Corpus Christi, Texas—Live from the “City by the Bay,” TOP RANK BOXING on ESPN hosted a tripleheader headlined by Luis Alberto Lopez defending his IBF featherweight title against former title challenger Joet Gonzalez.
Luis Alberto Lopez had been on a European tour, beating both Josh Warrington (the fighter he beat for his IBF strap) and Michael Conlan, but fighting at the American Bank Center in South Texas means fighting in front of a majority Mexican/Mexican-American audience—–giving the fighter from Mexicali aka “El Venado” a more favorable crowd.
Singer Airam Paez performed during Lopez’s walkout which provided an ambiance for the setting, further serving to hype the Spanish crowd. Paez is a singer from Mexico and Lopez’s best friend.
To Gonzalez’s credit, he brought with him experience in championship fights, and he had the reach and height advantage coming into the fight.
Luis Albert Lopez Strong Start
Gonzalez (26-4) tried to push forward at the start of the fight, but Lopez’s awkward style made it difficult for him to commit, and when he tried, he found himself tagged from unusual angles– that is Lopez’s game and Joet had to be prepared for that coming into the fight.
The fight felt like it was always moments from violence, but Venado picked his shots, landing a solid body-head combo from his bent-at-the-waist style. It was a bit more of a chess match than most probably assumed in the first quarter of the fight, but when Luis Alberto Lopez landed, he made it count.
Joet was finding success with the lead hook, catching Lopez off guard, and on the chin, but never putting any meaningful combinations behind it.
Despite his nearly four-inch reach advantage, Joet sat in the mid-range area while Luis Alberto Lopez found success with his ability to accurately measure distance and close it quickly. The right hand appeared to be open for Gonzalez but committing to that punch meant leaving himself open for Venado’s left.
Joet Coming On At Midway
At the midway point, Joet started to find the right hand, especially off the counter, but he did not seem particularly enthusiastic about committing to it. Still, Gonzalez was having success until Lopez caught him with a counter left that really seemed to hurt his opponent.
Referee Laurence Cole warned Gonzalez to keep his punches up and threatened to take a point. Cole has a reputation for getting involved in fights more than he should, but he played his role well through 6.
Coming out of the 8th round, Gonzalez painted Luis Alberto Lopez with the jab from the head to the body where he utilized a stabbing jab. Lopez fought his way out of the corner and into position. But it felt like Joet’s right hand was open to land.
It was the leaping shots from Venado that kept Gonzalez honest—both the uppercut and hook landed from spots that they had no business being thrown, but it worked for the former soccer player Lopez.
Joet took control of round ten at the 90-second checkpoint, pinning Lopez against the ropes, but he failed to land anything meaningful.
However, this is where Gonzalez managed to put his best offensive stretch of the fight. He really outperformed in the 2nd half of the fight, but the minutes that would follow cemented the fight for many fans praising Gonzalez’s efforts.
In the end, and contrary to many pundits, the fight went the distance.
Was the Fight Closer Than Cards Indicated?
Joet found a lot of success as the fight progressed and his most meaningful moments came in the 2nd half of the fight. Both fighters put together impressive stretches of offense, and many on Twitter believed the fight was close.
From the ringside, Joet’s best work came in a block of rounds, whereas Luis Alberto Lopez managed to find success throughout the fight and appeared to do the most damage, especially early in the fight.
The judges scored it 116-112, 117-111, and 118-110.
The consensus around press row was that the 118-110 score was wider than the fight felt, but it was a clear Lopez victory somewhere in the range of 7-5 to 9-3.
Luis Alberto Lopez commented on the closeness of the fight immediately following the post-fight festivities. The acknowledgment of Joet’s competitiveness serves as a moral victory for a kid who has clearly learned from his past shortcomings.
Zayas def Valenzuela TKO5 Junior Middleweight (WBO NABO/NABF JR Middleweight)
The co-main event before the Luis Alberto Lopez win offered what we thought expected to be a great piece of matchmaking as Puerto Rico’s fastest rising star, Xander Zayas (17-0, 11KOs) took on hard-hitting Roberto Valenzuela Jr. (21-5, 20KOs) in a bout meant to further boxing’s Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry—and Xander’s career.
Round one was all Zayas as he opened things by flooring Valenzuela with a left hook to the chin. The Mexican-born fighter made it back to his feet but was sent to the canvas for the 2nd time, though that knockdown was a combination of the right hand Xander landed and a push.
Still, Zayas was in full control of the match and showcased some beautiful boxing to start round 2. They tangled feet again in that round and Valenzuela hit the mat once more, but the ref correctly ruled it a “no-knockdown.”
Zayas was elusive and fast, countering well off his opponent’s offense. He made it a point to keep the jab in front of his opponent’s face, giving him the opportunity to deliver hard right hands behind it and giving Valenzuela limited reaction time.
