As ESPN's Dan Rafael aptly pointed out in a recent blog post, sometimes the best way for two avoided prizefighters to secure an import bout is for them to fight each other. Both Erislandy Lara and Vanes Martirosyan have had trouble luring marquee names into the ring, and their decision to fight one another in a junior middleweight title eliminator carried significant stakes for both men.
Having garnered deserved HBO exposure, the fight figured to be hotly contested, given the pedigree of both Lara (17-1-2, 11 KO) and Martirosyan (32-0-1, 20 KO), and the bout itself ultimately featured high-intensity and plenty of fouls.
And the result? Well, a clash of heads forced a premature ending, and both fighters had to settle for a technical draw via scores of 86-85 (Martirosyan), 87-84 (Lara) and 86-86.
Both men set a brisk pace in Round 1, but the difference ended up being Lara's straight left hand to the body. Lara had solid success landing this punch behind his southpaw jab, and while Martirosyan, a 2004 U.S. Olympian, threw big shots, he only landed one right hand of note.
Lara continued to work Martirosyan's body in Round 2 behind his right jab. While Martirosyan was somewhat wild with his combinations, he did back Lara up with some hooks, even if most of them were blocked. The round did feature a clash of heads, and Lara closed the frame on his back foot.
Lara's well-schooled defensive skills frustrated Martirosyan in Round 3, which, perhaps, prompted him to hit Lara on the break after he'd been put in a headlock. While Lara landed an excellent right uppercut, Martirosyan consistently backed him up, even if he wasn't landing clean shots.
The intensity continued to ratchet up in Round 4 when Lara hit Martirosyan with a low blow. Undeterred, Martirosyan displayed dogged aggression, and he taunted the less energetic Lara. The fight continued to take a dirty turn in Round 5 as Martirosyan was again caught hitting on the break. Still, he landed a solid right hand, though Lara returned fire with a few straight lefts of his own.
Martirosyan started off Round 7 well by cutting Lara with an overhand right. Lara, however, began to find appropriate range for his straight left hand, and he landed several eye-catching blows and consistently evaded Martirosyan's assaults.
Lara continued his solid work by landing left hands and using movement to confound Martirosyan, but the fight came to abrupt end 26 seconds into Round 9 when a massive clash of heads opened up a cut over Martirosyan's left eye and severely obstructed his vision.
Despite the abbreviated ninth stanza, the judges were forced to score the round. This frustratingly ended up resulting in a premature ending to an intense and intriguing prizefight. Given the unfortunate nature of the fight's conclusion and verdict, a rematch is certainly in order.
Martirosyan accused Lara of running like an amateur fighter, while Lara countered by suggesting that he clearly deserved the verdict, insinuating that the Top Rank-promoted card favored Martirosyan; it should, of course, be noted that Lara fights under the Golden Boy promotional banner.
There seems to be an abundance of bad blood between both fighters, and a rematch, though it could be equally sloppy, will have no shortage of drama.
On the undercard, featherweight prospected Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (30-0, 26 KO) scored a sensational eighth-round knockout over former WBA 126-pound belt-holder Jonathan Victor Barros (34-4-1, 18 KO).
A cagey start mostly consisted of both Garcia and Barros exchanging jabs in the center of the ring. Garcia, who is extremely poised and calculated for a 24-year-old, worked behind a stiff jab and landed a nice straight right hand toward the end of the stanza. Barros threw the harder hooks, but Garcia parried most of them.
The action opened up in Round 2, and Barros started well by doubling his jab and throwing some hard hooks to Garcia's body. Garcia responded with a solid one-two, his right-hand shot knocking Barros off-balance. Backing Barros up against the ropes, Garcia let his hands go, punctuating combinations with left hooks to Barros' body.
Barros started out Round 3 with more activity, throwing a four-punch combination that was mostly blocked, though a right hook to the body did connect. Garcia picked up his pace in the stanza's second half, landing a few solid right hands and incorporating a lead left hook into his offense.
Garcia continued to pump his jab, sometimes doubling and tripling the punch. Barros, who had been overly defensive to this point, finally started to engage with more consistency.
He landed well to Garcia's body, especially with his right hook, and a five-punch combination backed Garcia up. Garcia, however, came roaring back, landing a series of combinations, including a hard right hand followed by two hooks to close Round 4.
Garcia began Round 5 by landing a solid, counter left hook, but Barros continued to apply pressure and let his hands go. Several jabs followed by right hands worked well for Barros, though Garcia probably landed the round's hardest punch when he connected with a right hand around Barros' guard that landed on his ear.
The action intensified in Round 6 as Garcia and Barros spent the last minute of the stanza standing in the pocket and slugging. Both men landed well to the body and were throwing powerful right hands. While many blows were partially blocked by both men, Garcia appeared to land the harder shots.
Barros started off well in Round 7 as he hurt Garcia with a left hook. Barros, however, was unable to capitalize as Garcia regained control of the stanza by again working behind his jab. Barros did try to muster more offense, but Garcia was able to avoid most of his combinations. That said, Barros likely won the round by virtue of having been more aggressive.
A case could be made that Barros was gaining momentum, but that came to an abrupt end when Garcia landed an absolutely monstrous left hook that knocked Barros silly. Barros reeled backward before falling forward, and he rose on unsteady legs at the count of eight.
Referee Robert Byrd asked Barros if he wanted to continue, and the Argentine fighter, who had turned his back to Garcia, said, "no mas," prompting the stoppage.
Garcia was originally supposed to face WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido, but an injury forced Salido to withdraw. Garcia has firmly established himself as one of the top contenders at featherweight, and the prospect of a fight against Salido should have boxing fans salivating.