Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas bounced back from his first career to defeat to stop Mikael Zewski in what was a must-win welterweight main event for both fighters tonight in Las Vegas, and hopes he made a case for another shot at a world title.
Kavaliauskas (22-1-1, 18 KO) and Zewski (34-2, 23 KO) were pretty nip-and-tuck for a while, with both doing some good work, looking to land heavy shots, and having their moments. The two-time Lithuanian Olympian Kavaliauskas worked behind a sharp jab early on, but Canada’s Zewski was able to get in some good power shots and keep it close.
And, by the judges’ official tallies (Carl Moretti of Top Rank had a snapshot), Zewski was more than close — he was up on two cards, 67-65, with Kavaliauskas up 67-65 on the third card after seven rounds.
That, however, doesn’t fully paint the picture, and it’s debatable at any rate, as Zewski had gone down hard at the very end of the seventh round, and the only thing that sent him into the eighth round was the fact that the round ended just after he answered referee Kenny Bayless’ count at nine.
But Zewski was not able to get it together between rounds, and Kavaliauskas pounced, dropping him again and stopping him just seven seconds into the eighth.
BLH had Kavaliauskas up 68-64 at the time of the stoppage, for what it’s worth, and Kavaliauskas expressed some disbelief that he was officially trailing when the fight was stopped.
“I thought it was going good, I was making pressure, throwing punches,” he said. “The guy was moving a lot and running, but I was controlling the fight. I was never in danger, I was never hurt, I was never frustrated.”
The 32-year-old Kavaliauskas said he wasn’t just hunting for the knockout, but he made it possible with smart pressure, and felt he broke down the 31-year-old Zewski.
“You never can count on the knockout. I was just working, making pressure, and saw him slowing down round by round,” he said. “He was weaker and weaker. I was just blocking his punches and didn’t even feel his power.”
As for getting another title crack, the Top Rank-promoted Kavaliauskas is pretty realistic that it likely won’t come against either of PBC’s titleholders — IBF/WBC titlist Errol Spence Jr or WBA titleholder Manny Pacquiao, or even WBA secondary titleholder Yordenis Ugas, for that matter — and that Terence Crawford and the WBO belt will likely have to be his focus. Crawford stopped Kavaliauskas in the ninth round last December, but Kavaliauskas believes he can do better, and also points out that Crawford — who may fight Kell Brook by the end of this year — isn’t exactly swimming in quality potential opponents himself.
“I think Crawford doesn’t have any other choices at welterweight. I think I’m the guy,” Kavaliauskas said. “I would ask him and his team, with all the respect, give me the rematch. He doesn’t have no opponents. I don’t see nobody doing better in the Crawford fight than I did.”
Kavaliauskas likely won’t be next for Crawford, but with this win he’s still right in the mix; maybe more due to political issues than anything else, but in the mix all the same.
The co-feature saw featherweight Joet Gonzalez pick up a big and largely one-sided win over veteran fringe contender Miguel Marriaga, shaking off his own loss to Shakur Stevenson last year.
Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KO) wanted to get back in with a tougher opponent, and Marriaga (29-4, 25 KO) fit that bill nicely. He wasn’t a tune-up — after all, his only losses have been world title fights with Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oscar Valdez, and Nicholas Walters — but also not a serious top contender. It was a winnable fight for Gonzalez if he was as good as he was supposed to be before the Stevenson fight, and he definitely was. Gonzalez looked sharp, focused, and was the clearly better man in this fight.
Scores were 97-93, 99-91, and 99-91 for Gonzalez. Bad Left Hook also scored it 99-91 for Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 26, may now be right in line for another crack at the WBO featherweight title, which will be contested on Oct. 9 between Emanuel Navarrete and Ruben Villa, following Stevenson vacating to move up to 130. The Golden Boy-promoted fighter could also look for a WBA title shot against Xu Can, who also has a deal with GBP.
“It was what I expected, he was a tough guy. He’s been in with three world champions. I expected the best Marriaga, because I think he knows this was his last chance,” Gonzalez said. “This puts me back in the position I want to be. I wanted to be back in with tough guys, I didn’t want no tune-up fights. It’s up to my manager and my promoter, but I want another world title shot. I think I’ve earned it.”
The 33-year-old Marriaga’s previous losses in world title fights were surrounded by wins against, frankly, lower-tier opposition, and this is probably the fight where he was most “found out.” But he’ll probably hang around this level testing out more developed prospect types for a bit, and he could still be dangerous at that level for a few more years.
- Aleem Jumakhonov KO-3 Jorge Ramos: This one had a, uh, how to put this — unique finish. Not so much that Ramos (7-3-1, 4 KO) got dropped and willingly took a 10-count in the third round, having failed in an attempt to go to war with Jumakhonov (9-3-2, 5 KO). But ESPN’s Mark Kriegel was in Ramos’ corner at the time for a split screen interview with Ramos’ mother and trainer, Mary Ramos. Just as she was saying that everyone back home was rooting for him, he went down, and she was crestfallen. I want to be clear: I’m not making fun of this. It’s an incredibly rare thing to actually see up close like that. He looked over, she kind of shook her head, and he took the count. Kriegel asked her what it was like to see that, and Mary was, like, unbelievably professional in the moment, saying it’s tough but that she still supports her son and he’s a winner to her and his fans and loved ones. As for Jumakhonov, the 27-year-old featherweight from Tajikistan may not be about to become a contender, but he’s a scrappy fighter who has been tough for his opponents of late. He beat Anthony Chavez (mentioned a bit below) last year, lost a fight to prospect Martino Jules in July, and bounces back with this win, where he was just too much for the 21-year-old Ramos.
- Manuel Flores TKO-5 Jonathan Rodriguez: A good little fight between a pair of 21-year-old bantamweights who were unbeaten coming in, with Flores just looking the better, sharper fighter, and definitely the harder puncher. Rodriguez (8-1, 3 KO) had been dropped once, not a heavy knockdown but a clean one, and then got rocked pretty hard and stopped at 1:11 of the fifth. Rodriguez complained about referee Robert Hoyle’s decision to end the fight there, and you could also argue with it, I guess, but he was definitely hurt and taking shots. He did still have his hands up. But Flores improves to 9-0 (6 KO) and moves forward. This isn’t a loss that should by itself devastate Rodriguez, though; you can learn from a fight like this and get better. Still a prospect.
- Anthony Chavez UD-6 Adan Gonzales: Gonzales (5-4-2, 2 KO) was the guy who upset Robeisy Ramirez in Ramirez’s pro debut, then lost a rematch to the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Gonzales appeared to score a first round knockdown here, but it was later reversed — rightly — because it was a headbutt that dropped Chavez (9-1, 3 KO) more than the little right hand that came behind. Chavez got a third round knockdown and wound up winning on unanimous scores of 58-55, which was the right score. Gonzales was game early, but that third round drop took the wind out of his sails, and it was kind of an odd fight, as from there Chavez pretty much took over, and ultimately the 24-year-old junior lightweight did his job effectively. Chavez was coming off of a six-round loss to Aleem Jumakhonov just about a year ago, and this puts him back on track a bit.
- Eric Puente UD-4 Luis Norambuena: Scores were 39-37, 40-36, and 40-36. Norambuena (4-6-1, 0 KO) has become a regular prospect checker and does a good job with it, making guys earn a win. He did that again here, but the 21-year-old lightweight Puente improves to 4-0 (0 KO). Manny Robles, who was on commentary, thinks Puente may have some pop hidden, but I’m not so sure. He’s a sharp puncher, but just might not have the heavy hands.