Zayas kept full control and rarely left opportunities for Roberto to capitalize on, but that did not stop the Mexican from coming forward which paid dividends at the end of round 3 having his best offensive sequence to that point.
Valenzuela was busted open early in the fight and the blood really started flowing by the 4th. The cut was in a tough spot at the bridge of his nose, a spot difficult for corners to get control of, and the action was stopped twice in that round so that the doctor could check Valenzuela
At the end of the 5th, Zayas doubled his punches and really made Valenzuela pay for the breaks in action. The scene was reminiscent of a horror movie and the assumption ringside was that Valenzuela had broken his nose.
Despite three separate breaks in action to check the cut, the referee let the action continue and you could see the red in Xander’s eyes. He knew he had Valenzuela close to the end, and he was right as the action was called with 2:20 left in round 5 following a right hand to the face.
The amount of blood loss made it difficult to question the referee’s decision.
In the post-fight interview, Zayas said, “[Valenzuela] was the power puncher, but I dominated.”
Zayas also clarified that he believes he is no longer a prospect and considers himself a contender. This fight was supposed to be a test, but Zayas is operating at a higher level than ever before—something TOP RANK may take into consideration when matchmaking for his next fight.
Vargas def Guardado TKO3 Lightweight
The televised opener was a bout between undefeated prospect Emilliano Fernando Vargas (6-0, 5KOs) and Alejandro Guardado of Spain prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
Vargas had impressed thus far in his short time as a pro, and he came into this fight with the idea that he would not force anything and instead let things develop as far as a stoppage goes.
He told NYFIGHTS during fight week festivities that he wanted to savor every moment of his high-profile placement on the card.
It isn’t typical to see 6-0 fighters open a telecast on ESPN’s main channel. Still, such an act is warranted considering Vargas’ ability to entertain in the ring and outside of it.
Of course, being the son of Fernando Vargas, a boxing superstar, and a former lineal junior middleweight champion, helps, but Emilliano has the “it factor” as far as personality goes, something his father had in bunches.
Vargas stalked his opponent and mowed him down with 1-2 combos. The audience popped with his every move and the Corpus Christi crowd treated Vargas like a star.
After the fight, Vargas would admit that the crowd reaction fueled him, and Vargas was able to make short work of Guardado after the referee Lee Rogers decided he’d had enough, and the level disparity was just too great.
Vargas used some impressive left hands, and the left uppercut scored several times in the fight. However, it is the left hook that Vargas has shown a devastatingly violent propensity, though Fernando Sr asserted that his son, “has power in both hands.”
In a post-fight scrum, Emilliano and his father touched on the significance of winning in Corpus Christi. Fernando headlined a fight in the same arena back in 2005.
“My son works hard and follows my instructions, and I am very proud of him. That’s my son, that’s my seed. He comes from the royal n*t sack,” Fernando said jokingly to a handful of reporters post-fight.
Emilliano is considered a top lightweight prospect, and with his growing stardom, it might not be as difficult to land a big opportunity as it is for other top prospects—when that time comes.
“I’m going to start calling fighters out next year,” Emilliano told NYFIGHTS during that same media scrum. “I’m excited to get that experience. I told you, 135-140 (pound division) you have to look out for [the name] Vargas.”
Julio Luna def Omar Aguilar UD8 (Vacant USA WBC Welterweight)
The final fight of the prelims was an 8-rounder for the vacant WBC USA welterweight title between Julio Luna (21-1-2, 11KO) and Omar Aguilar (25-2, 24KOs) prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
Aguilar, 24, fought out of the red corner and held an impressive KO rate of 96% coming into tonight’s affair. Both fighters are out of Mexico, and each has suffered just one career loss.
The first 7 minutes of the fight were relatively feel-out minutes, but Aguilar turned up the heat in the 3rd—keeping Luna against the ropes and hammering. He hadn’t yet committed to any one power shot, but Aguilar was relentless with the pressure.
It turned into a firefight at the halfway mark as Aguilar landed a left to the chin of his opponent which prompted a 3-punch combo — head-body-head — in succession. That moment led to a back-and-forth exchange that got the crowd on their feet.
To his credit, Luna displayed solid bodywork and did not falter under pressure, but it was Aguilar’s punches that really moved the needle early in the fight.
However, Luna managed to box well and negated Aguilar’s best weapon—his power.
Still, the fight, to this point, was not out of reach for either man, but Luna was comfortable with the fight script. And while Luna never really seemed out of place, it was Aguilar who was prepared to push the action as well as make use of several “veteran tactics.”
The fight got ugly in the final quarter of the battle, perhaps frustration from Aguilar, who had only gone the distance twice before tonight.
Then, the fight script fell into a place that Luna was able to take advantage of as he landed a huge left that totally shifted momentum in his favor. It was difficult to gauge just how hurt Aguilar was following the left, but Luna finished strong.
The 8th and final round ended with both men standing right in front of one another and delivering action in the form of punches to the face.
