Evgeny Gradovich was a short-notice opponent, but "The Mexican Russian" from Robert Garcia's Oxnard camp made his big chance count tonight, upsetting Billy Dib to win the IBF featherweight title on ESPN Friday Night Fights.
The result was a split decision, with Dib winning one card 114-112, and Gradovich winning the other two by the same tally. Outside of the judges, I saw only one person score it any closer than 115-111 for Gradovich, and nobody scored it for Dib, who was beaten up and worn down by the aggressive Gradovich. BLH had it 117-109 for Gradovich, as he was the clearly better fighter on the night.
Gradovich (16-0, 8 KO) is now in the featherweight mix, and quite frankly, a lot of contenders will likely be licking their chops to get a crack at him. He's a pretty good fighter, but Dib (35-2, 21 KO) was about as weak a "world champion" as there was in the sport, and Gradovich was very fortunate to get this shot against someone so totally vulnerable. That's not meant as any disrespect to Evgeny Gradovich, but he didn't suddenly become on par with the division's true best fighters, a league Dib was never in himself, despite the belt.
It's the first loss as a promoter, too, for 50 Cent, who was the focal point of tonight's broadcast and rapped Dib to the ring to the warm reception of nobody in attendance. About two people clapped after 50 made himself the star, while Andre Dirrell stooged like Gerry Brisco at his side.
In the night's main co-feature, Willie Nelson was very impressive, stopping Michael Medina in the first round on a pair of knockdowns. Medina (26-4-2, 19 KO) didn't really look aware of himself after the big right hand that dropped him the first time, but referee Arthur Mercante Jr allowed the fight to continue. As soon as it did, Medina was down again, and this time he hurt his ankle. ESPN's Bernardo Osuna reported after that it may have been broken, and the doctor was sure there was ligament damage. Medina left on a stretcher.
On Twitter, promoter Lou DiBella claimed that Nelson (20-1-1, 12 KO) would knock out Canelo Alvarez or Keith Thurman, and that he was the scariest fighter at 154 pounds right now. That's obviously a huge stretch -- Nelson is not even top ten in the division at the moment -- but the 6'3" Ohioan does have an interesting future, it would seem. He's gotten better with his balance, he's got better defensively, and his punches seem to have more steam than they did when he fought and lost to Vincent Arroyo in 2011.
Personally, I think Nelson, 25, is definitely someone to watch out for. Guys with his dimensions are rarely fighting at 154 pounds, and as he improves, he does start looking more and more dangerous. Medina is no all-star, but he's not a bum, either. Nelson wiped him out.
Also impressive was a debuting SMS Promotions fighter by the name of Luis Olivares. The junior welterweight knocked out Rafael Munoz in the first round with a really nice display of timing and power.