly told ESPN's Mark Kriegel he was coming for Canelo Alvarez and Jermall Charlo. With help from manager Egis Klimas, Alimkhanuly added, “Very, very fast. I am ready for anybody. Anybody, anytime, anywhere.”
Alimkhanuly, trainer Buddy McGirt, and his team hope the sensational performance provides a palate cleanser to erase the memory of the disappointing jabfest in Alimkhanuly's previous win, which didn't endear him to fans looking for a new favorite in the diminished middleweight division.
McGirt advised Alimkhanuly after the first round to close the distance to Butler, to keep after him with the left hand, and keep pushing him back. “Don't try so hard, relax baby,” said McGirt. The veteran looks like a genius after the easy victory.
It's doubtful Alimkhanuly will get anywhere close to fighting Alvarez, who's long gone from the middleweight division, or be able to overcome his low profile and promoter issues with Charlo. If Jaime Munguia defeats Sergey Derevyanchenko in their upcoming June 10 fight, how about a matchup between Mexican Style and Qazaq Style?
Jason Moloney Achieves the Dream, Wins World Title
In the co-feature, Jason “Mayhem” Moloney of Melbourne, Australia (26-2, 19 KOs) took care facing power punching Vincent Astrolabio of General Santos City, Philippines (18-5, 13 KOs) in Moloney's third attempt to win a championship belt.
The cautious approach paid off for the 32-year-old, who finally won the world title he wanted so badly. Moloney let out a roar when he heard scorecards read in his favor: 116-112 and 115-113 for Moloney, with an inexplicable 114-114- draw for a majority decision. Maloney is now the WBO World Bantamweight champion.
Moloney, a two-time world title challenger, hoped to finally prevail in a title fight after losing to pound-for-pound great Naoya Inoue. Riding a four-fight win streak, the timing was right for Moloney. He worked his game plan, patiently moving and jabbing to take Astrolabio's firepower away from him. Trainer Angelo Hyder invoked Larry Holmes as the model for victory.
A frustrated Astrolabio tried to make up the difference in volume, rattling Moloney's cage several times with power shots, but they didn't seriously trouble Moloney. But it made the fight much closer in the eyes of the judges than the narrative of the fight.
Fans expecting a firefight weren't happy, booing through the second half of the 12-round fight to express their opinions. But it didn't matter to Moloney. He felt it might be his last opportunity to win a world title, and he perfectly executed his game plan.
Ruben Villa Impresses In Top Rank Debut
Featherweight contender Ruben Villa of Salinas, California (20-1, 7 KOs) wanted to leave an impression in his debut with Top Rank Boxing. He got it with a slick, skilled performance, stopping in an eight-rounder against Maickol Lopez Villagrana of Mexicali, Mexico (16-5, 8 KOs).
Villa, not known as a power puncher, showed an impressive toolkit of footwork, working angles, and landing uppercuts, body shots, and headshots on Villagrana, dropping him hard in the fourth round. Villagrana showed toughness beating the count but continued to take a lot of punishment. The fight ended in the next round when referee Gerard White decided the Mexican had enough at 1:55 of round five. Among those thoroughly impressed was ESPN commentator and former world champion Andre Ward, who praised Villa's performance.
Villa's only loss came in 2020 to Emanuel Navarrete. Villa was competitive despite two knockdowns, losing by decision with close scores of 115-111 and 114-112 X 2 for Navarrete. He had an 18-month layoff due to the pandemic and opponent issues, finally returning under his original promoter, the well-regarded Thompson Boxing, based in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Top Rank Boxing liked what they saw in Villa against Navarrete, and it couldn't have gone better for the new partnership.
Gabriel Flores Jr. Blasts Out Finley, Thrills Hometown Fans
Lightweight Gabriel Flores Jr. of Stockton (22-2, 8 KOs) badly needed a solid victory. Flores Jr. delivered for his hometown fans, although they only got to see him for 30 seconds. He blasted out Derrick Murray of St. Louis (17-9-1, 6 KOs), and it would take longer to describe than to simply show you.
Gabe Flores Jr. with the BIG knockout just 30 seconds into round one 😲
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) May 14, 2023
Flores Jr. had lost two of his last three bouts and hadn't scored a knockout win since he fought Jayson Velez in the pandemic bubble in February 2021. Mission accomplished for Flores Jr.
Undercard Results: Vargas, Norman Win; Martinez and James Draw
After a back-and-forth battle of unbeaten middleweight prospects, neither man lost his “O.” Javier Martinez of Milwaukee (8-0-1, 2 KOs) and Sacramento native Joeshon James (7-0-1, 4 KOs) fought to a draw.
Amado Fernando Vargas of Las Vegas (8-0, 2 KOs) remained unbeaten in the junior lightweight division with a decision over Bernardo Manzano (2-5) in four rounds. Vargas, age 22, is one of three fighting sons of former junior middleweight world champion Fernando Vargas.
Brian Norman Jr. of Atlanta (24-0, 19 KOs) took care of Jesus Perez of Tijuana, Mexico (24-5, 18 KOs) in the opener. Norman is a well-regarded prospect signed to the new management firm Fighters First, headed by former Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone, who has a keen eye for talent. Normal Jr. will have some things to work on for his next appearance.