In the end, Luna would take home the decision by scores of 79-73, 78-74, and 77-75 prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event. The scores represented the difficulty in scoring this fight at times.
John Rincon def Bryan Ismael UD6
In the loudest reaction of the night, hometown kid John Rincon (7-0, 2KOs) took on Bryan Ismael Rodriguez Rivera in a fight where Rincon brought the crowd and Rivera brought the last name(s) prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
In attendance, Jesse Benavidez, a local boxing hero to the city of Corpus Christi, some might say the Godfather of Corpus Christi Boxing, and Jerry Belmontes, a former pro and one of Corpus Christi’s best ammy fighters ever, were in attendance to see local fighter Rincon.
Rincon worked well behind the jab, but the fight took a couple of rounds for him to find a rhythm. But Rivera (4-1-1, 2KOs) showed up to attempt to play spoiler.
Steady stalking, Rincon lined up his opponent with his right hand. The action was always just out of range for Rivera, but in the end, Rincon was just performing at a higher level.
The judges scored the unanimous decision in favor of Rincon with scores of 60-54 twice and 58-56.
Jamaine Ortiz def Antonio Moran UD10 Welterweight
Worcester, Mass’s own, Jamaine Ortiz attempted to get back into the win column following his October loss to Vasyl Lomachenko, the first of his career.
His assignment came in the form of Mexico City-born Antonio Moran- a fighter with a 3-inch height and reach advantage over the athletically gifted Ortiz.
Ortiz used the jab impressively, shooting out range finders and doubling up and even tripling up the punch prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
However, Ortiz was caught with a left hand that buzzed him in the 2nd round and gave Moran all sorts of confidence. That left hand had a two-pronged effect, it first created a mouse under the eye of Ortiz, but it also shifted momentum and created a fight script that was more favorable to Moran.
Ortiz stayed elusive as he set up big moments, but Moran made it a point to stay consistent with his pressure, and the crowd reacted to him as the aggressor. The 5th round was Moran’s until the final 10 seconds when Ortiz threw a two-punch combo, a changeup jab that lined up a straight right that hurt Moran.
With only seconds left, Ortiz jumped on a hurt Moran and let off a barrage of punches.
The fight would make it to the 6th round and the cat-and-mouse game continued with Ortiz fighting the smarter fight—staying elusive, moving circles around Moran before landing an athletically charged shot.
Ortiz hurt Moran coming out of the 8th round, and the left hand he landed sent his opponent into the ropes. Ortiz saw an opening and then turned up the gas, perhaps to finish the fight, but Moran was very tough.
In fact, in the moments following that shot, Moran landed a straight right to the already damaged right eye of Ortiz, further opening the cut under the eye.
Both men entered the 10th and final round playing out the chess match that they set from the opening bell. Ortiz cornered Moran to close out the fight and let off some punishing shots that were just out of range.
Ortiz would take the UD with scores of 98-92 twice and 97-93 prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
Villa def Brandon Valdez UD8 Featherweight
Ruben Villa (21-1, 7KOs) had plenty on the line as he stepped into the ring against Brandon Valdez in the 2nd bout of the prelims. Villa recorded a win against Venado Lopez and the opportunity to get a rematch with the featherweight title on the line hinged on how he performed tonight.
The bout started off competitively and as soon as one of the fighters landed the other was quick to return for the get back. Valdez (15-4, 7KOs), originally from Colombia, looked strong and was explosive off the counter.
Villa closed out round 3 with several right-left combinations and he really started to separate himself at the end of the first half of their scheduled 8-rounder. Villa stood tall and held his ground, delivering left hooks and straight rights behind the jab with little care of what was coming forward at him.
Villa was at his best when he kept Valdez at the end of his punches, but several of his big moments came on the inside.
In the 5th round, Villa amped up the offense, though Valdes did not get folded—just outworked.
Villa closed that round by throwing a left to the solar plex, an area he had targeted earlier in the fight as well as a couple of solid kidney shots that landed, which brought his opponent hands down—offering a nice two-punch combo to the head to close the round.
Much to his credit, Valdes kept his guard high coming out of the next few rounds, but that only served to provide Villa with a new target to the body. Villa brought the crowd to their feet when he landed a flush left hook to the chin of Valdes in the final moments of the 7th.
Heading into the final round, Valdes appeared to make a last effort as he rushed Villa, but there just wasn’t enough power behind his punches after several rounds of punishment and a taxing fight script.
Villa closed the show strong, but the fight went the distance before the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.
78-74 was the score on all three judges’ scorecards.
After the fight, Villa discussed his future during a media scrum.
“As you could see, I called out Venado, so if I can’t get him next then I’d like to do a 10-rounder or a 12-rounder,” Villa said. “But I am ready for a championship fight.”
Delonte “Tiger” Johnson was victorious in the televised opener by unanimous decision, 76-76, 79-73 twice prior to the Luis Alberto Lopez main event.