Thursday night’s Top Rank boxing card was about seeing if two fighters could respond from recent losses and show they could be true contenders.
The evening started with Robeisy Ramirez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who suffered a stunning upset in his professional debut against Adan Gonzales in August 2019. Ramirez exacted revenge against Gonzales on Thursday and picked up his fourth consecutive victory, and his second of the summer inside the “bubble” at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Then there was former two-division world titlist Jose Pedraza, who was coming off a loss to Jose Zepeda last September. Pedraza also coasted against Mikkel LesPierre in a fight that had to be rescheduled because LesPierre’s manager tested positive for COVID-19 in June.
But did Pedraza and Ramirez do enough to show their careers are on the right trajectory? ESPN’s Steve Kim and Ben Baby examine that and break down the rest of the card.
Jose Pedraza won big on the scorecards. What did this fight tell you about where he is in his career and what should come next?
In the second round of their main event fight, Jose Pedraza traps Mikkel LesPierre against the ropes and unleashes a flurry of punches.
Kim: The version of Pedraza that we saw Thursday night was pretty solid. Even for a junior welterweight he’s got some size to him, he can effectively switch-hit between stances, and he throws fast, slashing punches. Pedraza also has an abundance of upper-body movement and feints, which makes him an elusive target. He was facing a rather limited guy in LesPierre, but keep this in mind: The only three boxers to have ever defeated Pedraza are Gervonta Davis, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Zepeda. That’s certainly not a bad trio.
How he will fare at the upper levels of 140 remains to be seen. While Pedraza says he wants either Josh Taylor or Jose Ramirez (who each own two of the major belts in this division), the reality is that Taylor and Ramirez could be meeting in a full unification bout down the line, and there’s a chance they will both move up to 147 after that, giving Pedraza a good chance to fight for one of the vacant belts. Pedraza might not be an elite junior welterweight, but he’s still a pretty solid contender.
Baby: Pedraza clubbed LesPierre early and often as he scored two knockdowns in the lopsided unanimous decision victory. Pedraza looked comfortable throughout the evening and had full command for virtually all 10 rounds.
However, it will take more than an easy win over LesPierre to be a true contender in a loaded 140-pound division. Pedraza’s previous fight was a loss to Jose Zepeda, who is ranked sixth in ESPN’s junior welterweight rankings, but his best bet to win another title is still at 140. In 2018, Pedraza lost a lopsided division to lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, ESPN’s top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, who holds two belts in a loaded division.
How do you feel about the way the replay process played out after the fifth round of Pedraza-LesPierre?
Kim: The replay system in boxing is long overdue — the bottom line is that you want to get the calls correct, whether it’s a knockdown, low blow, clash of heads, etc. A point here or a point there can decide a fight. But what happened between the fifth and sixth rounds of Thursday’s main event isn’t ideal.
You can argue whether or not referee Kenny Bayless made the right decision in ruling Pedraza’s trip to the canvas a slip, but what is undeniable is that the whole process — which saw Bayless actually step out of the ring to look at the replay at a monitor — took way too long. Boxing has no timeouts, in theory. You fight for three minutes, you get a 60-second respite and then you go out and do it all again. But in this instance, you had the minute break, and then another couple of minutes while a decision was made using the replay monitor.
It seemed to be unfair to Pedraza, who scored his own knockdown in the fifth that was much more damaging to LesPierre, who looked weak and weary by the end of the round. That extended break gave LesPierre extra time to regain his bearings.
Baby: Everything about the knockdown situation in the Pedraza-LesPierre fight seemed off. Let’s start with the punch in question. Even though LesPierre’s foot might have caused Pedraza to stumble to the canvas, LesPierre set that sequence in motion by landing a clean punch. It wasn’t a push or a nudge. If LesPierre doesn’t throw the punch, Pedraza likely doesn’t hit the canvas. It should have been a knockdown.
Next, let’s go to the replay process that ultimately hurt both fighters. The delay before the start of the next round was unnecessarily lengthy, coming in at 2 minutes, 10 seconds. I imagine that was because the fight referee, Kenny Bayless, was the only one who could overturn the original call. That needs to occur between rounds instead of once the next round begins.
And because Bayless climbed out of the ring to check the replays before the sixth round, Pedraza lost valuable time to pounce on LesPierre after he seemed to hurt him and land a knockdown of his own before the end of the fifth. Replay is good, but the process can’t be that clunky.
What did Robeisy Ramirez show you in his rematch with Adan Gonzales?
Kim: Ramirez gained revenge on Gonzalez with a solid effort, pitching a shutout over six rounds. You can see the difference trainer Ismael Salas has made. He placed an emphasis on the two-time Olympic gold medalist being a much more authoritative fighter who plants himself from the center of the ring and sits on his punches, rather than just scurrying around the perimeter, waiting to counterpunch.
It’s still a work in progress with Ramirez, and this evolution process isn’t anywhere near complete. But unlike their first meeting, Ramirez never gave Gonzales the opportunity to step forward and bully Ramirez as he did in their first fight last summer. This time it was Ramirez on the front foot, initiating the action and putting Gonzales on his heels. Ramirez might never be that all-action guy fans love, which is fine, but on Thursday he looked much more like a professional fighter.
Baby: In the second fight, Ramirez’s deep amateur experience was evident. He was measured in his punches and did not get caught by any of Gonzales’ wide shots, like the one that knocked Ramirez down in their first fight. The decorated Cuba native was in total control for all six rounds and didn’t drop a point on any of the scorecards.
Ramirez did what he was supposed to do in his first fight against Gonzalez — he looked dominant and showed why he’s considered one of the sport’s top prospects. Ramirez avoided a potentially disastrous loss and gained confidence with his first pro victory. He needs to build on Thursday’s performance in order to live up to the expectations.
What was your favorite moment of the night?
Elvis Rodriguez catches Daniel Murray on the face with a clean right hand that sends him falling through the ropes for the TKO victory.
Baby: Elvis Rodriguez couldn’t have been more impressive. The junior welterweight didn’t waste any time in dispatching Daniel Murray. Rodriguez’s stiff jab crushed Murray and sent him stumbling through the ropes and ending the bout.
Rodriguez showed what top prospects should be doing against the type of opponents who have filled out some of the cards during this COVID-19 era. He was entertaining and showed why he could be a promising prospect. All seven of Rodriguez’s victories have come via knockout.
Kim: Kingsley Ibeh made some history on Thursday night. When was the last time a guy won two fights in a span of seven days on ESPN? Let’s make this clear: Ibeh will never be a world-class heavyweight, but he’s the type of guy who is very useful in this sport of boxing. It’s very difficult to find big men, be it a world-class guy or a solid journeyman, who can give you quality rounds and provide depth for a division.
Ibeh, to his credit, seems to be a guy who will earn a few bucks facing top prospects like Jared “Big Baby” Anderson and other heavyweight hopefuls down the line. Yeah, Ibeh faded in the second half against Patrick Mailata, but perhaps he should be given a pass, given that he also fought last week.
Ibeh has made the most of his opportunities by scoring two victories in a span of seven days. The 26-year-old insurance salesman gives an honest effort, and he has now won four straight bouts as he builds up some career momentum.